Navigating the Nile – 1946

Navigating the Nile – 1946

1946 In those days one could not always plan ahead and purchase ongoing tickets and connections. After our ship the Gripsholm docked in Alexandria, Egypt on a Saturday night, my father and some other missionary men disembarked and tried to clear the trunks and drums full of household goods through the hassling and haggling of the Egyptian customs officials. It took the entire day and at about 9 pm our American Express agents finally reached an agreement with customs. We rode a bus from Alexandria to Cairo, arriving shortly after midnight. My weary and worn parents found rooms at the National Hotel in Cairo – but the bed linen was dirty so we waited while the hotel staff searched for clean sheets. Exhausted, exasperated, yet excited to be in Africa, we fell asleep at last and had a good night’s rest. The hotel served half cooked bacon and eggs in the morning. My parents returned the food to the kitchen for final cooking, having been warned as young missionaries never to eat anything half-cooked or risk getting ‘Egyptian Tummy.’ Cairo became home for 16 long days. Since Dad was well-dressed and white, beggars on the street called out to him, “Hey, Yankee! How many millions of dollars do you have in the bank?” The condition of Cairo’s poor contrasted sharply with the wealth in the tombs of the great Pharoahs. Finally the wait was over my family of five embarked on a month-long trip on the Nile River heading for Mwanza, a town on Lake Victoria – the source of the Nile – in Tanganyika Territory. On our journey...

Karen ‘Then and Now’ – follow up

I was pleased to receive the following email from Barbara Black from Victoria, British Columbia in Canada after she read my blog about Karen, then and now. Here’s her email. “You will have to excuse my barely contained delight at finding your blog entry “Karen—Then and Now.” I am a writer living in Victoria, BC, Canada, currently working on a series of poems based on my family history. My great Aunt Calla, sister of my grandmother Sonia Carlson (originally from Sweden) lived in Karen from the 1920s to the 1960s. With her English husband Fred Head they bought 25 acres in the Karen estate and lived there for many years. My Nana is gone now (lived to age 104) and the only records I have of Calla’s time in Karen are her scant recorded recollections from letters that Calla wrote to her over the years. I have many questions to ask, but I wonder if there are other sites or books I might look at to learn more about this place and time during the 20s- 60s. Fred Head was a pianist and apparently entertained at many of the diplomatic parties at Government House under Lord and Lady Baring. Do you have any suggestions?  As a gardener myself, I am also very interested in what plants Calla might have had on her estate, which was five miles from Nairobi near a game reserve. She also worked at a bookstore called ‘Moore’s’ for which I have found no references at all. So many questions; perhaps you can help?” I thought my answer to Barbara might interest some other Old Africareaders as...
Road to Congo 1968 – The VW

Road to Congo 1968 – The VW

I just got back from a road trip in Tanzania, where the roads were pleasantly paved. Our 20-year-old Land Cruiser performed well without so much as a puncture. On my return to Kenya I found a comment on my Old Africa blog asking for a photo of the Volkswagen car my family had driven to Congo in 1968. Here’s the VW beetle – KCY 434. The KCY indicated it had been registered in Eldoret where it had been a dealer’s demonstration model. The photo shows my father, Ed Arensen, fixing a puncture while I watch alongside my younger brother...

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 I could fix the ramp for a better leap, but my brothers didn’t want me to try the stunt a second time. On another newsreel, we watched paratroopers leaping from aeroplanes and parachuting safely to the ground.  I found an umbrella and thought it would make a good parachute. I climbed onto the roof of the garage at Litein, where we lived, and leapt off.  The umbrella did little to slow me down and I crash-landed to the ground. Dilly Andersen,...

Christine Nicholls’ Blog, 5 April 2012

I was in London last week, at the annual general meeting of the East Africa Women’s League (UK). There was a fascinating talk by David Arathoon, an English GP, about his recent return, with his brothers and sisters, to their old farm in Kenya, where they grew up. As I looked around the grey heads filling the room, I mused that these people were now part of history, and I hoped that their memories would not die with them. This magazine is doing its best to prevent that, and long may it continue. Of course we were all relics of colonialism and that has prevented many people from speaking about their experiences. But perhaps a more balanced view now prevails. Elspeth Huxley was wise on the subject. ‘Colonialism’, she said, ‘is now a dirty word to many, arousing feelings of indignation in black breasts and guilt in white ones – emotions equally disruptive, in my opinion, to a calm assessment of past history and the profitable conduct of present affairs. The most cogent summing up of colonialism I have seen was handed down by the quarterchief of Wum in Cameroon to the indefatigable traveller Dervla Murphy in the words: “Colonialism is like the zebra. Some say it is a black animal, some say it is a white animal, and those whose sight is good, they know it is a striped animal.”’ David Arathoon found many of the people who had worked on the farm and in the farmhouse. They gave him and his siblings a rousing welcome, with food and singing. It was particularly striking how prominent women now were in...