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19 : PROMOTION AND MOVE TO MACHAKOS

 To my surprise, I was called for the interview and faced not just the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission, but five other officers drawn from various departments. The interview itself was quite painless and in my own mind I felt that I had performed well. This was not a new feeling however, since I had returned with similar hopes from previous interviews. There was not much I could do now but to await the verdict of the commission. Since I had some local leave due to me, we decided to take a few days and spend this period with my in-laws. It was while we were on holiday at Kitale that I was recalled and told that I had in fact been selected for the Ministry of Agriculture post. I was over the moon, especially since this posting would be a turning point in my career. Amidst all the excitement, there was disappointment in that I would be leaving a department I had grown up in, and where I had hoped to stay on until I retired. I somehow liked the Provincial Administration, the variety of work and also the opportunity one had of meeting some of the cream of the civil service among the European officers. However, sentiment had to give way to my future career and prospects and I soon reconciled myself to the fact that although I was moving to a new department, my links with the many friends I had made in the Provincial Administration would always be retained. Besides, if things   changed, and a suitable opportunity arose in the future, who knows, I might even apply for a posting back to the Administration! Much to my in-laws’ disappointment, we had to cut short our holiday and return to Kisii to pack up and arrange to leave for Machakos, where I was told   I would be relieving the European Office Superintendent  who was  due to retire very soon. Our friends, though pleased over my success, were very disappointed that we would be leaving Kisii. We had established a very lively and friendly community there. Both individually and collectively, they entertained us prior to our leaving, and at a farewell party to mark my promotion, friends in the Provincial Administration even presented me with a gift as a token of their esteem – a gesture I deeply appreciated.

After I had handed over temporarily (my substantive replacement had not arrived when I left Kisii), we left for Machakos via Nairobi, stopping in the city for a few hours. At Machakos, I had an old friend from Lodwar days — John Vaz, and we were his guests for the first few days of our arrival there while the question of providing us with more permanent accommodation was being sorted out. John was a married man now and his wife Olinda looked after us well.

At the office the following day, I met the man I was to replace — Archie Allan; he had served for many years in the Agricultural department and had decided to retire to England. I also met the Provincial Agricultural Officer, Reg Spooner, who was due to leave on a posting outside Kenya himself; later the same morning, I met the new PAO who would be my immediate boss. He introduced himself as Dick Henderson and asked what my Christian name was. It was this first and informal meeting that set the tone for our happy working relationship in the months that followed. Dick Henderson was new to the area, having come from Nyeri. In a way, it was good that we were both new, but I was new not only to the job but the department as well. As Provincial Office Superintendent, I was more of a PA to the Provincial Agricultural Officer and handled all the administrative and financial aspects of the various District Agricultural offices within the Southern Province. Archie Allan gave me a good introduction to the work and even provided me with valuable information on the various officers – those who were easy to get on with and others who could be awkward. It is my good fortune to record that I never met any of the latter – they all turned out to be a splendid group of men who I had not the slightest difficulty in working with.

Despite the change in the type of work I was previously doing, I soon settled down in my new post, and within a few months had already won the respect of the various District and Asst. Agricultural officers in the field – and more particularly of the PAO himself. I was given a free hand in the running of the office, and this helped me no end, since Dick Henderson never questioned any decisions I made; in fact he always backed me to the hilt, and it was this attitude of his that provided a great deal of encouragement and also gave me much confidence. His concern and regard for me is borne out by the strong case he put forward to the Director of Agriculture – that I be housed in a Government quarter compatible with my status. In this connection, I should mention that after staying with John Vaz for the first few days, I was asked to move into an Asian quarter, which two Goan bachelor friends of mine (Caje Lobo and Tony D’Souza) were rather abruptly asked to vacate. I was far from pleased with this arrangement, since in the first place the house was not in keeping with my new grading, and secondly, it lacked such simple amenities as indoor sanitation and similar facilities. The D.C. at the time (who was also Chairman of the Housing committee) was a Mr. T. A. (Tom) Watts. I was told by colleagues in the DC’s office that it would not be possible for me to be given a superior-type quarter, nor was there any prospect of an immediate change in the amenities as far as Asian housing was concerned. I refused to be discouraged by all this and was determined to put up a strong case  — firstly for a complete modernization of the quarter allotted to me, and secondly that as soon as a ‘European-type’ quarter (for which my new grading entitled me to) became available, I should be given first priority. My request was strongly supported by Dick Henderson, and before long the D.C. had got his District Assistant and a team from the Ministry of Works to carry out a detailed survey of Asian housing in the township. We were later told that indoor sanitation would be installed and some modifications carried out to the quarter. Not being entirely satisfied with this temporary arrangement, Dick Henderson sent me off to the Ministry in Nairobi with a letter for the Deputy Director of Agriculture – putting up a strong case for my housing, and asking that he (the Director) make suitable representations to the D.C. at Machakos. I must say that my case for improved housing conditions was strongly backed by the Asst. Director of Agriculture, Tom Wills, and before long we were allocated a spacious European-type house at Kithayoni, some two and a half miles from the township. The house was occupied by Peter Cochrane, an Asst. Agricultural Officer, who was leaving on overseas leave. There was one other quarter at Kithayoni, and this was occupied by Dr M. Waiyaki, one of the local Medical Officers who later left the service to enter politics and eventually rose to become a key Minister in Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s cabinet.

My new job entailed attendance at meetings in Nairobi fairly frequently, and because of other local travelling to the nearby stations of Katumani and Ngelani, I was allowed to use one of the official Land Rovers. Bill Reid (I called him the singing Scotsman) was the Provincial Transport Officer with whom I got on very well so there was never any problem in getting a Land Rover whenever I needed one. He was full of energy and had a funny habit of singing and tap-dancing whenever I went across to see him (hence the nickname!)

Kithayoni was a little village on the road to the Mua Hills (and the Kenya Orchards factory) where many of the Wakamba woodcarvers lived. Some of these men would call at our house bringing all their attractive wares for sale. We were thus able to buy some very good carvings and on occasions get them to produce special carvings from designs supplied by us. I marvelled at the way they produced some of these works of art, using very basic tools like a pen-knife, kitchen knife, etc.

There were several Asian-owned shops at Machakos — the most popular being the two stores run by Jan Mohamed (M. D. Puri & Sons), and the other run by the Maini brothers. Jan Mohamed was an Ismaili (a friend and follower of the Aga Khan) who was well liked and respected not only by members of his own community, but others as well. After Kenya’s independence, he rose to become an Asst. Minister for Tourism. The Mainis were equally popular in the town. There was also a bakery owned and run by a Goan family — the D’Souzas; one of the sons worked for the District Agricultural office and helped with the family business in the evenings. I was told that the family had lived in Machakos for some years.

Being stationed at the Provincial Agricultural headquarters, I regularly came in contact with officers from various other departments, and on one occasion I was pleasantly surprised to see an old friend of mine, Mr. K. M. Cowley (my DC at Voi), who was now the Provincial Commissioner for the Southern Province. There was a hint of surprise in his face when he greeted me – I expect he wondered for a moment whether I was in the wrong office! When I told him of my recent promotion in the Agricultural Department, he jokingly referred to me as ‘traitor’, little realizing that I would never have left the Provincial Administration had a similar opening been found for me in that department. On one of his other visits to Machakos, I had the pleasure of meeting him and another of my former D.Cs (Mr. Christopher Denton) -at a party given in honour of the visiting Provincial Commissioner by the D.C. Machakos. In some ways I felt that although I had moved from the Administration to a new department, I had not really severed my links with the many friends I had made while in that department.

Machakos was a very rich district in the agricultural sense, and it was always a pleasure to shop at the many local markets and pick up some of the finest fresh produce. Because of my working at the Provincial headquarters, and the fact that the Marketing and Produce officer operated from the District Agricultural office next door, I was very fortunate in being able to buy many items of choice fresh produce including eggs, strawberries, etc. at very reasonable prices.

Being so close to Nairobi, we drove to the city quite often, and this gave us the opportunity of not only doing the odd shopping there, but also meeting and renewing old acquaintances. Similarly, our friends in the city were able to escape and spend a day or weekends with us in the quiet of Kithayoni.

Andrew was now at a very interesting age, and he and Clyde got on well together; besides, our house was quite spacious with equally open grounds so there was never a problem or shortage of playing space outdoors.  Although starved of company of his age, Clyde managed to amuse himself somehow. For Elsie, the whole area must have seemed so quiet and isolated, but having lived in Marsabit previously, and with more than a handful to cope with over Clyde and Andrew, she was never really lonely. Besides, our cook Magama was a great help. He had been with us since Kisii days and had got to know us well. He was very much of a fatherly figure – kind, caring and always obliging.

Ever since my posting to Machakos, I had known that I would not be stationed long in the district, especially since the time was soon approaching when we were due for another round of overseas leave. I had been in my new job for a very short period and very much hoped that I would be posted back to Machakos when I returned from leave, since I loved the district and the people very much. I had visited Ministry officials in Nairobi prior to departing on the holiday, and all the indications were that I would be returning here very shortly. Even so, we had to pack all our belongings since the Government quarter would now revert to the housing pool and be re-allocated. I was very fortunate in being able to store all our baggage in the transport store