Only in Africa – Quirky Tales that Happened in Africa

The Lion Roars at Dawn On a camping trip to Maasai Mara I had a new kijana as my camp helper to make the fire in the morning for chai.  We slept in different tents. Early one morning I called to him to go make the fire. I heard the kijana getting up and the tent zipper opening. Then I also heard the unmistakable low grunts of a simba very close to camp. I called out,  careful not to tell the kijana there was a lion or he might have panicked. “Maingi, come back.”        “Why?” Maingi asked. Suddenly the lion roared, shaking the air. Maingi dove into his tent. We stayed in our tents until the lion had gone and the sun had risen. We drank our chailate that day. Dominik Kamonde Kitonyi, Tala Newsreels Fire Imagination During World War II we sometimes saw black and white newsreels with moving pictures of how the war was progressing. We kids enjoyed watching the tanks clank across the screen firing rounds of ammunition. Sometimes the newsreels also showed other news. One time we watched a motorcycle daredevil drive off a ramp and fly over a group of men laid out on the ground like logs.  This fired my imagination. I went and built a ramp of my own. Then I persuaded my brothers, Willard and Howard, to lie down on the ground.  Trusting me, they agreed.  I pushed my bike a long way behind my ramp, and then rode it as fast as I could. The ramp launched me into the air, but not as far as I had hoped and I landed on top of my brothers. I thought...

Great African Baloonograph Safari Fizzles

1909 Charles Hughes spent his honeymoon in Kenya as the writer and secretary for the great African Balloonograph Expedition. His bride Anna didn’t join him. She spent their honeymoon with her mother in Europe. The couple’s strange start to married life is entwined with the African Balloonograph Expedition of 1909. The story began as America experienced an African frenzy when former President Theodore Roosevelt embarked on a hunting safari to Kenya. About that time W. D. Boyce, a newspaper publisher from Chicago who owned The Saturday Blade and The Chicago Ledger, with a combined circulation of 750,000, met George R. Lawrence, a noted photographer who claimed to be an expert balloonist as well. Lawrence challenged Boyce to finance and lead an expedition to produce a photographic record of African animals in their natural habitat, which would outshine the specimens Roosevelt was collecting for taxidermists to display in the Smithsonian. These pictures would captivate the readers of Boyce’s newspapers and boost circulation. All Boyce had to do was put Lawrence in a hot air balloon with his cameras and let it float above the African veldt. Lawrence persuaded Boyce on the benefits of taking photographs from a balloon. On the ground a photographer had only a short time to get his pictures before the animals got wind of him and fled. Floating in a balloon the photographer could take panoramic views of the herds stretching across the horizon. He could leisurely change to another camera better suited for close-ups of individual animals. Lawrence had some spectacular photos of the Rocky Mountains that he told Boyce he had taken from a balloon. Boyce would...

Pioneering Postman Delivers The Mail

Author:  John Cherry Adapted from a 1955 East African Standard newspaper article written by John Cherry. The article also appeared in Awaaz magazine and was submitted to Old Africa by Alif Din’s son Ehsan H. Malik from Nairobi. 1912 “I need a volunteer to inspect the new road from Kibigori Station to Eldora River,” announced J. T. Gosling, then Kenya’s Postmaster-General.  Alif Din volunteered for the trip, which would take him from Nairobi to present day Eldoret. Din, accompanied by an African companion named Omolo, loaded six 45-pound bags of mail onto the train and began a 24-hour rail journey to Kibigori Station. The stationmaster had six mail runners waiting to carry the mail. From Kibigori they hiked the newly-made road to Eldoret. The first leg of the journey took them to Nandi, a distance of 30 miles. They arrived at Nandi at about 7 p.m. Din, Omolo and the runners stayed the night in a tent with the D.C., a man called Trail, and his Goan clerk. The mail safari set off again at dawn, but after seven miles they encountered heavy rain. They struggled through the pounding rain for another mile before encountering a flooded river 30 feet wide. The safari halted for an hour, waiting for the rain the stop. As the rain eased off, the runners tied the mailbags on their backs and crossed the river by climbing over the branches of a large tree. The tree almost reached the opposite bank – they only had to leap the last nine feet! Omolo and Din didn’t relish the idea of leaping over the river and...

We Pushed the Governor out of the Mud

Author: Jill Simpson 1946 We rounded a curve on the wet road, chains spitting mud into the air, and found a big fancy car stuck in a mud hole. We were on school holiday at our Mianzini Farm near Turi. My parents had left the house earlier in the morning to help organize the point-to-point horse show at Molo near Millington’s farm. Mother told us to follow in another car and warned us not to be late.  Richard and Antony Chater, who were brought up as our brothers after their mother died, helped my sister Rosemary and I to fit chains on our car as it was very rainy.  The chains helped us plough through the mud until we encountered this big car blocking the road. We stopped our car and piled out. The chauffer, an African man wearing white gloves, asked us to help push. We noticed a well-dressed older white couple in the back of the car.  We heaved and slipped and pushed, but the car didn’t budge.  The Chater boys said the car needed chains.  The chauffer told the boys he had chains in the boot. We struggled in the squishy mud until we’d fitted the chains to their tyres.  Then we took the chains off our car and put them on their front tyres. Putting on the chains took a long time. It took even longer when the lady in the back of the car started handing us homemade fudge through the window. We’d work, then eat some fudge, then work some more. Finally we had the chains on. The chauffer revved the car. This...

Italian Expedition Scales Ruwenzoris

1906 The Italian adventurer, Luigi Amedeo di Savoy, Duke of Abruzzi, spearheaded an expedition to explore, map and photograph the mysterious Ruwenzori Mountains in the heart of Africa. No stranger to harsh conditions, Luigi Amedeo began his life in a palace. At Luigi’s birth in 1873, his father, Amedeo, was the first Duke of Aosta and had reigned as the King of Spain since 1870. But a few weeks after Luigi’s birth in 1873, Amedeo abdicated his throne and returned to his native Italy. At six years of age, Luigi was assigned to the Italian Navy. He received his education in military schools. At the age of 24 Luigi organised and led the first ascent of Mount St. Elias (5,484 metres tall) in Alaska in 1897. Two years later in 1899 he led an Arctic expedition with dogs and sledges in an attempt to reach the North Pole. The beginnings of frostbite in Luigi’s hands forced him to turn back, but he reached a latitude of 86 degrees 34 minutes north, a new record at the time. In April 1905 Luigi, often referred to as the Duke because of his title – the Duke of Abruzzi – returned to Italy after a long sea voyage keen to conquer the Ruwenzori Mountains on the western edge of Uganda. The Duke gathered what information he could from previous expeditions to the area (see accompanying article about the exploration of the Ruwenzoris,) chose his companions, prepared materials and stockpiled equipment.  He hoped to use cameras and topographic instruments to measure the heights of the various peaks. Luigi also wanted to carry out...