9 : END OF A BACHELOR ERA
As each day passed, I soon became aware that my own days of bachelorhood were not to last very much longer. My fiancée and I had planned a wedding in August (1952) — there was much to be done in the way of organizing the whole affair. We were hampered in the planning of this event by the fact that there were no telephones at Marsabit. Most of our arrangements had to be conducted through letters, and with the mails being infrequent, things did get hectic at times. The local post office must have made a small fortune from the many telegrams we often had to send!
I spent Christmas of 1951 with my fiancée in Kitale, and on Boxing Day that year we got engaged. A very simple occasion at home where only the immediate family and the Parish Priest, Fr. John Hawes were present. The announcement must have taken everyone by surprise as nothing had been planned in advance. We were certainly thinking about plans for the wedding, but the engagement itself was a spur of the moment decision. The following week, our engagement notice appeared in the local Press and many messages of congratulations started pouring in from relatives and friends alike. We had also informed my brothers abroad of the forthcoming event Within a few months of my returning to Marsabit, the Notice of Marriage was out in Kitale (my fiancée’s home town), and the DC’s office there had sent a copy to the DC Marsabit, so that it could be similarly displayed locally, Our friends were quick to offer congratulations. I felt really great — it was a proud moment in my life, even though some remarked that we were too young to be thinking of marriage. Young we may have been, but we certainly knew we were in love and were equally aware of the great responsibilities that lay ahead of us. The only preparation I had so far made was to save up a whole case of Scotch whisky from the monthly ration of one bottle that my friends and I received. I was grateful to all those who had sacrificed their own quotas so that I could build up this stock. Scotch was hard to come by in those days, and since my fiancée’s parents would be doing all the catering for the wedding at home, I felt that this small contribution would not come amiss.
A few months before I was married, a District Officer had finally been posted to Marsabit. His very presence would give the DC (Mr. Wild) more time to get out on safari and visit some of the more remote areas of this vast district. Robin Otter, the newly appointed DO was a young man of very refined manner; who spoke English with a very distinct and pleasant accent. In the initial stages, he spent a lot of time with either Victor Fernandes or myself getting a first-hand grounding in some of the day to day work in a district office. With a full time District Officer now stationed at Marsabit, the DC was able to delegate certain duties to him. After the initial exercise in office routine, the DO accompanied the DC on safari, touring parts of the district, meeting the various Chiefs and headmen — a familiarization tour really. Some of the work I had previously been doing was now passed on to Robin Otter. I was fully aware that such a change would come about one day. The volume of clerical work had also increased by now, and although I was able to hand over many of my former tasks to the DO, I was still left with a fair amount of work on my plate.A consoling factor was that the arrival of the DO did not in any way alter the arrangement whereby either Victor or I would accompany the DC on some safaris, and I was grateful to Mr. Wild for allowing this concession to remain.
The days of my bachelorhood were now quickly drawing to a close and every letter from my fiancée seemed to confirm this.
Serving in the N.F.D. had its advantages and disadvantages, but I prefer to dwell on the advantages! A useful ‘perk’ was the local leave we were entitled to every six months (14 days at a stretch); we also earned more overseas leave in the frontier than our colleagues elsewhere. Then, there was the hardship or frontier allowance and, in the case of married officers — whose families were prevented from joining them — a separation allowance was also paid. The additional local leave I had, meant that I was able to spend some days with my fiancée and her parents finalizing arrangements for our wedding day which was now, not many months away. When I finally arrived at Kitale, I found that my fiancée had made most of the arrangements — the guest list had been drawn up, a Goan tailor (Manuel Fernandes) had been chosen to make the bridal outfit, etc. I was even able to get myself measured out for my wedding suit and fulfil a promise I had made to my tailor, Solanki, when I left Lodwar. Fortunately, I was able to have a trial fitting before returning to Marsabit. There was a certain thrill when going through the list of the various jobs that had to be done in preparation for the wedding. My fiancée’s parents were a great help, and I was well aware that the bulk of the catering arrangements would fall on the shoulders of my future mother-in-law. She didn’t seem to mind this in the least and coped with the whole situation very calmly.
Fully satisfied that the arrangements for our wedding were proceeding very smoothly, I returned to Marsabit after my short leave in the certain knowledge that there was now not long to wait before the Big Day or Siku Kuu (as they say in Ki-Swahili).
On many an evening there would be ‘extra’ celebrations at Marsabit. Some of my friends who knew I would be losing my bachelor ‘freedom’ felt that the last few days of this carefree era should be suitably remembered. I must admit that the six months between returning from my casual leave and leaving to get married flew by. I was back at Kitale once more a few days before the wedding, and together my fiancée and I were able to attend to the last minute details.
My future in-laws had recently moved into their brand new home — an architect-designed bungalow with four spacious bedrooms, a modern lounge-cum-dining-room, with an equally modern bathroom, toilet and kitchen. The whole house had been tastefully decorated and adequately furnished; as this was to be the first family wedding to be held in the new home, no expense had been spared to make the place look like a mini ‘palace’. The builders had also worked around the clock to ensure that the house was completed in good time for the family to move in well before the Big Day. My fiancée was very popular in the Kitale area and in the district generally, and the wedding presents that were beginning to arrive from all manner of people, brought home to me the great regard and affection these people had for her. There were gifts from the simple folk and the well-to-do alike, among the latter was one from the then Secretary to the Duke of Manchester (Mr. N. O. C. Marsh — an imposing figure of a man). Many local farmers who knew her well when she worked at the KFA (Kenya Farmers Association) had also sent in their gifts and good wishes, and we were greatly touched by the generosity of so many. Even those who could not make it to the wedding, and those who weren’t even invited (we had to restrict numbers because of the available space), had sent tokens of affection. Most of the arrangements for the wedding were well advanced by now — the bride’s trousseau was complete, so were my own suits, the bridesmaids’ outfits, etc. The parish priest of the small Catholic Church had asked us over a few days before the big occasion — for a general face-to-face talk on the all-important religious significance of our marriage, and the great responsibilities we were soon to undertake. Being a close friend of the family, talking plainly to us both came so naturally to Fr. John Hawes. My younger brother Wilfred, who I would dearly have liked to have been my best man, was away in England pursuing his studies, so I had to choose my next favourite relative instead. Here, I must admit, I broke away from tradition and asked my married cousin, Jock Sequeira (an Education Officer in Mombasa) — to do the honours. Normally the person chosen is, I believe, a bachelor. Jock arrived a day before and was the only member of my immediate family at the wedding; sadly, due to family commitments, Beryl was unable to accompany him. Most of my other relatives were too far away to make the trip — a paternal uncle (Luis) in Mombasa, others in Zanzibar, Mozambique, Uganda, and my two brothers in Bombay and England respectively. Still, I knew they would all be with us in spirit.
While my future in-laws were doubtless happy that their daughter was soon to be married, there was a hint in their sad expressions that they were obviously going to miss her dearly when she left home. What was worse — we had planned to leave for a honeymoon in the wilds on the very evening of our wedding day.
This must, in a way, have disappointed my fiancée’s folks and my cousin too, since they had hoped we would spend a few days at Kitale. I closely watched the last-minute arrangements now being made; a lot of hard work had gone into all the preparations, and I couldn’t understand how my future mother-in-law had coped with so much on her own. In addition to the normal wedding fare, a whole pig had been slaughtered for the occasion, and many tempting and tasty traditional Goan dishes prepared. The pig was presented by another missionary friend of my fiancée — a Dutchman of the Mill Hill order, by the name of Fr. Molenaar. There was much life and activity in the house that evening, and everyone seemed in such a happy mood. There was excitement and laughter — some sang while others danced and for a moment it looked as though the celebrations had already started! All in all it was a wonderful atmosphere and we all knew that there was now not much longer to wait for the happy occasion.