Home / 14: RETURN TO MARSABIT

14: RETURN TO MARSABIT

With a young family to support, the financial pressures on me began to grow. The only solution was to renew my application for a transfer to the N.F.D. Sadly, despite the strong recommendation for accelerated promotion put forward by Mr. Denton and supported by the Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner, the Secretariat were unable to approve the request as there were fears that this might create a precedent. I was naturally disappointed but satisfied that the D.C. had done everything possible. Rules are rules I realized, and it is very difficult to get civil servants to ‘bend’ these. I discussed the question of my transfer with Mr. Denton and felt sure he appreciated my particular problem. I submitted my application through the usual channels, and the fact that the DC saw fit to send a routine request of this nature under confidential cover, convinced me that he was still trying to get the powers that be to change their decision over the case for my accelerated promotion. However, the original decision was not altered and my posting to the frontier was approved some months later. By sheer coincidence, l\/Ir Denton also received his posting orders about the same time. He was promoted as Private Secretary to the Governor of Kenya (Sir Evelyn Baring) and would soon be moving to Nairobi. My destination was to be Marsabit.

Whilst obviously delighted at the thought of returning to a district I clearly loved, there was a tinge of sadness in that Elsie would not be accompanying me this time. We were told that she was again pregnant and in view of the difficulties encountered previously during her pre-natal period, it was not considered advisable for her to return with me. The general feeling was that she should stay behind at Kitale. Although pleased with the news of another addition to our family I was naturally disappointed that I would not have the company of Elsie and Clyde at Marsabit. She too didn’t seem pleased at the  thought of staying behind, but we both agreed that in the circumstances, it was best for her to move in with her parents, at least until our second child had arrived.

Quite by coincidence, Mr. Denton and I were booked to travel to Nairobi on the same train. Being the popular man he was, several organizations feted him before his departure and Elsie and I were pleased to attend a· reception given in honour of the outgoing D.C. by the Kitale Indian Association. A similar party was organized for both Mr. Denton and myself by the Goan Institute. It certainly was a proud moment for me. Many saw me off at the station, and before we  were due to arrive at Nairobi, Mr. Denton made a special point of coming to my compartment to wish me goodbye and thank me for my services at Kitale. I was so pleased for him and grateful for all the efforts he had made to try and secure my promotion. I spent a day with friends in Nairobi and left the next morning for Nanyuki and Isiolo — a route I was now familiar with.

At Isiolo, I stayed with an old friend of mine, Francis da Lima since the PC’s office had decided that I should spend a few days here helping out at the Provincial headquarters. This presented no immediate problems and I was pleased to be able to have some work experience in a Provincial Commissioner’s office. Mr. Turnbull (now Sir Richard Turnbull) had now moved to the Ministry of Defence in Nairobi and his place at Isiolo taken by Mr. Myles North, a well-known ornithologist. Being stationed at Isiolo certainly had its advantages for me — mail services were normal, transport fairly regular and most foodstuffs freely available.

I had now spent about a month at Isiolo when I was told to hold myself in readiness for a posting to Marsabit. During one of his safaris to the area, the acting P.C., Mr. North was informed of the acute staff shortage at Marsabit. Victor Fernandes had left to go on vacation leave, so also had the D.C. Mr. Wild. The latter would, however, be returning in time for the proposed visit to  Marsabit of the Governor of Kenya. Victor’s replacement was an elderly man named Kapila who had had no experience whatsoever in the provincial administration. For his age, Kapila was a wonderful companion both in and out of the office. Most of his previous service had been in the Veterinary department at Mariakani in the Coast Province. Although I had heard that he was a willing worker and ready to learn and adapt himself to changed situations, I couldn’t help feeling that it was a mistake to have posted him to the N.F.D. For one thing, he was quite old (over 50 then), had no experience of the work or life in the N.F.D. His inexperience was causing problems at Marsabit, and with a D.O. (John Lister) who had enough on his plate while the D.C. was away on leave — it was felt that my move should take place as soon as possible. I had not met John Lister before, but he had no doubt heard of me through the Wild family. As Mr. North had planned a further safari to Marsabit very shortly — to check on the arrangements for the Governor’s visit — he suggested that I could come along with him. In addition to his Land Rover in which he and his bird-loving friend (General Sir Gerald Lathbury, GOC, East Africa) would be travelling, he was also taking a Government lorry on which I could travel. I learnt that his VIP guest was as keen as Mr. North as far as ornithology went.

Little did I appreciate then what I had let myself in for. During the journey to Marsabit, we stopped on numerous occasions en route to record some of the bird sounds. Here in the N.F.D. there was tremendous scope for anyone with ‘bird watching’ interests, and for both the P.C. and the G.O.C., this must have been a very interesting trip indeed. There were times when, as we drove a few miles, Mr. Myles North, hearing some bird sounds, and recognizing these as rare, would stop the Land Rover and call for total silence among the party. Out would come the driver and tribal police escort. In a few minutes, they would be busy uncoiling great lengths of wiring and off-loading some of the recording paraphernalia, taking great care not to disturb the bird in the process. Then came the patient waiting to listen to some if not all of the bird-song. This was a task which only someone with a degree of patience — an attribute Mr. North was not lacking in — could accomplish. It struck me then that he was a man so interested in this particular field — for him, as for General Sir Gerald Lathbury, this must have been more than just a hobby — it certainly provided a great deal of relaxation. There were times when, after getting out all the recording equipment and waiting anxiously for several moments, the particular bird would just fly away! If he was able to track the movements of this particular bird, the truck would move on  to the new area and the whole process of relaying and setting the recording equipment would start again. All these stops to record bird sounds resulted in our arriving at Marsabit much later than we normally would. I was not sure whether the P.C. had succeeded in making any recordings on this trip but I expect that the very sighting of a particular bird was enough satisfaction.

Whereas during my initial posting there was just the D.C. and latterly a D.O. at Marsabit, there now was an additional European officer. Brian Hodgson, a very young man with a boyish appearance, was the District Assistant. This was a newly created cadre in the Provincial Administration. Coming as District Cashier on this second posting, I was allocated the house recently vacated by the Fernandeses. It was a well-appointed bungalow which Victor had  had tastefully modified. He and Lucy had also maintained an  excellent garden which they had both worked hard to create. Our trusted and faithful cook Sheunda, had more than served his time in the N.F.D. and decided that he would not be able to accompany me on this posting. I sympathized with his feelings; he was now quite old and not in the best of health. I knew at once how much I would miss him. Domestic staff were, as a rule, not too difficult to find, but the problem was to find the right type of person.

Once word got around that I needed a cook/houseboy, there were any number of applicants. The local Borana always felt ‘safe’ working for a Government official, especially if the particular individual happened to be a member of the Provincial Administration. Of the many applicants I saw, I finally settled for Godana, a tall and rather extrovert-type of person who had previously worked for one of the European police inspectors. He was fluent in Ki-Swahili and seemed a very jovial and lively individual. I do not think he had any experience of cooking Goan-type meals, but I had no doubt that with his enthusiastic approach and willing nature, he would have no difficulty in picking up some of the basics. Godana was very clean in appearance and without any prompting from me he would keep the house very neat and tidy always.

He had a very obliging nature too, but like most of the local domestic staff, he had a regular ‘invasion’ of visitors, all purporting to be the ndugus (brothers or relatives). The Boran, and for that matter most Africans, are fond of very sweet tea, and as the steam of his visitors kept increasing, I found that my stocks of tea and sugar were being steadily ‘demolished’ — I did not mind this in the least since Godana could never be faulted on his housework or cooking. I had also to remember that while I was occupied at work, it must have been pretty boring for him to sit all alone (after  finishing his daily chores) and wait for me to arrive!

Throughout this period at Marsabit, all the other Goan families (who were employed by the Kenya Police) looked after me very well; here I must mention the Furtado family, the two Almeida families and the late Francis Fernandes and his wife Leonora. Mrs. Fernandes always had a dish  prepared specially in my honour whenever I was invited to lunch or dinner. All the fuss that was being made of me was quite embarrassing at times, but I was grateful for the care and friendship. Good old Kapila, who was on his own, lived mostly on a diet of fresh fruit and vegetables. He had a Meru cook (left behind by the previous District clerk — a Muslim by the name of Khan)  — who was, for a greater part, under-employed (through no fault of his own), Kapila, as I’ve previously said, was very much my senior age-wise, but still respected me as though I was one of his elders. This caused me no end of embarrassment in the early days,  but I soon learnt to accept the situation, knowing how genuine and well-meaning a person he really was.

Being on my own again, the old familiar pattern of.exchanging correspondence soon became the only link that bound Elsie and myself during these days of ‘enforced’ separation. I began to miss her and Clyde very much, and rather than spend time on my own at home, I often called at the homes of some of my other colleagues on the station.

In readiness for the Governor’s visit, the outside of the district office had been given a liberal coat of whitewash — other offices and the shops in the township had received a similar face-lift. Mr. Wild returned to Marsabit a few weeks before Sir Evelyn and Lady Mary Baring where due to arrive and seemed generally satisfied with all the arrangements that John Lister (the DO) had made in his absence. He and his wife  were delighted to have me back and hoped it would not be long before the rest of the family would join me. Even though Marsabit was being honoured by a visit from the Governor and his wife, we couldn’t get the elements to change their normal pattern. The cold and  misty weather greeted the VIPs as they landed, and after being met by the D.C., the party were driven into the boma. Here, on the  green outside the DC’s office, the Governor inspected a guard of honour mounted by the Kenya Police and a contingent of Dubas, and later took the salute at a ceremonial parade that followed. The distinguished visitors were then introduced to the staff and other notables in the township — Chiefs, prominent traders, etc. I had the pleasure of meeting both Sir Evelyn and Lady Mary Baring, and can recall quite vividly the scenes outside the district office on that cold morning. In introducing me to Sir Evelyn, John Lister told His Excellency that he didn’t feel I would be staying long at Marsabit since it was individuals like me that the Secretariat in Nairobi were looking for.

If only he knew how much I wanted to be left behind at Marsabit or at any rate in the N.F.D. Nairobi did not appeal to me in the least — even if moving there meant a promotion. I preferred the simple and unspoilt life of the district, the colourful people and above all, the wide open spaces; this, to me was real freedom!

The Dubas in their snow-white bafta uniforms with bright red turbans, the Kenya police askaris in their well starched uniforms and the European Police officers and the D.C. in ceremonial dress all looked very impressive indeed. The parade itself was a great occasion conducted with due pomp and ceremony.

Although I had accumulated quite a few days local leave, I had no intention of utilizing all of it to go down to Kitale, since the bulk had to be saved up for later — nearer the time of Elsie’s confinement. We were told that the baby could be expected any time during the second week in October, 1955; since there were still some six months to go, I  decided to take a week’s casual leave and get down to Kitale to be reunited with the family once more. On this occasion, I was pleasantly surprised to find Elsie looking much better than she was  when I first left her; Clyde was also growing up nicely and looked a perfect picture of health. At Kitale, I was quick to notice some of the changes. A new maternity unit for the Asian population had been opened as an extension of the Native hospital — with Sister  Steers in charge. For us, it was a comfort to know that our second child would be  born in more pleasant surroundings. I just didn’t feel like leaving my young family to return to Marsabit, but consoled myself with the thought that once the baby was born, we would all be together again. This was the only consoling thought.

The week at Kitale just flew by, and before I had time to think about it, I was back at Marsabit — all too soon it seemed!

As our new addition was not expected until the second week in October, I decided to postpone my second local leave entitlement until nearer the day; besides, with all the additional leave  we were able to earn in the frontier, I had now accumulated quite a few days and by October would have some three weeks in hand. The period between my returning from my first leave, and waiting to go down on my second, seemed the longest I have known – perhaps I was getting too impatient. The only comforting aspect was the regular mail I received from Elsie. Meanwhile at Marsabit, all my friends were being most kind and helpful, and my Boran cook, Godana, did his best to keep me well fed. Arero, our gardener, who obviously had green fingers, toiled hard to give the whole place a very colourful and tidy look. He was an exceptionally good gardener who had profited much from the  training received under the Fernandeses.

As often as I could, I would get out for weekends — either to nearby Lake Paradise or GofChoba. Lake Paradise was a densely forested area where many of the. trees were laced with a moss which we called ‘elephant  grass’ — I believe this moss is also called ‘old man’s beard’. Here we would picnic and sometimes drive further afield in search of game for the pot. This was truly a naturalist’s paradise. Whereas the climate in the Lake Paradise area was cold and damp, GofChoba was just the opposite. This was an empty crater on the Marsabit-Moyale road which had the usual complement of guinea fowl and dik-dik. Whenever we went on such outings we would spend the whole day outdoors, returning to the boma well before dusk. We would then disperse to our respective homes and meet again later in the evening over drinks. On such evenings, I always ensured that I returned home  well before it got dark, and certainly before the elephant herds arrived on their nightly patrols! The area around Marsabit mountain had a sizeable elephant population, and the herds would often stray into the boma at nights causing havoc to the shambas of the locals. They likewise strolled through our gardens,  breaking down the branches of the pepper trees which they somehow took a liking to.

With all the outings and the varied entertainment we created for ourselves, the days now seemed to be moving faster – for me at any rate. I found myself back at Kitale during the first week of October, and was again pleased to see Elsie looking fit and well. All the indications were that she hadn’t long to wait now before our second child arrived. Clyde, now two years old, was beginning to look very handsome – real attraction he was. With all the fuss and pampering  he received at the hands of my in-laws, it took him a few days to get to know me again! He seemed very shy initially but soon got over this phase. He was at  that interesting age when he didn’t require much attention, although there was no shortage of volunteers from among my in-laws’ family if such help was required.

Our second child, another boy, was born on October 10th 1955. Since I would be returning to Marsabit within a few days, it was decided that he be christened much earlier than usual. The names we chose were Conrad Francis. He weighed seven pounds at birth and looked very healthy and quite normal. There was great rejoicing when Elsie left hospital to return home with him. Clyde  was now beginning to sense the attention that was focused on Conrad, but in his own way, seemed quite proud of his new baby brother. I had decided to leave after satisfying myself that all was well with Elsie and the family, and we had agreed that she and the boys should join me at Marsabit once Conrad was about three months old.

From my side, nothing had been planned for Christmas, although I had hoped to be able to get down to Kitale again in the New Year and collect the family. The D.C., no doubt realizing I would be lost at Marsabit on my own during the festive season, agreed that I could spend Christmas with the family and return with them later. As good luck would have it, I managed to get a lift in to Isiolo, and from there a trader’s truck took me all the way to Nairobi. Here I took the Grey Line coach to Kitale and was simply thrilled to be back with the family in such a short time.

I was pleased to have been given this opportunity of spending Christmas at Kitale more so because I would have the opportunity of attending midnight Mass (something I just couldn’t have done at Marsabit) and also taking part in the festivities.

The whole season passed off very well and there were gifts galore for our two sons — with so many aunts and uncles, this was only to be expected. As usual, my mother-in-law had laid on a tremendous spread for the whole family and I often wondered how she coped with such ease with all the preparations. She seemed born to entertain and make people happy. Had we agreed, I am quite sure she would have wanted us to leave the two children behind with her while we went to Marsabit.