3 : TURKANA DISTRICT
We had heard of inducements made to those who served in the N.F.D. One received a hardship allowance of Shs.4/- per day in the case of the Asian staff, while the European staff received Shs.6/-. I could never really understand the inequality of this allowance especially since we endured the same hardships and inconveniences as our European colleagues. In some cases, I feel the Asian staff were at a greater disadvantage.
A further attraction of a frontier posting was the certainty of being granted an interest-free advance of three months’ salary, repayable over a period of 12 months. The purpose of the loan was to enable staff to buy a good supply of tinned food and other necessities in advance of their posting; this was because many of the commodities that were freely available elsewhere in Kenya, were either in very short supply or just not obtainable in some of the frontier stations. The granting of the loan itself was a mere formality, but application had to be made none the less.
Ignatius and I lost no time in applying for a posting to the frontier, much to the surprise of local colleagues and, I daresay, staff at the Secretariat; very few, if any of the Asian staff ever applied for a posting to the N.F.D. Surprisingly, and much to our delight, within the· space of a few weeks of our applying, our posting orders had arrived. I was transferred to Lodwar in the Turkana district (on the Kenya-Uganda-Sudan borders), while Ignatius was to go to Wajir in the heart of the Somali country, not far from the Italian Somaliland border. Our salary advances were approved and a major portion of this was utilized to purchase various provisions and other requirements for our new stations.
Owing to the remoteness of frontier stations from the nearest down country base, staff were expected to carry adequate stocks of food, drink and other domestic requirements. In the words of the then Provincial Commissioner, anyone borrowing from a fellow officer, be it a can of corned beef or a bottle of kerosene oil, was “making an infernal nuisance of himself”. A harsh directive surely, and one that couldn’t be taken lightly!
The days prior to our departure from Voi were pretty hectic; we had made many friends during our stay in the district, and were naturally sorry to leave them behind. Not only did we have friends at Voi, but also in the surrounding areas of Mwatate and Bura (where the Catholic Mission was situated). Our last days were taken up attending several farewell parties which friends from all walks of life had organized for us. It was very comforting to feel the warmth of friendship so manifest in the hospitality we received everywhere. Even the Teita Vegetable Company (an African co-operative venture), from whommost of our vegetable supplies came, had sent us a basketful of freshly picked vegetables of various kinds.
I was quite fond of the Mteita tribe and my cook-cum-houseboy, himself a Mteita, asked if I could take him along to Lodwar. Since neither of us knew what was in store for us at the other end, I readily agreed to his joining me, but warned him about the climate and lack of amenities, etc. Lodwar was the direct opposite of the Teita Hills area from where Daniel came, but the thought of going to this inferno didn’t seem to worry him unduly at the time.
There was not much to do in the way of packing since neither of us had much luggage. I left ahead of Ignatius, especially since we were going in different directions — he to Wajir via Nanyuki and Isiolo, while I had to go via Nairobi, Nakuru and Kitale to get to Lodwar. The journey from Voi to Kitale (the nearest down country base for the Turkana district) was quite tiring. I had left Voi at night and arrived in Nairobi the following morning.
As one leaves Nairobi and enters the Rift Valley Province, stopping briefly at some very interesting and well-maintained stations en route, one couldn’t help noticing the change in the vegetation. Some of the richest farming areas were to be found in this region — the ‘White Highlands’. Many of the station names were familiar to me –Naivasha, Gilgil, Nakuru and Eldoret. Kitale was a truly farming town which bustled with a lot of activity every week when farmers from the nearby areas of the Cherangani Hills, Endebess and even Hoey’s Bridge, would come in to deliver their cereals to the big co-operative store — the Kenya Farmers’ Association (or K.F.A. as it was popularly known). Dairy farmers would bring in their milk and cream supplies to the Kenya Co-operative creameries from where was produced some of the bestknown Kenya butter, cream and cheese. After seeing the large farms that many of the European settlers owned, the prize dairy herds they kept and the sheer richness of the land, I realized why they wanted to keep the Highlands all for themselves. Who wouldn’t, given the excellent climatic conditions?
The fact that I had old family friends at Kitale made matters much easier for me accommodation-wise, and I was happy to be in a family environment once more, and taste the delights of good home cooking from the hands of a grand old lady (Mrs. C. H. Collaco) who, many years later was to become my mother-in-law! I stayed here for two days — thanks to the hospitality provided by the Collaco family, and left for Lodwar on a 3-ton army type truck belonging to the local Government transport contractor (A. M. Kaka), on the afternoon of May 29th 1949. Mr. Kaka, a staunch Muslim, had been the Government contractor for the Turkana district for many years; through very adverse conditions, and at great personal risk, he had carried on the transport business, starting with a modest Ford V-8 truck, and later ending with a fleet of modern vehicles. These lorries were rightly his pride and joy, but the envy of some of his competitors who now wanted to enter the transportation scene themselves.
Kaka’s success was due to sheer hard work, and he had earned himself a reputation for reliability and dependability — attributes so essential if any business is to succeed. His trucks plied almost daily between Kitale and the various parts of the Turkana district, notably Lodwar and Lokitaung, with the occasional trips to the lake and even further north to Namaraputh. He was regularly awarded the Government contract for carrying mail, personnel and other supplies. He had served the Administration well and efficiently and was well liked and highly respected in the district generally. There was never any reason to look for an alternative contractor judging from the excellent service he had provided all along. The monopoly over transport that Kaka enjoyed certainly caused a good deal of resentment in later years among some of the newer traders who were now beginning to gain a foothold in the district. Despite his wealth — and there is no denying the fact that Kaka was quite a rich man — he was a very modest and unassuming individual, whose pleasant manner and willingness to help impressed me greatly.
The driver of the truck that took me to Lodwar was a young Sebei tribesman from the NyanzaProvince whose name was Wanyama. He made sure I was made comfortable from the time I boarded his truck, as his front seat and almost VIP passenger. He was more than courteous to me, and often stopped to enquire whether I wanted any refreshments. I learnt later of course, that owing to the strains and hazards of the long and cumbersome journey, drivers usually ‘fortified’ themselves with pints of beer during the trip. There was no shortage of the precious liquid on this journey either, since the truck we were travelling on was loaded with several crates of beer and sacks of posho (maize meal) — most of it destined for the government staff at Lodwar, with the odd crate of beer consigned to one of the Asian traders in the township. Wanyama was a very fast driver who I felt sure would have been had up for speeding anywhere else. Despite his consumption of alcohol, his hand was pretty steady at the wheel, and never for a moment did I feel nervous over his driving. I had full confidence in him. After all, he knew the road well enough and was quick to slow down at the approach of a pot-hole or other similar obstacle on this long and dreary trail.
The drive from Kitale to Kapenguria — some 20 miles away — was pleasant, and the lush green farms of the White settlers were a soothing spectacle to behold until we started making our way into the West Suk district proper. The little township of Kapenguria lies on the slopes of the Cherangani Hills, and carved a place for itself in the history of Kenya, since it was here in 1952 that the principal trial of MzeeJomo Kenyatta and his associates was held — in a tiny schoolroom which was hurriedly converted into a Court House (my recollections during a brief tour of duty at Kapenguria at the time of this famous trial, will be found in a later Chapter).
As we headed for the West Suk (now West Pokot) district, both the vegetation and terrain became more fierce and rugged. The grim reality of what I could expect in the way of an ‘uncivilized’ life soon dawned upon me as we passed some of the villages. Most of these consisted of a little more than a few twigs of the thorny acacia tree neatly wound together to form an igloo-like enclosure. Outside the manyatta (homestead/village), a herd of goats was often to be seen grazing on the very scarce greenery that was available; the menfolk members of the Suk (or Pokot) tribe, usually sat on their ekichalong (small wooden stool standing barely 12 inches from the ground) — and talked about a variety of subjects, ranging from the grazing available to the prospect of finding a new wife! The roughly carved ekichalong is used as a head rest. To an outsider, it certainly looked primitive, but for the Suk-and Turkana tribesmen, it provided a practical and useful means of relaxing, and there was no sign of boredom on the faces of the men who used these handy stools — lazing on them for hours on end.
The Suk look very much like the Turkana tribesmen, with whom they are always at daggers drawn. They are pastoralists, but also till the land and employ irrigation methods not common among their neighbours.
We had now driven a fair distance and I was told that we would shortly be arriving at a trading post called Amudat on the Kenya-Uganda border. This post is actually situated in Uganda, and it was here that I had my first encounter with the Karamojong tribe. They are certainly no friends of the Suk or Turkana, but at this outpost, it was amazing to see how freely they mixed — no outward signs of any hostility. How I wished they could always live side by side in harmony.
On arrival at Amudat, Wanyama knocked at the door of a duka owned by an Indian trader named Patel (I cannot recall his initials, but the name Patel is very common among the Gujerati community). Although we had arrived at an unearthly hour, Mr. Patel and his wife quickly woke up and opened their little duka for us. A hurricane lamp was lit, but the whole place still appeared very dark to me. At a given signal, Wanyama got Mr. Patel to offer me a bottle of beer. Personally, I would have preferred a cup of tea since I had already consumed a fair amount of beer so far. Not wishing to be awkward and cause the trader further inconvenience, I accepted and slowly consumed the beer. Wanyama had downed his bottle in no time and seemed ready for a second round. It was as though he was preparing himself for the long journey ahead.
We stopped here for a few hours and Wanyama suggested I got some sleep. I remained seated in the driver’s cab while he got out his blanket and slept on the floor outside Mr. Patel’s duka. I felt sufficiently rested when we awoke the following morning to continue our journey. I could already feel the dry heat of the desert that lay not far ahead, and which was soon to become ‘home’ for the next few months or maybe years!
Arid and semi-desert conditions prevailed throughout, and we drove several miles without seeing any signs of human habitation. How on earth people could survive in such scorching heat was the thought that constantly flashed through my mind. Dark lava rocks, and miles and miles of absolute nothingness lay ahead of us now. The road too was becoming rougher and very bumpy, and the Loiya escarpment proved nerve wracking. A road sign conspicuously displayed at the entrance to the escarpment reads, ‘Private burial ground for reckless drivers’. The sight of this inscription sent chilling shivers through my spine, but Wanyama seemed to take it all in his stride. He knew the area well, and far from impairing his efficiency, I felt the beer he had consumed at Amudat had made him even more confident. On average, he made three trips to Lodwar per week, and being one of Kaka’s most trusted drivers, I had no reason to doubt his ability to complete the rest of the journey. He was very jovial and didn’t stop talking to me as we drove. At one point he jokingly said that had I chosen to travel on the truck of the other driver, a much older man by the name of Onyango, it would have taken me almost two days to reach Lodwar! After we had driven for quite some distance, we noticed the lone figure of a Turkana tribesman in the distance; he was walking aimlessly along a path which only he knew. As we got closer to him, I noticed that he was carrying a spear in one hand, while in the other was that multi-purpose stool/headrest — his ekzichalong. If he was lucky enough, Wanyama may give him a lift in to Lodwar boma. After all, as I later found out, this tribesman was none other than Ewoi, the brother of Ethinyon, one of the DC’s tribal policemen, who was well known to both our driver and turn-boy. A lift he certainly did get, but I also heard that Wanyama expected to be suitably compensated at the other end. This was, mind you, highly illegal; even the giving of lifts to sundry tribesmen on what was, strictly speaking, Government chartered transport was not allowed. I never ever found out how much Ewoi paid Wanyama for the ‘fare’, but expect he received cash or a goat skin (the latter being worth its weight in gold, as it would eventually find its way to one of the down country tanneries).
We could now see Lodwar boma faintly in the distance, and before long we had arrived at our destination. Lodwar is the administrative headquarters for the Turkana district which also takes in the sub-station of Lokitaung further north. (Although Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was moved to Lokitaung after the Mau Mau trial, it was at Lodwar that he was held after his release from gaol. This is the very same place which he once described as ‘a hell on earth, where you sweat from morning to evening — if you are not sweating, you are covered in dust’!) Hot and dusty the journey surely was and I felt very exhausted from it, and in many ways, relieved that it was all over.
Before proceeding to the administrative headquarters, we stopped briefly at a duka run by a nephew of A. M. Kaka. Mr. Shah Mohamed came out and greeted me with a warm Salaam alekum handshake. Whether it was because he lived in the wilds or not, Shah Mohamed looked very scruffy. He had not shaved for days and looked rather sickly with all that untidy growth about his face. On our way to the boma, we had to negotiate a steep bend, and as we climbed further, I heard a smart, “Halt, who goes there?” challenge coming from a well-turned-out half-clad Turkana tribal policeman who was perched high atop a stone-walled fortress. He looked smart in his kikoi(a mini-skirt type of garment), with a .303 rifle slung around his shoulder. The challenge, I gathered, was a normal one used for all incoming, and occasionally, outgoing, traffic. It certainly added an air of high adventure to the whole scene.
As our truck parked in front of the DC’s office, a young Turkana TP drew up and gave me a smart salute and a warm “Jambo Bwana karani” greeting, followed by a fairly common Turkana expression, “Ejok”? (meaning OK, or are you all right?) The Turkana have an accent all of their own when speaking Ki-Swahili. Three of the Goan clerical staff also came out to greet me. I had come as a numerical replacement for a Mr. Andrade (not the same one from my Voi days) who was due to go on overseas leave pending retirement very shortly.
The two other Goans were John Vaz who took over the Cashier’s duties, and the District-cum-Postal Clerk, a Mr. De Souza, who I would eventually be replacing. Although they were pleased to see me, their steel-like faces seemed to mirror the reality they had come in accept in this dreary inferno. I was then taken to meet the DO (District Officer) — a young Englishman named Oliver Knowles, who obviously hadn’t been long at Lodwar himself. He welcomed me in the absence of the DC, who happened to be away on safari in the Northern Turkana region at the time, and later suggested that my host (John Vaz) took me home for some breakfast. Because of the intense heat, coupled with the invasion of flies and not infrequent sandstorms, very few of the staff ate a full breakfast I was told. A glass or two of chilledfruit juice accompanied by some toast and a cup of coffee was all they had.
Personally, I was far too tired and feeling the heat intensely, and so settled for a light breakfast after first having a quick shower. The cold fruit juice was a real treat and here I feel the Goan staff can thank successive Provincial Commissioners — notably Sir Gerald Reece and latterly Sir Richard Turnbull, through whose efforts all Asian staff in the N.F.D. were provided with kerosene-powered refrigerators free of charge. It must surely have taken some convincing on their part to persuade the authorities in Nairobi to waive the rules in this case.
Having felt refreshed, I walked to the office almost blinded by the penetrating sunlight. The building itself was of open plan structure and the whole area had an air of authority about it; outside every office (including my own), tough looking TPs, very sparsely clad in kikois, stood guard. This was more in an effort to prevent the entry of unauthorized ‘visitors’. The tribal policemen would normally vet any tribesmen who wanted to see either the DC, DO, Cashier, or myself. Some shauris (complaints) were referred to me, others to the DC or DO as appropriate. I always made use of our young interpreter-cum-office boy, Dies Tappo. Strangely enough, he was a Merille; tribesman from Ethiopia who spoke fluent Turkana and a smattering of English too. Most of our conversations were conducted in Ki-Swahili though. Dies could hardly have been more than eighteen years old; he was very tall for his age, with a slim and erect figure and clear cut features.
As District Clerk, I was more of a Personal Secretary to the DC, and handled all his correspondence, including all confidential and secret papers. There were no secretaries as such in the frontier; women were not, as a rule, allowed into the N.F.D., and even if they were, I doubt whether any would volunteer for service in Lodwar — no matter how great the inducements! In addition to my normal duties, I also acted as Postal Agent; this job involved the stocking and selling of stamps, postal orders, etc., registered letters/parcel service and even Post Office Savings Bank transactions. I also looked after the accounts of the ‘Lodwar Athanaeum Club’. This unofficial post was more of an unpaid ‘barman’, since it was my job to see that adequate stocks of beer (a ‘precious’ liquid in the N.F.D) and fruit cordials were held at all times. We normally consumed some twenty crates of lager each month — sometimes more, depending largely on how often we entertained — not just colleagues from the office, but even visitors from neighbouring Lokitaung who `passed through Lodwar. The fact that the Government bore the full transport costs of all goods ordered by the staff meant that we were able to obtain our beer and other supplies at ex-factory Nairobi prices. This was a very valuable concession, and it is perhaps because of the cheapness of the beer that we consumed so much! One other reason was also because of the water at Lodwar, which had a very high fluorine content. This made it most unpalatable.
There was a lot of work to keep me fully occupied in the office. The DC and D.O. turned out a fair amount of correspondence; then there were the Safari and Monthly Intelligence reports, letters to Head Office departments and the PC’s office and other similar correspondence to be typed — all of which was done by me. In addition, there were the daily routine shauris of the tribesmen and office staff to deal with. There is one other aspect of my work at Lodwar I should like to mention, and that is my role as weatherman.
I received a small honorarium from the meteorological department for sending reports, twice daily, of cloud formations, wind speed and direction, temperature, etc., and on the rare occasion, a record of the rainfall. The reports were telegraphed to the Met. Office in Nairobi. I was quite thrilled when I received a letter from the Director of Meteorological Services in Nairobi, thanking me for the weather reports I had submitted at the time when some members of the British Royal family were en route to Uganda. The reports were apparently of great help to the Civil Aviation authorities on this particular occasion. Although my daily work schedule was a fairly crowded one, there were times when I was able to assist the Cashier, John Vaz with the typing of endless salary and other vouchers, returns, safari allowance claims, etc. I knew he was very grateful for this help.
Although, as I have said earlier, many regarded a posting to Lodwar as being banished to some God-forsaken island, I must say that I enjoyed my tour of duty there immensely. From the very first moment I saw them, I took a liking to the simple and carefree Turkana tribesmen. They were simplicity personified and this appealed to me very much. The men wore no clothing at all and roamed about sicut Deus creavit. The women were likewise scantily-clad, their bare, shiny and well-formed breasts openly displayed, while a roughly made goat skin skirt concealed their nakedness. Despite the harsh environment they lived in, they always appeared very cheerful and happy to me. The Turkana are amongst the most primitive tribesmen in East Africa, and it is precisely their very simple and fuss-free life-style that left a lasting mark on me. They are law-abiding people, and there are instances when tribesmen have walked several miles from their manyattas to the Administrative District headquarters at Lodwar merely to pay their kodi (poll tax — in those days, some Shs.3/- per adult male). There was never any deliberate tax evasion as such. Those who could not afford to pay, and could prove through their tribal Chiefs that they weremasikini (destitute), were exempted from payment altogether.
The Turkana appear, and in fact are, an aggressive lot. Unlike other pastoral tribes in Kenya though, they are among the best craftsmen. Most of the ornaments they wear are handmade, and although the craft is now a dying one, the Turkana once made their own pottery. These days, they work with leather, turning out women’s skirts, the odd pouches, etc.; they also work with wood, producing their small wooden stools and other useful gadgets — not for resale (in those days) but more for their own use. With the opening up of the area to tourists, the picture today is quite different.
Like all frontier tribesmen, the Turkana love their land, rugged and harsh though it may appear to the outsider, even more dearly do they love their animals, which they keep as a necessity of life. Goats and donkeys are normally kept, and also camels since they can survive on virtually little or no vegetation and still yield more milk than goats, which provide not only milk, but also meat and skins. Donkeys, even with the Turkana, fulfil their usual role — that of beasts of burden. It is very interesting to note that herding livestock starts at a very young age among the Turkana, and it is not uncommon to see a young boy of seven or eight herding goats or even camels. With the shortage of grazing however, the Turkana frequently move their manyattas, sadly withconsequences. Tribal feuds which so often started were more the result of the Turkana straying into the grazing grounds of the neighbouring Donyiro from the Sudan border or even the Merille from Ethiopia. During such skirmishes, justice was meted out tribal-style. In such cases, it was not uncommon for rival tribesmen to be killed in cold blood. For the Turkana, as indeed for most frontier tribesmen, their livestock meant everything, and they were often prepared to risk their lives and all they possessed to safeguard their animals.
Because of the high incidence of stock thefts, and the resultant murders, the DC at Lodwar had more than his fair share of conducting preliminary inquiries into murder cases. I had the good fortune of typing out the Court proceedings; it certainly was a thrilling experience and one which I enjoyed more than reading a book. One never knew what was coming next in the gruesome chapters leading up to the murder. Unlike routine and rather mundane typing, I was always pleased when there was a murder enquiry to be typed. I somehow felt I was there in person, experiencing every moment of the exciting, frightening and often blood-chilling drama. The inquiry sometimes ran into 50 to 60 pages.
The District Commissioner during my tour at Lodwar was a middle-aged Englishman by the name of Leslie Whitehouse, who came from Horsham in Sussex. His rugged and badly tanned face, with its village schoolmaster-type expression, was a clear indication of the hard taskmaster he really was. While most of the European officers couldn’t wait for their overseas leave or posting from Lodwar, Mr. Whitehouse never wanted to move out of the district. Many a young District Officer held him in awe, so did I when I was first posted there; in all fairness, I must say that despite his fiery temper — and I was to witness many such ‘explosions’ while I was there — he was a perfect gentleman, always kind-hearted and human.
The heat of Lodwar was such that it made one very irritable, and Mr. Whitehouse, despite his long stay in the district, was no exception. I can well recall one occasion when he was visibly excited over an incident reported to him by the Kenya Police Sgt. in charge.Although I cannot remember the precise nature of the incident, it must have been serious enough for him to fly into a rage, and in a gesture obviously intended to show his authority — ordered the entire Kenya Police contingent at Lodwar to turn out on parade in their ceremonial dress.
Meanwhile, he rushed home to change into his own official uniform. Moments later he returned, still fuming, and took the salute while an impressively turned out force of Kenya Police askaris presented arms! He wanted to reassert his authority and make sure that everyone in the district understood that he was in charge.
There was also a pleasant side to his nature and I remember how, on one occasion, a truck had pulled up from neighbouring Lokitaung carrying, among other things, two Goan police clerks who worked at that sub-station. As was normal, they called in to greet us and take a short break before continuing their journey to Kitale.Bottles of beer and hastily made snacks were laid before them, and while we were thus busy entertaining them, one of our guests suggested that I accompany them to Kitale. The idea seemed irresistible, especially since my girl-friend lived there, and this would be an ideal opportunity to get down to see her; but then, there was quite a lot of work to be done at the office; there were the unfinished legal proceedings which had to be typed and sent off to the Supreme Court in Nairobi; there was also the Annual Report for the district — a very comprehensive record of all that had taken place in the district during theyear under review. This report, together with appendices, normally ran into some 40-50 typed pages. A host of other outstanding jobs quickly flashed through my mind like flickering lights on a Christmas tree. On the other hand, the opportunity to get down to Kitale and see my girl-friend seemed too good to miss, so I plucked up enough courage and quickly scribbled a note to the DC.
It ran thus: Dear Mr. Whitehouse, I said, a Police truck has just arrived from Lokitaung (as though he hadn’t heard it roar through the boma), carrying two of my friends from the Police department — Messrs. Rodrigues and Naves Vaz, on their way to Kitale; would you mind if I went with them, and returned by the next available transport, possibly a couple of days later? My cook Daniel quickly took the note to the DC. His reply, written at the bottom of my note, was swift and brief: “Yes, certainly,” it said, “off you go”. This is precisely what I did. My delight knew no bounds, and when I showed the note to my friends, I must say that they were both taken aback to see the manner in which it was couched.
“Do you always say, ‘Dear Mr. Whitehouse’ when you write to the DC?” asked one of them. “Don’t you call him ‘Sir’?”
“No,” I replied, intending no disrespect of course. Privately, in letters, I have always addressed my DCs and other officers as ‘Dear Mr. … ’, also in conversation and whenever we met socially. I felt that there was a place and time for the use of the word ‘Sir’, always intending no discourtesy ordisrespect, and I am pleased to be able to record that I encountered no problems in this respect.
We drove through the afternoon and when I arrived at Kitale late that evening, my face was still sore from sunburn. This was because Neves Vaz and I had to travel at the back of the open police truck since there was no room for us all in the driver’s cab. My girl-friend and her parents were delighted to see me and the former’s excitement showed clearly in her face, since my arrival was so unexpected. As was her nature, my mother-in-law-to-be quickly produced a cup of percolated coffee. It was just the tonic I needed after the long and uncomfortable journey. Mrs. Collaco was a great hostess, always at her best when entertaining people. She knew of my great passion for good food, and saw to it that my taste buds were well satisfied while I was at Kitale. She was an expert at cooking, and what impressed me most was the sheer speed with which she went about her business. One moment she was in the kitchen, the next she would join us in a lively and happy conversation. Such was the nature of this larger-than-life woman. I spent two unforgettable days in the cool of this beautiful farming town, met many old friends during that all-too-brief stay, and returned to Lodwar ‘fully charged’ and ready to face the mountain of paperwork that awaited me.
Because I was permitted to leave at such short notice, I decided to ‘repay’ Mr… Whitehouse’s kindness by putting in extra hours and doing everything possible to bring the work up to date.There was no question of being paid any overtime for this. I do not think that the word ‘overtime’ had even entered the workers’ dictionary in those days. In any case the general rule in the N.F.D. was to work regardless of office hours when there was work to be done. When there was no work (and this was very, very rare), we relaxed! This, with the full backing of the PC and DC who were well aware of the extra hours we regularly put in. In fact, it was not uncommon for us to be called outside office hours to pay off tribal policemen, road gangs or other staff who had just returned to the boma after a spell of
duty at some of the frontier outposts; similarly, if a contingent of men had to be despatched urgently on safari, we would be called to pay them and arrange for their rations, etc. All this we accepted uncomplainingly, and it certainly didn’t go unnoticed.
Another pleasing aspect of my stay at Lodwar was its proximity to Lake Rudolf and Fergusson’s Gulf. To compensate for the hard and unvaried life we, the clerical staff had to endure, the Provincial Commissioner had instructed the DC Turkana, through an Official Order — to ensure that we were given free trips to the lake at least once a month, and also occasional trips to Kitale. We needed these outings especially since, unlike our European colleagues, we never went out on safari.
Uncomfortable though they were, travel-wise, the trips to the lake helped us enormously; they were a great morale booster, and always seemed to give us a ‘lift’ — a sort of new lease of life really whenever we got back to the boma. For this concession, wewere deeply grateful to the authorities. There were other concessions afforded to us too — thanks to the untiring efforts of successive Provincial Commissioners; in addition to the free refrigerators we were provided with, and which I have already mentioned, we were also given the bare minimum of furniture consisting of a bed and coir mattress, occasional table, dining-table and chairs and a couple of un-cushioned lounge chairs; these were all supplied rent free. This was a special privilege afforded to the Asian staff in the N.F.D. since furniture was only supplied to European staff and that too on payment of the appropriate furniture rental. I feel sure that the various Provincial Commissioners must have made out a strong enough case to convince officials at the Treasury and Secretariat that the rules should be ‘bent’. As a general rule, Head office personnel were sticklers for abiding by the Code of Regulations.
At Lake Rudolf, a retired Royal Naval Commander (Dennis McKay) and his wife Susan ran a thriving fishing business. He had served as a DC at Lodwar previously and knew the area well. There was not the slightest doubt that the couple loved the lake and the area around it. One other reason why they had settled there was becauseof Commander McKay’s health; he suffered from asthma, and this seemed the ideal area to be in — a totally clean air zone. They were a wonderful pair who seemed to enjoy every moment of their life on this rather secluded island cut off as it were from the rest of civilization; they didn’t seem to mind this in the least. The McKays employed a small number of Turkana fishermen and exported lorry loads of dried fish (mostly tilapia) to Kitale.
In addition to tilapia, there were also Nile perch to be found in Lake Rudolf. It is believed that some fifteen thousand years ago, the whole region formed part of the Nile system and the Nile perch now found in the lake are the survivors.Tilapia abound in Lake Rudolf and sometimes weighed betweenten and fifteen pounds. Cooked in the Eastern style with a sprinkling of herbs and spice, they made a very delicious meal indeed.
Through their previous service in Lodwar, the McKays had got to know and like the Goans, and were fully aware of the hardships we had to endure. On their frequent trips to Kitale, they always made sure that the Goan staff at Lodwar were kept well supplied with fresh lake fish — usually tilapia. I shall remain ever grateful for their thoughtfulness in bringing us regular and large parcels of this delicacy. I often had the fish cut up into neat steaks, fried and then stored in the fridge for a day or two in readiness for being sent down to Kitale. My girl-friend and her parents loved fish, and her mother being the great cook she was, made sure that this consignment from the lake was soon converted into that spicy and mouth-watering pickled fish that we Goans relish so much. I was later to hear from Mrs. Collaco that baked in straw, tilapia made a very satisfying meal indeed. We would certainly try out this recipe the next time we were
at the lake, I thought.
Women were, as a rule, not allowed into the Turkana district — the only exception being wives of officials at the sub-station at Lokitaung. This restriction was probably because of the rough and troublesome journey with its attendant hazards, the intensive heat, and perhaps because of the very primitive and sometimes ‘savage’ nature of the tribesmen. Because of this ban, I could not bring myself to ask the DC for permission to allow my girlfriend and her family to come over to Lodwar for a few days. For weeks I brooded over the idea. I had described the place to them, and warned them of the hardships of the journey; despite all this, they still seemed very keen on seeing the place.
The big hurdle to overcome now was obtaining official permission. I should explain here that the N.F.D. was declared a Closed District under the Outlying District Ordinance, and permission to enter was only given on written application to the PC or DC of the district concerned. Such applications had also to be made well in advance of the proposed visit; nor was permission granted lightly. Besides, the permit itself had to be signed by the DC personally, or in his absence, the DO (this only if the DC had previously approved of the visit).
I therefore decided to wait for an opportune moment when the DC, Mr. Whitehouse, was in a good mood. Such occasions were not very common during office hours, and I always put his ‘moodiness’ down to the intolerable heat and general conditions prevailing in Lodwar. Mind you, we, the clerical staff also had the same fierce heat and conditions to endure! One evening, when my colleague and I were invited over to the DC’s house for drinks, I mustered sufficient courage to pop the question.
“My girl-friend and her parents are very anxious to come over and see the place, and, I wondered, Mr. Whitehouse, if you would…” A nervous cough kept interrupting some of my speech as I continued. “I wondered, if you would agree to their coming and staying with me for a few days.”
“Of course,” he replied, “you must bring them over — prepare a Pass for my signature tomorrow.” I could hardly believe my ears. Had he really uttered those all-comforting words? Would it all be reversed when we got back to the office the next day? I kept asking myself. There was no question of the DC or myself being intoxicated the previous evening, we were both very normal at the time, but I could still not believe that he had agreed to the visit. When I returned to the office the following morning, I quickly prepared the Pass and tucked it among several other official papers that were being taken to the DC for signature. I was not summoned to his office (as sometimes happened when he wanted to discuss with me any letters sent for his signature): this in itself sounded promising. When at last, a few moments later, the TP orderly returned with the DC’s out-tray overflowing with official papers, I noticed that the Pass had been signed, L. E. Whitehouse, District Commissioner, Turkana. For a moment I was dumbfounded — I could hardly believe what I was seeing before my very eyes. I was thrilled to bits and lost no time in sending the permit off to my girl-friend. It was too precious a piece of paper to sit over. What if the DC changed his mind? Well, eventually, the Pass did get to its destination much to the delight of my girl-friend and her family.
Transport was arranged through the Government contractor and in a matter of a few days, the whole family had landed at Lodwar — my girl-friend, her parents, three sisters and a brother. Not being accustomed to such long and gruelling journeys, they were obviously showing signs of fatigue — a natural reaction in the circumstances. The furthest part of this route they had previously ventured out to was Kapenguria. It didn’t take them long to recover from the effects of the journey. The DC himself couldn’t have behaved in a kinder fashion — and even gave me time off to take the family home.I verymuch appreciated this gesture on his part, and after getting them settled in, left them in the capable hands of our new cook, Sheunda. This elderly man was a Luo from Mumias in the Nyanza Province. He had previously worked for the Cashier, John Vaz and otherGoans too in Nakuru and Tambach (in the Rift Valley Province). My Mteita cook Daniel, whohad accompanied me from Voi, had found that he could not stand the Lodwar climate and conditions any longer. He had also got himself involved with the local women, and to save further trouble, I felt that it would be best if I discharged him and sent him back to his home in the Teita Hills; this I did, and we parted as friends. Sheunda was a much older man with a shiny ebony-like complexion. He had a habit of whistling while he worked, and one of his favourite tunes was La Paloma. Perhaps this tune had some sort of therapeutic effect on him?
My visitors made the best of their stay, and for John Vaz and myself, the delicious cooking of my girl-friend’s mother made a pleasant change from the regular dishes which Sheunda used to turn out. On one evening during their stay at Lodwar, my guests were invited over to drinks by the DC. I had not expected such an invitation, neither had they. During the course of the conversation that evening, Mr. Whitehouse must have read my thoughts as, to everyone’s surprise, he suggested that we make the trip to Lake Rudolf and Fergusson’s Gulf. The Asst. Superintendent of Police from neighbouring Lokitaung also happened to be at the party, and he readily undertook to provide the transport from his own fleet of vehicles. This was great! To add to my sheer delight, the DC agreed that I could have two days off, so too John Vaz. This was not to be deducted from our normal local leave entitlement, but more of a goodwill gesture on his part. He was well aware of the long hours we worked, and we were grateful that he had shown his appreciation in this way. That night, we left the DC’s house having thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and full of appreciation for his kindness.
As promised, the ASP Lokitaung (a Mr. Dennis Wright) sent the police truck to Lodwar within a day of his getting back, and before long we were all bound for the lake. I had made this journey before and so knew the roads well. For my visitors, the 45-mile stretch, bumpy in several places, was not very comfortable. I felt sorry for them, but knew they would be compensated at the other end. We arrived at the lake shore at dusk, and were quickly surrounded by a crowd of Turkana men, women and children. The Government employed a headman — a Luo by the name of Pankrassio, to supervise the pauper’s camp at Fergusson’s Gulf. He had lived on the lake side for many years, and had become more of a Turkana himself; he was quick to arrive on the scene and greeted us all in his customary pleasant manner. We were then ferried across in a little boat to Ferguson’s Gulf where we pitched camp for the night. All through the night I hardly slept; I could hear the splashings of the crocodiles, and in the distance, the faint chatter of the Turkaga paupers who inhabited the opposite bank of the gulf. Despite a rather disturbed sleep, I was not really restless. Having given up counting sheep, I looked up into the dark sky lit up by millions of twinkling stars; the occasional splashing of the odd crocodile disturbed the relative quiet of the night. Where else on earth could I experience an atmosphere such as this? I wondered. It was an experience that brought man close to earth and gave him a feeling of his own insignificance.
The Turkana paupers were a noisy lot, but this didn’t worry me unduly. The poor souls, known locally as masikini (Swahili for beggars), existed solely on Government aid, and the ration of posho (maize meal) they received free of charge under the Famine Relief scheme. In turn, they turned out some doum palmropes for the administration; these ropes were a vital part of the equipment during camel and donkey safaris.
Despite the intensity of the heat, my visitors seemed to enjoy every minute of their stay at the lake, and even managed to fit in a lot of fishing. Those who were not doing the actual fishing watched Turkana fishermen cast their half-torn nets and bring in quitea sizeable catch of very large lake fish — mostly tilapia. Between us, we had now caught a very large quantity of fish, and decided that we had best dry most of it on the hot sands of the lake. Having no doubt heard of the abundance of fish in this area, my friends had asked me to take along a quantity of rock salt. This came in very handy. There was no shortage of willing Turkana hands to help gut and clean the fish which was then spread on jute sacks (gunny bags), and left to dry in the baking sun. In this way, we succeeded in drying nearly two sacksful of tilapia. We also caught and ate fish as never before — there
was baked fish, fried fish and even slightly spiced fish. It was also here that we were able to try out the baked fish recipe — only that we had to substitute doum palm leaves for straw; the resultant meal was delicious all the same! Tilapia are a very meaty and tasty variety of fish which, as you will have read, can weigh upwards of 10 lbs. The fish, which is so plentiful in Lake Rudolf, plays a very important part in the diet of the local Turkana. In other parts of the district, the tribesmen live off meat and berries and, if lucky, milk and blood from the animals they keep.
Our stay at the lake had been simply wonderful, and we finally got back to Lodwar after three well-spent days. After a further two days’ stay with us, my visitors left for Kitale, no doubt full of memories of their trip into adventure land –a trip which very few women could boast of in those days.
For my girl-friend, this must have been a very exciting and stimulating experience, and one that would remain with her for a long time; it certainly played a big part in later years, especially when it came to deciding which station we would like to live in after we were married. Without any doubt, it would have to be the N.F.D.!!
Although there was every indication that they had all enjoyed their trip to Turkana, I do not somehow, think that the parents felt quite the same. After all, which caring parent would like to see their young and beautiful daughter live in what they still regarded as a primitive corner of Kenya –especially when there were far better and healthier stations like Nakuru, Kisumu or even Kitale that one could choose to serve in? As far as I was concerned, I had made up my mind that the ‘uncivilized’ life was the one for me; I wouldn’t swap it for all the tea in China.
Despite the heat and barrenness of Lodwar, I had decided that nothing was going to deter me from remaining here — to be honest, I had no intention of moving. I discovered later, however, that it was customary in those days not to post staff in such areas for a period exceeding eighteen months. This was more because of the adverse climatic conditions. Several years ago, a young DO had died of black-water fever; another DO, Christopher Parry had died of polio (whenever we went for our evening walks in the direction of Lodwar airfield, we always made it a point of visiting the graves of these officers. I can still recall some of the letters we received from Mr. Parry’s mother in England, enquiring about the upkeep and condition of her son’s grave. (Given the nature of the countryside, I must say that the graves were very well looked after.) As for long-serving officers in the district, Mr. Whitehouse seemed to be the only exception. Whereas most officers couldn’t wait to get out once their eighteen months (sometimes less) tour was up, Mr. Whitehouse had asked not to be moved from the district, and had even volunteered to return there after his vacation leave. He loved the area and was certainly the Supremo here. He was equally well known throughout the whole of the district both among the Government staff and the tribesmen too. The name ‘Whitehouse’ was on the lips of many a Turkana — even the herds boys and the younger generation of the township were familiar with his name. He had, in the time he had been at Lodwar succeeded in establishing a firm hold over the district and its peoples.
Another reason which prompted me to stay on at Lodwar was its proximity to Kitale, and the fact that I could get down to see my girlfriend whenever possible; the tiresome and uncomfortable journey of some 200 miles didn’t seem to matter, nor did the threat of contracting malaria. As for the disease, we took every precaution by taking daily doses of palludrine tablets; our cook was well trained in this respect, and always made sure that the tablets were produced at the breakfast table each morning.
An incident which I will not forget, and in which I played an insignificant part, cannot escape mention. During the latter part of my stay at Lodwar, the DC from neighbouring Moroto in Uganda had arrived as guest of Mr. Whitehouse. He had been granted permission to bring his family along as they were hoping to spend few days at the lake. I cannot recall whether it was on the day of their arrival at Fergusson’s Gulf or a few days later, when something horrible happened. I had finished my supper that evening and was getting ready to walk up the steps of my bungalow leading up to the mosquito-proof cabin above. I had scarcely got into the cabin when Inoticed the bright lights of a truck coming from the direction of the lake and making its way towards my house. I stood by the door and waited for it to pull up. As it drew nearer, I immediately noticed it was our own administration lorry. The DC’s driver, a Luo from Nyanza, by the name of Zadok, got out and handed me a letter. When I asked what it was all about, he replied, “Mamba na kwisha kula mkono ya Bwana DC ya Moroto” (a crocodile has bitten the hand of the DC Moroto). I knew then what was coming in the letter from Mr. Whitehouse. It said that Mr. Watney had been badly mauled by a crocodile, and asked me to organize, as a matter of urgency, an aircraft and doctor to take him to hospital. Such first aid as waspossible had already been administered by the DC at the lake shore.
Arrangements were also being made for Mr. Watney and his family to be brought back to Lodwar as soon as driver Zadok had returned. I lost no time in scribbling a hurried note to Mr. Whitehouse telling him that I would make all the arrangements he wanted. As soon as the Posts & Telegraphs wireless station opened the following morning, I despatched a signal to the air charter firm in Nairobi, and also asked the Medical Officer at Kitale if he would arrange for a doctor to join the aircraft at Kitale.
Later that morning I received a reply giving the aircraft’s ETA at Lodwar, and confirming that a doctor would be collected en route. This gave me sufficient time to organize transport to take down a supply of aviation spirit which would be required
for refuelling the aircraft. Later that afternoon, the aircraft and doctor arrived, and Mr. Watney who had arrived earlier with the DC and was resting at the latter’s house, was driven to the airstrip after the doctor had first examined him. He must have been in considerable pain but never so much as showed it; I was glad and so was Mr. Whitehouse that the whole operation had gone off smoothly. I even prayed that all would be well with Mr. Watney; he was in good hands now and it was up to the doctors to do their best to save his arm. Later that evening, I got further details of this terrible accident from the DC. The crocodile, it appears, had been shot by Mr.. Watney, and presuming it dead, he had brought it ashore and was showing his family the spot where the bullet had penetrated this creature. In what must surely have been a final gasp for life, the deadly beast got hold of his arm,mauling it very badly in the process. It must have been a terrifying moment for all who were there, especially Mrs. Watney. Fortunately, whatever first aid Mr. Whitehouse and his party were able to administer must have been of considerable help. They had saved the life of the DC Moroto. I was, in my own way, very pleased to have played a small part in this rescue operation, and very much appreciated the note of thanks sent later to the DC by Mrs. Watney. I felt sorry for the way in which their holiday had been ruined, but pleased to hear later that Mr. Watney had made a good recovery. I am sure he will not easily forget this unfortunate experience.
John Vaz, who had been Cashier at Lodwar for some time now, was preparing for his overseas leave, and his replacement, Austin D’Souza had already arrived from Kakamega. Austin was a married man who, because of the prevailing regulations, was not allowed to bring his wife to Lodwar. He seemed very lost during his first few days, and I could sense that he was missing his wife a lot; he looked worried quite often and found it difficult to adjust to this strange environment. This initial phase soon passed however, and like the rest of us, Austin soon came to terms with the situation. I was sorry to see John Vaz go — we had got on so well together, and I was certainly going miss him. About this time, an additional clerk, Christie Almeida, had also arrived at Lodwar to assist with the increased volume of work in the district. Christie had brought along his young and playful Alsatian pet called ‘Junno’ who seemed to settle in well
despite the heat. Junno was a very healthy looking dog, and there was no shortage of meat for him while he was at Lodwar. The local butcher always sent some extra meat and a bone each time our cook collectedour meat supplies. The locals dreaded the dog, and the kids couldn’t always understand his playful moods. In many respects, the presence of this pet was a blessing in disguise for the rest of us since, like it or not, Junno would ‘force’ us to take him out for long walks each evening. He was not content with our strolling to the nearby dukas and drinking beer with the local traders, while he was deprived of his evening constitutional!
During my tour at Lodwar, I was sent out to Lokitaung on two occasions. This sub-station lies in a range of low hills, hence its climate was far cooler than that of Lodwar. The area around it is nothing more than a desert of sand arid lava, very much like parts of Lodwar, save that the township water supply was very much better. I gather that Lokitaung itself owes its existence to a spring of water oozing from a hole in the rock at the head of a dried-up river bed. As in most desert regions, water has always been the cause of raids between the tribes, and despite a Police and Administration presence in the area, raids between the Merille tribesmen from Ethiopia and the Turkana were not uncommon.
The District Officer when I first went to Lokitaung was Patrick Crichton, who was previously stationed at Lodwar. I knew him well, and he appreciated the help I was able to give while his own District Clerk, Honorato Fernandes was on local leave. On a second occasion, I was again asked to go there to help reorganize the office systems. The DO then was again an ex-Lodwar officer, K. B . Keith (Kenneth to his friends). Mr. Keith and I were good friends at Lodwar and he often acted as my ‘unofficial’ postman carrying letters to my girl-friend at Kitale whenever he went down to see his wife, Isobel and their baby son Hamish, who were then staying at one of the mission stations around Kapenguria. At Lokitaung, I also had the pleasure of meeting the Medical Officer i/c, Dr. R. D. Singh (‘Ripi’ to his friends), a young Sikh doctor who was very popular with everyone on the station. He once invited me to accompany him on his hospital rounds to see some of the cases he was treating.
Conjunctivitis and trachoma were fairly common ailments among the Turkana. By far, the disease that was most prevalent here was VD. Minor operations were performed at the Lokitaung hospital, more serious cases being sent by road to Kitale.
Another ‘Singh’ I also met at Lokitaung, was Makhan Singh, the Trade Union leader who had been restricted to this area following anti-government trade union activities. My host at Lokitaung was a very likeable and soft-spoken police clerk, Neves Vaz, while Mr. and Mrs. Rodrigues entertained us to meals each day.
There was a great concentration of police officers at Lokitaung — in fact this was their headquarters, and in addition to the ASP, there were two Asst. Inspectors — during my time, Bob Matthews and Nigel Marsh, the latter being later replaced by Tom Lawson. I still remember the pet ostrich that Bob Matthews had. He had picked this bird when it was a mere chick during one of his safaris to Namaraputh in the extreme north of the district.
Work-wise, there was not much to keep me fully occupied at Lokitaung.My one regret on leaving this sub-station was not being able to visit the police post at Namaraputh on the Ethiopian border. This post was sited for the surveillance of the top end of the lake, and was suitable for use as a secure base from which patrols could operate along the Sudan frontier.