Late May is a special time in our family. Our only child, our son Paul, joined us on May 30, 1972. Donanne felt that if TIA was to recycle the story of having a baby in Africa late May was the time to do it. It is her story and she tells it. My hopefully few interjections appear in boldface type.
The trip was not a long one – just across town. We had been waiting the better part of a year to start this new adventure: a short trip at the beginning of a long journey. I was going to Nairobi Hospital to have a baby. Two months earlier we had returned from a stimulating nine-week reporting jaunt through seven countries. Traveling “with child” proved to be effortless as we ventured into South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique and Madagascar.
A couple of side-bars about “effortless traveling with child.” In South Africa I was very anxious to score an interview with Zulu Chief Gatsha Butelezi, then one of the “new African men” of South Africa, a man pushing the white minority government to loosen up apartheid. Butelezi proved willing to allow me into his presence if I came to Nongoma, the capital of the then Bantustan of Kwa-Zulu. There a ceremony would take place conferring citizenship on Zulus, a significant symbolic step in loosening apartheid because, as I remember, Africans had not previously been accorded citizenship.
Donanne, six months pregnant, drove with me from Hluhluwe Game Reserve where we had spent the night, over a dirt road that my diary records as “not bad despite the previous week’s rain.” We should have arranged our itinerary other than we did, but we were new at having a baby. The Great Man allowed me fifteen minutes in his presence and carefully said nothing very interesting. Donanne survived the trip although, as I recall, there were some dicey moments of discomfort for her when I realized it was not a good idea to drive her over dirt roads in back country Kwa-Zulu.
Two and a half weeks later we were in what was then called Tananarive, the capital of Madagascar. An Embassy officer took us to a party filled with Malagasies, a wonderful opportunity for us to meet the local people. We expected to slip in unobtrusively. I did not think Donanne very noticeably pregnant, but the minute we walked into that room, every male Malagasy stood immediately so that Donanne could sit down. Malagasy culture obviously made men much more attuned to Donanne’s condition than I was.
Now to get back to her tale:
More than one friend in the States was concerned about my giving birth in Africa. They thought I might deliver my first-born “under a bush” or in a mud hut with just the stunning East African sky – that blue sea across which sailed orderly armadas of white clouds – for company. (In fact, one of our good Nairobi friends had returned three times to the States to have her babies.)
In the first place, mile-high Nairobi, 300 kilometers inland from the Indian Ocean, was no “hardship post.” No tropical outpost. The temperature was moderate. The seasons were: the short rains, the long rains and no rain. Situated on a plateau two degrees south of the Equator. The sun set at just about the same time all year round. And – unlike some agricultural aid workers or Peace Corps volunteers – we lived an urban life.
The house we were now renting stood at the far end of a cul-de-sac called Riverside Paddocks (so named by our horse lover landlord who had once kept racehorses and a pet ostrich named Daisy). It was not cow dung-and-wattle, but a small, pretty stucco bungalow with a tile roof, parquet floors, a fireplace, unscreened windows – light and airy and very livable. I had “decorated” in assorted colors of raw burlap from a factory in the city’s industrial area out near the main airport. It boasted three bedrooms, one and a half baths, a living room, dining room, kitchen, a porch with louvered windows that became Fred’s office. The living room and office overlooked the spacious backyard with a pepper tree in the middle of it. In a separate room beyond the kitchen courtyard lived Laban, a young Kikuyu whom we had met at our first Nairobi home three years earlier. He helped us with the house and garden and educated us in things Kikuyu.
Although the short front drive was ungated, we shared stonewalls with neighbors on either side. The one at the back of the garden had a latched gate and looked out on an expanse of open land and a distant stand of eucalyptus. It must have been a great space for running because our landlord occasionally brought Olympic hopefuls through the yard and out the gate for a sprint. Once, before they disappeared into the morning, he introduced us. One was Kipchoge Keino who would soon bring home to Kenya an Olympic gold medal.
The expansion of our family took an unexpected turn one day during my eighth month as I glanced out the living room window into a bed of geraniums. My eye followed a ray of sun shining down between the leaves onto the furry white tummy of a tiny sleeping kitten. Its mother, we soon discovered, was wild – an abandoned house cat – and had given birth in the woodpile off the kitchen stoep. Feather B. the kitten, as she shortly became known, would sometimes accompany us on our walks around the paddocks trotting along with her plumelike tail upright, gracefully waving, the tip slightly canted.