10 : A NEW LIFE BEGINS
The day finally dawned — the 16th August, 1952. I was up fairly early that morning, so was Jock, and together we began checking on some of the last-minute details. Had I stuck strictly to tradition, I should actually have spent the eve of our wedding night under a different roof, and not in the same house where my future wife was staying. It didn’t really matter, however, since my best man and I were given a separate room well away from the main area where my future in-laws and fiancée were. I am not a superstitious person, so this aspect didn’t really worry me. My fiancée’s family had made quite sure that I didn’t get a glimpse of the bride on the morning of our wedding day — at least not while I was still at home getting all ready to go to the church. Jock and I arrived in good time at the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, to be greeted warmly by Fr. Hawes. As far as he was concerned, everything was just perfect for the day — the weather was fine, the church had been beautifully decorated and he himself looked so pleased and happy. Most bridegrooms are nervous on occasions such as this — I was no exception. The church began to fill up gradually and soon, to the strains of ‘Here comes the bride’ my future wife walked down the aisle on the arm of her father.- She looked radiant and I was the proudest man in the world from that moment. My wish had been granted, and I had, by my side, the woman who was soon to become my ‘Queen’. The nuptial service proceeded without a hitch – even the cute little flower girls didn’t err. So far so good! At the end of the Mass, we were conducted to the sacristy where we signed the Register in the presence of Fr. Hawes and the two witnesses — Jock, my cousin, and Elvira, my wife’s eldest sister.
The knot had now been firmly tied, and we had just proclaimed before God and man that we were taking each other for good — ‘for better for worse, in sickness and in health, till death us do part …’ The moment that followed was the proudest for me — walking up the aisle as we left the sacristy, hand in hand as man and wife for the first time. A thrilling and memorable moment this by all accounts. Nervousness soon gave way to a feeling of elation and pride. We stood on the steps outside the church and received the congratulations and good wishes of our family and friends. Then followed the photographs, taken by Mr. Embleton, a professional and well-known photographer in the district. After this session, we both stepped into a suitably decorated limousine and were driven around on a short tour of the town, returning home for the wedding breakfast a few moments later. This was purely a family occasion since the main reception was scheduled for the afternoon. My mother-in-law, as I have said earlier, had done all the catering herself and I would like to record my tribute to her skill. Professional caterers couldn’t have done better and we were truly proud of the varied spread she had laid on for the guests who numbered about one hundred and fifty. It was an excellent reception which many remember to this day. It was truly wonderful to see so many of our family and friends there and receive their good wishes. Fr. Hawes raised the toast, extolling the virtues and good qualities of my wife and wishing us God’s blessings. I replied suitably, and felt surprised that I was able to go through this ‘ordeal’ without any outward signs of nervousness. We mingled happily with the guests for a few hours; they were all in excellent form enjoying themselves and doing full justice (as indeed we wanted them to) to the food and refreshments laid on for them. Although we were even able to join in the dancing for a while, we were very sorry to have to leave them later that evening when we boarded our train bound for Nairobi. All the family were equally sorry to see us leave, but we had insisted that they carry on with the celebrations well after we had gone. There was certainly no shortage of food or drink that evening, and as for good spirit and cheer, this was not lacking either.
The send-off at Kitale station was very moving; no one could hold back the tears as we two finally said goodbye to family and close friends. We had a very comfortable journey down to Nairobi, and here we were made welcome by my wife’s uncles (Francis and Maurice Ramos). After spending the night with them, we caught the Nanyuki-bound train the following morning. The journey throughout was very pleasant and on our route, we passed several weIl-maintained stations, little townships and some neatly laid out small holdings belonging to the Kikuyu farmers who lived in this area. The soil looked rich and fertile and no wonder some of the best coffee was produced around this region of the Central Province. We were now approaching Nyeri station and I was busy describing the whole area to my wife. As we pulled in, I was pleasantly surprised to see two of my friends from Isiolo at the station. They had driven all the way to collect us and I could hardly conceal my gratitude for this unexpected act of kindness. John Fernandes had taken us by surprise, so had his companion Victor D’Lima. Our suitcases were quickly loaded on to the van and we left almost immediately for Nanyuki and Isiolo. Because of the desire to get to Isiolo as soon as possible, we made no stop at Nanyuki. The cool air of Nyeri and Nanyuki and the greenery of the surrounding countryside seemed no more as we raced towards Isiolo.
The contrast from Nanyuki at 7,000 feet above sea level to Isiolo at a mere 3,000 was quite noticeable. For me, it was a welcome return to a region I loved so much; for my wife, this was her very first entry into this sector of the ‘forbidden’ Province as the N.F.D. was so often referred to. The ‘heat was intense and the vegetation more scrubland and thorn bush. There was not the slightest doubt that we were in the wilds — the real safari country to be exact. Judging from her expression, my wife looked obviously happy to be here and the discomfort of the heat didn’t seem to matter. On arrival at Isiolo, we were driven straight to the home of the pioneer Goan family — Mr. and Mrs. M. X. (known affectionately as ‘Moti’) Fernandes. Their sonJohn had earlier told us that his parents had made all the arrangements for our stay with them while at Isiolo. This was indeed a very kind gesture on their part, and I was fully aware of the trouble and inconvenience they must have had to put themselves to, to make us so comfortable. We were very appreciative of their generosity. The Fernandes ran a very efficient General Provision store at Isiolo and kept frontier officials well supplied with the little comforts of life. They were quite old at the time of our stay, but both looked a picture of health and happiness. Assisting them at the store were their two sons John and Bernard. A third son, Thomas, who worked for the Provincial Administration- at Isiolo (co-ordinating transport for the area), also helped out at the shop after office hours. All in all, it was a truly efficiently-run family business which was well patronized by most of the Europeans and Goans in the Province. Shoppers at this store have included many famous people, among them, the film star Stewart Grainger. To our surprise and sheer delight, we found that the Fernandes had organized a right royal feast on the evening of our arrival, so as to give us the opportunity of meeting the rest of the Goan community in Isiolo. No expense or effort had been spared, and my wife and I were overwhelmed by the sheer warmth and affection we received from the many Goans who were at the party that evening. It was as though we were continuing our wedding celebrations — only this time in more romantic surroundings.
Our hosts more than did us proud that night; they went to enormous trouble to make this an occasion to remember. Despite the temporary type of housing they occupied, they had prepared a lovely room for our stay and the care and love with which this must have been arranged, convinced me that this simple room far surpassed the conventional honeymoon suite of a more luxurious hotel in the city.
After a two day stay at Isiolo, we left for our new home at Marsabit, a journey of some 150 miles. My wife, who had previously worked for a Government transport contractor at Kitale, was well aware of the mode of travel employed in the N.F.D.; so when an Indian trader’s truck (a 5-tonner) arrived to collect us, loaded to capacity with sacks of posho and other supplies for his duka at Marsabit, she was not in the least bit surprised. She had seen me travel in similar vehicles during my bachelor days at Lodwar, and had experienced such a trip herself when she had visited Turkana. The driver of our truck was a local Galla tribesman by the name of Abdi Goji. He was a young man, full of energy, always cheerful and ever ready to help. He greeted us in his best Ki-Swahili, and after bidding our hosts and other friends at Isiolo farewell, we set off on the long journey home, fully mindful of the fact that all the Goans at Isiolo, and particularly the Fernandes family had done us really proud.
Frontier travel is, as a rule, undertaken in the evenings because of the intense heat of the day; we accordingly left Isiolo just before sunset, with a warm breeze brushing us as we sat alongside the driver in his cab. The remainder of the party, which included the turn-boy, two Rendille askaris returning home on leave, and a few locals from Marsabit, were piled on top of sacks of posho and other merchandise destined for the Marsabit duka of Messrs. Noormohamed Mangia and Sons. The turn-boy was a young Boran, not more than 18 or 19. His duties included, among other things, getting off the lorry smartly whenever it stopped — no matter what hour of the day or night, to see what assistance the driver needed. There could have been a puncture which needed repairing, the engine could have over-heated or the driver may have decided to just camp at a particular spot. Well, on all such occasions, it was always the faithful turn-boy who was summoned first. I vaguely recollect that this particular turn-boy was called Halake, a common enough Boran name. Despite the odd hours of the night, the bumpy ride and lack of sleep, Halake always appeared very cheerful and obliging when he got down to working.
As we were leaving Isiolo, we had to cross the police barrier. Isiolo, as I have said earlier, is the gateway to the ‘forbidden’ Province, and all travellers (with the exception of Government officials stationed in the Province), had to be in possession of a valid j permit issued by the DC. This was a sort of passport to enter the area and it was at this check point that such documents were inspected; the driver, turn-boy and others were no exception, even though they used the route regularly.
A few miles out of Isiolo, we stopped briefly just outside Archer’s Post; it was in 1909 that this post was established and all that now remained to remind us of its past were a few foundation stones. During my days in the frontier, I had often marvelled at the sense of space and sheer freedom when travelling in this region. Whereas in towns one has to contend with heavy traffic, one can often drive for several miles in the frontier without meeting anyone. It is precisely this sense of freedom that often made me pause and make time for some spiritual reflection.
My wife had always been a bad traveller, and I knew her mother was very anxious about the long road journey we had to make, and how she would fare. Her constant worry was whether her daughter would be able to stand the trip without getting car sick. She needn’t have worried especially since there was not the slightest hint of travel sickness in Elsie; if anything, she was enjoying every moment of the drive; the interesting commentary provided by our driver Abdi, no doubt kept her amused, and perhaps contributed in some way to her making the entire journey without any problem.
The plain we were now travelling across was barren — the only vegetation being a few thorn trees and some dom palms. Nature has its own way of breaking the monotony in such areas, and to add a touch of colour to an otherwise dreary trail, there were groups of guinea fowl, racing ahead of us, proudly displaying their polka-dotted plumage, while on the other side of the road, various species of buck and gerenuk gazed at us as the truck sped by’. The night was gradually closing in, and the sight of an African sky by night was the best I’ve had the pleasure of beholding; night-time too is by far, an ideal time to be travelling in the frontier — it brings back memories of the fires we lit around our camp, the camp-style meals we ate and the sheer thrill of sleeping out in the open. Before long, Abdi decided that it was time we had a brew up, and so pulled in at Wamba, a small market centre for Samburu tribesmen on the southern end of the Matthews range. This is truly Samburu country, and a regular stopping over point for most travellers. Remains of a recently-vacated camp were clearly to be seen. True to form, I heard the turn-boy being summoned. A sackful of utensils was off-loaded from the truck, a fire lit, and in no time the sufuria (cooking pot) was boiling. The sound of the crackling fire was so pleasing to hear; besides, we were now in the thick of the African bush, so close to Mother Nature, and in the company of a people who knew and understood the bush around them so well. Only they could interpret the environment they lived in. The cup of tea was very refreshing and seemed to taste that much better when drunk in fairly large quantities from enamel cups. Attracted by the glowing fire, a group of Samburu warriors (moran) had quickly assembled at the camp site. Fierce-looking in appearance, they meant no harm; they were only curious to meet us, shake hands and just stand around. One of these Samburu was lucky to get a cup of tea from Halake. This was all that was left from the earlier brew up. As we were preparing to move away, the Samburu tribesmen slowly dispersed, heading for their manyattas which were not far from the camp. Abdi decided that if we were not too tired, we continue driving for a few more miles and camp at Laisamis for the night. This suited us very well even though we were far from tired. In fact, the vastness of the countryside, the sudden appearance of the Samburu tribesmen, and the general atmosphere along the camp site, all added to the pleasures of this safari. This was no ordinary safari either. It was a trip with a difference. After all, how many newly-weds would choose to spend their honeymoon travelling uncomfortably in a truck, through miles and miles of virtually uninhabited bush and wasteland? For us, this was a memorable occasion, a trip which all the money in the world could never buy, and we were determined to make the most of it; this we certainly did! Our driver kept us amused with tales of the many trips he had made across this part of the N.F.D., an area he knew so well. We heard about some of the hazards he had encountered — at times, in the shape of wild animals, on other occasions the flash floods which would make the roads impassable for hours. As we continued our journey, we could see some signs of life in the distance. The flickering of lights from some of the nearby manyattas , the smell of fresh dung were all indications that a Rendille boma was not far off. Like most pastoral tribes, the Rendille livestock boma (a small enclosure made from thorny twigs), is an extension of the family manyatta. Here, man and beast live almost as equals, the animals often receiving more attention. The air as we travelled was getting much cooler, and within a few moments, we were at Laisamis. The noise of the moving truck had brought quite a few people out on the road, even though it was dark by now. Among those in the group was Chief Ejerre of the Rendille tribe, who I had met previously on my first trip to Marsabit. He walked up and greeted us — not just a jambo Bwanaand Memsahib; he wanted to, and did shake hands with us. There were also several jambo Bwanas echoing from other tribesmen in the crowd. Some of them must obviously have remembered me from earlier occasions and knew I was the DC’s clerk at Marsabit.
The whole atmosphere around us was great and the welcome we received simply wonderful. On being told that we were just married Chief Ejerre lost no time in ordering a fatted sheep to be brought to us as a zavadi (gift) from him. The affection of these simple people touched us deeply. My wife, as I could sense, was visibly moved by their kindness. Here were a very ordinary and seemingly primitive people, but they had already won our hearts by their warmth and kindness. While we were busy talking to the Chief, Abdi and the rest of the crew from our truck were busy exchanging their own greetings Any excuse is good enough for a cup of tea, and before long, a camp fire had been started, and we didn’t have to wait long before being treated to another cup of that soothing beverage — chai! Shouts of “chai, chai” could be heard all around us. I cannot speak for other travellers, but for me, sipping tea in the remote wilds of Africa, with primitive tribesmen for company, and a brightly-lit African sky above, is an experience I shall not easily forget. It finds a permanent home in the archives of my memory. Such scenes and the music and sounds that formed a regular feature of most safaris, continue to haunt me to this day. The cup of chai we had just consumed certainly relaxed us, but I was now beginning to feel sleepy. Abdi himself was fully mindful of this, but not wanting to camp too close to Laisamis he decided to drive on for a few more miles and then pitch camp for the night. We were now about ten miles out of Laisamis when we came across and settled for an ideal spot for a night’s rest. A site was quickly cleared for us in the bush, and our bedding spread over a canvas groundsheet on the bare ground a few hundred yards off the main road. Abdi and his party camped on the opposite side of the road and kept us awake during most of the night by their constant jabbering. Despite their chatter and that of the hyena from the surrounding area, we felt rested enough after the short periods of sleep we were able to snatch that night. At the crack of dawn, we were all up and ready to resume our trail. In most frontier regions, it is always a pleasure to drive during the night or early morning; in some respects, this may seem inconvenient for the driver and his passengers, but it certainly prolonged the life of the vehicle. Since a vehicle was virtually a trader’s prize possession, his ‘all’ really, it was very much in his interests to do everything possible to ensure that repairs and damage to his vehicle were kept to a minimum. In cases of emergency, however, it did become necessary for a vehicle to make the journey during the daytime.
As we drove along, I was fascinated by the sight of dawn breaking in the distance – it is quite one of the most satisfying sights to behold. One needs to be an artist to capture the full impact of such a spectacle; sadly, I am not, but the very thought of such experiences often creates pleasant images in my own mind, images that act as a healing balm whenever my mind seems troubled with worldly cares.
The scrub and wasteland outside Laisamis soon gave way to a new form of vegetation; the air too was now becoming much cooler as we continued our journey; there were patches of lush greenery — the mist in the Marsabit mountain area was dense and with each mile that we covered, I found the air getting colder. I could hardly believe that the change in temperatures could be so pronounced and sudden too. The atmosphere was none the less fresh and bracing. The 150-odd mile drive from the heat of Isiolo to the relative cool of the surrounding countryside had now ended, and we were cutting our way through the thick clouds of mist which are so characteristic of the Marsabit area. For a radius of approximately seven miles, the whole area is draped in a thick and cold blanket of mist, while just outside this zone, you could be in the open and hot barren wastelands.
Our heavily laden truck pulled into Marsabit boma, struggling over the last mile or so. As it came to a halt, my wife and I got off while Abdi raced towards the DC’s office to report his arrival; such reporting requirements applied throughout the frontier and it was here at the DC’s office that the relevant permit (or Pass as it was popularly known) was endorsed. To meet us as we alighted was Victor Fernandes. He knew of our arrival and he and his wife Lucy had gone to a great deal of trouble to entertain us that day; they were the perfect host and hostess. Despite the warm and genuine hospitality lavished on us by the Fernandeses, we had decided that we should start on our own almost immediately. This surely must be the dream of every newly-wedded couple. So as not to appear discourteous, however, we agreed to have all our meals with them on the day of our arrival. I know they would have liked us to be their guests even longer, but we were equally impatient to make a start in our new home. Besides, my elderly cook Sheunda, also wanted to display his culinary skills to my brand-new wife. A very humble man who always sought Elsie’s ‘seal of approval’ for the dishes he turned out, Sheunda did us proud and managed to turn out some very good meals. The assistance she received in the kitchen thus enabled Elsie to devote more time to organizing our new home in the manner she wished. After all, this was our first family home, and she was my ‘Queen’. Here, I would like to pay tribute to my young wife’s great gift of not merely transforming my former bachelor residence into a well-arranged home, but also in being the perfect hostess whenever we entertained friends, which was quite often. The artistic manner in which she presented and served food, her impressive floral arrangements, the manner in which she arranged the various rooms — were all talents I was truly proud of. The transformation in the home was keenly noticed not only by my cook, but also my other colleagues and their wives. I was convinced from that moment onwards that it really takes a dutiful and loving wife, as was my own, to change the place so dramatically in so short a time, while at the same time retaining within its walls, the warm and loving atmosphere of a home.
For Elsie, Marsabit must have seemed very lonely at first — a far cry from Kitale where she had previously lived and worked. She had now sacrificed all this for the quiet and lonely existence of a frontier district. There is no doubt, however, that she soon got to love the place and in the short time she had been there, won the respect and affection not only of the Europeans, but also of my fellow Goans and in fact the indigenous folk as well. Being a keen gardener, she lost no time in getting down to the task of planning the whole lay-out of the garden. Before long, we had a collection of neatly shaped flower beds, all of which would soon be displaying some of the colourful fruits of my wife’s patient labours. The local Agricultural Instructor i/c was a young and well-mannered Sudanese called Abdul Kadir.
Noticing her interest in gardening, he quickly offered his assistance and soon we had cuttings of various description arrive at our home. The Neopara(headman) of the station labour force at the time, was a shrewd looking Boran by the name of Jaldessa Diko. This character could never say “no” to anyone who approached him for assistance, and had thus earned for himself, the nickname Bwana sasahivi (Mr. ‘soonest’ or ‘just now’). With Jaldessa, nothing was impossible, especially if the request for assistance came from one of us, i.e. the staff of the Provincial Administration. “Sasa hivi” would always be his prompt response to any request we made, so much so that I couldn’t help feeling that in trying to please us, he often upset some of my colleagues in the process! However, with the help from the station labour, and on occasions the prisoners, we were able to convert this whole plot of virgin land into an attractive and neatly laid our garden. Ours was a brand new house surrounded by rich and fertile soil, and we had no doubt at all that in a few months, the whole area would be ablaze with flowers of varied hue. The elephants, who used to be our nightly visitors, caused a lot of damage to some of our plants, but this was something we couldn’t do much about. The locals were in a far worse situation since it was not their flower beds that the elephants plundered, but the maize and other edible crops in their shambas.
Although there was no social life as such in Marsabit, coffee mornings were often organized by the wives on the station, and this provided a sort of outlet for them. For Elsie, there was never a dull moment since there was a lot to be done in the way of sewing and making up new curtains and furnishings from the materials we had bought in Kitale. A Sikh carpenter from Nanyuki had made me a complete suite of brand new furniture, all in the best of Kenya mvuli(teak) so there was much to keep Elsie busy in the home. Added to all this was her interest in cooking and the high quality pastries she produced. Bread was always home made since fresh bread was unobtainable in Marsabit. We also entertained a lot — this seemed to be almost a way of life in the N.F.D. and Marsabit was no exception.
The entertainment ‘cycle’ ‘usually started with the DC inviting all the Goan staff to drinks. On some occasions, the Police Superintendent and Inspectors and any other European officers in the district were also invited. These social encounters, which were more on an exchange basis, were very useful and certainly helped to keep our spirits up.
The DC had a spacious house which his wife (Kay Wild) had had very tastefully converted. Why a large house in a district like Marsabit you may well ask. I gather the intention had for a short time been that Marsabit should be the Provincial headquarters of the N.F.D., and a residence suitable for the Provincial Commissioner was in fact built, but the transfer of the headquarters was never made.
Marsabit abounded in game of varying species — the most common being the elephant and buffalo. There were occasions when we would witness a rare treat on being driven home by the DC after the usual social evenings — a herd of elephants would sometimes be trudging lazily along the road; at other times, we would see a huge buffalo, standing in the thick undergrowth, watching us drive past.
Quite often, it was not uncommon for us to see a whole herd of elephants just outside our front door, playing havoc with the garden and sometimes our shambas. Buffalo could be even more dangerous. On one occasion during my early days, and at a time when there was no indoor sanitation at Marsabit, I recall having a narrow escape from a wild buffalo when returning indoors from an outside WC. The sight of this creature, staring at me as the beam from my torch flashed into its eyes, scared the living daylights out of me. Without hesitating for a moment longer, I made a desperate dash for home and quickly bolted the door behind me. This was perhaps a rare encounter; some of the tribesmen were ‘treated’ to such experiences quite often. I recall how an elderly and senior Game Scout was-savagely gored by a buffalo in the thick of Marsabit forest. His ribs were broken and he also had a deep gash in his thigh. There he lay helpless for two whole days until a colleague who happened to be patrolling the area for poachers found him and alerted the DC and hospital authorities at Marsabit. How this old Scout, Ibrahim, survived such an attack, I cannot say. Perhaps it was a case of their faith making them whole? The locals would always pass off any such mishap with the words, “shauri ya Mungu” (God’s will); after all, they had grown up in this environment, harsh and dangerous though it sometimes was, and the feeling of adventure was not quite the same for them as for us. Besides, many of them had to live with this threat daily.
About this time, the political situation in Kenya was fast deteriorating. A new Governor- had arrived in the person of Sir Evelyn Baring (later Lord Howick). Within a month of his arrival in September, 1952, a State of Emergency had been declared in Kenya. The armed services were alerted as trouble was expected since some of the key figures in the Kenya African Union (KAU) were soon to be arrested. High on the list of wanted persons was the name of Jomo Kenyatta and, on 20th October, 1952, he was arrested and flown to Lokitaung in the Turkana district. This was as remote a place as could be found in Kenya. Brutal murders of several Europeans followed in the wake of the declaration of the State of Emergency. We in the N.F.D. were virtually unaffected by the goings-on in Nairobi and around the Central and Rift Valley Provinces. This state of affairs did not last for long however.
One evening, when my wife and I were sitting by the fireside enjoying a quiet drink, there was a knock at the door. Outside stood Mr. Wild (the DC). He apologized to my young wife for having to take me away for a few hours. As we drove along in his car he told me what it was all about. He had received a coded message from Nairobi to the effect that a party of detainees who had been arrested under the newly promulgated Emergency Regulations, were due to arrive at Marsabit in a few hours. We were required to get a temporary camp put up for them almost immediately. This seemed an impossible task, but our main concern was to ensure that they could be provided with some form of temporary shelter for that night. Our first stop was at the prisons where we collected a number of blankets and sleeping mats. These were taken to a hurriedly prepared temporary shelter which the DC was able to find them for the night. Among those who arrived was Achieng Oneko, a close associate ofJomo Kenyatta. There were several other prominent Kikuyu members of the KAU too. An armed guard was placed over the area where the political detainees were held and the DC and I returned home. More appropriate accommodation would be found for them in the morning. With the transfer of the detainees to various districts of the
N.F.D, hitherto little known places like Lokitaung and Marsabit soon began to gain prominence.
In the days that followed, additional temporary accommodation was constructed for the new arrivals and a barbed wire fence built around the perimeter. In Marsabit, and most frontier stations with the possible exception of Isiolo, there were no newspapers and our only contact with the outside world was through radio.
The presence of the detainees certainly meant more work for the Administration. The DC and I would visit them at regular intervals and attend to some of their legitimate requests, etc. I was even given the job of censoring all their incoming and outgoing mail.
One other individual — also classified as a detainee, but who had been restricted to Marsabit because of his trade union activities — was Mwangi Macharia, a Kikuyu from the Forthall area. Mwangi was a model detainee who was not only well liked by the locals, but who, because of his exemplary behaviour, was employed by the PWD as a plumber/handyman. He and a European Inspector of Works from the PWD (a Mr. Randall), together with a force of some 25 Meru and local labourers, was instrumental in laying the first domestic piped water supply in Marsabit township. This was achieved at great personal risk to all those involved since the areas across which the pipeline had to be laid was occupied by elephants and buffalo.
Unfortunately, despite all the hard work she had put into our new home and the garden, my wife had to leave Marsabit just three months after we were married. Unlike most women who are more fortunate during these times, she suffered badly from morning sickness and no amount of treatment could bring relief. As there was no qualified doctor on the station, it was decided that she should return to her parents’ home at Kitale. Parting, after so short a time together was sad, but there was no alternative in the circumstances.
Try hard though she did, there was no improvement in her condition. Before she left for Nairobi by air, I shall never forget how the Cpl. i/ c prisons — a tall and manly figure named William Ongera (a Mkisii by tribe) — pressed a Sh. 10/- note in Elsie’s hands with this message in Ki-Swahili: “May God keep you and your child safely.” The words were a great comfort, but the very thought of this gift, from a man who wasn’t earning much himself’, touched us both deeply. For me, it was a moment of pride to see that in the short time she had been at Marsabit, Elsie had got on so well with the African employees — so much so that one of their numbers had come to show his appreciation in such a tangible way. Our cook, Sheunda, was also very sad, but the shy smile he gave, reassured my wife that she had nothing to worry about me. Bwana would be well looked after by him while she was away.
Transport arrangements for Elsie’s departure worked out in a way I can only describe as providential. It so happened that a Kenya Police askari (constable) had been seriously wounded during a border raid with Gelubba tribesmen near the northern outpost of Banya. He was in need of urgent medical treatment and since an aircraft had been chartered to fly him out to Nairobi, it was decided that Elsie should be flown out at the same time. I saw her off at the airstrip. The light aircraft had arrived from Banya carrying the wounded askari and was on its way to Nairobi via Isiolo. I had signalled friends in Nairobi to meet her on arrival, and her elder sister had also arrived from Kitale to accompany her home. I was greatly relieved when I received telegram a couple of days later confirming that she was safe and well at her parents’ home at Kitale. My parents-in-law were no doubt happy to have their daughter back with them so soon after the wedding, but little did they realize the loneliness I had to endure. Being a bachelor and living on one’s own is one thing — being newly married and separated so quickly from one’s wife is quite another!
The hours between my getting home from work and retiring for the night seemed long and at times so empty. Nevertheless, all this gave me a lot of time to revert to my former ‘pastime’ — writing letters home. I wrote to Elsie almost daily, the letters taking the form of a day to day diary. Because of the infrequency of mail services in the frontier and the uncertainty of vehicles going in to Isiolo, I felt it was best to keep my letters ready so that, in the event of a vehicle arriving from, say, Moyale at short notice, we could always arrange for an additional mail bag to be sent to Isiolo. There was no limit to the number of mail bags that could be sent — we availed ourselves of every opportunity that arose to send mail down to Isiolo. This meant that Elsie often received several of my letters in one batch and the same was true as far as I was concerned. We both enjoyed this warm exchange of correspondence which meant so much and helped to keep us even closer together. My cook, Sheunda, and all my colleagues were very kind to me during this period of ‘enforced second bachelorhood’. The wives of my Goan colleagues made sure that I never had my weekend meals on my own. There was always an open invitation to dine or lunch at one or another’s home. I did not want Sheunda to get the impression that I had deserted him for good or that his meals were in any way less tasty; so, as often as I could, I would invite some of my friends to join me for a meal. In this way, everyone was kept happy. In fairness to the DC, I must admit that during this period, I was given the opportunity of accompanying him on safari more often, and for this consideration I was grateful. Mr. Wild never missed the opportunity of ‘pulling my leg’ — visions of fatherhood kept flashing through my mind; how would we cope with an addition to the family so soon and on my comparatively low salary I kept asking myself.
A few weeks after my wife had left Marsabit, I was allowed to take some leave and be reunited with her, even though temporarily. As though things had been specially laid on for me, I was offered a lift on a truck leaving for Isiolo one morning, and on arriving there, a kindly trader, hearing of my plight, agreed to take me down to Nanyuki — thanks to the influence of my Goan friends at Isiolo, all this was made possible. We left Isiolo in an almost brand new Mercedes Benz diesel truck belonging to Fakirmohamed Lalkhan and Sons, and were at Nanyuki within a very short time. Here, I was lavishly entertained to a vegetarian lunch by one of the traders with whom we had official dealings — Messrs. Settlers Stores. I was later driven to the house of another Goan friend, Joe Mathias. This man had a heart of gold. We didn’t even work for the same Government departments (he was with the Labour department), but Joe was always so obliging and good natured. I had met him on a previous occasion and had been much impressed by his hospitality and kindness then. His genial nature had won him the respect and esteem of many of the locals in Nanyuki. My purpose in calling on him was to see if he would be able to arrange a lift for me to Kitale — a distance of some 300 miles. It was short notice admittedly, but I was hoping for a miracle!
Patiently Joe took me from trader to trader, but few were prepared to drive that far, and those who were willing to demanded exorbitant fares. Joe was very helpful to the last, and we eventually came across an Asian trader who agreed to drive me to Kitale for the sum of Shs.300/ — (a heavy price to pay in those days, especially since my monthly salary was not far from this figure!) I mused over the price for a moment, but then decided that this was no time for bargaining. Love knows no expense, and even though Joe and I tried to explain the special circumstances that had prompted me to seek help at such short notice, the trader seemed quite unmoved. I eventually accepted the fare, even though, in my heart of hearts, I was saddened by the fact that a fellow human being, with far greater financial resources than myself, could not play the Good Samaritan and assist me in this instance. However, this was not to be, and I am sure Joe felt as I did — that the amount charged was excessive and out of proportion to the special circumstances of my case which was more of a ‘mission of mercy’. I refused to be discouraged by this incident, and consoled myself by the thought that in a few hours, I would be united with my wife. Neither she nor her parents had any warning of my coming, and I wondered for a moment whether this ‘surprise’ might not prove too much for Elsie in her present delicate state. I needn’t have feared as I was to discover later. After driving all through the night (I slept for a good part of the journey), we arrived at Kitale at around 2 a.m. the following morning — a very unearthly hour to disturb anyone; I knew however, there would be no objection from the inmates of the house! As the driver brought the car to a halt, I quickly alighted, grabbed what little luggage I had with me, paid the Shs.300/- in crisp bank notes and made for the front door of my in-laws’ house. The trader was more than pleased with the cash I had just parted with, and smilingly waved me goodbye. I knocked at the front door rather gently hoping not to disturb the entire household. I would never have guessed that it would be my darling wife who opened the door — sleepy-eyed, yet overjoyed to see me so unexpectedly. We embraced each other tenderly. By now, other members of the family were awakened even though we tried to talk in whispers. More hugs and kisses all around; there were looks of astonishment at my sudden appearance, but there was joy too. We talked for a few` moments, and then back to bed we all went. I had to remember that while I was on holiday, my sisters and brother-in-law had to be at work in a few hours’ time. I must confess that Elsie and I had very little sleep that night (it was early morning really!) We were up again in a few hours just as the rest of the working members were getting ready to set off to work.
We had not expected to start a family so soon I must admit, and were in fact booked to sail to Goa on overseas leave in a few months time. The doctor who was looking after Elsie during her pregnancy — a middle-aged Englishman named Marcus Broadbent — felt that in her present condition, it would be inadvisable for her to undertake the long sea voyage to Goa. She suffered badly from morning sickness, and he had recommended that we postpone our holiday until after the arrival of the baby. I was given a certificate to this effect which I would require to support my request for the cancellation of my vacation leave and our sea passages.