Travels in Africa

Fred and Donanne Hunter

Page 2 of 26

TRAVELS IN AFRICA: A Year at the Edge of the Jungle, 2015

TIA honcho Fred Hunter wants you to know that A YEAR AT THE EDGE OF THE JUNGLE, his memoir of a challenging, dangerous and coming-of-age time in the small Congo town of Coquilhatville fifty years ago, has just been published by Cune Press of Seattle. It’s now available at Amazon.com/books.
Here’s how he happened to be there.
In 1963 the American government decided to establish a presence in the remotest part of the strife-torn Congo. Policymakers determined that Western interests must hold this country, independent only three years, against Communist influence or takeover. The State Department wanted officers in every part of the Congo, even in tiny Coquilhatville in the country’s least developed region, the Equateur. But a stripped-down diplomatic post would do for Coq. No diplomatic protections, no commo links. Experienced officers were assigned there, but refused to serve.
Enter Fred Hunter, a novice U.S. Information Service officer just arrived from training in Belgium. Why not send him? Sink or swim. Let’s see if he’ll survive. So Fred goes alone to Coquilhatville, a typewriter his only friend. His job: to establish an American Cultural Center, a small library about the US and a film service. He encounters loneliness, privation and political turmoil; he makes lasting friends. But it’s all put on the line when Simba rebels move to attack Coq.
Quoting liberally from letters, this memoir recounts Fred’s isolated and hair-raising year at the edge of the jungle. You may have read some of Fred’s experiences on this blog. This is the whole story. Check it out on Amazon.
51PfqUnVskL

TRAVELS IN AFRICA: Murugi, Kenya, 1972

My job as a correspondent in Africa required me to observe people, how they lived, dressed, carried themselves and thought. Murugi, Baby Pauly’s ayah and the custodian of his diapers, puzzled me. I sometimes wondered: Who is Murugi?

I understood that most expatriates shared their lives with people they did not know. Not knowing the servants was not necessarily a bad thing. The matter of privacy between servants and their employers required delicate handling.

In terms of our own privacy Donanne and I hoped that Laban and Murugi did not spend much time thnnking about us. About our being different, white. Being rich – because we were not rich – although in the servants’ eyes we might appear to have everything.

As for ourselves we felt that we should be interested – within bounds – in Laban and Murugi because, surely, indifference to servants – treating them like objects – was unpardonable. Still, they, too, deserved their privacy.

When Laban became involved with Mary, a young ayah who lived in the neighborhood and she began to spend the night in his quarters, we did not inquire of him about the relationship. We respected his privacy even though we were glad he had a woman to sleep with. And we could not say, “Hey, Murugi, come sit down and tell us about yourself.” That was not proper, nor even feasible. Murugi did not speak English.

“Do you think Murugi’s married?” I occasionally asked Donanne. She was certainly attractive in a modest way: tall, trim, self-possessed and dignified with a smile that lit up her face. We might be sitting under the backyard pepper tree, having late afternoon tea.

“I don’t know,” Donanne would say. “But I think she has three children.”

“Is she a widow?”

“Could be. Maybe she was the second or third wife of a man much older. Something her father arranged. Maybe her husband’s dead now and she has to earn money to take care of herself.”

Or we would be in bed awaiting sleep and I might inquire, “You think Murugi’s headcloth is mysterious?”

“Well, I’m not going to ask how she ties it,” Donanne would answer. In traditional Kikuyu society widows shaved their heads. Neither Donanne nor I had ever seen Murugi without her headcloth. “I think maybe she left her husband.”

On the nights when Murugi babysat Pauly, I would drive her the length of Riverside Drive, which was largely, though not exclusively a European residential area, cross Uhuru Highway to Parklands, which was largely, though not exclusively an Asian quarter. I would turn into the unpaved alley/driveway beside what Murugi called the “petroli,” the gas station. I would stop at the usual place where the alley tapered into a footpath too narrow for a car.

Murugi would open the car door and say softly, “Kwaheri, Bwana,” which meant, “Goodbye, sir,” and I would say, “Asanta sana, Murugi,” which meant “Thank you very much,” and watch her start down the footpath in the light of the car’s high beams.

She would move quickly, as always, minding her own business if other Africans were about. That hurry always made me wonder if Murugi were anxious about her personal security or about the safety of the money I had given her. As her figure grew smaller, obscured by shadows and vegetation and the downward slope of the path, she 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. And I asked myself again, “Who is Murugi?”

We knew practically nothing about her. She was perhaps forty, maybe a bit younger, not an age when life begins for a woman in Africa. Her children were grown. Although she did not speak English, she understood a great deal of it, more than we knew of Swahili or Kikuyu. She had not learned to read. So far as I could tell, she was able to write only her name. This she did every time she was paid, a task involving effort and concentration.

I knew only that about her. But I admired her very much. I was fascinated by the way the new Africa was engrafting itself upon her.

No, I thought, as I watched her disappear. I knew more than that about her. I knew that she was honest and a willing and careful worker. The mending had never been done with such precision. (In fact, it had hardly been done at all.) Small changes – such as the manner in folding Bwana’s socks – needed only to be mentioned once. Pauly was tended with affection and diligence and his diapers came to him ironed. Even Bwana got undershorts ironed; such things can spoil a man.

What fascinated me about Murugi was her chic. She had a quiet, understated sense of style. It was not obtrusive; one hardly noticed it at first. It delighted me to discover that our ayah/washerwoman had clothes sense. I was always a little surprised to find it, not in jet-set Africans for whom it was an important preoccupation, but in ordinary people like Murugi, people who had grown up as land-tending peasants, who earned so little and seemed to have such infrequent contact with fashionable worlds.

One evening as she left the car, I happened to glance at her wrist. On it she wore a small woman’s watch with a leopard skin band, perhaps an inch wide, simulating the wrist-watch fashions lately in vogue. It was a small symbol of the emerging Africa buckled to Murugi’s wrist.

I thought about unexpected chic as I sat in the car. Murugi moved into the beam of the headlamps, her clean, well-pressed white dress brightly reflecting the light. I watched her lavender headcloth and her lavender sweater and lavender tennis shoes enter the darkness. And as I backed the car down the alley, past the massive, sawn tree stump, I asked myself again, “Who is Murugi?”

TRAVELS IN AFRICA: Sunrise of Africa School, Kitengela, Kenya, 2015

This week TIA is delighted to publish a contributor post written by an American married to a Kenyan. She is Margaretta wa Gacheru, a journalist at the Nation Media Group in Nairobi. She informs us about the Sunrise of Africa School’s participation in an upcoming Nairobi fund-raising event. It’s crucial to the school’s ability to raise scholarship money for young students, especially girls, who need a chance to glimpse the benefits of delaying marriage and obtaining an education.

Margaretta writes:
Sunrise of Africa School, a Nairobi-area facility with many scholarship students from poor families, faced a dilemma: How to raise scholarship funds. Then one of its board members, Australia resident Michelle Maher, ran in a Brisbane half marathon and raised US$12,000 for the school. Immensely grateful for the support, folks at Sunrise of Africa wondered if it might be possible to raise scholarship money by running in Kenya.

Michelle’s donations came from Australia as well as Europe, the States and Kenya. “Those funds went a long way towards strengthening Sunrise’s own scholarship program, especially as it helps the young Maasai girls we are currently sponsoring,” said a School’s staffer who will also be running in the Standard Chartered Bank Half Marathon this year for the very first time. The Standard Chartered Bank’s Half Marathon is an important Nairobi fund-raising event.

Michelle’s example inspired several of Sunrise’s teachers to do the same. “What got us thinking specifically about the Standard Chartered Bank Half Marathon was the fact that one of our staff, Evans Chunguli, has been running in it for the past seven years,” said Corinne Corvin, the founder-mother of Sunrise of Africa School.

“We asked him if he would like to run on behalf of the School this year and he said he would be happy to,” added Corinne, the woman who had the vision and desire to prayerfully build a school for less privileged Kenyans on Christian values some years ago. Corinne is a business woman and ensures that every cent is spent wisely on the School.

“Currently, we have 228 students in the school which runs from pre-primary up to Standard 8,” said Musila. ”As many as 62 of them are on full scholarships and another 74 are on half scholarships,” he added.

A number of the full scholarship students are girls from poor homes for whom going to school can literally change the course of their lives. “One of our teachers told us about a 12-year-old girl whose family was about to marry her off to a man more than 40 years older. In return, the family had been promised many cows,” he said.

“Child marriages are illegal but still practiced,” said the staffer, who added that in certain tribes many girls as young as 12 are first circumcised (also termed ‘Female Genital Mutilation’ or FGM) and then quickly married off by their families.

But this girl refused FGM, specifically because she wanted a different future, one that included education. Today she attends Sunrise of Africa School.

It is girls like these that inspired three Sunrise teachers to join the Standard Chartered Half Marathon. It will take place on Sunday, 25th October.

None of them trains quite as hard as does Evans Chunguli who at 52 is running eighteen kilometers three days a week to prepare himself for the twenty-one-kilometer half marathon.

Angelyne Ndunda, 24, runs about two kilometers every day. After listening to Evans’ inspiring story, she too realized she possibly should run a bit further regularly. “Right now I run around the school field during games time and when the children are in PE class,” said the School’s Kiswahili teacher for classes four through eight.

Her colleagues, Evans Myamwano, 24, who teaches science and social science and Sammy Ayal, 30, the school’s music teacher, are also in training as they too are taking seriously the idea of strengthening Sunrise’s scholarship program.

Sunrise of Africa School started humbly in rented tin huts in 2004 in the ‘informal settlement’ of Waithaka on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city. Through the support of generous friends Sunrise was able in 2005 to purchase land outside the capital in what was then an under-developed area called Kitengela.

Sunrise has now shifted its focus to Kitengela, an area of the country which is not only more multi-cultural than Waithaka (meaning Africans from many different communities, once known as ‘tribes’), but which is also under-served in terms of education.

Today, Kitengela is a bustling town which is growing fast, making it even more multi-cultural and in need of a quality education facility like Sunrise of Africa. However, the neighborhood is a poor one, which is why the school feels compelled to offer so many scholarships to needy children.

The School invites friends of Sunrise and all other interested parties to participate in the sponsoring of Evans Chunguli, Joshua, Angelyne, Sammy and Evans Myamwano.

To pay via credit card or your Paypal account, please go to Evans’ sponsorship page on the web:www.gofundme.com/zagaa2c

You can access the Sunrise of Africa School website at www.sunriseofafrica.com and
Margaretta wa Gacheru at info@margarettawagacheru.com.

TRAVELS IN AFRICA: Laban #2, Kenya 1969-1973

When the house on Rosslyn Lone Tree Estate was sold out from under us, we felt both positive and negative reactions. On the negative side our being happily settled was totally disrupted, not only for us, but for Laban as well. On the positive side, we realized that living seven miles out kept us more removed from Nairobi than we had expected, particularly since we had only one car. Moreover, I was supposed to cover all of sub-Saharan Africa. Tied down in Nairobi, how was I to get a look at it?

I suggested to Monitor editors in Boston that I spend the next six to eight months traveling over my territory. In lieu of my housing allowance, I proposed that Donanne should travel with me. With extraordinary generosity, the editors agreed. We prepared to place our household goods and belongings into storage and live out of suitcases.

Laban’s prospects were the only aspect that distressed us. By then we had come to feel an affection for him. We knew that his mother and sister lived on a shamba in the environs of Limuru north of Nairobi. Laban visited them occasionally on weekends and brought greetings to us from his mother. Donanne returned the greetings and sent small presents.

I hoped that our departure would not mean that Laban was pushed out of the money economy back onto the subsistence one. But that seemed likely. We were too new in Nairobi to know people who might need a good helper. I wrote Laban a letter of recommendation and assured him that, once we returned to Nairobi and got resettled, we’d be happy to employ him again.

During the time of our travels we moved south through Tanzania, Malawi, Rhodesia and into South Africa. We stayed there for several months as I explored the vicissitudes of that country’s apartheid system and reported on elections. We went from there to West Africa, mainly Ghana and Nigeria, and met Donanne’s parents in Europe to visit Germany and Russia with them.

Our return to Nairobi was complicated by the fact that we were promised a very good small house close into town that we could occupy as soon as the owners moved into a splendid new home they were building. “Splendid” took a great deal longer to achieve than we expected it would. We were in temporary quarters for most of a year as we waited.

During all of this time Laban, with whom we had lost touch, had returned to his mother’s shamba and was living like a peasant.

When we returned from two months of home leave the promised house was ready for us. Good to my word I wrote to Laban at the address he had given us in Kiroe Township. “If you do not have a job,” I wrote, “would you like to come and work for us?” The letter included greetings to Laban’s mother and sister and closed with the words that Donanne and I often repeated to one another, the words that Laban had said to us as we started off on our first trip, “Hoping to see you again.”

Frankly I was doubtful that the letter would ever reach its destination. But only a few evenings later whom should we see pedaling down Riverside Paddocks to the small bungalow at the end of the road? None other than Laban Waithaka Muturi! He had ridden in from Limuru, the bicycle his Pegasus, flying in his triumphant return to the money economy. A grin spread across the entire width of his face.

“Hello!” he called.

“Habari!” I shouted, ushering him into our drive. “Nice to see you again!”

“My mother sends her greetings,” Laban told Donanne when she came out of the house.

“Please give her our greetings,” Donanne replied. “I am going to be a mother myself.”

Laban grinned and exclaimed, “Nzuri sana!”

Laban rejoined the household. He occupied more spacious quarters than those at Rosslyn and received a fifteen percent raise and two new sets of work clothes. He would now be living in a neighborhood where he could strike up friendships with other workers and, in fact, rather soon found a girlfriend.

As Donanne’s pregnancy advanced, Laban was able to take over some of her workload. And the time for the baby’s arrival drew near, Donanne asked him to find a woman who could act as an ayah and take care of the washing.

When we brought Baby Pauly home from the hospital, he would not stop crying. Getting out of the car, I laughed with embarrassment. Donanne felt distressed that there was so much about parenting that was a mystery to both mother and father. Laban admired the baby and approved our following the Kikuyu tradition of naming him after my father. Standing quietly to one side was a Kikuyu woman. Laban said
to Donanne, “This is the woman you asked me to find.”

The woman stepped forward and said, “Jambo, Memsah’b.”

“Jambo,” Donanne replied.

Murugi reached out to shield the baby’s eyes from the sun. He stopped crying and Donanne thought, “This woman is the right person.”

TRAVELS INTO AFRICA: Laban, Kenya, 1969-73

Travels in Africa has never featured the Africans we shared our lives with in Nairobi. Since we’ve been dealing with our domestic life there, we start a series of posts about them. A great disappointment of our time there is that photos of these dear people have not survived multiple uprootings.

He was a thin, young Kikuyu with a well-modeled face and dark, alert eyes. We had come to Rosslyn Lone Tree Estate to look at a house that might work for us. It was owned by a woman, now resident in British Columbia, who wanted to sell it, but had had no success. When I told the young Kikuyu we’d like to see the house, he returned to the servant’s quarters behind it and came back holding the keys on a piece of bent wire. He led us to the entry and unlocked the door.

“Do you live here?” Donanne asked.

“Yes,” he replied, pushing the door open and stepping back from the threshold, obliging and respectful.

“Is it a good house?” I asked.

“It is a good house,” he answered, his face open and so honest that it told both all and nothing about him. “It is all right.”

Donanne and I had not been in Nairobi long. We were looking for a house with sufficient space for a journalist’s office. The house stood on a five-acre plot of ground at the end of a lane of jacarandas in rolling country planted with coffee. Beside the front walk an orange-brown anthill reached toward the sky. There was room enough not only for an office, but to live comfortably, and the rent was controlled. Those were the advantages of the house. A disadvantage was that it was so far out of town. But we had dreamed of living on a plantation in Africa.

While we walked from room to room, the young Kikuyu sat on the porch in the sun. As we decided to take it, my eyes fell again on the young African. I wondered if his life would become involved with ours.

When we took possession of the house on Rosslyn Lone Tree Estate, the young Kikuyu was still living in the servant’s quarters. Would he be someone who might work for us?

We had heard that when interviewing a prospective servant in Africa you looked him squarely in the face, trying to discern what was there and what was not there. You examined worn, oft-folded references from former employers transferred elsewhere. You asked yourself questions: Is this man honest? Trustworthy? Of pleasant disposition? Will he steal sugar? Chocolate? The checkbook? If I am fair to him, will he be fair to me?

We realized, of course, that the servant was not someone we would want to invite to dinner. And yet, if we employed him, we would be inviting him to share our lives. It would be at least a matter of weeks before we learned to know him as a servant. As a human being, we might never know him at all.

We asked the young Kikuyu his name and heard him answer, “It is Robin.” When we examined his references, we discovered that, in fact, his name was Laban Waithaka Muturi. We studied him carefully and he bore our scrutiny. I asked if he would like to work for us, mainly keeping the grounds, as he had already been doing. He said, “It is all right,” which meant that he would. I suggested that we try the arrangement for a week to see how it went.

It went well. At the end of the week I typed out a letter of agreement between myself and Laban. We would pay him twice a month at his present wage. He would care for the garden; clean inside the house on request; wash the car; act as watchman when we were gone; burn the garbage and do other chores as requested. His hours of work would be 8:00 am to noon, 2:00 to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday. He could remain in his quarters and have friends visit him, but “there will be no drinking of alcoholic beverages on the premises.” We agreed to pay for two shirts and one pair of trousers immediately and to finance two other garments when the probationary period was concluded at the end of the first month. We would also provide a bag of charcoal. Grounds for dismissal were enumerated: failure to perform duties, incompatibility, drunkenness, rowdiness.

I doubted that so specific a contract was necessary. But colleagues assured me that it was a must. The expatriate’s worst nightmare was to have a servant make an official charge that he had been cheated. Usually such charges were leveled just before the expat left on a transfer. Without a contract both parties had signed, the expat got caught in the con game. He paid exorbitantly just to leave the country.

Once things became routine, Laban spent most of his time tending the long, broad lawn that stretched down from the front of the house. There was no mower. Laban cut the grass with a long-handled implement having a curved and sharpened end. He stood upright, swinging the implement back and forth, slowly cutting the grass.

Donanne sitting on the lawn Laban tended

Donanne sitting on the lawn Laban tended

Sometimes I watched Laban work. I wondered how I myself would like to be in his place. Laban had some education, at least enough to speak English. Didn’t this work crush his spirit? Didn’t he find Rosslyn Lone Tree Estate rather isolated? What did he do for a social life? For friends? Then I would remind myself that Laban had a place to live and a job on the money economy. He was no longer tied to the land. Watching, wondering, I would ask: Who is Laban anyway?

My first journalist’s trip out of Nairobi – Donanne would accompany me – was to Arusha in Tanzania. We would be away a week and leave Laban in charge. Alas! The day before the trip was to start, I was overcome by reservations. “Do you think it’s really a good idea,” I asked Donanne, “our leaving the house this way? We really don’t know the guy.”

“I think he’s honest,” she replied. “Anyway, what’s there to take?”

“Clothes. Furniture. What if we come back and the house is empty? We’d have no idea where to find him.”

I spent the afternoon before the trip, arranging for a Securicor guard to watch the house. I felt badly, distrusting Laban, but I wanted to be sure. The next morning as we departed, Laban waved and wished us well. He said, “Hoping to see you again.”

Of course, everything was fine. Weeks passed. We got to know each other better. Laban would bring us greetings from his mother when he went home over the weekend to the shamba. We came to feel an affection for each other.

Then something quite unexpected happened. The woman in British Columbia found a buyer for the house. We would have to leave. What would happen to us? What would happen to Laban? Would he be thrown off the money economy and find himself tied to the land once again?

TRAVELS IN AFRICA: Reflections on Early Fatherhood, Kenya, 1972

Some reflections of early fatherhood:

There are times, it seems, for reading light fiction. And times for reading serious fiction. And times for reading no fiction at all.

Donanne is having trouble just now getting through her third Helen MacInnes novel in as many weeks. The other two gripped her; she came upon them at a time for light reading. The present one fails to involve her. At the moment she cannot concentrate on paper-doll amateur spies who fall in love as they elude danger on the north Adriatic coast. Just now is a very busy period. It is not a time for fiction.

Helen MacInnes

Helen MacInnes

Once I encountered similar problems with Thomas Mann. The experience shattered me for Mann was my favorite author.

The reading block descended upon me just at the end of that period in which every girl I dated felt an equivalent passion for Thomas Mann. It was no inconsequential event to find him a bore. I had to ask myself: Was I losing my intellectual grip?

I was living in the Congo at the time, in a town called Bukavu on the eastern frontier in a region called the Kivu. The country was enduring the last pains of the Simba Rebellion. I had twice evacuated an apparently doomed provincial capital in the Equateur region. I had been transferred to Bukavu. It was quiet then, presumably a good place for reading. I looked forward to enjoying books I had always wanted to read.

The venerable Thomas Mann

The venerable Thomas Mann

True, rebels besieged the town only months before, provoking a frightened Congolese army to make its first stand of the conflict behind barricades raised across Bukavu’s main street.

True, many townspeople had panicked. Soldiers had shucked off their uniforms and fled in their underwear into the bush. Local Africans had run away to their native villages. Europeans had crossed Lake Kivu by night, taking refuge in safer Rwanda. The consulate staff had camped at Kamembe airport.

True, street fighting trapped my predecessor in the office at the rear of the USIS Cultural Center. This led to a residential consolidation. Most of the American Consulate staff, all men without women, were then living in two houses on the lake edge, eating together and keeping watch, arguing heatedly at dinner about whether the Congolese or the CIA were better able to solve the country’s problems, yelling at each other without provocation, baring our private concerns more openly than we would have ordinarily done.

True, the town was tense and the soldiers behavior unpredictable. One morning I left the Consul’s house, where I lodged, to find a machine gun trained on the front door. One afternoon from the Cultural Center’s window I watched what seemed the entire town flee up the main street, away from army headquarters where Katangese soldiers with rifles surrounded the commandant’s office demanding more pay.

True, we were restricted to the confines of the town. Rebels still operated in the countryside, and a band of them had recently overtaken the vice-consul while he was doing reconnaissance some 60 miles into the bush. His passport was found in his jeep; he was presumed dead. Early the fourth morning after his disappearance he walked, very footsore, into the Consul’s house. He laughed with relief, immensely grateful to the Congolese who guided him and whose loyalty he bought with promises of wealth.

True, Bukavu’s Europeans prized us for our connection with American resources. Anxious mothers sought us to marry their daughters and rescue them from the Congo’s uncertainty. Well-armed fathers obsessively distrusted us, bristling with menace whenever their daughters cast us yearning glances.

Despite all this, time hung on our hands. The long evenings dragged. I started to read Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain.” The book evokes the life of an Alpine sanatorium with consummate skill. It possesses high seriousness. In some passages its characters spring to life; in others it skillfully dissects the propositions preoccupying pre-World War I philosophers.

But who cared? Somehow there seemed much more reason for the sanatorium-bound to read about us than for us to read about them. Even so, with a doggedness born of boredom, I slogged through every page. I trudged through the immense volume like one of its characters struggling through Alpine snow.

It was not a time for novels. Even the heightened experiences of fiction, I finally realized, were less intense than those I was living myself.

This, I suspect, is why the magic has flown from Helen MacInnes. When Donanne was awaiting the baby, light spy fiction hastened the waiting’s discontent. Now that the baby has come, the adventures of real ife underline fiction’s artifice.

I came upon them this afternoon during little Pauly’s “waketime.” In this his seventh day of life he was lying upon the vast plain of our double bed, well bundled and wide-eyed, staring at his mother. She was staring back.

Pauly: more interesting than Mann or MacInnes

Pauly: more interesting than Mann or MacInnes

“We’re holding hands,” she said. She showed me his tiny hand clasped around her little finger. She smiled at me. Then she stared back at him with an absorption that neither Mann nor MacInnes will ever win from readers.

Fred’s CONGO TALES, six stories about his experiences in the Kivu, is available as an ebook on Amazon for the staggering price of 99 cents.

TRAVELS IN AFRICA: Becoming a Family, Kenya, 1972

Donanne offers an account of our first months adapting to new life-roles:

When Fred drove us home from the hospital in our Datsun (East African Safari Rally-tested) sedan, our dear “staff” was waiting to meet Pauly. Laban, who came with our coffee plantation house in 1969, had returned to us after our year of travel around the continent. Murugi, the washerwoman-ayah whom Laban had found for us, stepped forward with a sweet smile to shade the baby’s eyes as we emerged from the car into the bright equatorial sunlight. My diary notes, “We come home from Nairobi Hospital and are greeted warmly by Murugi and Laban. And we go right into Nurse Hendrick’s scheduling. Terrific!”

Here I’d like to take a moment to salute this amazing baby nurse who, from halfway ’round the world, smoothed our way into familyhood. Relying on the orderly schedule in Gladys Hendricks, My First 300 Babies, which had been sent to us by a friend in California, we employed a routine that suited us all. The detailed schedule in the book was our saving grace. I loved that it began, “In order that the advent of your baby and his peaceful integration into family life may bring to you and to him its full measure of happiness — instead of moments of indecision, disorderly days and sleepless nights — we will take step by step the hours of his first day at home: the exact routine that I have used as a baby nurse on all of my cases.” Nurse Hendricks’ words were a great comfort to us novices! “It is not what the baby does — for at times he would seem unpredictable — it is what you do about it.”

While I took care of Pauly and the food preparation (there were good and simple recipes in the back of the Hendricks book, Murugi dealt impressively with the laundry, plus washing and ironing dry the “nappies.” She spoke to Pauly in Kikuyu, and I continued my Swahili lessons so that she and I could communicate beyond smiles and hand gestures. Fred, in spite of his voluminous reporting schedule, often babysat when I went to town. Perching Pauly in his infant seat next to the typewriter on his capacious desk, he composed pieces to telex to Boston.

Supported by Nurse Hendricks we moved confidently into our new roles. I notice that my diary is mostly empty at this juncture! After a few comments the first week: “Took loads of photos (color) yesterday. Pauly is so tiny. Can hardly find him in his pram where he sleeps.” “He is always trying to hold his head up.” “He has a very strong grip.” there are no further entries until an eagerly anticipated date three months later.

Becoming a family: in our backyard, Nairobi, 1972

Becoming a family: in our backyard, Nairobi, 1972

On Monday, August 21, 1972, at 2:20 a.m. we three – now “settled into your own routine” (as my mom had so wisely written from Santa Barbara upon the baby’s arrival) – drove to Embakasi Airport to welcome my folks, Pauly asleep in the converted flower basket from the Central Market. The next evening we had a party to introduce the new grandparents to two dozen friends before we headed off on a short safari. Up to Samburu in the Northern Frontier District to view the intriguing long-necked gerenuks, grevy zebras and reticulated giraffes in the dry heat; an overnight at The Outspan in Nyeri, where my parents preferred Pauly-viewing to game-viewing. (Pauly turned out to be a great traveler.)

We introduced my folks to “the world press” at a dinner party on which my mom worked her Foreign Service hostess magic. Two dozen guests – including Reuters, Agence France Press, Voice of America, LATimes, Newsweek, German radio – enjoyed her exotic punch, relished beef stroganoff and chocolate-macadamia pie, and played “the game” – a precursor of “Pictionary” – that was as popular here as it had been in our home in South Africa.

A couple of days later we set off for beach walks and ancient ruins in tropical Malindi on the Indian Ocean. As we carefully loaded the car for Pauly’s second safari, my Dad cheerily remarked that we might as well put a trailer hook on the rear of the car and tow the baby’s room.

Still a family in Africa: on safari in Botswana, 2001

Still a family in Africa: on safari in Botswana, 2001

At Amboseli tented camp with great views of Kilimanjaro in the late afternoon and early morning, we had to defend our morning tea tray so that the monkeys did not abscond with the sugar – and, more importantly, with the baby. Mzima Springs’ underwater observation post provided tantalizing views of graceful hippos. Along the Tsavo River we marveled at the family life of elephants.

After three weeks of entertaining and being entertained, traveling and exploring, babysitting and bonding, my folks returned to California with new names: Babu (grandfather in Swahili) and Babu Tom and a tender appreciation of the wonders of family life in East Africa.

TRAVELS IN AFRICA: Thinking African, 1972

TIA’s previous post mentioned my leaving my young family in Nairobi tp travel to the US for a weekend conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center relative to the staged reading there of my drama THE HEMINGWAY PLAY. An incident on that trip provoked an essay published on the Monitor’s Home Forum page. Called “Thinking African,” an edited version of it may be worth reprinting here.

Everyone knows about primitive peoples. They are hopelessly simpleminded. Everyone knows that. Even uncomplicated messages baffle them.

To illustrate. In the early 1960s when I served as a United States Information Service officer in the Congo, one repeatedly heard a story that symbolized this simplemindedness. It concerned an expatriate information team trying to spread the gospel of insect control.

“Get rid of the mosquitoes!” was the message propounded far and wide by the team. Using the most convincing communication means possible, team members showed films to barefoot, late-evening audiences in remote clearings in the bush. These films explained why mosquitoes were to be taken seriously. To drive the point home, they included gigantic, screen-filling close-ups of the insects.

With such close-ups, it was confidently assumed, even primitive peoples would begin to get concerned about mosquitoes – and cockroaches, ticks and tse-tse flies.

Watch out!  It bites!

Watch out! It bites!

“Of course, you must do something about such mosquitoes,” primitive audience members would sometimes counsel after seeing the films. “We would feel just as you do,” they would add with dignity, “if our mosquitoes were as large as those you have brought us to see. Fortunately, ours are very small. They do not cause us any great worry.”

Back in the capital, we would shake our heads and laugh, retelling such tales, sitting in our air-conditioned, comfortably furnished homes or standing on the terraces of high-rise apartments overlooking a city that was in Africa, but not of it – just as our schemes for modernization were in Africa, but only to a small extent of it.

Probably at the very same time there were Africans sitting outside huts, deep in the bush, squealing with mounting, high-pitched laughter at the thought of expatriates from places where you’d have to run from mosquitoes big as motion picture screens.

Yes, everyone knows about primitive peoples. They have difficulty understanding even the simplest things.

A second illustration. One evening such a primitive checks into an American hotel. The next morning he turns on the television set, an instrument whose knobs he finds somewhat baffling, despite earlier experience with such sets. He listens to someone reading the news. Then a cheery voice says, “With summer almost here, be prepared! Here’s a message for you!” The visitor watches an announcer warning against dreadful summer heat. The announcer stands beside an air-conditioner the size of a small house. “Gosh, who’d buy something as big as that?” wonders the visitor.

Suddenly the announcer opens the door of the air-conditioner and jumps inside. “Are they really trying to sell that?” I ask myself for I am that visitor. I watch the announcer playing Tom Thumb, running about the inside of an air-conditioning unit. I’m still a little confused. When the announcer pops back out, he almost lands on top of a horse-sized house cat cooling itself before the air-conditioning unit.

Suddenly I’m assailed by cultural embarrassment. I have lived in Africa several years and have gotten out of the habit of watching television. I’ll have to relearn the language. What an African without previous experience of American culture would make of this message I have no idea. But after years away from home, I have begun to think African.

The family Fred left in Nairobi to attend his conference in Connecticut.

The family Fred left in Nairobi to attend his conference in Connecticut.

TRAVELS IN AFRICA: After Baby The Hemingway Play, Kenya, 1972-1976

About the time I became a father on May 30, 1972, there also arrived the possibility of becoming a produced playwright. Arthur Ballet of the University of Minnesota’s Office of Advanced Drama Research, a dispenser of grants and a facilitator of production opportunities, had written that he’d be in Los Angeles. He set an appointment for June 15 to discuss The Hemingway Play. The letter had gone to my twin brother. He forwarded it to me. It arrived June 14.

Papa, Ernest, Hem & Wemedge from the cover of the published play

Papa, Ernest, Hem & Wemedge from the cover of the published play

Since, clearly, I would not make the meeting, I telephoned Bob – a very rare splurge in those days – and urged him to go in my stead. As he told the story, his first words after shaking Ballet’s hand were: “I’m not Fred Hunter, but I look like him.” Ballet, who was miffed, survived this unexpected development. He indicated his interest in attempting to place the play. I wrote Ballet, encouraging his interest, trying not to slaver over it since this kind of opportunity came rarely to a playwright, especially one working in East Africa as a newspaper correspondent.

My daily log notes that I undertook a series of revisions of the play. I typed them up (a laborious job), duplicated the script and sent it off to Ballet in Minnesota. In fact, the play was something I had worked on eighteen months or so earlier, before the Monitor opportunity presented itself, before leaving for Africa. It was a draft really, not yet finished work, and at the top each page bore the words The Hemingway Play, thus the title. If one read the play, he tended to recall it. That was because it divided Hemingway’s life into four characters with totally separate lives. It posited that they met and confronted one another in a “bullfighter’s hangout in Madrid” and did not spare criticizing each other.

(Curious about literary endeavor. Sparks of interest often stimulate a frenzy of creativity. I should have been busy enough providing the Monitor with three dispatches a week. According to the log, however, I was at this time reworking THP and also writing stories (“Lenoir,” “Madagascar”) that were eventually included in the collection Africa, Africa! Journalism did not allow me enough opportunity to play “artist” and occasionally I needed that. However, at this time I was not traveling. I remained in Kenya most of the rest of 1972.)

In due course, Ballet was able to place The Hemingway Play with the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference in Waterford, Connecticut, close by New London for summer 1973, a year after I first learned of his interest. The month-long Conference assembled ten or a dozen playwrights. Their works were given staged readings by professional actors. The actors were not expected to be “off book;” they would carry scripts. There would be rudimentary blocking. Following several performances each play would be critiqued by fellow playwrights, actors, directors and dramaturgs. And the playwright would have a chance to undertake revisions. Well-known in the profession, the Conference was a feather in an aspirant playwright’s hat and might possibly lead to true performances.

In advance of the Conference itself which began in mid-July, the O’Neill invited the chosen playwrights to a pre-Conference weekend in May. At it each playwright would read his script aloud and get to know the other participants. The O’Neill was happy to pay airfare from the West Coast to Waterford for the Conference. But from Nairobi? It must have been an opportunity I wanted – just kinda! – because I paid the costs beyond what O’Neill would absorb. I flew from Nairobi to Los Angeles via London on May 12. A reunion with my family and playwright talk with my writer twin, then to Waterford on May 16. My fellow playwrights were surprised to have one among them who had travelled from Africa.

By the time I left for the Conference, we knew that we were being transferred back to the States. The Monitor office in Vietnam was being closed. That set in train a musical chairs game of Monitor correspondents. I was the guy left standing. We left Nairiobi July 9. Pauly was just able to walk confidently. I lay down on the floor of the plane (it was not crowded), hoping Pauly would join me and get some sleep. He preferred to watch the movie, then broadcast on large screens over the seats.

I enjoyed the Conference and the theater people there. We had a great time playing at putting on a show, just like Judy and Mickey in the movies we had grown up with. After the Conference I sent the play to George Hamlin with whom I had Old School ties. (Use those contacts!) He directed the Loeb Drama Center at Harvard University and did a quartet of plays every summer. He chose to do THP in the summer of 1975.

Alexander Scourby, the actor who portrayed the oldest Hemingway, called Papa, had been an apprentice actor in the Eva LeGallienne troupe with Norman Lloyd. Lloyd now ran the Hollywood Television Theater series at KCET, the then PBS station in Los Angeles. Scourby sent THP to Lloyd. Lloyd decided to do it. What a beautiful experience that production was, every participant enhancing the production values.

It almost made me forget Africa. But not quite. Nostalgia for Africa is very tough to shake. And since I’ve been writing there posts for several years, I guess one could contend that I’m still not over it.

TRAVELS IN AFRICA: After Baby, Joy Adamson, Kenya, 1972

My contacts with Joy Adamson, most of them involving Donanne and Pauly, spanned a year. It took that long to nurture our mutual projects.

With her husband George, a Kenya game warden, Joy had taken care of the cubs of a lioness George shot when she attacked him. Their most noteworthy achievement was raising the cub Elsa to maturity and training her for a successful return to the wild. Joy’s bestsellers Born Free and Living Free, featuring a kind of wildlife photography never seen before, were about that work. Later she rehabilitated a cheetah Pippa and wrote books about her.

Our first project involved two pieces that would appear in the Monitor. She was anxious to garner publicity about the Elsa Clubs, wildlife awareness societies for young people, being launched in the States. I wanted the paper to run a full-page article on its zeepage that would be signed by Joy, as if written by her. I would interview her, do the actual writing and invite her to make changes that would give the piece her distinctive signature. We agreed to proceed on that basis.

On July 12, 1972, according to my daily log, Donanne, baby Pauly and I drove up to Elsamere, Joy’s home on the shores of Lake Naivasha, north of Nairobi. It seemed a home typical of the sort Kenya settlers had, nothing fancy, although it had a gorgeous setting on the very lake front. I interviewed her. Donanne held Pauly, all of six weeks old, and changed him on the absent George Adamson’s bed. Joy said George might join us. Perhaps she hoped that a journalist might lure him out of his lions lair in the Northern Frontier District, but he did not appear.

Joy was charmed by the baby. While I set up my tape recorder and got my notebook ready, she and Donanne talked baby-talk. Despite having three husbands, Joy had had no two-legged babes of her own, only four-legged feline ones. She was delighted to hold the baby. In a letter written to me some months later, she sent her greetings to Donanne and Pauly, of whom she added, “He really is a pet.”

Once I got the necessary approvals for her part of the zeepage, it came time to deal with an article on the Elsa Clubs. I realize now, all these years later, that I could have asked Monitor editors in Boston to send a reporter out to do the job. Instead I pressed my brother to undertake the assignment. With both reluctance and generosity, he did the job. Joy’s piece and the much shorter one of my brother’s eventually appeared on the same zeepage. She and I were pleased with what we had hatched together.

Donanne, Pauly and Joy Adamson at Elsamere

Donanne, Pauly and Joy Adamson at Elsamere

When I knew Joy, she was very much hoping to find a leopard cub to raise to maturity and rehabilitate to the wild. Leopards were relatively rare, and it was not going to be easy to find a cub young enough for her purposes. Game wardens throughout East Africa knew that she was hoping to acquire one. Finally she did. Perhaps she took possession of the cub in Nairobi. In any case, she had it in her car there, safely nestled, so she thought, in one of the plastic airline bags of the day, She left it in the car in order to do some errands. When she returned, she found that the tiny creature had suffocated.

She recounted the incident to me shortly after it happened. How we happened to be together I do not remember. In retelling the story, she began to weep, almost hysterically, and I did not know how to comfort her. The death of the animal was distressing in itself, especially to one who had worked so closely with wild cats. But it also meant that her her hopes to work with all three species – lions, leopards and cheetahs – might never come to fruition. In fact, however, she later acquired another leopard cub, named Penny, and succeeded in working with her.

Apparently about the time we were returning to the US – we left Nairobi July 9, 1973 – the paper’s travel editor put together a celebrity travel section. It was a busy time – the paper sent me to Angola which I had not yet covered – and I have no memory whatsoever of a travel article about Joy. However, the daily log indicates that we three went once again to Elsamere in order for me to talk to Joy about travel. This time when I interviewed her, I held Pauly on my knee.

Pauly on Daddy's knee while Daddy interviews Joy Adamson at Elsamere

Pauly on Daddy’s knee while Daddy interviews Joy Adamson at Elsamere

On this second visit to Elsamere, Joy again said that George might appear. But, in fact, the Adamsons were living apart, except for Christmas visits, George continuing to work with lions while Joy concentrated on other cats.

After our interview, we lunched on the porch overlooking the lake. There were felled tree trunks along the edge of the lake to keep hippos into the garden. Joy showed us a tree in which colobus monkeys lived. These animals had striking coats, black with stunning white markings. They were highly prized by Africans for regalia. We took a short hike up a small hillock. During it Joy reminisced about her background, coming to Africa three decades earlier and painting portraits of Kenya’s various tribes. As we were leaving, she presented a copy of Joy Adamson’s Africa, a collection of the paintings. She signed it: “For ‘our’ darling PAUL. With love. Joy.”

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2017 Travels in Africa

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑