My Life in Kenya
“When the winds of change blow, some people build walls, others build Windmills.”
This soliloquy covers about 1954/1956
Life goes on, “bananas sleep and flies flea….” I gather, I was a sickly kid, and suffered from asthma. So was
kept home and started school late…first two day I had to be manhandled and carried to school, and even
then ran to my sisters, Cecilia’s, classroom, this was at down town, Holy Family, Catholic Parochial School,
and knuckle busting Rev. Sister Gertrude…Kindergarten, was called Baby Class, went thru, Standard 1and 2
than we moved to the suburbs, so I went to the Dr. Riberio Goan School, and was pushed to the 4th standard
because of my age. (The word Standard was used instead of Grade) It was in Standard 6 that I hurt my knee,
and probably tore the meniscus or some cartilage therein. This was during PE. I was kept on a bench until a
teacher could take me to a doctor, doctor?! They took me to an Indian Bonesetter, in River Road, a rough and
poor part of Nairobi. It took me a long time to heal; I was kept home for most of this time, hence, thinking back,
my education was handicapped, especially tragic, as the KPE exam was on the horizon oncoming in standard 7.
This school was named after a well-known doctor, Dr. Ayres Riberio, who donated the land. He is pictured riding a Zebra on his rounds and was also attributed to inventing an anti-Malaria drug, he sold his patent to
a pharmaceutical company. He was also awarded the MBE for his work in Nairobi. I wonder why more
Zebras were not domesticated? Probably, they were too aggressive? As in their natural habitat they had to fight lions and leopards to survive, I guess in the long haul they could have been cultured and breed like donkeys and horses. Then, the big advantage would be the zebra’s immunity to the tsetse fly which plagued the horses and donkeys and humans in Africa. I also noticed that the big eared, African Elephant was never domesticated like the in India and Burma, who have smaller ears. I believe the big ears help them keep cool in the hot Semi desert (Tsavo) of Africa. The ears are shaped like the African continent. They are my favorite animal. I have a large collection of elephant’s carvings and figurines. /.
“Is there a Doctor in the House”? Yessiree ! Lot of the Goans did not depend on doctors. Many-a-Mother had
their special treatment for various ills. Did you have a cold or stuffy nose….They would boil Eucalyptus, leave
and give you a warm bath with this water, really worked…. Ohhh, it did not work, maybe it was Pneumonia, never fear, mothers are near… Now they would try cupping the old-fashioned way… They would make a little cloth bundle with salt in it, rub some coconut oil on its tip, place it on the patients back, ignite it, and as it burnt, cover it with a cup, the flame would go out as the oxygen was consumed, forming a vacuum, hence drawing blood to the skin surface, stimulating blood flow. They would do this on the back on three or four locations.
A milder treatment was using “Ugali” corn flour dough, which was cooked in boiling water, they would wrap the hot dough in a muslin cloth and dab (foment) it on your back or chest. Raised a sweat and relieved chest congestion.
Pretend… got a bad cold… Ask Mia, to make some Massad… ie. Just egg yolk beaten up/stirred with sugar.
add a teaspoon of brandy and wallah! Spruced you up. Sometimes they would pour some brandy in a saucer,
Ignite it and then let you sip the leftover.
Ugghhh! Help Mama! Got Mumps…. No problemo… I will just walk outside and pick up some dutroro leaves,
(Datura) grind them with some salt, make a paste and apply it to the affected jaws. This plant is toxic, sometimes called Devil’s Trumpet or Devils Bells. The seed pod was a large bulb, covered with spikes. It grows wild in Kenya.
Got a festering wound, maybe an imbedded splinter, Shamia (Grandmother) would cut a onion in half, blacken
it over a fire and tie it over the wound, acted like a poultice. They did the same treatment with boiled rice.
Got a toothache…eucalyptus oil on a cotton swab placed over the tooth gave some relief.
Ugly Leaches…. I have seen them used many times, but do not know for what ailment or cure they were used for. Maybe high blood pressure or I varicose veins, I do know they produced an anticoagulant at the site of the area they sucked. To make them let go, they would sprinkle them with salt, which would make them let go where they were sucking the blood.
Ohhh, Noooo ! Got Jaundice….No pain, no gain; You got branded on the crook of your elbow or arm with a hot copper or brass spoon, (this is a mystery to me, do not know how it worked…) Then covered the area with egg white, that formed a barrier. I have seen a lot of Goans with these welts and scars of this treatment… May be the shock, activated the immune system and realized endorphins etc.? Nowadays, you cannot beat the UV/sun light treatment, especially in children.
Oh Mia, Mugie mia, Mhaka hanga dukta. (Got a Pain). Ear ache! Warm up a teaspoon coconut oil and
pour in the ear… helps flush our dirt and waxy deposit.
Got a Bo Boo…. Voi, Come Baba… Got Alum…. That will fixit and halt the bleeding.. Barbers used it to
help, heal nicks and scrapes.
Dolle dukta….(Eyes Hurt). Will get coriander seed soaking in water, that will help. (It acts like an Astringent)
Oh my Babush ! Got High Fever…. Use a small towel, soak it with cool water, put a few drops of
Eau de Cologne, (helps evaporation) and apply to forehead and stomach. It will ease the fever, and cool your troubled brow. I will also make some Barley water… by boiling the barley, for long time, straining the barley,
lightly sweeten with a little honey and or fruit juice. Cool hydrating drink. Feeling weak, I will make a nutritious soup by boiling Moog. (green lentils.)
Well, Well, That’s Not All….. If all else fails…. Evil Eye (Disht) was suspect. Don’t tell the Padre,
Mother of Mother, would come, pray over you using salt and red chillies, throw some of over her
shoulder and burn rest of the remains. Did it work ? Yes..No ! Faith, is the best of healers…..
Still under the weather…
Want to know who to blame…. Same Ol Mama… Took a piece of Alum, and with some incantation, threw
the piece in the gicho (Blazier)… and I gather, the scorched piece would show the feature of the person
responsible! Chicanery[S1] ? Or Just, Mother India.
There were also “off the shelf” medicines… Loved Gripe Water, (.5% Alcohol) and Dill Water for stomach ailments. Great tasting Galloways Syrup for coughs and cold and Halib Orange syrup, combo of cod liver oil
and orange juice. Vicks. Feeling poorly, have Waterbury Compound, a iron/ferrous tonic supplement, or Keppler Malt, which was gummy but yummy. Castor Oil and Milk of Magnesia, no comments. Duco -Lax, chocolate flavored, laxative. Kalzana, minty Calcium tablets. Muscle aches and pains, Dr. Sloan’s Liniment.
Antiphlogistine… Clay like substance, came in a small jar, heated it hot water, spread on a muslin cloth and
Applied to your chest or back. (For chest congestion and or muscular pains strains.)
Yes, learned all that and a lot more in the school of hard knocks.
Time travels, and life goes on….
1951, Downtown, Nairobi took on a growth spurt, next door to us they built an orange juice packaging factory “Sun Glora House” on the other side a Hotel, named, Rita’s. After Rita Hayworth, who then she was married to the, Aga Khan, head of the Khojas (a Muslim Sect). Up ahead Gill House. Hence, a house hunting we had to go. Most of the Goans, relocated to Eastleigh, which was then, considered far away, or closer to the city, River Road and Ngara vicinity. We relocated in 1951. (1952 Feb. Princess, Elizabeth, became Queen when she was visiting, a Kenya Game lodge, Three Tops, when her father, king, George VI sad demise was announced..)
We were very lucky to get a lease on a house near Parkland, Ainsworth Street, close to the Croydon Museum. Great house and gardens with a lot of fruit trees. Black Berry, Custard Apple and avocado pear; the avocado, we would pick a little firm and raw then bury them in the rice bin, to ripen. The house was still a little crowded by todays standard as we shared it with another family and my married sister Lucy, Vincy and their son Ronnie.
We now had a large kitchen and a wood burning stove with a oven and 5 hot plates. Hot running water
a bathtub and shower. From this house we could walk to downtown, via Ainsworth Bridge, by the
Norfolk Hotel and near where the National Theatre was later built. Later on there were two bridges.
Two years and our lease here expired. So, to Eastleigh we relocated, not far from the RAF base. Once again
we were in cramped quarters. What I remember most is the rush and stampede to buy fish on Fridays. There
was only one fishmonger and Catholics, were restricted from eating meat on all, Fridays. Catholism ruled the day. During Lent, no music on the radio, no whistling or singing etc. I believe some parents encouraged their children to put gravel in the shoes while walking….
Time fly’s and springs here…..,
Never a dull moment. Played lots of different games….… No batteries required.
Snakes and ladders. Ludo, draughts (Checkers), Carom, card games, Like Donkey, and 7 Hands, etc.
Outdoors, tag game like “Ring” we put one foot in circle and dropped a ball, the person that the ball touched
was “it” he had to strikes us with ball as we ran, the persons he struck, were than his helpers.
Various games with marbles, like, Pill, ring…player contributed a marble each, lightly threw them in drawn, circle, ring, then took turn knocking the marbles out of the ring. The starting order was by tossing one marble from a common distance, the one closest to the ring was first one to go.
Seven tiles… Seven flattish stones were stacked and teams took turn in knocking them down with a ball, the starting team that knocked them had to rebuild the stack, as the opposing team guarded upset tiles and hit you with the ball as you tried to rebuild the stack. If you were hit the opposing team took over.
Gillie Danda…. We made a round piece of wood, tapered at both ends, (gillie) than with a longer stick struck the
tapered end, and as the gille, jumped in the air one would bat it away, the further you hit the more points you got, the distance was measured by the bat, end to end to where the gillie landed. (Basic rules)
Rough games like “Horse Fight” buddy carried you on his back and tried to knock down the opposing pair.
Another team game, a guy hugged a tree, the rest lined up holding the butt of the guy in front of him in a row,
and then the opposing guys would jump and land over you and you team until you collapsed.
Another game… There was one team person guarding a square area and you tried to get across in one breath… One Muttered…. “ooh-too-tooo-toooo” unti l your breath ran out……..
Kites… We made simple kites out of light paper. Our glue was made by mixing wheat flour with water and heating it up to make it glutinous. Worked well, also used cooked rice sometimes. Some kids would have kite,
fighting… for this the coated the leading length of string of the kit with ground-up glass, mixed it with egg-white
and coated the leading length. The object was to cut the string of the opposing kite flier. This colored paper
and trimmed bamboo was also used to make decorative stars during Christmas.
Used old cycle rims to run along with. Made roller bearing boxcarts. Made a toy with old thread, reels and
rubber band and a stick and end, of a candle. Passed the rubber band through the middle of the bobbing,
wound it up and it unrolled, moved slowly, controlled by the friction of the wax disc.
Girls played..Hop Scotch… or 7 Beds, Oranges & Lemons, Two’s and Three’s, I sent a letter to my love.
Skipping rope… I must admit the skills I now have seen among the Americans is mind boggling.
Of course, Soccer, Hockey, Cricket, Wallyball & Rounders was on the menu.
There were originally, four movie theatres in Nairobi, The Capitol, The Empire, The Theatre Royal
and the Green Cinema, down River Road area, for only Indian films. Later we had the Shan in Ngara,
The Oden, down town and the Liberty in Pangani. We did see some great movies, Robin Hood, Dick Turpin, Roy Rogers, Ben Hur, Qua Vadis, Samson and Delilah, Ten Commandments, To Hell and Back (Audi Murphy’s Heroics). High Noon, great musicals, like 7 brides for 7 Brothers, Flower Drum Song, King and I, The Greatest Show on Earth, South Pacific, Comedy, Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin, Laurel&Hardy. Saw some Indian movies on my mother’s lap. Mother India, Boot Polish… Konkani… Nirmon, Amchem Noxib, Mogacho Aunddo (First Movie in Konkani.) These, Konkani movies were shown at the Green Cinema.
Next to the Green Cinema, they had a shop, preparing grams, so strange to see them roasted in a sand bath,
and then scooped up and strained through a large spoon sieve to let the sand fall through. They also
sold sugar coated peanuts, grams etc.
Did not have radios, but did have a wind-up (HMV) gramophone, volume was controlled by
putting a rag in the horn. Much later, Valve Radio, (with the green magic eye for fine tuning) Radiogram, Transistor Radio and tape recorders….
That is it for part 2. Will need a lot of encouragement if there is going to be a part 3.
Please excuse errors in spellings and grammer.