Travels in Africa

Fred and Donanne Hunter

LOVE in the Time of Apartheid

Dear Travels in Africa Readers,

Nice to connect with you again. It’s been almost a year since I last published a post on this Travels in Africa blog. Why now? What’s changed?

There’s good news! The Permanent Press of Sag Harbor, New York, has just published my new novel LOVE IN THE TIME OF APARTHEID.

An ad in Publishers Weekly quotes from the Kirkus Review, offering this synopsis of the book: “Love in the Time of Apartheid is a quasi-political thriller and love story set in 1960s Africa. Gat, aka Adriaan Gautier, has been given instructions by his Belgian superiors in the Congo: “Disappear.’’ He begins a promising courtship with Petra, the daughter of a racist Cape Town police colonel, and Gat abhors apartheid. Gat. who is guilt-ridden and fighting nightmares of murder, helps Petra see beyond her family’s prejudices. Frederic Hunter, a former Africa Correspondent of the Christian Science Monitor, ably captures South Africa. Plain prose and dialogue keep the pace motoring, and the sharply told espionage storyline may appeal to Ian Fleming fans. There is daring, intrigue, and an ugly current of racism, but make no mistake, this is a love story at its core. Austere and well-told; an unlikely mix of espionage, apartheid and love on the run.”

love-in-the-time-of-apartheid

The book is available on Amazon or at www.thepermanentpress.com. Please read it and write a review.

Speaking of reviews, excuse my quoting the first one I read. I do so with glee because I have never met Sheila and have no idea who she is.

Nov 07, 2016 Sheila rated it five stars on GoodReads:

In 1961, a white man showers and can’t wash away the stain of his past. A white girl wonders if she’s really in love with the man she’s meant to marry. A black leader is rumored to be either alive or dead. And South Africa seethes.

Author Frederic Hunter brings that seething to life in the travels of two people who should never meet; one young and innocent, the other older and guilt-ridden, and both of them guilty in a world that’s bound to a seriously flawed status quo. The author’s depiction of their road trip brings towns and people, scenery and countries to life. But this novel’s as much about internal roads as national boundaries. Rescuing themselves is as important as rescuing each other or anyone else. And a tale of recent darkness brings light to the present too, as Gat and Petra seek emotional freedom in a twisted, twisting world.

Well-pitched third person narration adds a haunting sense of the characters’ isolation to this novel, even as well-toned dialog brings each scene to life. Institutionalized murder and brutality become ironically less distant, more inevitable perhaps, while reader and characters try to distance themselves. Meanwhile hope grows, together with love, despite the haunting revelations waiting at the side. Maybe the sins of the past don’t have to outweigh the present or the future, but their consequences have a habit of catching up.

Today, the reader knows apartheid will fall. But here it’s the backdrop of a tale of real people overcoming fear with love, in a place where one day hope will be writ large. Boundaries can bend, break and fall, but only when we try to cross them.

Constantly surprising, often terrifying, hauntingly and oddly romantic, Love In A Time Of Apartheid is a hard book to put down and an impossible one to forget.

TRAVELS IN AFRICA: Final Post

As the recent TIA posts recorded our departure from East Africa, the question arose: Is there anything more for TIA to report each week? The posts started in late 2010, five years ago. There have been some 250 of them. They’ve taken readers from a beginning with Donanne in high school in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, on through Fred’s adventures in the Congo, on further to our joint experiences as a journalist couple working out of Kenya and still further on to us as travelers just at the beginning of the 21st century.

Furthermore, readers have had the blessing of a goodly number of posts by guest contributors. How pleasant to go places with folks willing to share their adventures. Our heartiest thanks to them.

Doing the blog has been great fun for us. We’ve met some surprising people along the way. As everyone knows, the internet’s reach is worldwide. We’ve received hellos, both across space and time. Lincoln Sixishe wrote from South Africa after he came upon the name of his father Desmond, who delighted me in Lesotho. As an official of the Lesotho government, he could venture into neighboring South Africa and tweak Afrikaners by failing to act like a “kaffir” and getting away with it. The son of Paul Efambe wrote to tell of his surprise to come upon his father’s name. Paul Efambe was a provincial minister in Coquilhatville when I was there. I also heard from Johanna Boudart and Piotr Michejda, descendants of Coquilhatville friends.

They all found the names of relatives by entering the name into a search engine and watching to find out what came up. That’s one way to use the TIA posts in the future. We’ve also heard from people who’ve had experiences similar to ours. All terrific blessings!

The blog has an archive. It’s easy to access, though I’ll admit it may not be all that easy to use. The posts are filed by subject matter – at least that was the intention in the beginning. The blog will remain on the web for the foreseeable future. It’s a way to take a trip to Africa where you may not be sure of your destination.

It’s possible that there will be reason now and then to send out new posts. That means we may be putting a “New post up at Travels in Africa” in the subject line of your emails. Probably there will be more books to tell you about. Writers do keep writing.

Our enormous thanks to all of you who shared these journeyings with us. We look forward to seeing and hearing from you down the line.

Meanwhiie, may your travels online or on foot enlighten and delight you. With every good wish,

Fred & Donanne

TRAVELS IN AFRICA: Kenya, 1972, saying goodbye

Once we were notified of our imminent transfer back to the United States, Donanne and I entered a time of transition. We began to make myriad arrangements. These involved travel bookings, ordering lift vans for household effects, getting various forms in order: taxes, work permits and crucially important a birth certificate for Pauly. On an assignment from my editors, I went south to Mozambique, Rhodesia and Angola, leaving Donanne to wrestle with many of these preparations.

While schlepping around Beira, Mozambique, and Sao da Bandeira, Angola, I wondered what the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference would be like in August. My drama The Hemingway Play would be given a staged reading there. Would that lead to opportunities outside journalism? That seemed unlikely, but one could always dream. What I would be doing back in Boston at the Monitor’s home offices had not yet been determined, another reason I was reluctant to embrace the idea of a transfer.

As is characteristic of editors, mine in Boston assumed that in the throes of leaving I would be filing stories at the usual pace. Still I needed a temporary replacement. I found an aspiring journalist, bright, eager and capable, young and American, to take over my Monitor responsibilities. I continued to record radio spots for Group W because they could be written over a cup of coffee and recorded over the phone. The Monitor editor heard one of these and fired off a cable, taking me to task for continuing to work for Group W while he was paying my keep in Nairobi. That was just part of an editor’s DNA and, as it worked out, I filed a story for the Monitor the very day we left.

We had our farewell ceremonies with Laban and Murugi and moved out of the house on Riverside Paddocks. We relocated temporarily to a small house farther out of town in Kabete. Mururgi was sometimes available to stay with Pauly – who was now beginning to walk – and sometimes not; we engaged the services of a young woman to keep her eyes on him.

Since we had been living a very comfortable life with a pleasant circle of friends, saying goodbye to people whom we had come to know was in some ways the hardest part of leaving. This was especially true in the case of Ursula Johnson who had seen Donanne through the baby’s arrival. Her husband Ted had passed on only a month or two before. Ursula had asked me to read a memorial service for him which I was happy to do. Most of Nairobi’s professional people turned up for that service. Ursula would soon be moving to South Africa where her son Michael had established himself.

We would fly out of East Africa on a British Airways plane that originated in Johannesburg, leaving there in the early evening. The flight did not depart Nairobi until almost midnight. At the airport we found that our plane was not at all crowded. We got seats behind a bulkhead. I was able to stretch out on the floor with Pauly next to me. What great luck, I thought! Pauly and I would be able to get some sleep. But, no, Pauly wanted to watch the movie.

When we arrived at London’s Heathrow, he walked by himself throughout the transit lounge in a white infant suit with footies.

Friends drove us to Embakasi Airport as the last light was fading from the sky. Out by the game park, passing a stand of trees, I noticed the long shapes of giraffes moving among those trees, their heads lifted into the leaves on long necks. For one reason or another, we have never been back to Nairobi. I still have a mental picture of those giraffes, my final wildlife sighting in East Africa.

TRAVELS IN AFRICA: NAIROBI, 1972

As we were about to leave Nairobi, I learned that Kenyan journalist Hilary Ng’weno had started JOE Magazine. Eager to support this bravery, I sent him an essay that I felt sure would be rejected by the Monitor’s Home Forum. Ng’weno printed it after I had already departed – possibly a good thing – but my Monitor replacement sent me a copy. Here is “The English and Their Pets”::

The English love their pets more than their children.

In a set-to between a child and a dog the English run in to protect the dog.

One can offer evidence to support these assertions. But, in fact, they are exaggerations. The English do not love their pets more than their children. They love them only just as much.

Certainly pets rather than children dominate English dinner party conversation. Sometimes they even dominate the dinner party itself.

The English let their pets come to the table. They consider it amusing when Mirabel claws your ankle making you gag upon your soup. They find it endearing when Bismarck lays his snout affectionately in your lap causing you to shoot your peas across the tablecloth.

People who would not countenance such behavior in their children indulge it in their pets. “Is that Mirabel?” the hostess asks with feigned crossness as you blush and right the toppled water glass, rubbing the wounded ankle against the other one.

Or astonished she demands, “Is Bismarck under the table?”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” you say as you wipe gravy off your tie meanwhile aiming sharp, hopefully unnoticed kicks in his direction.

“All dogs outside!” the hostess chirps. “Come Bismarck!” Eventually the dog obeys, whopping his great German shepherd tail against assembled knees. “Outside you go!” commands his mistress, stirring only to slip the beloved bowwow a morsel from her plate.

If you have not previously greeted the other pets, you do this after dinner. These include the rabbits outside, then the gerbils and the parrot and the budgerigars. All are solemnly introduced and even more solemnly lauded. You find yourself thirsting for after dinner coffee as you never have before.

At last you return to the drawing room. The pets that enlivened your dinner accompany you there. But these are not the only ones present. There are also the pets of the past (“We had the sweetest white mouse once”) and those of a yearned-for future (“Oh, I’d so love to have a mongoose”).

The present pets settle into their established routine. The dogs (there always seem to be more than one) stretch out before the sofa and lie upon your feet. They twitch in their dreams, wake and bark at figments, perfume the room with a fragrance their owners no longer smell.

The cats behave toward you in one of two ways: either they regard you with inscrutable hostility, stepping gracefully away from the hand extended to prove to the hostess that you do not dislike animals, or they overpower you with fidgety affection, curling and recurling into your lap, shedding and drooling onto your coat, snatching away from you your after dinner chocolate.

The English use their pets for conversational purposes. If, for instance, a lull descends between animal stories, the host or hostess reaches down, scratches beloved Hamlet (who is, of course, a Great Dane), inquires about his health and starts a conversation with him. This attention invariably causes Hamlet to do a rhumba on his back. This inspires oohs and ahhs of delight and new animal tales flow afresh.

Guests are also addressed through pets. For example, hostess lifts the drowsy Bangkok (who is, of course, a Siamese), places her nose against its nose and instructs, “You go tell that big man to be careful of the chair he’s sitting in. It’s an antique which my great-grandfather made with his own hands. You go tell him now!” Hostess kisses kitty while you move to a less cherished chair.

Stories about animals are the conversational mainstay of the English dinner party. Here in East Africa there are more species to discuss than merely dogs, rabbits and rodents, cats and canaries. These often hold considerable interest. One encounters here people who have tamed cheetahs and elephants, who have petted pangolins, played aunty to anteaters and have dik-diks and porcupines, monkeys and baboons living in their gardens, who sleep in the same room (often in the same bed) with hyraxes and tortoises, bush babies, geckos and infant jackals.

One never stays too late at English dinner parties. When the pets have to be put out, the guests are let out, too. In fact, it is an ideal time to leave. When the animals charge off into the darkness, you have time enough to hurry to the car. If you linger, the pets will return. They will maul you with affectionate goodbyes just as they jumped at you and nipped your heels in lovable greeting.

You thank your hosts. You compliment the dinner, commend the ambiance and most ingratiatingly of all you praise the pets. The hostess smiles maternally, her head cocked listening for beloved barkings. “Yes,” she says, ”I’ve always maintained that some of my favorite guests are dogs.”

The English are said to be both the most civilized and eccentric of peoples. It is not always clear from which of these strains this affection for animals derives.

Certainly some of them pay their pets the ultimate compliment. To cite an example. Driving along Nairobi’s main thoroughfare one afternoon I followed a small British car. It was driven by a woman in a tweedy suit with hat to match. The passengers were three dogs: a Dalmatian and a poodle in back, a cocker spaniel in front.

I examined the quartet as I pulled alongside to pass. The Dalmatian sat alert and well-groomed, his eyes upon the road, his mouth open in a doggy smile, the tongue lolling out. The poodle sat more or less the same way, well-groomed, alert and grinning. So did the cocker spaniel.

The driver sat alertly, too. She was well-groomed, her eyes were on the road ahead, and yes, she too had her mouth open in a grin. What a charming scene! I could not help thinking what depth of affection must lie between them that they should all have grown to look alike.

UP NEXT: Penultimate post “Saying Goodbye”

TRAVELS IN AFRICA: Uganda, 1972

Last week’s post mentioned that in mid-1972 rumors began to float around East Africa about bad things happening in Uganda. What exactly they were we Nairobi-based journalists did not really know, possibly violent tribal rivalries in the Uganda army.

Why didn’t we know? Wasn’t it our job, after all, to know – go and find out, if necessary – and report such things?

We did not know because one of our number had been assassinated there. He was Nick Stroh, a free-lancer for Detroit papers, who based himself in Kampala because so many other journalists worked out of Nairobi.

During Donanne’s and my home leave Stroh and a friend, Robert Siedle, a lecturer at Kampala’s Makerere University, drove out of the capital to an army barracks in the far reaches of the country. There they interviewed a Lieutenant Colonel Ali, the local army commander, about some matter they were investigating, possibly tribal tensions in the army. General Idi Amin’s tribal brothers were replacing those of Milton Obote, the Uganda president Amin had overthrown in a coup. Rumors whispered that those replacements had taken a violent form.

What Stroh learned – or perhaps what he ill-advisedly threatened – apparently alarmed Colonel Ali.. As Stroh and Siedle left the barracks, their car was attacked. They were killed. No inquest was made into the murders.

That incident alone did not deter us journalists from contemplating trips to Kampala. We decided that if we went there en masse, four or five of us at a time, it was unlikely that we’d encounter danger.

So a group of us decided to fly up to Kampala one Saturday. Andrew Torchia of the Associated Press arrived there earlier than the rest of us. His passport was immediately lifted and he was put under some form of house arrest. Hearing that news, Marian Torchia began working the phones, including to the White House, demanding that Idi Amin release her husband.

The news of Andy’s “house arrest’ circulated quickly through the World Press. Those of us who intended to go that day to Kampala quickly changed our minds. We cancelled – and, even though Torchia was soon released, we had no desire to venture into Uganda again any time soon.

So we journalists stayed in Nairobi. We knew bad things were happening. But we couldn’t confirm them, and we didn’t know exactly what they were.

General Amin, a world personality

General Amin, a world personality

During this time a young man appeared at the office I had newly rented. He said that a journalist colleague had suggested that he call on me. The young man claimed to be the son of a Ugandan general; he had fled to Nairobi, he asserted, seeking safety. He offered to give me solid information about what was happening in Uganda. Since I found myself with virtually no contacts at all, solid information was exactly what I needed.

This situation was the dodgiest I encountered while reporting from Africa.

I was assailed by ethical questions. Could I trust this fellow? What did he want from me? Not money. Clearly it was unethical to pay an informant for news tips. He might be working for someone who wanted to twist my copy. He might start giving me tips in order to become so valuable that I would pay him. I knew my colleagues were using his tips and staying way out ahead of me on this story. What to do? I needed some place to start.

So I listened to what my informant had to say, all the time uncertain as to why he would give me news tips likely to jeopardize his father’s safety. Of course, I did what I could to check them out. Still, was I Dr. Faustus lending an ear to Mephisto?

I considered what he told me to be “background.” It enhanced my understanding of happenings in Uganda. If I used any of it, I did so sparingly; a correspondent learns to write around what he doesn’t know. Fortunately, I was never called upon to source my information. My reputation was not sullied. But I never stopped being nervous.

TRAVELS IN AFRICA: Uganda, 1972

It did not take long after Pauly’s birth for me to realize that two newcomers in the house – the baby and the ayah Murugi – made it difficult for me to work there. So I found a room in an office block in town. It was a tiny space with a window, several floors up. Into it I introduced a table, a chair, a lamp, the Grundig radio and my portable typewriter.

The story I tried to cover there was Idi Amin. A year earlier General Amin had staged a coup in Uganda against the government of Milton Obote. The World Press, as we called ourselves, ventured to Kampala shortly afterward for the delayed funeral of Edward Mutesa, the Kabaka of the Baganda people who give their name to Uganda.

While there, we met with Amin and several of his generals. We journalists sat, spread out on a wall. The officials stood before us to answer questions and speak about the future.

In the army for twenty-five years, Amin had risen from assistant cook to the officer ranks under the British. A year or two after independence in 1962 he became Deputy Commander of the Army. He had been the Ugandan light heavyweight boxing champion for a decade, was a good swimmer and a fine rugby forward. He had an easy camaraderie with men. Our q & a with him and his officers was like a barracks-room bull session.

Idi Amin had an easy camaraderie with men

Idi Amin had an easy camaraderie with men

On that occasion, Amin gave a generally favorable impression of himself. He seemed more like a jovial, burly, hard-drinking master sergeant than a head of state. His burying Mutesa placated the Baganda people. Harmonizing tribal tensions was a must for Uganda governance. Amin appeared to be off to a good start for whatever he intended to do.

He had, of course, given the pro forma assurances that he was a soldier, not a politician; that the military government would be a caretaker until elections could be held; that elections would occur when “the situation” had normalized. Such assurances were part of the coup drill.

As time passed, however, Amin forgot about elections. He named himself Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. He also began to purge Obote’s tribal brothers from the army, replacing them with officers of his own tribe. Then he began to do curious things. We of “the World Press,” who thought we’d seen everything, were truly baffled.

TRAVELS IN AFRICA: Leaving Laban and Murugi, Kenya, 1973

My last reporting trip as the Monitor’s Africa correspondent, mandated by my Boston editors, was one trip too many. In Mozambique, Rhodesia and Angola I tried to “finish up strong,” as I was urged to do in high school and college. This would demonstrate that I was “on the team.” However there were all the arrangements needed to be made before leaving Nairobi. Like Laban, new possibilities were dangling before me and part of my brain was wondering what the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference would be like. My work “The Hemingway Play” would be given a staged reading there in August.

Most vexing of all was the question of how Murugi intended to proceed about her injured ankle. Concerned about it, I trudged around Luanda, Angola, with a crick in my back. My rear end felt as if it were being dragged out of left field.

When I returned home, I got a report on the situation with Murugi. As soon as Donanne returned from taking me to Embakasi Airport, Laban informed her that Murugi intended to ask for compensation for breaking her ankle. It was not clear, perhaps even to Murugi, what that compensation might include.

“Did you give it to her?” I asked Donanne.

“No,” Donanne said. “I talked to her. Laban acted as translator.”

“What’d you say?”

“I assured her that our leaving could not injure her,” Donanne explained. I thought perhaps it had been just as well that I was away. I had served as a cultural diplomat, but Donanne was infinitely more diplomatic than I was. Moreover, this matter might be best resolved between two women.

“I assured her that we would take care of the hospital expenses,” she went on, “and would try to find her a new job. I told her that she had enriched our lives and we hoped we’d done the same for hers. There couldn’t be any injury out of that.”

“And she knew what you were talking about?” I asked.

“Of course,” Donanne assured me. “They understand these things a lot better than we do.” She continued, “While you were gone, every time I thought of Murugi, I affirmed all the good things about her: her affection for Pauly, her diligence and cleanliness, her good humor, her smile, her virtue. She really is virtuous, you know.”

I nodded.

“And we’re virtuous, too,” Donanne said. “And fair. And we love Murugi.”

“And how is she?”

“It is all right,” Donanne said, using the phrase with Laban’s special inflection. “She never asked for compensation. I’m sure she won’t.”

By the time we left Nairobi, the cast was off Murugi’s ankle and she was walking normally again. We wrote recommendation letters for both Murugi and Laban and gave them presents of money. Murugi seemed almost certain to find a new job and Laban had the funds he needed for the panel beating training.

As we said our goodbyes, both Laban and Murugi bent respectfully forward to shake my hand. Laban held it with both of his in that special African gesture of regard. When they turned to Donanne, neither Kikuyu spoke. But their eyes were misty. Donanne was not prepared to say farewell by shaking hands. These people were members of the family. Donanne hugged them both.

Friends:
This is a time of the year when books make great presents. As regular readers probably know, Fred’s memoir of loneliness and adventures in the Congo, A YEAR AT THE EDGE OF THE JUNGLE, has just been published. It’s available from the publisher at www.cunepress.net or from Amazon. Moreover, Amazon has just announced that Fred has an author page there. Check it out at https://www.amazon.com/author/frederichunter. ABE AND MOLLY, THE HEMINGWAY PLAY and JOSS: The Ambassador’s Wife are available in soft cover editions at Nebbadoon.com.

TRAVELS IN AFRICA: Laban and Murugi, Kenya, 1973

The day finally came that I knew must someday come. My editors announced that I was being transferred back to Boston. The Vietnam war had wound down. The Monitor bureau in Saigon was being closed. That provoked a shuffling of correspondents not unlike a game of musical chairs. The man who had been in Beijing was coming to Nairobi and I was the guy left standing.

My replacement was highly experienced. In fact, when I arrived at the paper, hired in for the Africa job, he had been serving as the Monitor’s foreign editor. Experienced, yes. But he knew nothing about Africa. That meant the paper’s Africa coverage would suffer. That distressed me. But there was no appeal to the decision. My “World Press”colleagues and I had occasionally discussed transfer orders. The strong consensus was that the guy being transferred must show himself a “team player.” So Donanne and I began to make arrangements to leave.

We had our second conference with Laban and Murugi and told them the news. We assured them that we would write recommendations for them. Furthermore, we would try to place them in new jobs and give them money enough to tide them over for a spell.

Laban told us that he would like to try a new line of work. He knew a man in the industrial area who would train him in “panel-beating,” apparently a branch of auto repair that involved removing dents. The cost of the training would be the equivalent of five months wages. I agreed to finance the training which would take place after we left Nairobi. I hoped Laban’s contact was honest and could place him in a new job.

Then one Saturday night five weeks before we were to leave East Africa, Donanne and I returned from seeing a play to find Murugi sitting uncomfortably on a chair outside the baby’s room, wincing against pain and hardly able to move. She pointed to her ankle and indicated that she had injured it while stepping off the small porch outside the kitchen.

“I better take her to the hospital,” I told Donanne. We got on either side of Murugi, our arms under hers, and lifted her onto one foot. We carried her to the car and settled her inside.

I drove her to Nairobi Hospital and helped her inside. There Kikuyu nurses examined her and told her to return in the morning. Nothing could be done for her so late at night. I agreed to bring her back the next morning at 9:00 o’clock.

I had often left Murugi outside the hostel where she lived. But I had never been inside it. She was awkward on the crutches the hospital had lent her and I helped her up the porch stairway, my hand under her armpit. Residents idling on the porch watched us, a few of them standing in the presence of a white man, but none of them speaking or offering help.

Once inside the hostel, I discovered that the main room, once a parlor, was a mass of curtains hung on wires. I helped Murugi down a hallway of cloth. We quickly arrived at a cubicle. She pulled the fabric aside. I helped her into a curtained enclosure, large enough for a bed, a chair, a small dresser and a rod on which to hang clothes. I took the crutches and helped Murugi onto the bed. She kept thanking me, “Asante sana, Bwana. Asante sana.”

Returning outside, I found the porch filled with men and women who had heard that a white man was inside the building. No one spoke, but many of them stared at me as if I were responsible for Murugi’s pain. I nodded and hurried to the car.

Back at the house I found Donanne in the nursery, sitting in the dim illumination of the night light, holding the baby and moving back and forth in the rocker. “I’m to take her back tomorrow morning,” I said. Then I told her about the curtained quarters in which Murugi lived.

The next day I fetched Murugi early and took her to the hospital. She had fractured her ankle. After it was set in a cast, I took her back home.

I saw her a few days later when I went to the house to pay her the wages owed her for the previous two weeks. When I offered them to her, she shook her head. I urged her to take them. She refused.

“This is not good,” I told Donanne when I returned home. I remembered what colleagues had told me on arriving in Nairobi: that an expat was most vulnerable at the time he was being transferred. It seemed likely that Murugi’s fellow hostel workers had encouraged her to play me for whatever she could get and that she had decided to give it a try. Moreover, the timing was bad. My editors had instructed me to take a ten-day reporting trip to Mozambique, Rhodesia and Angola. “Why did this accident happen now?” I wondered.

Donanne said, “Because it’s a metaphor.”

“Oh, yeah?” I replied. “Well, it’s one that requires a cast.” Donanne smiled indulgently. I relaxed and smiled, too. “Okay. How is it a metaphor?”

“It says, ‘Your leaving does me injury. You leave and I break.” I shrugged. “But I reject that,” she continued. “For a year now we’ve had the Kikuyus here with us and they’ve enriched our lives. We’re better people because Laban and Murugi have been in the house.”

I nodded although I was not completely convinced.

“And they’re better off, too,” Donanne said. “Laban has a much stronger sense of himself. He’s ready to try a new line of work and he has a girlfriend who stays with him. Murugi has benefited, too. Our going doesn’t injure her. It gives her a chance to gather up her talents and use them to enrich somebody else’s life. Right?”

I reached out, placed my hand lightly on her head and admired the baby.

“Go on your trip,” she encouraged, “And do the best job you can. We’ll be all right here.”

I went off to southern Africa, remembering one of the questions I mulled asking Laban when we first interviewed him: If I am fair to you, will you be fair to me? And I recalled what I thought when her neighbors watched me help Murugi, on crutches, up the stairs and into that large room of cloth walls. I thought they’ll advise her, “He’s obviously hurt you. Play him for as much as you can get.”

According to my diary, I was in Luanda, Angola, on June 27, 1973. I rose at 4:15 a.m. to catch a plane to Sa da Bandeira where I saw a development project on the Cunene River and returned to Luanda. Says the diary: “Four hours in Sa da Bandeira, five hours in planes, two in airports.” I did full days of interviewing (some in French) and photo-taking in Luanda. I should have been telling myself: “This transfer [about which I was not enthusiastic] cannot injure you.” But my entire time in Luanda I walked around with a crick in my back.

Good news! After some confusion Amazon seems now to be stocking Fred’s Congo memoir A YEAR AT THE EDGE OF THE JUNGLE. It’s also available from the publisher at www.cunepress.net.
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TRABELS IN AFRICA: Laban and Murugi, Kenya, 1972

One evening- Murugi was staying with Pauly and I would drive her all the way home – we went to a dinner party hosted by our great friends, the regional director of Oxfam and his wife. The conversation flowed easily and, as not infrequently happened, it made a stop at the subject of servants. Not just servants, but what they were paid.

Donanne and I were appalled at what we learned. Clearly we were not paying Laban and Murugi at anywhere near the going rate. Of course, we did not admit this oversight to our friends, but we glanced back and forth at one another, feeling more deeply embarrassed as the conversation continued. I was particularly chagrined because I had written articles from South Africa about whites exploiting African workers. (“Slavery is not dead” had been the lead in a think-piece I had written.) And here we were doing the exactly the same thing. It seemed that I knew more about wage scales in South Africa than I did about them in Kenya.

“We better do something about this,” I said to Donanne as we drove home.

“And as soon as we can,” she agreed.

Clearly there was only one appropriate thing to do. That evening we got out the paybooks and calendars and did some figuring. The next morning I went to Barclay’s Bank, where the sound of clerks rhythmically stamping forms could be heard throughout the great hall. I withdrew money and got it in small increments of cash. (One’s servants, unused to banking, did not want to receive large bills they would have trouble breaking.)

Back home we called Laban and Murugi into the house for a conference. Since we had never conferred ensemble before, they must have wondered what calamity had occurred. We apologized for our ignorance of local pay scales and acknowledged that we had not been paying them what they deserved. I got out the paybooks. We explained that we were raising their wages to the going rate. In addition, we were giving each of them a sum representing the difference between what they had earned since starting their employment with us and what they would have earned at the higher rate.

The paternalist in me (one had to acknowledge occasional paternalistic tendencies although they were one of the evils of colonialism) thought this not such a bad deal for “the staff.” We had, in fact, acted for them rather like a savings bank. We would be paying them that day amounts that they probably would not have saved if we had paid it to them when we should have.

Laban and Murugi seemed uncertain about exactly what was going on. This was especially true of Murugi who had to look to Laban for translations of what we said. She frowned and bent closer to him. He shrugged and repeated what he had told her.

They both regarded us with puzzlement. Europeans were strange; association with them had taught them that. But Europeans had never acted this way. They did not give away money. They did not ask to be pardoned for their oversights. When I handed them their shillingi and asked them to sign for the back wages, they understood that the money really was theirs. Moreover, they would be earning at a higher rate in future. They signed the paybooks, pocketed the shillingi and returned to their work wearing grins.

TRAVELS IN AFRICA: KENYA, MURUGI #2, 1972

When Murugi babysat for us at night, I would take her to the unpaved alley beside the gas station. I would stop at the usual place where the alley tapered into a footpath. Leaving the car, she would move quickly, minding her own business if other Africans were about. That hurry always made me wonder if Murugi felt safe. Her figure grew smaller as she moved onto the downward slope of the path and raised her arms for balance. I wondered how steep the path was, how rocky or covered with vines, about where she lived and who her neighbors were. It never occurred to me that I would find out.

But I did.

Late one rainy night I left Murugi where I always left her. She moved to the top of the steep pathway to wherever it was she lived. But she did not start down. I watched her through raindrops, trying to decide what to do. I left the car and went to her. She seemed both relieved and distressed that I meant to help her.

We started down the much-used path. It was muddy, steep and slippery. I took her elbow with one hand and grabbed at bushes and branches with the other. We made our way down without incident. I released her elbow and walked her to a pair of houses, originally built for Europeans. We said our “kwaheri’s” and I started back. I was able to climb up the path, making way for Africans who were surprised to see a European on it, and got back to the car. Within a few minutes I was home.

The next time Murugi was at the house, she told us, with Laban serving as translator, that she would prefer not to babysit for us at night. Or that, if she did, she would like Bwana to drive her all the way home, not merely to where the downward path began.

I was more than happy to drive her home, especially after escorting her down the path in the rain. I was sorry she had not asked earlier or that I had not thought to offer. So I now drove her home through the European area of Riverside Drive, then through the Asian quarter of Parklands and into an area I had not entered before – except in the rain on foot. Murugi directed me to a house I could see better now that it was not raining. Built long ago by Europeans, it was now very rundown and serving as a workers hostel.

One Sunday evening before sunset I got a better look at the place. A barber was at work in the last light of the day. An impromptu religious service was in progress nearby. Dogs hung about the two boarding houses, lean and inquisitive, sniffing around for food. Trash littered the yard. Children played among bits of metal, the once components of now-cannibalized appliances. A stump peeked through the tall grass. Cars that would never run again were pedestaled on wooden blocks. A faucet supplied water to the neighborhood. Nearby women washed both infants and laundry in buckets.

Murugi’s house seemed full of women. Another house, farther up the hill and more dilapidated, appeared occupied mainly by men. I wondered what the houses were like inside. But I knew that a European would enter one only in emergency circumstances.

The first time I left Murugi at the house, I was conscious that her neighbors watched me. This was Africa; most men taking women places in cars were assumed to enjoy access to their bodies. I wondered if such an assumption would give Murugi status – or cause her problems – if one of the men there considered himself to have a proprietary interest in her.

It occurred to me that some of the neighbors might ask Murugi, “Who is that white man? He must be rich. Is he giving you money? If he isn’t, you know, you can play him for some.”

When I returned from taking Murugi home, I would muse to Donanne, “I wonder what Africans think of us. Do they suppose we’re all rich? And we think we’re just getting by.”

OOOPS! On the previous post that mentioned the publication of my Congo memoir A YEAR AT THE EDGE OF THE JUNGLE, I neglected to note the the book can best be acquire directly from the publisher at www.cunepress.net.

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