My Life in Kenya
Part – 3
“Life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.” John Rohn
The winds of change continued to blow in Kenya during the Mau Mau era. (1952/1960) It was a time of nervousness and trepidation for everybody, especially those living in the up-country farms.
Freedom is not free.
The Kikuyu tribe were dominant in the uprising, but sadly, their tribesmen suffered the most. Oath taking, fear and witch-craft was their prime mode for recruiting supporters. Other tribes, like the Luo, Wakamba, Kalenjin, and the proud Maasai took a back seat. It is unbelievable, that the seeds for freedom in Kenya was actually planted in the 1930’s by Harry Thuku. We had no inkling, as to what was going on. We were kept in the dark, safely, under a warm blanket, while the struggle for equality and Uhuru went on. Many of the immigrants and our parents worried how Uhuru, would affect us all. The attitude of, most Goans in Kenya, was the mantra, “Ignorance is bliss and it is folly to be wise” especially in politics.
“When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land." - Desmond Tutu
To be fair, the Missionaries did a lot to educate the Africans, in the west, Maseno High School and closer to Nairobi Alliance High School. Many, future, prominent politicians studied herein.
Now, proud to say that, there were some Asians Nationalists who supported this cause and were incarcerated, because of their affiliation with the Mau Mau. Indian Nationalism, started with India trying to kick off the yoke of imperialism in India. There was also small faction of Goans, in Kenya and abroad, who put their “susegaad” (easy going) attitude on the back burner and who also fostered an, Anti-Portuguese, propaganda. They were agitating to get the Portuguese out of Goa, for better or for the worse!
Man’s inhumanity to man. - Robert Burns
The British were not as gentlemanly as we were taught to believe. Sadly, they tortured a lot of their prisoners and massacred quite a few. They also did this in India. They looted these countries of valuables and natural resources and manpower. They gave in one hand and took with the other. Much to their credit, the British, have recently agreed to pay compensation for their atrocities in Kenya.
Nineteen Fifty Three….. Was a busy Year. A new queen, Queen Elizabet II was on the throne, aaaaand,
it was the birth of the “East African Rallye” safari. It was then called the “Coronation Safari” and only the Mzungu, white settlers took part. Few years later, a lot of Asians took part, mainly in little VW’s. Volvos
Datsuns and DKW’s, as these were cars that could be modified and strengthened at a lower cost. It was not an occasion for speed, it was more of endurance and skill. A well know Rallye driver is known to have said, “If I used my head more, instead of my foot, I would win more rallies.” It was not an event for speed or “Put the pedal to the metal”. Eventually the East African Rally, gained prominence among a lot of overseas, professional Rallye drivers, but they did not win for many years, the local drivers dominated.
They knew the terrain and when to go off road and take calculated risks. Finally, the overseas drivers
got the upper hand as they had professional support teams, following them with air support and spare
parts, and factory trained service crew. Smarter ones, partnered with local, navigator/driver.
Later on, Tanzania and Uganda were included in the route and so the starting point was also shared.
It was about a 3000 miles event and went on from Holy Thursday to Easter Monday. Yes, a four-day,
holiday, weekend, when I landed in the USA/Virginia, I was shocked that, Easter was just like a regular
weekend, I had to take vacation, to get time off.
O’ my gosh! It is Holy week! The very prestigious “Gold Cup” hockey tournament is on, got my transistor Radio, try listening to the Padre, in church, and or rush off to the City Park Stadium, walking via the City Park woods, which bordered Pangani. Eyes on the hockey game, but ears listening to the progress of the Safari Rallye on the radio. Teams from all East Africa, came to partake in this very popular Hockey tourney. It was played on Murram (earth packed field), very fast and furious. Never a dull moment. Next, go downtown Nairobi, to the City Hall the check the 24hr. scoreboard for the latest Rallye results. If you were lucky, may be a buddy with a car would take you to some strategic point on the rally route.
Nineteen Fifty-Three. Was also the year the sleek BOAC Comet, my all-time favorite aircraft, was first
seen in Nairobi. Sooo, sleek…. And what, no propellers. I think it was first Jet engine passenger aircraft.
Unfortunately, there were a few serious crashes and it was grounded, with fuselage breaking-up problems.
By now our lease on the house in Parkland ended, and a house hunting we had to go. We moved to a place in the newer section of Eastleigh, on the road to the R.A.F. Aerodrome. The houses were all one level building, usually with a rectangular courtyard and rooms on three side, shared toilet and kitchen were at one end. But you know, sports, music, and parties are in our blood and as you cannot keep good Goan guys down, a lot of these courtyards were utilized to play badminton or volleyball, keeping us out of mischief. They were also used to hold parties, and dutifully decorated. These houses in Kenya were built of solid stone upon stone and mortar, no frail wood framework, drywall or sheetrock. No special
sitting room, or bedroom or bathroom or laundry room, hence no my room, your room, arguments.
My commute to the Dr. Riberio Goan school was now a little difficult, had to take the local bus,
to Ngara, and then had a twenty minute, walk. The school had one school bus, it only covered a certain area and, eventually it was only used, taking us for Soccer and Hockey engagements.
On our way to school, were vendors, with handcarts selling peanuts, sugarcoated or plain and other
sweets. Some vendors sold the strangest fruits, Victorias, (with salt and chili powder.) Papettas, etc.
The local Africans cooked Mogo (Cassava) strips served with chili powder salt and lemon, and fresh mahindi (Corn-on-the-cob) cooked on top of the open fire of the jicho.
We must have been a hardy breed, they would dish-out these goodies. Like semi ripe mangos cut them with a rusty old knife and again served with salt and chili powder, Finger licking good, yummy, hygiene was left in the classroom. At home, no confusions with forks and knives spoons.
Ngara was a central spot for shops like Mithai (Indian Sweets), Saris and other commodities. For a lot of the public buses (Kenya Bus Svc) this was where they dispersed to different destinations. We would buy our comic and magazines and candy here. The strange thing was that, some comics we bought had the front cover ripped off.? Many years later I became aware for the reason of this shady practice. I gathered they would send the covers back to the source that supplied them the comic/magazines and claim they were unsold, and hence get some refund.
The houses in this part of Eastleigh, were not as crowded as section I & II. There was fair amount of space between houses, and at the back large tracts of grassland bordering to the R.A.F. perimeter. One would often see partridges running through the grass. They were reluctant to fly. After the rains, one would find strings of frog eggs and later on tadpoles and some strange creatures swimming together with some mosquito larvae. (In the USA, when I collected a few tadpoles in a jar and took them home to show my kids, I was dismayed, as when I added some tap water, they bellied up and died. I guess I should have let the tap water standing for some time to get rid of additive like fluorine and chlorine.)
In Kenya we were taught that we could “clean our water” by dissolving alum, which when dissolved would float at the top, left standing for a time it would sink, taking down particulate matter. (flocculation)
Our drinking water was usually boiled. As we had no refrigerator’s, it was poured in a gourd shaped semiporous, large, clay, earthen vessel, it got wet on the outside and evaporation did the cooling. Water was scooped up with a large ladle, later models had a little tap. In Goa, they used clay pots for all their cooking, and the food was very much more, flavorful. Spoons were made of polished coconut shell.
On special festival days, food was served on a banana leaf. Fish was also baked wrapped in these leaves.
My favorite was a kind of sweetened rice floor dough wrapped in Turmeric leave and steamed. (Turmeric leaves are large and aromatic and have the taste and flavor of arrow mint and spearmint.)
We survived aluminum cookware. Most of our pots and pans were made of this material, and I vividly recall how spotted and pitted the appearance of these pots were, as much or our cooking was spicy and acidic and cooked with vinegar. How much of aluminum leached in our food is a question that now bothers me. As, now, when I hide Easter eggs I have trouble finding them….yippee, I do not need anyone to hide them for me !
Necessity is the mother of invention, our semi perishable food was stored in a free-standing cabinet with fine wire netting, we termed “meat safe”, to keep flies away etc. But ants would try to invade, so we tried putting the four legs of the meat-safe in cans with water, a mini moat. Worked for a time, until some dust floated on the water, and the ants would make an ant bridge. We also used a curly sticky strip, hanging from the ceiling, that was supposed to trap flying pests. If all that failed, we had the Flit Pump, which sprayed a thine mist of insecticide. Meats and fish were cooked on the day of purchase. Milk was always
boiled, it was usually full cream milk, and after boiling, as it cooled a firm layer of cream would float
on the top, I would often skim it off add some sugar beat it and then enjoy it. I would use a couple of days of this collection to make my toffee fudge. We also collect this solidified cream for a couple of weeks, then beat it up cook it lightly to produce ghee. (clarified butter). We used ghee to pop our popcorn.
Years later milk was sold in a three-sided pyramid shaped container, called Tetra Pak, and was less creamy, and was….. Pasteurised…. (Past ur eyes)….Heee heeee! We did not have refrigerators.
My recipe for Sweet Toast….I took a slice of bread. Buttered it. Sprinkled it with sugar. Slide it under the Jicho, until the sugars begin to melt and got brown, and crunchy. (When cooled). Now you can use a toaster oven, on the grill setting. Yummy. (Do not touch the brown sticky melted sugar, let it cool first)
I digressed. (Eastleigh/RAF House). Frequently there would be grassfires in these areas. After a fire, I would go looking for spent tracer bullet shells, always an exciting find for a kid. These must have been from the R.A.F. shooting range. In this neighborhood there were mostly Somali’s and Seychellois family’s. We eventually moved to a flat. (a self-contained apartment). Now we had a fulltime African servant to do the house work and he lived in what was termed “the boys quarters” their employment was termed “house boy”. This is where I would “sneak a snack” when Mia was not looking, and enjoy my Ugali (corn flour dough made by boiling it.) posho, (beans) Sukuma weekie (Kale/collard greens) and my favorite, Irio, a mashed mish-mash of legumes, mahindi (corn), and nyama-choma…. barbecued meat was sometime on the menu.
The parish church St. Thresa’s, then, was a small chapel. Always crowded. Eventually a larger,
more modern church was built. The unique thing was they did away with church bells, what they had
instead was amplifiers and speakers with the sound of bells. However, this did not last long as there
were a lot of complaints about them being too loud and harsh? The old chapel was now used for meetings and during Christmas, full sized crèches were housed. The best cribs were made by the Italian church
in Westland, Consolata Mission Church.
It is strange now, looking back to realise that the Catholic churches, Holy Family down town,
St. Francis Xavier, in Parkland, St. Theresa’s in Eastleigh was dominated by Goans parishioners.
Most of the clergy were Irish. The church in the river road area St. Peter Clavier was predominantly African. (This was the church we went to after a late-night dance or party as it had the earliest Mass Svc.
Yes, it was ingrained in us never to miss Sunday Mass) Later on the Italian, Consolata Mission, and Church in Westland’s was also attended by many Goan parishioners. My first son was baptized there.
We were more Catholic than the Pope, Sunday morning Mass, evening Benediction service, Monday evening, Miraculous Medal Novena and Wednesday Our Lady of Perpetual Succor Novena, and every Friday was a day of abstinence…Strictly no meat.
He who builds a fence, fences out more than he fences in…….
In writing this soliloquy, has opened my mind, as to what it was like it was like to have been a Goan, from the inside-out. We did not integrate with other Indian communities or treat the African as equals. Maybe it was an inbreed cultural, human trait, of fear and survival. Sadly, we looked up and salaamed the Europeans, (the only people I called Sir, was our teachers), we looked down on other Indians and especially Africans. Our schools were, kind of segregated, and it was only the lucky few and very intelligent Goan students and those who could afford it went to High School, where there was some diversity of Indians, but still, a very few Africans. It was only at the Collage, University level (Royal Collage, Makerere Collage) that one saw an International and African mix.
Beauty is (not) only skin deep. Our evaluation of “good lookin” was to be light skinned…. We did not seem to appreciate the finer points of a darker hued Goan. What can I say, from the side lines we admired and ogled the Ismaili girls? Boys will be boys, we grew up with a lot of these biases and misconceptions.
“In prayer, it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart.” Mahatma Gandhi
Religions also contributed to segregation and cultural isolation, among us Indians. Passing a Hindu temple, I was intrigued by the color and various images of their Gods. Deities, with several pair of hands, and another with an Elephants head, riding a mouse. It would have been very interesting for some enlightenment. After all is said and done it was part of our heritage. We enjoyed Diwali from the sidelines. Religious, imaginary always has a meaning and would have been enriching and broadminded, to be aware of their religions significant, and representation. If a Hindu boy visited a Catholic church, saw images of Jesus Christ on the cross and Dove above His head, Angels with wings, stained glass windows of St. George and the dragon and images St. Matthew, Mark, Luke & John emblems of winged lion, winged bull, etc. and asked me to explain, The Holy Trinity, One God, I would not know where or how to start. You know, the Muslims firmly believe that God should not be portrayed in graphic form. Sadly, the religious education I got was, “Who made you? Why did God make you? Which we had to learn by rote.
It was bitter pill for me to swallow when I learned of the Portuguese atrocities committed in proselytizing and bringing Christianity to Goa, where there was also a period of a painful Inquisition. It is men’s holier than thou, attituded, that causes so much strife and misery, often in the name of religion.
It was amazing to know that the Apostle, St. Thomas was in neighboring, Kerala so much earlier than St. Francis Xavier in Goa.
Sorry to go off on a tangent……..
Here is an extract from William Dalrymple’s article in the “The Guardian” on Kerala.
(Converts by St Thomas the Apostle of Jesus in Kerala)
Thomas Christians was reduced to ashes in the 16th century - not by Muslims or Hindus, but by a newly arrived European Christian power: the Portuguese. As far as the Portuguese colonial authorities were concerned, the St Thomas Christians were heretics, an idea confirmed by their belief in astrology and reincarnation, and the Hindu-style sculptures of elephants and dancing girls found carved on their crosses
The Inquisition was brought in, and the historical records of the St Thomas Christians put to the flame. Yet the old stories did survive, locked in the minds and memories of Christians in inaccessible Keralan backwaters.
In songs and dances passed on from father to son and teacher to pupil, they preserved intact many of their most ancient traditions. Scholars now believe that if the answer to the riddle of the legends of St Thomas lies anywhere, it is in this rich and largely unstudied Keralan oral tradition.
If St Thomas had carried Christianity to India, it is likely that he would have taken a distinctly more Jewish form than the Gentile-friendly version developed for the Greeks of Antioch by St Paul and later exported to Europe. Hence the importance of the fact that some of the St Thomas Christian churches to this day retain Judeo-Christian practices long dropped in the west - such as the celebration of the solemn Passover feast.
Hence also the significance of the St Thomas Christians still using the two earliest Christian liturgies in existence: The Mass of Addai and Mari, and the Liturgy of St James, once used by the early Church of Jerusalem. More remarkable still, these ancient services are still partly sung in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus and St Thomas.
200 Roman trading vessels a year were making the annual journey to the bazaars of Malabar and back. More intriguing still, analysis of Roman coin hoards in India has shown that the Roman spice trade peaked exactly in the middle of the first century AD. All this showed that if St Thomas had wanted to come to India, the passage from Palestine, far from being near-impossible, would in fact have been easier, more frequent and probably cheaper than at any time in the next 1,500 years - until Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to the Indies in 1498.
I started this opus with tongue-in-cheek, que sera, sera, attitude. It seems that the newer generation found it hard to swallow. I realise it was, probably overwhelming, tedious, long winded, and beyond their ken.
Thankfully, it is the complements that I received from friend and others who read it, was very heart-warming and up lifting, I feel very fulfilled and gratified. There is nothing more precious, like a pat on the back, from old friends, good friends and others.
Somebody once said, “You can take us out of Kenya, but cannot take Kenya out of us.”
Thank You One & All…Very much Appreciate the encouragement I received to write these essays/.
Sincerely, Thank You So Very Much.