Becoming Mzee

Becoming Mzee

Vacations at the Indian Ocean have been part of the Arensen tradition for many years. When I was a boy my parents would take the family to the coast once a year – usually for 10 days. We used to stay in a run-down self-serve cottage that cost us $5 a day. However, we did not mind the musty old beach house because we spent most of our time in the warm waters of the ocean – riding the waves and snorkeling over the beautiful coral reefs. In those far-off days we were not aware of environmental degradation and we spent many happy hours spearing fish, collecting seashells and digging up bright pieces of coral. The coral always ended up being a disappointment since the colors faded to a dull gray when exposed to the bright sun. Until this day my favorite vacation activity is floating over a coral reef and watching the myriad forms of sea life. But now I know better than to collect. I just look and appreciate God’s wonderful creation. Recently Barb and I had the opportunity to return to the Kenya coast. Together with Jeff and Sarah and our young granddaughters we rented a beautiful cottage on Galu beach. After several days of relaxing I decided it was time to go snorkeling. I watched the tides and chose a time when the tide was going out, leaving smooth water in the channel. I got my gear together and waded out into the shallow water. I quickly discovered that the rocky bottom was covered with sea urchins and their sharp spines made walking difficult. I...
Boers in Eldoret and Goan Exhibition in London

Boers in Eldoret and Goan Exhibition in London

At a lunch attended by Kenyan oldies last week, talk turned to the early settlers in Eldoret. Why were there so many South African Boers there? The first to come were the Van Breda brothers, who built a grass hut on the Uasin Gishu plateau in 1903 and started to grow wheat. Then Frans Arnoldi arrived in 1905 with his family. But the first big influx was in 1908 – of 47 families, or 200-300 people. They disembarked at Mombasa, and then camped at Nakuru for many weeks while wagons were built. Soon fifty wagons were pulling up the escarpment on to the plateau. A track had to be made through forest and bamboo, until the land marked out by Von Breda was attained near Sergoit. Many of these people had few resources and lived hand-to-mouth, hiring themselves out as transport workers or ploughmen for other, richer, farmers. Since they were certainly much more skilled than British farmers at handling teams of oxen, they played a vital part in the development of cash crop farming in Kenya. Their children needed schools, but the Afrikaners disagreed amongst themselves about what language the lessons should be taught in. The government did not want to subsidise Afrikaner-speaking schools, but eventually a compromise was reached. It was more difficult to smooth over the antagonism between Afrikaner and British settlers, a legacy of the Boer War. The social and cultural rift was vast and never satisfactorily spanned. Gradually social mixing prevailed, though when I was at school in the 1940s and 50s the children still held themselves a little apart. Apparently by 1996 there...
My Doll Becky

My Doll Becky

One of my early recollections is when my parents, George (Hap) and Betty Donner gave me a special baby doll named Becky. Becky was the size of a two-to-four-month-old baby. Becky had blue eyes with long eyelashes that closed when I laid her down. Here body was soft and stuffed with cotton. She had wooden fiber arms, legs and head. When she was in the lying position, she would cry out, “Mama!” Becky was everything a little four-year-old girl could ever want! Becky had several pieces of clothing in her hand-sewn wardrobe – a dress with pantaloons, socks with shoes and a sheer-like bonnet that matched her dress. When the weather turned cold, I dressed Becky in a wool jacket with a bunny-fur collar and a matching red wool bonnet with white bunny-fur trim. To complete her winter attire, she had a fluffy bunny-fur muff and warm leggings. Becky was so cute and I loved her dearly. She was my constant companion and playmate. I carried her everywhere on my back, just like the African children carried their little siblings. I learned later that Becky had been given to my parents as a gift for their first-born daughter from a kind lady from my dad’s church congregation before they sailed for Africa. All her clothes had been hand-sewn by this dear family friend. When the time came for my family to depart for Tanganyika Territory, my beloved dolly Becky was packed in a crate, which would accompany us on the ship. Travel space was tight with women and children on one deck and men and older boys holed up...
Playing Pretend in Tanganyika

Playing Pretend in Tanganyika

When my big brother Cal was home from boarding school, my younger sister Marlowe and I enjoyed playing ‘pretend’ in very creative ways. Being quite young when we’d left the USA for Tanganyika, our memories of America were dim at best. I recall wearing hats and carrying a small American flag, marching around our house and pretending we were part of a big parade. We strutted about in line trying to be Boy Scouts. We had no audience, just our active imaginations. We marched and saluted in our humble ‘uniforms.’ On another occasion we became royalty, wearing old sheer curtains as our flowing robes and using sticks for scepters, graced with paper stars. We wore home-made paper crowns decorated with anything that resembled gems or jewels, just like the monarchs from the British Empire. These wonderful times of simply playing make-believe transported us to realms far beyond the challenging reality of our lives as missionary kids in Tanganyika. We lived a simple life, depending daily on God’s provision, which sometimes came to the door as a bag of eggs or a ‘fresh’ jug of milk. Exchanging such necessities with our African neighbors introduced us to the kindness of the local people we had come to befriend. African children came to play and joined our happy parades. We shared and learned from each other what it meant to be true friends. My sister Marlowe and I always carried our dollies on our backs wrapped with a kanga, a small cloth, just like the African mamas. Pith helmets were a required item of dress in those days (1940s) to protect against...