Racism in Kenya

My story concerns Christmas on the Kenyan coast in 1963. Despite the atrocities committed by the Mau Mau during their uprising and equal atrocities that have recently come to light associated with its suppression, race relations in Kenya have been surprisingly good when compared to other parts of the world where black and white live side by side. I believe there are several reasons for this. First, at the height of the administration of the Kenya colony, impartial liberal observers accused the white settlers of treating their black servants like they treated their horses. The criticism floundered when it was agreed by all that the whites treated their horses extremely well. The black-white relationships in the Southern United States and South Africa seemed to have hate as the chief factor (Ku Klux Klan and lynching for example), but the paternal despotism of the white settler in Kenya was based on a feeling of superiority, more than on hatred. Second, there was never any legislation against race in Kenya. The separation of the races was based on income and education. African children in the colonial period did not join the Langata Pony Club because their families didn’t have the income to own horses. When an affluent educated class of African emerged, the handful of Africans who joined the masses of mzungus at the private schools and clubs were invariably amongst the most popular of the members. The first generation after independence of black and white children in Kenya should be held up for world to admire for the amount of racial harmony that did exist. However, racism did rear its...
Catching the Train

Catching the Train

Getting out into the bush was the best thing about going to school at Rift Valley Academy for me. We had a huge playground – the wild out-of-doors. Once we hiked a few miles northwestward along the railway to climb Kijabe Hill. We found heavy old tires near the top and sent them crashing down the mountain, squashing bushes. We laughed hard when a reedbuck and a duiker ran for their lives. Coming back we ran and climbed on a freight train chugging uphill. Didgie (Dave Johnson) missed getting on with the rest of us, so he caught the caboose. Hanging on, he looked up – into the black-bearded brown face of an Indian Sikh with neat red turban. “Yes, how far?” the Sikh man said in a deep friendly voice. Stanley Barnett in an unpublished...
Road to Congo, 1968

Road to Congo, 1968

I rode in the back of our white Volkswagen beetle, registration KCY 434, from central Kenya to northeastern Congo in 1968 when I was 12 years old. My father had to speak at a conference at Rethy.  We drove through Eldoret, into Uganda and Kampala before driving northwest and crossing the Nile on a ferry at Pakwatch. Most of the trip we drove on well-graded dirt roads. I’d have to think hard about making that same trip today, even with a strong four-wheel drive vehicle. But we did come to one river crossing that had flooded. My father wasn’t sure the VW would be able to cross, so he assigned me to measure the depth. I stripped off my short trousers and shoes and walked across the river. My father snapped this picture as I walked back to the car. After measuring how far the water had crept up my legs, my father determined we could safely cross and we continued on our...
Egypt!

Egypt!

Being only three years of age on this epic voyage to East Africa via ship, my childhood memories are sometimes confused. I know we stopped in Naples, Italy, but remember nothing of the stopover except the visible evidence of World War II. Large, rusted hulks of bombed out ships were scattered around the port. We saw bomb-shelled buildings and blasted walls. A family photo has penned-in arrows showing piles of rubble from bombing raids. After Naples we sailed past the Straits of Messina where ancient cities stood in view of snow-capped, yet steaming Mount Etna – an active volcano. Our arrival in Alexandria, Egypt brought us to the continent of Africa. We entered a strange place with disorganized people in the confusing offices of Egyptian customs! I recall my father’s comments in his ledger that a group of 10-year old boys could have done a better job. We had never seen such confusion and consternation. We disembarked in Alexandria on a Sunday – “Most unholy – this Lord’s Day,” my mother wrote in a poem she wrote about the trip. In Alexandria we faced everything through unaccustomed eyes and wondered what our family was doing so far away from home. Patience is a virtue and in Cairo customs we needed to practice this characteristic of w-a-i-t-i-n-g! Due to unforeseen delays my family had to spend some time in this ancient city. Finding a hotel and trying to purchase tickets for the next leg of our journey required more patience. We decided to explore some of Egypt’s history and visited the pyramids, a mosque, a zoo, a museum and a...

Wattle Underwear

While attending the Highlands High School at Eldoret, we were taken to a wattle farm belonging to an elderly German. Wattle trees where grown and the bark used for the leather tanning industry. We were told how the trees were planted and harvested and finally to our great amusement he said, “Und von day you vill all be verring vattle underver. Ve vill turn the trees into fine thread like nylon.” Thank goodness that never happened. Imagine wattle underwear! Would it have been scratchy and bright yellow, like the flowers? We had lunch in the wattle plantation and then went for a dip in the small river. When we got out, we were horrified to find we were covered with leeches! We received no sympathy from our teachers who informed us that the Victorians paid doctors good money to bleed them with leeches. Helen Leggatt, South...