21 : POSTING TO NJORO
On our arrival at Mombasa, I was rather surprised to learn that we would not be returning to Machakos after all; instead, I had been posted to the Plant Breeding Station at Njoro. There was not the slightest hint when I left Machakos that I would not be returning there for a further tour of duty. Having previously served in the Provincial Administration and being accustomed to transfer between districts at fairly frequent intervals, I was not unduly worried over the move to Njoro. Besides, it would be yet another station to add to the long list of places I’d worked in since joining the civil service. We would also be meeting new people and making new friends. I had hazy recollections of Njoro which went back to my childhood days, as it was here that my father spent his first local leave after my mother died in 1935; with him, my two brothers and I had spent a few days with an old friend of Dad’s – Hector De Moraes, who was then Chief Clerk at the Agricultural station at Njoro.
We stuck to our original plan and spent two days with my cousins at Mombasa and then left for Nairobi and finally Machakos. It was very fortunate that our cook Magama had arrived there earlier from Kisii and was able to assist Elsie with the move. After a very brief stay at Machakos, we drove to Njoro via Nairobi and Nakuru. Most of our luggage had been sent through one of the Agricultural department trucks, and since the one truck was not sufficient, Bill Reid had kindly provided a Land Rover as well. We arrived at Njoro later that evening where we were met by Victor da Costa. We had never met before but I must say he made us very welcome. He had not been long at Njoro himself, and was employed as a Lab. Technologist at the station. On the evening of our arrival, the Farm Manager of the station – a tall and tough looking Welshman by the name of George Roberts, also called to let us know that we had been allotted a brand new house; as we were quite tired after the long journey from Machakos, I decided to leave the inspection of the house until the following day. That night, Victor had also asked the Goan carpenter on the station to join us at dinner. I remembered Pedro D’Souza well from my childhood days and was pleased to see that he was still attached to this important station; my only disappointment was when I heard how he had been unable to advance further in the service because of being semi-literate and lacking in paper qualifications. This was a real pity especially since his work was of a very high standard – and many of the farm buildings, etc. were ample testimony to his skill and hard work. I vowed then that I would do all in my power to see that his post was upgraded.
Our first impressions of Njoro were that this was a truly healthy station where we hoped we would be kept for many years. The whole area was so unlike the normal district headquarters; this place was more of a huge farm with acres and acres of lush green fields all around. Most of the staff quarters were fairly new, and the one we were to move into had only just been completed. This was the first station in my entire civil service career where I was allocated a brand new house.
On the Monday morning I reported for duty and met the Senior Plant Breeder, an elderly Englishman by the name of Hugh Thorpe. He was a bachelor and had been at Njoro for many years now. The Plant Breeder, who was more of a deputy to the Senior Plant Breeder was away on vacation leave in England at the time – his name, Giles Dixon. There was yet another Plant Breeder I met – a young Welshman called Ken Lynch. The Asst. Plant Breeder, and the only Goan who had been on the Plant Breeding Station for many years, Felix Pinto, was also away doing a post-graduate course at Cambridge. I had heard a lot about him – a very hard working and efficient Plant Breeder who was well liked and respected by the predominantly European farming community, and also held in high esteem by all his other friends. I was so looking forward to meeting him when he returned to Njoro. There were others at the station who I also met – Dr John Guthrie, who was Plant Pathologist, N. K. Patel, the Lab. Technologist and the second Asst. Plant Breeder who had recently joined the station -V. P. Patel. In addition, there was an elderly Swede, Nils Lundin who was employed as Seeds Officer, and then of course, the man I had come to replace, Jim Crawford. He was a charming man but sadly, a victim of multiple sclerosis. His wife Betty, who worked as a Secretary at the nearby Egerton Agricultural College, was also a polio victim. Despite their disability, however, this couple were very cheerful indeed, and Jim reminded me so much of some of the old British army officers who served in India during the days of the Raj. He was confined to a wheelchair and had very little use of his hands or legs. In fact, one of the office boys was permanently by his side, helping to move him around and also lifting him up from time to time – thereby enabling him to stretch and relax his muscles, which tended to become numb from being confined in the one position for long periods at a stretch. At first, I used to find this sight very distressing and disturbing especially since, for quite some time after my arrival, Jim and I shared the same office. With the greatest of respect for him, and certainly not wishing to jeopardize his career in any way, I felt that such an arrangement could not continue indefinitely especially since I had been officially posted as Office Superintendent at the station, and wanted to assume full responsibility immediately. Besides, it was sometimes uncomfortable and embarrassing working in the shadow of someone who had been in the post for many years, and who obviously felt that things should be done in the way he had been used to. I could see that Jim was beginning to sense my feelings too, and in fairness to him, I must record that he never stood in my way. He was anxious, now that I had taken over, that I should assume full responsibility. I had no difficulty in settling down in this job. The station had an excellent library which had been ably set up and catalogued by Jessie Dixon, wife of Giles – with some assistance from the Chief Librarian at the Ministry in Nairobi.
Within a month of my arrival at Njoro, an important meeting to discuss the finances of the various Provinces and research stations had been arranged in Nairobi. Hugh Thorpe was very keen that I should accompany him and I was equally delighted to do so. For reasons of economy, we drove in his car. The meeting the following morning turned out to be quite an important one, and one of the sessions was addressed by the then Minister of Agriculture, the late Bruce Mackenzie. I felt honoured at being the only non-European official taking part in this meeting of senior officials. Having given a good account of myself at the earlier session which was addressed by the Deputy Director of Agriculture, I felt sure that Hugh Thorpe too was pleased that he had brought me along. Having thus economized as much as possible by doubling up over transport, I was rather annoyed when a claim for taxi fares (for my travel to and from the Ministry while in Nairobi) was queried by the Chief Accountant’s office. I was infuriated at the lack of discretion shown by some of the officials, and made my feelings known through a letter which Huge Thorpe forwarded to the Ministry. Unfortunately, the letter had quite the opposite effect. The pundits at Head Office didn’t so much as comment on my entitlement or otherwise to the taxi fares claim, but took umbrage to the tone of the letter! Fortunately, the matter was quickly nipped in the bud and the whole episode happily settled when I was able to have a face to face talk with one of the Ministry officials when he came to Njoro. This isolated incident, coming so soon after I had taken over at Njoro, in no way dampened the good relations that the Plant Breeding staff and I personally had with officials at head office.
Hugh Thorpe who had been in charge of the station for many years now was going to leave Kenya, having secured an appointment with the FAO of the United Nations. He was destined for Teheran as Wheat Expert and seemed very pleased with this latest development. His place was taken by Giles Dixon who slotted very well into this new post. Felix Pinto had meanwhile returned from Cambridge, but despite doing very well and being highly reported upon by his tutors at the Plant Breeding Institute, Cambridge, no move was made locally to have him up-graded to a more senior position. I often discussed this aspect with Felix and felt there would be no harm in writing to the Minister on this point. It is very heartening to be able to record that the new Minister, Sir Michael Blundell, lost no time in investigating the case, and before long, Felix was appointed Plant Breeder at a salary and on conditions commensurate with his qualifications and wide experience. I was very pleased for him and felt that justice had at last been done. Socially, he was a great mixer and the life and soul of the party. He was also a keen sportsman and represented the Goan Institute Nakuru at many a friendly hockey match. We got on very well together and he became a good friend of the family.
Because of my frequent postings to outlying districts in the past, Clyde’s education had already begun to suffer. He had started schooling at Kisii for a short while when my transfer to Machakos came through. Continuing his education during the short time we spent at Machakos and latterly during our vacation leave in India was not easy, so we attempted to coach him from home as best as we could. At Nakuru, there was a well-run Goan school where we had Clyde admitted. Fortunately for us, Egerton College ran a daily bus service for children of their European staff, and very kindly agreed that Clyde could use this facility. The arrangement was satisfactory for a short while, but we soon had to move Clyde to Nakuru as a day-boarder – staying with a Goan family during the week and returning to Njoro at weekends. I had very much hoped it would be possible to leave him in some central establishment where it would not be necessary to move him around so often – just in case I was transferred yet again! With this in mind, I had applied well in advance to the only Catholic school which admitted non-European boarders. The school, which was run by nuns, was at Mangu in the Thika district. Despite writing for a place almost a year in advance, we were unable to secure admission. I was very disappointed and appealed to the then Archbishop of Nairobi (the Rt. Revd. J.J. McCarthy) for help, since I felt that some concessions should be afforded for the children of Government employees and others stationed in remote areas. Although he never acknowledged my letter, he did in fact send a copy to the Mother Superior of the White Sisters Boarding School at Thika. On 28th December, 1960, I received a letter from the Revd. Mother Principal, explaining that Clyde could not be admitted due to ‘lack of accommodation (this after my writing as early as January 1958). She further went on to say that there was no ‘colour bar’ at their school, and that the earliest date she could take him would be 1962. Since this was an abnormally long wait, I asked her to delete Clyde’s name from the 1962 list. You can imagine my surprise when I received a further letter from the Revd. Mother on 4th January 1961, telling me that they could now take him if we were ‘still disposed to send him’. I confirmed our acceptance by telegram. In my earlier letter, I also explained that I was not in any way insinuating that her school practised a colour bar — rather than there were many Catholic schools in Kenya which admitted Europeans regardless of their religion. I considered this an undesirable state of affairs when Catholic parents like myself were finding it difficult to have their child admitted to the only boarding school then open to non-Europeans.
On January 4th 1961, we drove Clyde from Njoro to Thika, and returned home broken-hearted. He too must have felt quite lost in this rather huge and impersonal establishment. We used to keep in regular touch with the school and write to Clyde frequently. That April, we were very pleased to welcome him home for his holidays. From the reports we received through him, we soon realized he was far from happy at this school. Besides, with a younger brother at home with us, it was but natural that he should miss home. However, we felt that this was a price we all had to pay by way of sacrifice. We received regular reports from the Sisters and got the impression that all was well. There was one occasion when we arrived at Thika unannounced, and were horrified to see the state Clyde was in. His clothes were filthy and he looked as though he hadn’t had a bath for several days. We were also able to see the sanitary arrangements, specially for the boys, and I must admit I found these totally primitive. We returned home that evening very disappointed and convinced in our own minds that the younger boys were left very much to themselves – with little or no supervision. On another occasion when we arrived to attend one of the parents’ days in October 1961, we found Clyde was missing. After much enquiring, we eventually found that he was ill and in the sick bay. We called to see him here and spent all our time with him – once again returning home very upset indeed. Later that year, we received a circular from the school authorities informing us that they would be discontinuing the present concession of having boys at the school as from the end of 1962. This would mean that we would have to find an alternative school for Clyde. The news, coming as it did so soon after the recent ‘upsets’ was more of a blessing in disguise. It was our intention to remove Clyde from this school anyway lest he suffered any further. Our good friend, Mrs. Price, had kindly agreed to keep Clyde with her at Nairobi, and Fr. Hannon , the Principal of St. Teresa’s Boys’ School had also reserved a place for him from the new term. Our hearts were more at rest now, especially since we knew that Clyde would at least be living with a family where he would receive the care and warmth, unlike the problems he must have encountered at Thika.
Njoro, and especially the Plant Breeding Station which comprised some 500 acres of land, was an area where kids could really enjoy themselves. We had a spacious house with vast grounds and even a trout stream where we spent many an hour by the river allowing the ‘crafty’ trout to test our patience! There were the occasions when we caught quite a few trout, and I recall one in particular when Elsie landed a whopper -about 18 inches in length and weighing nearly 6 lbs – some catch! We also kept our own poultry and maintained a reasonably-sized shamba. The 45 well-bred birds I had were raised from day-old chicks I bought from Kigwaru Poultry Farm just outside Nairobi. The breed I found most promising as layers were the ‘Light Sussex’ and they kept us well supplied with eggs all the year round. We were even able to sell some of the surplus eggs to staff on the station. Several other breeds of day-old chicks were also bought — some as layers, while others were roosters for the pot! There was never any problem of fattening these birds on the plentiful supply of chick wheat I was able to buy very cheaply from the station. For a while, Felix and I experimented with a kerosene-run incubator and were successful in rearing some healthy-looking chicks, ducklings and even turkey chicks!
All this outdoor activity provided great excitement for Clyde and Andrew who would spend the whole day out in the sun and take great delight in feeding the chickens and the bunnies which we also kept. Having enjoyed his holidays immensely, Clyde was understandably sad at having to leave home again and start at a new school in Nairobi.
We drove him there ourselves, spent the night with the Prices and returned later the following evening. It was always a sad moment – this parting from each other. Although we were satisfied than he was in good hands, we were conscious that Clyde was missing home, his younger brother and the sheer freedom Njoro had to offer. He was now nearly nine years old, and although Andrew was a mere three years, the difference in their ages didn’t seem to matter. They got on so well together and missed each other very much when they parted.
Towards the middle of 1962, it was confirmed that Elsie was pregnant, and we very much hoped that the new baby would be a girl. Unlike her previous pregnancies, she kept much better health during this period.
Having a spacious house and being so close to Nakuru, we had more than our fair share of visitors – some would drive in just for the day out in the country, others would spend weekends. All in all, we did a lot of entertaining, and there were the occasions when we even had the odd ‘invasion’ from Nairobi. At Nakuru, we were fortunate in having some very good friends in the person of Fancush and Elizen da Gama-Rose. Fancush (Francis) was a flourishing lawyer in Nakuru – a man with a wealth of determination and great intelligence, he had given up nearly seventeen years of service in the civilian ranks of the Kenya Police to study law in England. After qualifying, he had returned to practise in Kenya. He was a very popular lawyer who had worked hard to bring his practice to the very efficient set up it was. His wife, Elizen, a charming lady and perfect hostess ran a secretarial school, and amazingly still found time to entertain visitors to several lavish parties, many of which we were privileged to attend. There were other friends at Nakuru who need to be mentioned also -Francis and Cybele Noronha — both educationists in their own right, who were a great asset to their noble profession. Then there was Cosie and Irene D’Souza. He worked for the Provincial Agricultural Office while his wife and her family were old friends of mine from schooldays in Goa. There were several others – too numerous to mention here, who have on many occasions extended hospitality to us; and how can I forget my sister and brother-in-law, Eslinda and Tony Saldanha who then lived at Nakuru and whose guests we were on many occasions.
During our stay at Njoro, a cousin of mine (Naty D’Sa) who taught at the Goan school Nakuru, and Elsie’s younger brother (Achilles Collaco) who worked for the D.C.’s office in Nakuru, stayed with us. For a period, my younger brother, Wilfred, who had moved to Kenya from Bombay also was with us. He had originally come out as a freelance reporter to cover the historic Maralal Press conference in April l96l when Mzee Jomo Kenyatta faced the world Press for the first time after his release from detention.
About the time when our new baby was expected, Elsie’s mother was taken seriously ill and admitted to a Nairobi hospital for surgery. She was found to have that dreaded disease – cancer. We were all told that she did not have long to live. Hard and painful facts to swallow, especially since we remembered her as an energetic and robust woman who was always on her feet happily entertaining family and friends alike. Through the courtesy of a friend in Nakuru -Tinny Toscano , who loaned us his brand new car, we were able to drive down to Nairobi to see my mother-in-law. We could hardly believe how rapidly her condition had deteriorated. Being the determined and cheerful person she always was, she was confident her health would improve and promised to visit us when she was discharged from hospital. `
On January 31st (1963), our baby arrived – a beautiful girl she was, and we were all so excited over her. The doctor who attended Elsie at the hospital was a young and attractive Indian lady who was very popular in the Nakuru area. Dr Ruwalla herself was doubly pleased as ours was apparently the first baby she had delivered! The maternity wing at the hospital, which was reserved for Asians, was far superior to the tiny and rather cramped storeroom in which Clyde was born at Kitale. Andrew was far too excited for words when I showed him his little sister, and kept asking why we hadn’t returned home with her and his Mummy! Clyde was informed of the happy event by telegram, and the news soon spread to relatives and friends. As my mother-in-law was soon to leave hospital, my younger sister-in-law, Eslinda, decided to stop over briefly at Nakuru on her way to Kitale. This would give them some time with Elsie and our new daughter, while at the same time providing a welcome break before continuing the long and tiresome journey to Kitale that lay ahead.
It was a moving occasion when she arrived. She looked very weak and helpless, and though the operation had brought slight relief, she was certainly far from fit; despite all this, she didn’t conceal her feelings of joy and even managed to cradle the little ‘bundle’ in her arms. For her, it was a thrilling moment, and we had hoped that the very thought of the baby would help keep her spirits up. After a further two days’ stay at the hospital, Elsie was allowed to come home. I had engaged an ayah to assist her with the household chores, especially since she would need to take things easy for a while. Magama, our faithful cook, who had been with us at Kisii and Machakos, was again around and proved of great help. By now, he had become one of the family.
Our daughter was christened Josephine (after my mother) Anne-Marie, and baptized at the Catholic church at Nakuru by the parish priest, Fr. Prunty. Many of our friends attended the ceremony at Nakuru, and later a reception at Njoro. Clyde was there too and he and Andrew looked really pleased and excited on this occasion. The new baby certainly filled our lives, and Andrew was so taken up by his little sister, that he got a trifle over-possessive at times. Amidst all the joy over the new arrival, there was sadness in that my mother-in-law’s condition had begun to deteriorate. As often as we could, we would visit her at Kitale, but it became really distressing to see the almost emaciated state she was reduced to. I was fully mindful of the heavy strain on the whole family, but felt totally helpless as there was precious little help we could give from Njoro. Although the doctors in Nairobi had given her only a few weeks to live, she suffered and lasted for many months after her operation.
The end finally came on July 30th 1963 , and the news of her death was telephoned to us by our good friend Bismark Noronha (who was temporarily staying with us while Felix Pinto was away) and who happened to be at Kitale at the time. We left for Kitale almost immediately, and it was a sad moment when we got there. The house seemed so empty without that familiar voice and smile that always greeted us. Tearfully, we paid our respects to a wonderful woman whose body lay exposed in the lounge (as was the Goan custom back home). There were many who joined in the tributes both at the house and the graveyard. Truly., we were all the poorer without her. We spent a few days with my father-in-law ( himself,a broken-hearted man now) and the rest of the family before returning to Njoro. I realized how shattered Elsie too must have been especially since she adored her ‘Mama’. It would not be easy either for her brothers and sisters and particularly her father to get over the sad loss, but I knew time would be the final healer. For us, Kitale would never be the same place again, and while we all deeply mourned the passing away of one that was dear to us, we were relieved that all the suffering and pain of the past few months had now finally ended.