‘A bullet with your name on it’
Within days Fernandes with his wife and young family fled Kenya, first to Britain, eventually settling permanently in Sydney, Australia. It took him forty years to overcome the trauma of his abrupt banishment from that ‘Garden of Eden’ before he started writing a blog analyzing the ‘forbidden fruit’ - the stories that would have surely hastened that bullet. Now Fernandes (73) has emerged with a book with his name on it.
It is a powerful story of being born into poverty and despair, growing in a world of racial and community prejudice, and ending his stay in Kenya amid success and fame, working on increasingly complex stories during his life as a feisty journo; he covers all topics, takes risks, probes, explores, follows wisps of smoke and rumours until he finds the bare bones of a story, and then checks facts. He is intrigued by the twists and turns of national and all-Africa politics and travels with official Kenyan delegations across Africa, and on overseas courses and ‘reporting junkets’ including to the Munich Olympics of 1972.
It is a decade when corruption, allegedly managed from the top, is taking root in Kenya. But nobody can talk or say anything derogatory against the President and his immediately family, or inner circle. As an investigative reporter, Fernandes develops the instincts of a bloodhound in a political environment filled in innuendo, tribal conflict, cold war politics, and murder. There is an extensive chapter on Pio Gama Pinto, first Goan political murder in post Kenya independence and others that follow: Tom Mboya (murdered in 1969) and JM Kariuki (murdered in 1975).
He expertly highlights other key players and the bit actors in Kenya’s immediate post independence history. It includes the short-lived role of Vice President Joseph Murumbi (half-Goan, half Masai), and Dr Njoroge Mungai, who served in turn as Minister of Health; Defence and Internal Security, and eventually Foreign Affairs. The independent stoic Managing Editor of the Nation, Joe Rodrigues, was a hero and mentor. There are other interesting characters.
Fernandes’ writing skills are displayed at their best when he recounts his early life and growing up in the now notorious suburb of Eastleigh. He presents a beautifully crafted tribute to his mother, a deeply religious woman who ‘ran errands, did grocery shopping, babysat, ironed and cooked, dressed corpses, wailed at funerals and performed other menial tasks.’ She dabbled in traditional medicine, and traditional Goan exorcism in which salt and red dried chilies are used to remove the evil eye and similar evils.’ She even gave massages to lines of injured football players. She was eventually laid to rest in Australia.
It is easy to see the connection between a remarkable woman and the author’s relentless struggle for survival – his mother and six children were abandoned at age ten by their drunken father. At age thirteen, Fernandes refuses to bare his bottom to receive a severe canning from Father Hannon, and is forced to run away and abandon high school. He must now make his way in the world. There is also a sad chapter when long after leaving Kenya, the author discovers that his once much-revered headmaster molested boys in his care at the Parochial School in Eastleigh, Nairobi.
Finally there is an extensive acknowledgement of the ‘African Goan’ community that found opportunity and a good life in their adopted country, and gave so much to Kenya in faithful service to its British rulers, but also treated Africans with more respect than their colonial masters, in all walks of life, whether as clerks, accountants and school teacher - in most cases training their African successors to take over their jobs in a smooth transition.
Yesterday in Paradise is a story of intelligence coupled with incredible luck, grit, doggedness, diligence and dedication, fuelled with unbounded chutzpah.
If you love reading social history, have an interest in colonial times, or just love a good well structured story, or have lived or known someone who has lived or visited Kenya, I can highly recommend this book.
Dimensions 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches/ 15.2 ounces
Braz Menezes, Author of Just Matata (2011) Beyond the Cape- Sin, Saints, Slaves and Settlers (Second Edition of JM 2015); More Matata – Love After the Mau Mau (2012)