Ahoy Africa

Ahoy Africa

The world was at war in 1942, the year I was born. Allied forces were fighting to suppress a dominating dictator and to defend America against foreign forces. During this time of turbulence, I, Betty Elaine, was born to a young preacher’s family, joining my older brother Calvin in Middeboro, Massachussetts. Rev. George ‘Hap’ Oliver Donner and his dear wife Elizabeth Helen (Brown) Donner were high school sweethearts with a vision to serve God for their lifetime on the continent of Africa. My father was the son of a prestigious bank president, and my mom was a humble farmer’s daughter. Back in the 1930s before ‘Hap’ and Betty Donner were married, they applied to the Africa Inland Mission and were accepted as candidates to go to Africa as missionaries. On July 1, 1938, they were married and started their deputation, support raising and other preparations. They pastored a church in Harmony, Maine. After two years, AIM told them to move back to Massachusetts, where they were better known, to have their needs met by loving family and friends. Shortly after making this move, World War II broke out and with the sinking of the ZamZam  (a ship carrying many missionaries, who were rescued) the mission advised them to remain stateside until the war was over. A third child, Marlowe, was born while my dad was pastoring in Dracut, near Lowell, Massachusetts, yet the Donners’ vision for mission service in East Africa never vanished. Finally in September 1945 the war was over. AIM told the Donners they could now go to Africa. Paperwork, ordination, medical forms and countless shots and support...

On Growing Old in Kenya

I have not yet found any area of the planet earth in which it would be pleasant to grow old. I do however count myself extremely fortunate to be growing old in Kenya for the following reasons. The indigenous populations of East Africa have a culture of respect for the aged. For most of the rest of the world the opposite is the case. The Aged, both firm and infirm, cannot be dispensed with quickly enough as they become a social and economical embarrassment and burden to their younger generation. They must be hurriedly hidden away to await death in some dismal, expensive care (less!?) home. Such an unfortunate fate awaits an ever-increasing portion of the Caucasian populations. Over one million a year is the increase of retirees in the UK alone as the baby boomers turn into geriatric ‘doomers.’  Happily this is not the case in Kenya. This Kenyan virtue and lack of it in other cultures was well illustrated when I found myself on 4th Avenue in New York a couple of years ago. I had best describe myself, as I obviously appeared to the cab driver in question. He saw an old and decrepit geriatric with white hair and long white beard shuffling along with a limp, a stoop and a walking stick. I had failed to obey a ‘Don’t cross’ pedestrian traffic light, causing a stream of loudly-shouted oaths bestowed on me by this New York cabby. Having endured in my time two years of vocal instruction from his and her UK majesty’s staff sergeants on the parade ground and from bosuns before the mast...
Christine Nicholls’ Blog, 25 January 2012

Christine Nicholls’ Blog, 25 January 2012

My 2 January blog talked about the arrival of Jewish people in Kenya. One of the earliest, Sammy Jacobs, was a real entrepreneur. He started ‘The Dustpan’ store in Nairobi, where you could buy almost anything. This is what the magazine African World said about his shop on 31 October 1913: ‘Where but a few brief years ago the lion made the plains ring with his roar, and the hippopotamus lumbered his way down to Nairobi rivers to slake his thirst, now stand numbers of elegant, handsomely appointed shops and stores.  Situated right in the very heart of Nairobi’s commercial activities, ‘The Dustpan’ ranks as one of the foremost of these business centres.  Probably in its own line, as a domestic pantechnicon, where all manner of household utensils may be purchased, ‘The Dustpan’ takes first place.  The business has leapt into public favour in an astonishing fashion and is now a household word among the thrifty housewives in and around town.  To particularise the various goods and chattels retailed by the firm is a task of great magnitude.  Everything household, from the proverbial needle to a complete bedding outfit, may be procured.  Here in fact, in the very heart of almost unknown East Africa such articles as hardware of every description, tapestries, rugs, matting, brooms, brushes, stoves, linen, sewing machines, cutlery etc. etc. can be found.’ There was a ready market for Sammy’s goods. There had been a great increase in immigration to Kenya in the three years before 1913 – so much so that the Union Castle Line had to put more steamers on to the East African route, and...
Kenya Cup Rugby Final 1976

Kenya Cup Rugby Final 1976

Who’s who? In 1976, he first year I played rugby for Kenya Harlequins, the Kenya Cup was a split side competition with each of the big Nairobi clubs putting up two sides. I played for Quins Ruffians. We won the Kenya Cup semifinal against Nondies Lions and the second Quins side, the Vandals, beat Nondies Tigers in the other semifinal. This set up a Kenya Cup final between Quins Ruffians and Quins Vandals. Because of various trade restrictions at the time after the British Lions had played in South Africa, it wasn’t possible to import rugby gear from the UK or South Africa and all we had left at Quins were two old sets of black shirts. So when we squared up on the field, it was hard to tell who was who. In the end the final score was 14-14. The ref gave up and said Quins were the winners of the Kenya...

The Parable of the Layby

Here’s a topical thought since layby-occupying ‘Travellers’ are being ‘hounded’ in the UK this month, while laybys are an often-overlooked pleasure of life in Africa. So heed ye now The parable of The Laybys. Drive from Lands End to John-O-Groats in the UK and lay by where you will, be prepared to be surrounded by Travellers with looks to kill, although why they cannot be called Gypsies any more I cannot imagine. One would have thought they would have been proud of their Ancient Egyptian heritage, especially when compared to the Ancient Briton’s heritage! As well as the Travellers, you will come across another car or two parked up, the occupants all silent and sour-faced with no greeting. If Sky News is to be believed you had best search the hedgerows for a stabbed-to-death body as well, and of course all kinds of rubbish will surround you as if you were visiting a tip. But travel anywhere in East Africa, from Vanga to Lokichoggio, and you can pull up and chill out where a straightened curve in the old road has left a disused loop ideal for an exclusive roadside picnic. As if by magic from nowhere will appear a gaggle of African children all aged ’twixt three and six. Some at first might irritate you with their hand outstretched for chai but your irritation will soon be charmed away and replaced by an enduring and delightful memory. Welcoming smiles from all the sturdy, ebony black, half-naked children. Bright-eyed, sparkling white teeth all with a smile of Christ-like purity, natural, innocent, welcoming, genuine and full of joy. Commonplace in sub-Saharan Africa...