Saturday, April 11, 2020

The late Elsie Antonette Maciel

The Longest Honeymoon

By the late Elsie Maciel

I'd dreamed about getting married on the roadside of the Great Rift Valley escarpment in the beautiful little chapel the Italian prisoners of war had built to mark the end of their work on the building of the Nakuru-Nairobi highway. But my parents wanted the wedding to be in their newly-built home in Kitale. So we had a wonderful wedding day at my family's Kitale home.

At dawn one of the ltalian war prisoners came carrying in his hand a shallow basket of real orange blossoms.What bride could not hold her breath at such a sight? Trust an Italian to bring that romantic touch.

After the wedding I left with my newly-wed husband Mervyn on the evening of our wedding day. We left our guests still celebrating.

Our honeymoon in the wilds began as we left Kitale by the sleek weekend train, joining the romantic Uganda to Mombasa Mail at Eldoret, and then on to Nairobi for a short stay. The dinner on the train was a perfect wedding celebration. The next day we boarded the Nanyuki-bound train from Nairobi. Two friends picked us up at Nyeri and we drove on to Isiolo via Nanyuki. At Isiolo, our friends had organised a royal reception, which gave us an opportunity to meet many of the townsfolk.

At sunset the next day, we boarded a heavily- loaded truck in Isiolo for the onward road journey to Marsabit. We drove through part of the dark night before pitching camp at Laisamis, amidst roaring campfires. I sat on a log absorbing the atmosphere and looking out for a roaring lion. As we settled down, I saw, through the haze, a hysterical Rendille woman holding a child and making a dash for Mervyn. In what appeared like a begging posture, she pleaded for a lift to Marsabit to take her sick child to hospital. She turned to me and said, 'Watoto wengi,' wishing me many children in Swahili.

I watched Mervyn as chiefs and important tribesmen arrived to greet him and shake his hand warmly as though he'd been away for a long time. He handled the situation with authority and good grace.

I looked towards the sick child, about 11 years old, and as I shook his hand I felt his fevered skin. I offered the Rendille mum half an aspirin tablet, which she promptly gave her child. I thought no more of it.

The sky filled up with more and more stars I'd never really noticed stars as I' d never camped out in the open before. The breath-taking scene made me feel I could touch the sky! Ever since, the night sky, rare shooting stars and stardust remained my grace before bedtime.

They set up two camp beds for us, and with my hand in the hand of my hero, I fell asleep, safe and secure. We entered Marsabit early the next morning in an unusual almost magical cold mist. A group of very happy women waited around a U-bend to surprise us with presents of sheep and lambs, the best of their flock. I was lost for words and did not know how to cope with such kindness and generosity. By the time we arrived in the government boma, we had six animals, with more people waiting along the route to surprise and greet us.

Honeymoon in the Wilds
With Dubas (Frontier Tribal Police)
We ate breakfast with our neighbours, yet another celebration spread! Our host and hostess, who had also recently married, knew the feeling. After breakfast - came the most spectacular moment. Mervyn walked me down the garden path, his eyes beaming with pride and laughter, to the door of our home. We made a fairy-tale entrance. From the moment I set eyes on the lovely stone cottage with its tin roof, I couldn't stop making plans for it.
By the afternoon, the township Chief and Elders had a tea party for us. The women turned out in bright-coloured clothes of satin and silk and the men wore their traditional attire. They welcomed us warmly to the festive occasion. Beautifully dyed, hand-woven circular and square straw mats, almost in geometric design, decked the walls of the reception room. Our hosts sang, danced and ululated after which we drank very sweet, hot and strong spicy tea and soft drinks. The Chief 's wife presented me with twelve large walnut sized amber beads.

One afternoon soon after we arrived in Marsabit, there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find the most magnificent Dubas (Tribal Policeman), in his special white uniform, gleaming in the bright sunlight with his post-office red turban, the ammunition in his bandolier all polished, his rifle strapped on to his left shoulder, and in his right arm a great big bunch of fireball lilies, which matched his turban. I stood spellbound and speechless. What could I say that would thank him enough? He seemed to sense how I felt. He laughed, handed me the flowers and bade me farewell. There shall never be such a gift of flowers for me again!
A couple of weeks into our stay at Marsabit our cook, Sheunda, came to announce a visitor. Reluctant to leave my sewing of new curtains, I stood up slowly and followed him. I found at the kitchen door the very same Rendille mum who had appeared at our honeymoon camp site. Beside her stood her now fit and healthy-looking son. Having tracked me down, she had come to thank me for the dawa (half an aspirin), which she said had made her little boy well again. She bowed low in an obvious gesture of gratitude, wishing me once again many children. I offered her a mug of tea. The whole experience left me so humble I wanted to hide!

And so continued our unforgettable honeymoon in the wilds, an experience I shall treasure for the rest of my life.

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For one of the many tributes to Elsie Maciel,click here.

OVER THE NEXT few days there will be many tributes and eulogies celebrating the life Elsie Maciel will be written, spoken and recorded in many places. Below is a humble effort incorporating Mervyn’s thoughts from the last days of her life and a small excerpt from Bwana Karani.

Condolences to

Goa-born Elsie spent most of her early life in the Kenya Highlands (Kitale). Following her marriage to Mervyn, she moved to Marsabit in the inhospitable N.F.D. (Northern Frontier District) and fell in love with the place and the people. Sadly, however, she had to leave the area as there were no medical facilities for their second son (Conrad) who was born with a congenital heart condition, a condition that eventually claimed his life at Kisii, at the tender age of under two years.

Elsie and Mervyn had been married to 68 years: Elsie Antonette Collaco and Mervyn Maciel tied the not on August 16, 1952, at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Kitale, Kenya with Fr John officiating.

End of a Bachelor Era (excerpt from Bwana Karani)
As each day passed, I soon became aware that my days of bachelorhood were not to last very much longer. My fiancee 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 fiancee 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 was present. The announcement must have taken everyone by surprise as nothing had been planned. 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 fiancee's hometown), 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 quotas so that I could build up this stock. Scotch was hard to come by in those days, and since my fiancee's parents would be doing all the catering for the wedding at home, I felt that this small contribution would not come amiss.

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 fiancee and I were able to attend to the last-minute details.
My future in-laws had recently moved into their brand new house — 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 round the clock to ensure that the house was completed in good time for the family to move in well before the Big Day.
My fiancee was very popular in the Kitale area and 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 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, Mocambique, Uganda, and my two brothers in Bombay and England respectively. Still, I knew they would all be with us in spirit.

My Els

Elsie was the perfect spouse - very loving and caring, thinking always of others rather than herself.  Healthwise, she's not been lucky both in Kenya and here; had several operations here and spent many days in hospital following many operations; despite all this, she was at her happiest when entertaining visitors and enjoyed spending a lot of time with the children and after grandchildren.

In addition to her culinary skills, she was a seamstress (made the wedding gowns for both our daughters, just days after she's returned home after a major operation. Also made the 3-tier wedding cake; made her dress for the wedding and even a Pageboy outfit for our grandson.

She has knitted endless jumpers for me and the whole family and friends. She even made a 2-piece suit for me.

In addition to all this, she was a great cake maker and made cakes for family birthdays and also for people's anniversaries or weddings. Her pickles were much sought after especially by the Curry Club of Britain -her Bombay duck and Tendlim pickles were a /Goan favourite.

She excelled at pottery and her work was exhibited here in Sutton and also at some other Craft Fairs.

There is so much I could write about her. A great samosa maker. Friends and family still rave
about her unique samosas and pickles. She adored her grandchildren and encouraged them
to take an interest in arts and craft.  She was also a great gardener and later a great
help in the allotment we worked at for nearly 15 years.

She was not a party person, nor overtly religious but her faith meant a lot to her.

Until we are together again, my darling … Mervyn

A couple of tributes by Mel D'Souza

In Memoriam
Elsie Antonette (Collaco) Maciel

Praises to any and all
who are near and dear,
not only when they are loving and living...
to hold, hug, and embrace...
Not only when they fill a shared life
with years of happiness, not only
when they show us,
by personal example,
their devotion and dedication
by daily deeds done with the greatest
of care, kindness and consideration,
not only how to be truly humane,
how to be totally humble, how to be
brave, courageous, unafraid
to endure times of greatest difficulties...
how to deal with loss, grief, and pain...
how to be welcoming to others...
how to be sharing, caring, and giving…
for kith and kin, family and friends,
being hospitable and openhearted...
being genuine, generous,
hospitable and openhearted,
full of surprises and talents,
preparing culinary delights
and wondrous works of art…

Those are all great memories
to value, to treasure, to recall,
to fill heart, mind, and soul...
with total contentment,
when they are no longer with us,
no longer in our midst,
taken from us to commence
their final journey to a divine destiny,
no longer able to share
times of tenderness,
daily deeds done with great skill, and
at times even with great daring...
while being pleasant, and knowing
how to surprise and to please...

Those are memorable moments
to relive when thinking and
speaking with profound gratitude
of all the gifts given and left to us
as the legacy of love
by dearly departed...
now resting in eternal peace!

Gerhard A. Fürst
Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

1 comment:

  1. I am so very sad to read of Elsie's passing she was a lovely lady and will be sadly missed by her Family & Friends sending much love to Mervyn and The Family Deepest sympathy with Love from Julie Terry Chris Dave Barry Gill & Families ( Joyce Hopkins Family C.A.L )



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