Vladimir Verbi

Vladimir Verbi

I was interested to read in the piece by Michael Aronson in Old Africa of Feb/March 2013 (Only in Africa section) that Michael had met Vladimir Verbi. I have always been interested in this man, a missionary tried for murder. When Canon Peter Bostock was still alive, I asked him about Verbi, with whom he had worked side-by-side in the Taita Hills CMS missionary station. Bostock had given evidence of good character in Verbi’s trial. What happened was this: Vladimir Vassil Verbi was born in Shoumla, Bulgaria, in 1873. He was taken to Mombasa in April 1894 by the Revd A Steggall, and he went to work as a missionary in Taveta. In 1899 he married Dinah Mayor, a fellow missionary in Taveta, and they worked together in the CMS missionary station at Wusi. Verbi was a man with a violent temper – he once shot his son in the buttocks. His wife died in 1927. He married again, an Australian lady younger than his two sons. Not so keen on the missionary life, she accepted an invitation from friends to go to a dance at Voi. Verbi refused to let her go and locked her in a bedroom. Her mother found her daughter imprisoned, helped her get ready for the dance and sent her off in a car. Verbi returned to the house to find his wife gone. He argued with his mother-in-law and two shots were fired, fatally wounding the older woman. Verbi reported the incident to the police in Voi, saying that he had been in the garden when his mother-in-law called out. He turned and his gun...
The Golden Cowrie

The Golden Cowrie

Barb and I met at the Rift Valley Academy where we were both teachers. I had the joy of introducing her to the beautiful country of Kenya. We went on safaris, hunting trips, hikes and walked the sandy beaches where Kenya touched the rolling waves of the Indian Ocean. We were eventually married in the RVA chapel with my father performing the wedding and the RVA choir providing the music. For our honeymoon we rented a cottage at the coast. While walking on the white sugary beach a young Kenyan boy approached us and offered us an unusually shaped seashell. I had been collecting shells for many years. (This was back in the time when seashell collecting was an accepted hobby.) I looked at the shell carefully and realized that it was something special. I had never seen anything like it before. It was in the volute family and had a symmetrical spiral shape with pink, brown and black stripes. The boy offered to sell it for 20 shillings (about 3 dollars). I gladly paid him the asking price and he went away pleased with the sale. After looking in several shell books I was finally able to identify my new shell as a lyreformis – a rare deep water species. A pristine shell such as mine was priced at $400 – enough to pay for our whole wedding and honeymoon. Over the ensuing years Barb and I continued to collect seashells with an emphasis on collecting cowries. These smooth shiny shells come in many colors and sizes and over time we owned over 60 separate species. Most of...
The Greyhound Story

The Greyhound Story

(I don’t have a photo of a greyhound so a cheetah will have to do.) My adventurous travel spirit served me well during my high school days in Kenya and on into college. My best example is what I call the Greyhound story. After my sophomore year of college I was looking for a summer job to help pay for my schooling. I passed through Chicago where I stopped in to see a distant cousin. I asked her about jobs and she told me that the Greyhound bus company was hiring. They were looking for tour guides for their summer excursions around America. Having been raised in Africa, I did not know that much about America, but the job sounded interesting so I thought I would make an application. The following morning I took the train downtown to Chicago and approached the massive Greyhound depot. The building was a beehive of activity with people and buses everywhere.  I finally found the tourism office and walked in. I approached a harried looking man and said, “I am here about the tour guide job.” He leapt up off his chair and said, “You are late. The bus is loaded and ready to go.” He thrust a small briefcase into my hands and then escorted me out to a standing bus. I climbed up the steps and looked at 31 eager passengers – all awaiting their summer vacation. I turned to the manager and asked, “Where are we going?” In his hasty response he told me that I was booked to make a five-day tour around Lake Michigan. Then he stepped down...
Huge Hippos

Huge Hippos

It was in an early morning call of desperation. “Bwana, kiboko iko ndani ya shamba! Saidia!” Here’s a loose translation. Mr missionary, please come down to the lake as the hippos have been eating in our gardens and have destroyed our crops! My dad, Oliver Donner, was not an avid hunte, but when there was a need to assist someone in a plight, he was willing to help. Quickly he gathered up his rifle and walked to the lake with the distraught villagers to view the damage. In the cool of the night hours, the huge hippos from Lake Victoria would come ashore to find grazing to sustain their huge bulk. The vegetable gardens or shambas of the local people were ripe and ready for the eating! With large gaping mouths and heavy footprints, hippos always demanded their right of way. Back in the 1940s, most villagers planted special crops by the lake where the water was easily accessed for their plants. Invariably, just as soon as something became ready for picking, the hippos would arrive and devour everything in sight. Large 3 toed footprints would be deeply imprinted on the muddy ground wherever they chose to meander in their feeding frenzy escapades. Brandishing BIG canine teeth and bulbous bodies, hippos are renowned for their short tempers and are best avoided. I was not present when my dear father followed the desperate villagers to the water’s edge but he entered into a dugout canoe to go hippo hunting! The guilty marauder was still lingering nearby, instilling fear in the neighbors. In Africa, the hippo is known for killing more...