2 : MOVE TO THE COAST
MOVE TO THE COAST
I had spent barely a couple of months in Nairobi when I asked my immediate superiors whether it would be possible to move me to the DC’s office at Mombasa. Unofficially at least, I was told not to expect much, since people who were transferred to the Coast Province, were sent there more on health grounds (here, I am referring to the Goan staff in particular). Luck seemed to have been on my side, and within a few days, my transfer to the Coast Province was approved. I was simply delighted at the thought of returning to the warm and sunny climate of Mombasa, and of being with my cousins once more. Mombasa had a varied and interesting history; it was known as ‘Mombasa Mvita’ — the isle of war, and there is no denying the fact that this sunny town on Kenya’s coastline witnessed, over the years, some bloody struggles involving Arabs, Africans and the Portuguese — all of whom were anxious to gain a foothold on the island.
The DC at Mombasa was a very stern man I was warned. He was strict and expected a high degree of efficiency from his staff. So much for this rather awesome introduction to a man I had yet to meet!
The only other thing I knew about him was that he was a New Zealander.
My cousins were delighted: to have me back, and though they had a young family of four children then, they readily agreed to my staying with them.
On my first working day at Mombasa, I took the bus from Ganjoni (where we lived), to the town centre. On arrival at the DC’s office, I reported to the District Clerk, Mr. Cordeiro (a very tall and worried-looking man) who introduced me to the District Cashier, another tall, grey-haired elderly gentleman by the name of Albert D’Cunha. He was pleased to meet me, as was also my next contact — a Mr. S. F. Braganca, a retired civil servant who, I was told, had been recalled to help with the additional work that had arisen in the office.
As both these men knew my late father, I felt quite at home with them. The soft-spoken and well-mannered Mr. Braganca had a very neat handwriting; he would have made a good artist. His was the type of handwriting that we were taught at school, and which I had great difficulty in transcribing. Sadly, my handwriting never improved over the years! Having met most of the Goan staff, I was then taken to meet the District Officer (DO) — the Hon. Roger Clinton-Mills, himself fairly new to Kenya; finally, I met the DC himself. There was no doubt in my mind, no sooner I had met him, that Mr. Skipper was a tough man; earlier descriptions I’d been given of the man matched his serious countenance; he looked stern — rarely a smile on his face. In their white drill safari-type jackets and shorts, with well-polished ‘Kenya lion’ brass buttons on their pockets, both the DC and DO looked very smart indeed. Since the DC and PC’s officers were housed on the same floor, I also met some of the Provincial Commissioner’s staff — first the chief clerk, Mr. Pascoal D’Mello; an intelligent-looking individual, one of whose many duties included the posting of Asian staff within the Province. It was therefore very much in my interest to create a good impression, and this I was determined to do. I then met the relief clerk for the Province — a sprightly young man, two years my senior — his name, Ignatius Carvalho. This man was to become my loyal and trusted friend in later years.
My duties also brought me in contact with some of the other officials in the district office — the Liwali for the Coast, Sheikh Mbarak Ali Hinaway (later Sir Mbarak Ali Hinaway), and also the Asst. Liwali at the time, Sheikh Rashid bin Azzan. I had more dealings with the latter with whom I also got on very well. He was a very kind and soft-spoken Arab who looked very impressive in his long flowing white robe. Mohamed Said was the Kadhi, and mention must also be made of our ever-obliging office boy, Fadhili, a native of the Coast Province, who looked old enough to be my father. He often surprised me with the speed with which he would attend to our many errands on his bicycle — official and private errands at that! I was never introduced to the Provincial Commissioner (PC) Mr. E. R. St. Davies or the Deputy PC, Mr. P. F. Foster, although I did know them by sight.
Being new to the office, I was given an assortment of jobs — maintaining the inward and outward register of all correspondence, billing and correctly disposing of all incoming mail, etc. I welcomed the opportunity of doing the different jobs because of the training it provided me in the many aspects of the work in a busy district office like Mombasa. The District Clerk, Mr. Cordeiro, was not a very healthy man and suffered frequently from attacks of asthma. This often meant that I, a comparative junior, had to step into the breach and take on a good deal of added responsibility. My efforts certainly didn’t go unnoticed. I found that Mr. Skipper would channel quite a portion of the daily correspondence and other jobs in my direction. This in itself gave me an added degree of responsibility which I knew would stand me in good stead in the years ahead.
With the added experience I had gained, it was felt by officials at the PC’s office, that I would now be suited for a posting to another district where I could work almost on my own. In many ways, I was delighted at the thought of being independent and having to fend for myself so to speak. This was the only way to get along in life I thought. As if to give me a foretaste of things to come, I was sent on relief duty to the Kilifi District situated half-way between Mombasa and Malindi. I was to assist the District Clerk who, I was told, was a very hot tempered individual. Fortunately for me, I never noticed any such traits in him, and must record that both he and his wife made my brief stay in Kilifi a very memorable and enjoyable one. Mr. and Mrs. R. R. D’Souza were a middle-aged couple who had no children; they were very pleased to have me stay with them. During my short stay in this district, I handled a lot of Court and Prisons work — a new experience as far as I was concerned. In addition, I was able to assist Mr. D’Souza generally in the office. The DC at the time was Mr. J. D. Stringer, brother-in-law of Mr. Skipper. Kilifi reminded me very much of my native Goa. It was here that I was able to taste some of the best cashews and cashew nuts too. Through the kindness of the D’Souza’s, I was even able to visit the nearby town of Malindi, passing the Gedi ruins en route. These ruins are the first of the coast’s long-lost ancient cities which were later uncovered and preserved. We made a brief stop here to survey the ruins, and later drove to Malindi where we spent the night. It was here I am told that the Portuguese navigator, Vasco da Gamafirst stopped in the fifteenth century. Malindi is an idyllic little town full of unspoilt white sandy beaches. The music of the coconut palms swaying romantically in the gentle tropical breeze, the non-stop chatter of the Swahili folk at the local fish market, and the lavish hospitality of our Goan host, Mr. Colaco (who owned an hotel at Malindi) are memories that haunt me still.
Malindi has a large Arab and Swahili population, and is a well-known tourist attraction. As one approaches the Arab quarter of this small ‘Arabian Nights-type’ town, one can smell the salt fish-laden air, in distinct contrast to the fresh sea air in the more salubrious parts of the town. I returned to Mombasa having enjoyed my brief tour of duty at Kilifi immensely.
The experience I had now gained in the many aspects of administration work had now made me ‘eligible’ for a transfer elsewhere. I had, in a way, come well through my probationary period, and the powers that be felt that I was fit to move out on my own. That they felt so confident, gave me added pluck and encouragement too. For me, it was a case of ‘so far, so good’! Not surprisingly in late 1948, I was posted to Voi in the Teita District. I had heard a lot about Voi — notorious in days gone by for its malaria, a town where the grave of one of the victims of the ‘Man-eaters of Tsavo’ — Capt. O’Hara, still stands (and which I was able to visit). Voi also served as a junction for rail traffic bound for Tanganyika.
I was delighted over this new posting, and left Mombasa by train on a Saturday, arriving at Voi a few hours later. I had passed through this station previously on my first trip to Nairobi. There to greet me were three Goans from the DC’s office — the Cashier, Mr.SilwynPinto, the District Clerk, Mr. L. G. Noronha and the Rationing Clerk, a Mr. P. J. DeMellow (who spelt his name differently from the rest of the D’Mellos — and who I was to replace). Accompanying them, was a rather serious-looking Goan, Germano Gomes by name, who was temporarily stationed at Voi while staff quarters and a district office were being completed at the nearby sub-station at Mackinnon Road where he was actually posted. Gomes, as I’ve said, looked very stern and gave me the impression of being a strict disciplinarian. I was not sure what to expect in the way of a reception, especially since the man I would be replacing, had had his services terminated. I never really found out why he was removed from there, nor did it worry me at the time since my prime task was to do the job I had been sent out to do.
I must admit, however, to being somewhat embarrassed by the remarks of one of the Goans who had come to collect me from the station. Having driven down from the boma (administrative headquarters), in the government three-tonner, he just couldn’t understand how my luggage was so little — consisting of a large cabin trunk, a camp bed, mattress and holdall; that was all, nothing more! I wondered if he had realized that I was new to the service, and the things I had brought out with me were in fact the very items I had arrived with from India! This was, after all, my first job since leaving school, and the few possessions I had were my ‘all and everything’.
As I was to learn later, administrative staff who transfer between districts invariably carried ‘tons’ of luggage, and it was certainly a big joke among my colleagues — to see the 3-tonner being driven back to the boma almost as empty as when it had first arrived at the station. The driver of the truck, a fierce looking Mteita tribesman, with piercing eyes and distinct tribal markings all over his face, must have been equally amazed, but didn’t utter a word. He merely grinned at me. Shingira was a very good driver, who I got to know and like. It was he who, in the months ahead, gave me my first driving lessons at the wheel of his three-tonner.
The hospitality I received from my friends was very warm, and after a brief stop at the house of Silvyn Pinto — where we were entertained to’ coffee by his wife, and where we also met Mrs. Noronha — I was taken by Germano Gomes, later that night, to the Government bungalow which we would be sharing; a daunting prospect to be sharing this house with a man I held in awe. I needn’t have feared though, since he turned out to be a very charming and hospitable individual. Despite the difference in ages, we got on very well. From my experience of Gomes in the office, I soon discovered that he was a glutton for work and a stickler for perfection. He was certainly not the person to suffer fools gladly.
The surroundings at Voi were truly rural and I loved them. They made a pleasant change from Mombasa. From the rear of our bungalow, we looked out into the sparsely forested Teita Hills. The soil was ochre-like, and the ground itself seemed very parched.
On the Monday morning, I met the DC — Mr. K. M. Cowley, a Manxman from Douglas, Isle of Man. A very friendly and likeable person he really was, and I was convinced from the outset that I would have no difficulty in getting on with him. I was shown around my new office — a temporary mud and wattle structure with thatched roof, housing among other things, a collection of ants, lizards and other creepy-crawlies! I also had an office boy attached to my office — a Mteita tribesman called Mwambacha. An elderly and well-mannered individual,he was always willing to help in any way possible. The office boy at the main district office was also a Mteita by the name of Matasa, so was the tax clerk Douglas Mlamba.
I was responsible to the DC for the issue of ration cards throughout the township, allocation of cereals, rice and sugar and, believe it or not, organizing the whisky quota among the Government and railway officials in the district. Scotch was strictly rationed in those days. I liked the job as it brought me in contact with the bulk of the townsfolk, chiefly the bibis (womenfolk), many of whom, babes strapped around their backs, queued patiently for their ration cards. These women wore very colourful dresses — some wore kangas (material for which was rationed and only obtainable against a permit signed by me on the DC’s behalf). Mwambacha kept them all amused by indulging in their never-ending chatter. I dealt with the long queues as speedily as I could, but the worried look on Mwambacha’s face often made me feel that I wasn’t quick enough. I needn’t have worried since I found out later that Mwambacha was very pleased with the way things were going — his worried look was part of his make-up since he always wore a solemn face! I was very impressed at the way in which he controlled the sometimes restless crowds, making sure there was no queue jumping.
In addition to running the rationing office, I also looked after the District office stores. The stores ledgers and the stores generally were one big muddle — no one had attempted to organize them, so I decided to make these my next priority. Mr. Cowley was pleased with the initiative I’d shown, and gave me a free hand in the organization. After some weeks of hard work, I saw the DC and suggested that the best way to get the stores in ship-shape order would be to convene a Board of Survey — write off any minor losses and such items which had become unserviceable through fair wear and tear, and start afresh. He readily agreed, and soon after the Board of Survey had met and made its recommendations, I was able to start a brand new stores ledger with all stocks physically checked and recorded.
Obviously impressed by what I had achieved in the short space of time, Mr. Cowley was quick to commend me for my efforts. I felt greatly encouraged. Having thus spent a fair portion of my time in organizing my work schedule, I found that I was free for varying periods during the day. I could, had I wanted to, have wasted this time in not doing anything constructive; the rationing office was a building completely separated from the main district office, so there was no direct supervision of my work as such. With all this time at my disposal, I volunteered to help both the District Cashier and District Clerk, since in addition to assisting them, I would be profiting by learning the various aspects of their respective jobs — an experience which would no doubt be to my advantage in the future. I do not think that either of them felt any sense of insecurity over my offer of help, especially since, judging from the rules for promotion obtaining at the time, it would be several years before I could be appointed to their grades. I must admit that the thought of displacing them never crossed my mind, and feel sure that the staff concerned were grateful for the assistance provided.
On the home front, the senior clerk with whom I shared accommodation, Germano Gomes, was soon to move to Mackinnon Road. The DO, a Mr. D. J. Penwill, had already moved there himself, and felt that he should have his clerk with him as quickly as possible. Gomes left within a very short time, and as a numerical replacement, and in order to step up the strength of the clerical staff at Voi, the PC’s office posted Ignatius Carvalho (who I had previously met at Mombasa), as Asst. to the District Cashier.
I was excited with the news of his posting as, being virtually of the same age, we would get on well together. Besides, our ideas about work and recreation were very similar. We even succeeded in dividing the domestic chores between us when Ignatius arrived. I managed the household budget, while he coped with, and very admirably too, the cooking and general housekeeping side of things.
To assist us in the home, we employed a mtoto (Swahili term for juvenile) whose task it was to do the odd jobs around the house, i.e. the sweeping and tidying up of the house, shopping, and assisting generally with the cooking/washing up, etc. This young lad proved more of a liability at times. He would delight in helping himself to a bowl or two of rich soup, while we were treated to a highly watered-down version of the original recipe! We sometimes got quite exasperated and lost our cool, but soon came to accept the situation. After all, these were bachelor days, and there was precious little we could do to remedy the domestic situation.
There was a great deal of outdoor activity to occupy our spare time; we often played tennis with the railway and post office staff; on occasions, the DC and some of the army personnel would join us. Another sport we indulged in was wild game hunting. The newly-arrived Cashier, a Mr. Andrade, a frontier veteran, possessed a firearm and also a bird/game licence, and we would frequently go on a dik-dik or buck shoot. Andrade was a crack shot who would have made an excellent marksman. We were never short of game meat while he was there. Our other recreation included a walk to the railway station each night in time to meet the Mombasa-Nairobi train . Here we often met the Postmaster and his family who lived not far from the station. Ed Ohis was a very jovial Mauritian who lived with his wife and grown up daughter in a house adjoining Voi post office. As Ignatius Carvalho knew many of the catering staff on the trains (his father having been employed in this department previously), we were very fortunate on occasions, to be treated to cups of that delightful railway percolated coffee. After the train had left Voi, we would return to the Ohis household to be entertained by soothing music from his guitar while I did the singing!
At the office, several staff changes had taken place. The DC, Mr. Cowley, had left on overseas leave, and was replaced by Mr. A. J. Stevens (sadly, this young and promising officer was killed several years later when he went to investigate a border skirmish involving members of the East Suk tribe at a place called Nginyang in the Rift Valley Province). He was a much younger man than Mr.Cowley. The District Clerk, Mr. L. G. Noronha was transferred to Kwale, and his place taken by a native of the Seychelles — a Mr. Popponeau.
This latest arrival was fairly senior in the service, and had earned himself a reputation for introducing efficient filing systems wherever he went. He was a very methodical and conscientious worker. Relations with all the staff were very cordial, and although age-wise, Mr. Andrade was the oldest, he certainly seemed the most active and energetic of the lot.
Voi had no police station during my time, but a small force of six Kenya Police was stationed there under the command of a Sgt.-Major — Mohamed Lali, a Bajun from the Lamu district. Tall, tough and always smartly turned out, Sgt.-Major Mohamed Lali came directly under the DC as far as the day to day work and discipline was concerned; otherwise, his superior was the Superintendent of Police for the Coast Province who was stationed at Mombasa.
An incident involving three off-duty Kenya policemen, and over which I had some dealings, needs to be mentioned. One evening when the DC, Mr. Stevens, was away on safari, Sgt.-Major Lali came dashing to my house after office hours, with a familiar looking Government form in his hand. I immediately recognized this as being the one we always sent down to the local Medical Officer whenever there was a case involving assault causing actual bodily harm’. It so happened that the three policemen (all of the Nandi tribe) had got themselves so drunk that they attacked and savagely beat up a European farmer who had stopped briefly in the township on his way from Mombasa to his farm at Thompson’s Falls in the Rift Valley Province. Dr. Jodh Singh, the local MO who examined Mr. Swanepoel indicated the extent of the injuries on the form which was then returned to me by the Sgt.-Major. This would be required as evidence at a later date. As Mr. Swanepoel had nowhere to sleep that night, Ignatius and I offered him the hospitality of our government bungalow — a gesture he much appreciated. After spending the night with us, obviously in great pain, he left the following morning. The next day, I reported the incident to the DC and the policemen concerned were charged and placed on remand. Their case was later tried by Mr. Stevens in his capacity as First Class Magistrate and the three were sentenced to nine months imprisonment with hard labour, with a recommendation that they each receive six strokes of the cane. I was a principal witness in this case. Without in anyway wanting to condone the action of these men, I felt very sorry for them. Here were three young men with a bright and promising future ahead of them — who had ruined their whole career because of drink. .
During our stay at Voi, Ignatius and I were very fortunate to make a trip to the TeitaHills, helping in the population census that was being conducted about that time. While in this area, we stayed at the Government Rest House at a place called Ngereni, high up in the hills at Wundanyi. On this safari, we stopped briefly at the main hospital at Wesu; the whole hospital area seemed always enveloped in a thick cloud of mist which kept lifting very slowly. Apart from the roads leading up to theTeitaHills, which were very steep and windy, the area itself was healthy, and there was talk even then of moving the administrative headquarters from Voi to Wundanyi (this transfer was achieved several years later).
Due to Voi’s proximity to Tanganyika, Ignatius and I were also able to visit the town of Moshi — thanks to a kindly Arab trader (Shariff Ali) who ran a regular bus service between Voi and Moshi; I recall having a haircut there since we did not have a resident barber at Voi! Yet another sub-station where I was fortunate in being able to do a spell of relief duty was Taveta on the Kenya-Tanganyika borders. This district was well known for its sisal plantations and one of the early European pioneers, the late Col. Ewart S. Grogan lived here. Although my stay at Taveta was very brief, the young Goan cashier (Peter de Souza) arid his wife were perfect hosts to me. The DO at the time was a Mr. A. D. Galton-Fenzi, a tall and well-built young man who always seemed so full of energy. He and Peter de Souza were greatly instrumental in having a tennis court built at Taveta with the help of prison labour. The District Cashier prior to Peter’s arrival was a middle-aged Goan called Ivo Coelho, who was a good friend of ours.
As bachelors, Ignatius and I found that our house was regularly being used as a sort of ‘entertainments centre’. While we were happy to entertain our guests, the frequency of such ‘get togethers’ was beginning to make inroads into our meagre finances. Under the existing rules governing advancement within the service, there was no prospect of our receiving any substantial financial reward (other than the annual increments) for some considerable time. Seniority was the main criterion for promotion in those days. Although in our own minds we knew we were doing a good job, and certain that our immediate superior was aware of this, we did realize that, as newcomers in the service we could hardly expect to receive any preferential treatment. The only solution was for us to move to a district where there was not too much of a social life, and where we could live relatively debt-free.