Pioneering Postman Delivers The Mail

Author: 
John Cherry

Adapted from a 1955 East African Standard newspaper article written by John Cherry. The article also appeared in Awaaz magazine and was submitted to Old Africa by Alif Din’s son Ehsan H. Malik from Nairobi.

1912 “I need a volunteer to inspect the new road from Kibigori Station to Eldora River,” announced J. T. Gosling, then Kenya’s Postmaster-General.  Alif Din volunteered for the trip, which would take him from Nairobi to present day Eldoret.

Din, accompanied by an African companion named Omolo, loaded six 45-pound bags of mail onto the train and began a 24-hour rail journey to Kibigori Station. The stationmaster had six mail runners waiting to carry the mail. From Kibigori they hiked the newly-made road to Eldoret. The first leg of the journey took them to Nandi, a distance of 30 miles. They arrived at Nandi at about 7 p.m. Din, Omolo and the runners stayed the night in a tent with the D.C., a man called Trail, and his Goan clerk.

The mail safari set off again at dawn, but after seven miles they encountered heavy rain. They struggled through the pounding rain for another mile before encountering a flooded river 30 feet wide.

The safari halted for an hour, waiting for the rain the stop. As the rain eased off, the runners tied the mailbags on their backs and crossed the river by climbing over the branches of a large tree. The tree almost reached the opposite bank – they only had to leap the last nine feet!

Omolo and Din didn’t relish the idea of leaping over the river and decided to walk across. Before too many steps, the water reached Din’s neck. The powerful floodwaters swept him off his feet and carried him downstream. After about 50 feet, Din managed to clutch onto a small tree on the far bank. He clung to the tree until one of the mail runners pulled him onto the shore.

Din and his postal safari had lost three-and-a-half hours crossing the flooded river and by nightfall they still hadn’t reached Eldora River. They took shelter in an old mule shed, which had been used when mules carried the post to Eldora River.  Din and his companions had to keep a fire burning throughout the night to keep away wild animals.

They survived the night and the next morning they hiked the last ten miles to Eldora River and delivered the mail to Smith Mandle’s shop. Alif Din, one of Kenya’s earliest Asian pioneers, had delivered the mail again.

Din arrived in Mombasa from present-day Pakistan in May 1901. He reached Nairobi in 1902 and joined the Post Office on Victoria Street.  Din and two or three other postmen used to go around delivering mail to the doors of the few houses and shops that existed on Victoria Street, Bazaar Street and what is now the River Road area. Eventually delivery areas included the Hill above the railway and Salisbury Road.

In 1906 the Post Office and some other buildings on Victoria Street caught fire and burned to the ground. The day after the fire the Post Office pitched tents on a plot near the present Railway Administration offices and got back to work delivering the mail. Later the Post Office obtained a building on the junction of Duke Street and Victoria Street, where they carried out business for over two years until a proper Post Office could be built.

A few years after his adventurous trip to Eldoret, Din became the first Asian to work as a supervisor in the sorting office. He held the job from 1914 to 1933 when he retired and returned to India.

Retirement in India did not suit Din, and he came back to Kenya in 1937 and operated a building business until the start of World War II. Then he joined the Military Records Office. He returned to India in 1944, but came back to Kenya in 1946. He set up a saw milling enterprise at Thomson’s Falls. The Emergency crippled that business and in 1952 he rejoined the Post Office once more, this time in a clerical capacity.  Alif Din, one of Kenya’s first postmen, ended his career where he began in 1902 – making sure the mail was delivered.

Mr. Din had three sons. The eldest, Zahoor Malik, is an automotive engineer settled in Toronto, Canada. The second, Mohamed Asaf Malik, worked with the East African Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (EAP&TC) from 1950-1967. Ehsan Malik is the third son. He works as a financial controller with M.P. Shah Hospital in Nairobi.

Sidebar article: Following in His Father’s Footsteps

After Alif Din retired from the East African Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (EAP&TC), his second son, Mohamed Asaf Malik, joined EAP&TC in 1950 as an apprentice engineer.

Mohamed worked with the team that constructed many of the telephone transmitting exchange stations in Nairobi such as Kabete, St. Austin’s, Lavington, Ngong/Karen and Kiambu/Limuru, as well as the exchanges for the East African Railways and Harbours Corporation headquarters at Embakasi airport. They carried this work out during Kenya’s state of Emergency, but still achieved all their work targets on schedule.

Mohamed’s work colleagues included Bob Gerrish, Billy Young and Bob Pickwell, all of whom later raced in the East African Safari Rally.

In 1951 Mohamed developed a spine problem and he was hospitalised in King George VI Hospital (later renamed Kenyatta National Hospital) under the care of Dr. (Lord) Gratton. Dr. Gratton learnt that Mohamed’s father had been the Royal Postman who had delivered the mail to his house in the Ngong area past Duke of York School. Dr. Gratton gave Mohamed expert care and he recovered.

Mohamed left the EAP&TC in 1967 and joined Standard Telephone Cables in London. After his retirement, Mohamed settled in south London where he now runs a successful restaurant in Earl’s Court.