An African childhood. Part 5*

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My sister and I spent most of our childhood in Africa, West and East, from 1959 to 1971 with a brief interlude in Amsterdam. What you learn as a child stays with you always. Above: munching elephant in Uganda, Murchison Falls, source of the Nile, 1969.

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White rhinos, Uganda, 1969. The term “white” is a misnomer, a deformation of the Afrikaans “Wid”, which means “wide”. “White rhinos have a wide, square upper lip, and that’s where the name comes from. I will not dwell again on the massacre of rhinos in Africa. Suffice it to say there probably won’t be any left in the wild in bit a few years.

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“Stuck in the mud”. Amboseli National Park, Kenya, 1968. Number one rule on safari: never, I mean never, get out of the car. We’d just spent 2 hours with the cars stuck in the mud. Rule number 2: don’t do a safari during the rainy season. Stuck. Push. Move. Stuck again. etc.  The cars had finally managed to get away to drier road, and my mother and I were walking to the cars. Barefoot if I recall.

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“Look who’s here.” Half an hour later, this lonesome lioness was on the prowl. She could have been behind a bush a few miles back… Follow protocol… Always.

 

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Buffaloes, Murchison Falls, Uganda, 1969. The stretch of water is the Nile, near one of its sources.

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Murchison Falls again. One of the most spectacular cataracts I’ve ever seen. Uganda, 1969.

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L. to r. My mother and sister. Murchison falls. Those barriers were not exactly up to standards in terms of security. 😉 My mother is holding her super 8 mm camera. She left hours and hours of film, all mounted. I’ve just begun the digitizing process. (That’s gonna take a while)

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Elephant on the Nile. Murchison Falls. We took a boat on the river to approach the cataracts. All sorts of wildlife on the banks.

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Parklands sports club, Nairobi, Kenya, 1968. On the left my sister and parents. On the right, two journalists from the French TV, come to Kenya to shoot a documentary. And be invited by my father to a game of tennis at the Club. It does sound weird now, but such were the days. We spent most of our free time at the club, when not on safari. I know, I was born with a silver racket in my mouth…

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A young elephant at the lodge, early morning, Murchison Falls. It was less than a few yards away.

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Coming closer…

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Walking away… A “young” elephant, by the size of tusks, but a big guy all the same…

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With Hector the Hedgehog, in the garden, Nairobi, c.1968. It was a wild, very cute thing. They’re easy to catch, you just have to wait patiently until it unfurls… The shirt? Yes. Pink. I know. 🙂 (Some of the colours we wore!…)

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Crocodile on the Nile…

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Crocodile rock. (Scanned from a faded negative)

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More of the same. There were probably thousands of crocodiles on the stretch from the lodge to the falls. Rule number 3: stay in the boat.

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Murchison Falls from downstream.

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I have featured those hippos before. (And a few other pix I think). As the pilot took the boat closer and closer, he didn’t realize there was a baby hippo.

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While most of the hippos fled to the ground the one in the foreground turned around and charged the boat underwater, hitting us with all its weight. between 3,000 and 10,000 lbs. 1.4 to 4.5 metric tons… dumb pilot had to put in reverse fast…

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My sister with “Minette”, our resident feline, in the garden of our house. Nairobi, Kenya, 1969. The outfit is soooo sixties… Electric blue if I recall.

I write this post as billions of human beings are slowly going into lockdown. Until this clears, stay safe.

“Unlockdown” is starting. In many places. It has become a case of economic survival. I also think it has been an accumulation of bad decisions and political incompetence almost everywhere. But, hey! That’s just me. Whatever you hear? Just stay safe.

*Part of the Mzungu** chronicles.

**Mzungu, plural: wazungu. Mzungu is a Bantu (Swahili) word used throughout East Africa from Uganda to Kenya to Tanzania to Zambia and in the great lakes region, from Rwanda, Burundi, to Congo Kinshasa. It means “white man”, or woman. The origin of the name dates back to the 18th-19th century, when European explorers came to East Africa searching for the source of the Nile, the gold mines of Solomon, or the Mountains of the moon, what have you. It literally means traveller or wanderer. Africans then, could not understand why Europeans could not stay in place, why they had to move all the time.  They thought Europeans were a tad crazy. Mimi na mzungu!

 

112 thoughts on “An African childhood. Part 5*

  1. enjoyed flashing back with you via photos and quick thoughts – you have your own style – which I have likely said before – but I like it

    and seriously – your sister looks so much like my younger sister – before this year is out I need to show you some photos so we can compare

    and sad about the Rhinos. Hope they get preserved some way.
    enjoyed hearing how the name morphed to white.
    I am from buffalo NY and heard the name “buffalo” was from “buvlava” or something like that for “beautiful river”
    because the lakes and river leading to Niagara Falls.
    and the barrier fence you shared a photo of – wow – that was a small wooden fence – it reminded me of the low near the part of Niagara Fallswe visit – it is a bit more sturdy – but still not quite the barrier you think one should have for a great falls –

    • HI Yvette. Thanks for the visit and comment. ‘quick thoughts’, Yes, that’s the idea. I guess that makes part of the style… 😉
      You’re from Buffalo? And now “down South”… Thanks for the info. I didn’t know the origin of the name. Always assumed there were lots of buffalos at one time.
      I’d love to go to Niagara Falls. One day. When the madness is over.
      Look forward to your sister’s pix.
      Stay safe

      • Hi – we are sort of south – in Virginia – which coincidentally is where my mother’s family was from originally in mid 1900s – so I have distant blood-related family two hours from me. In the mid 2000s – people came down for some funerals and/or to meet some cousins and I was too busy to go (or just did not want to at the time – I always liked my dad’s side of the family more than my mom’s) – and now I sorta regret it. You know – would have been nice to meet some of the great uncles and whatnot.
        but I digress – and yes – was raised in Buffalo (but we moved to CA twice during my youth) – and no Buffalo can be found roaming there.
        hahah
        but I did have plenty of Buffalo style chicken wings and I can make a really good “Buffalo sauce” (well it is just grass-fed butter with hot sauce – but soooo good) and if you make it to the east coast of US- we have to connect. No silver spoons (well maybe one or two in the drawer) but lots of good food

      • I’ll always take good food over silver spoons. LOL. Virginia now? Since I went to Grad school in “Tuscallooser, Alabamer”, I would consider Virginia South of the Mason-Dixon Line. And yes, one sometimes regrets not knowing some parts of the family. What’s done is done.
        They have a Buffalo sauce here in Mexico which is hooooooooot. Very.
        Love to connect one day. I have met a few bloggers and delighted so far. we’re gonna have to wait until this terrible crisis is over. I am concerned about the US reopening when the daily number of cases is a straight line… It could backfire.
        Stay safe. 🙏🏻😷

      • Yes – you are right about the mason Dixon line – we are south of it and there is a unique southern draw with some of the folks here.
        Virginia has been a “fine” place to anchor – but feel like I have been displaced after my first big move – settled sort of but always a little displaced

        And yeah – we all need to take it slow with any reopening – 🙏
        -and enjoy that buffalo sauce

      • Well, I hope you find your bearings. Not too good to feel displaced. About the “Southern drawl”, there is no such “thang”. There are many drawls. I usually can tell Alabama from Georgia, from Miss’ssipi. Even in Bama, North Alabamians (Huntsville) have a different “accint” than Mo-Beele or Montgomery… (Love languages and accents as you can tell)
        Our lockdown has just been extended to June 15th… Darn.

      • Ugh – June 15tj – sorry!
        And actually I have my bearings – and we could have moved at least three times to leave Virginia but chose not to for roots (and one time was for a big job opp for the hubs – but we let it go so our kids could have roots – but it was also for me – I am truly at home here- and yet if we ever “had to move” I know I would adapt –
        I was just thinking about a certain displacement that comes from living in different areas over the years – maybe the reverse of that is someone who has an angst or wonder because they never left their hometown. My yogi friend feels that – she has lived in VA only – and mentions it now and then.
        And not to sound cheesy – but two things really help my contentment – home is where you bloom –
        Right?
        And tech helps! then thankfully we can easily and cheaply connect with people all around the country or world.
        Last week just talking about how calling Canada from states used to cost extra –
        No mas!
        So that’s cool – and advances in technology help keep us connected (and I know sometimes folks get too much isolation – anomie – with too much only tech connecting – but I digress

        😉

      • Digress is fine. I personally would like to spend half the year in France (Starting to sell stuff there to buy a house in the South) and half here.
        And I just talked to my brother who’s in his country house in Normandy to see how are things over there. Whatsapp. No charge. Same on fixed line too…
        Take care.
        (Ye be goo naw ye hear?) 😉🙏🏻

      • Love that Alabama ending phrase! Omg – and the other day was laughing when someone said “fu** all y’all” they were joking – but the all and you all together??
        And another funny thing your comment reminded me has to do with France (and how awesome that you have the chance to live there and other places – oh so cool) well we were playing a game ((because we could not have A real going away party for me son he had people visit across a week)) –
        And one night we had a small family dinner with family and our yogi friend with her two kids – so we played this game called “things” which is just 100 cards printed with Phrases that we answer – “things that seem to never end” or “things that end too soon” and yogi’s 10yr old son had an answer for “things that don’t work”
        He said “pranks”
        But we all thought he said France!
        And this led to laughing and chatting – like how France acquiesced during WWII, which actually likely saved art and structures (right?) and there were some one liners popping out about France it working – lol
        Ahhh – good times are those silky moments and I thought of it when you said south of France and Normandy – and well- glad France does work- 🇫🇷 hahaha ❤️

      • Frnace is a prank actually. 😉 Very different below the surface. And unfortunately there are many critical issue in France right now, economy, unemployment, stagnation, excessive bureaucracy… I hope advantage will be taken from this crisis to reorganize many things.
        “Y’all all be good?” LOL. Too much ” all” right?
        Take care y’all.

      • Hahaha – thanks for the laughs though this chat – very fun!
        And yeah – I guess France does have stuff to work though – like many countries but unique to their specifics – hmmm
        And wishing you a great weekend

    • “Silver racquet” just occurred to me as I was commenting. (I don’t do a draft, just write as I post the image). It’s been a “vaccine” to me. I never was interested in “luxury”. I had plenty when I was a kid…
      Now “indelible”? Definitely. I also have a rare, eidetic memory. Remember just about everything since I was 4. Not quite like Dr Reid in Criminal minds but close. I can close my eyes and I remember the tennis courts at the Parklands club in Nairobi. Left of the picture. And the billiards room. (Right) 😉
      Be good Rebe. Cuídate.

      • Not really. I never felt my life was particularly… interesting. I was just lucky to see many things before they vanished. And honestly who would publish it? What I do is write one piece at a time. One of these days I will export my posts, I’ve seen an option in WP, put all related stuff together, and see what it looks like… You’ll be the first to know… 😉

      • Great! I think it has all sorts of possibilities for reflecting diverse ways of thinking and being. I really liked your imu story in Spanish. I’ve written my response to it in my head several times but I’ve neglected to type it in. I apologize for taking a while. I liked seeing the slang, it reminded me of Chile where dropped consonants are part of the speaking style. Dombre (dos hombres!) I think the story could make a great screenplay. The Spanish version had bits of cultural flavor that I liked seeing. Muchas gracias. R

      • I see the title: “Little mzungu”. You’d be the narrator, speaking about little you in third person as if you were a third-party observer. You’d describe every scene as a short story, with pictures. At the very end you’d find a way to disclose the fact that the narrator is actually the same person as little mzungu.

        That’s how I’d see it. In the very least it could be a good book for children. And you could write another volume as a follow up, from the viewpoint of a grown up mzungu, containing more serious themes. History has been twisted enough by the powers to be – it’s time for some real history lessons. If human race is to have any future ahead, that is…

      • If you want to appeal to a broader range of readers you’ll keep it 50/50. “Little mzungu” will intrigue the English speaking readers solely due to the association of known and unknown words, and probably make them want to know more, while using a full swahili title would only appeal to those that already know that language – not so many in the entire world, I presume. 😉

        Anyway, it’s only an idea – I’m sure you can cook something better. 🙂

  2. Love what you say about the Africans who don’t understand why the white man has to move about so much. I do believe that part of our current situation and the spread of any virus diseases happen because of excess movement and that we are meant to stay (more) in place. Wrote about that in my last blog.

      • I’m a nomad, too. My whole family is. I relate. But I move to live in places. To make a life of it. I do think tourism has gone too far with visiting the same old places. I avoid the tourist traps. The solution is to SPREAD OUT and not congregate in the same places. Big cities are not healthy. We can do a lot through the internet.

  3. J’aime bien le rose, le bleu électrique et les pattes d’ef’ ! Comme quoi, la mode laisse des traces !
    Photos très sauvages alors que le déconfinement avance lentement et sûrement par ici. Masque souvent de rigueur, pas de grandes réunions, pas plus de 100 km sans motif professionnel. Ma mère est à 125 km ! Mais le massif forestier est ouvert, qui m’attire. Les magasins également, qui ne m’attirent pas.
    Merci, Brieuc, et un bel après-midi à toi.

    • Vous êtes un connaisseur, cher ami. Je l’ai toujours dit. 😉C’est vrai que ce post est très “décalé” eu égard aux circonstances.
      Ravi que tu aies accès à la nature toute proche. (Les magasins ne me tentent pas non plus, mais je regretterai la FNAC cet été et mes bouquinistes le long de la Seine…)
      125 kms, c’est trop bête. N’y a-t-il pas moyen d’obtenir une dérogation?
      Bonne soirée.

    • Dankje wel Peter. The movies were quite a production. My mother edited about 25 30′ movies, with sound on the side. I do know them well, my parents showed them quite often, but I hadn’t seen them in maybe 15-20 years. So I do make fascinating “re-discoveries”. Now the “re-mastering” process is quite heavy. Several machines, 3 or 4 softwares… it just took me 2 weeks to fully re-master one 30′ movie… I’ll be busy for a while…
      Hope all is well with you?
      Tot ziens

      • All is well, thank you. Like in most countries out Lock Down is slowly getting less severe, but the one and the half meter rule is still a must and I hate that. So, although from June on we are allowed to visit bars and restaurants again, I don”t think I’m going to make use of that anytime soon. We will have to make a reservation for a beer on a terrace! That is not my idea of fun. But maybe I’m spoiled. In the mean time I’m still healthy and happy and I hope you are too! I didn’t have an idea of how time consuming the digitalisation of 8mm film is! But it will be rewarding no doubt. Once done and it’s safe for another stretch of time and easily distributed as well. Maybe even a small excerpt on your blog is possible. 🙂 Anyway – take care and tot ziens.

      • A reservation for a beer? Hadn’t thought of that. Godverd… It does take the pleasure away. We have taken up walking short walks in the neighbourhood with my wife. Mask on. Empty streets. Everything closed… Ghost town.
        I confess I don’t enjoy those walks any more…
        I will focus on the remastering. (And I do plan to post the most relevant pieces…)
        U2 & Tot ziens Peter.

  4. “… an accumulation of bad decisions and political incompetence almost everywhere … ”
    Most definitely … the madness has taken on fascistic features. In the land of Denmark, where they are oh so proud of their right of free speech, they are now censoring what people have said to the press. Things they (the government) don’t like, disappear.

    But, the photos from your childhood are amazing, what an adventure! Your mother’s 8 mm films are pieces of history. How great that you still have them!

    • In Denmark? That is of great concern. What are people saying and doing about it?
      Yes, I lived in a – very – different world. 😉
      And I have so much material. All (or 99%) of photos are scanned and restored. Now, I have bought the equipment (plus 3-4 different softwares) for re-mastering the movies. I’ve more or less established the technique. Time consuming. It takes me 2 weeks to fully re-master a 30′ movie. But it is worth it. Just finished a B&W film in Pakistan, in 1949… Another world…
      Stay safe.

  5. I greatly enjoyed this installment of the Mzungu chronicles. Such good photos of the wildlife! Don’t worry; I have a very healthy respect for wild animals–and reptiles. When my husband and I lived in Florida, we once witnessed two tourists poking an alligator with a stick. I wouldn’t poke an alligator with a stick.

  6. Lovely documentation of this time of your life. And what a childhood it was. How fortunate also to re-live in with your Mum’s super 8 films. I imagine you will enjoy going through those memories again. As for the pink shirt – it seems entirely appropriate for the era.

    • The colours of those times! The greens! 🤣🤣
      The 8 and super 8 films are a treasure. I’d tried to have them re-mastered commercially before, but was never pleased with the quality. So I bought A video converter. And an audio converter. A tad expensive and a lot of trial and error to use all properly. Not to mention that I need 3 or 4 different softwares to “pack” everything together… A slow process but coming out nicely. Take care.

  7. Never dull, what a great read. The documentaries all say that hippos are very dangerous. I like your rules too, reminder that common sense (which is at a premium) is always best. Did you realise at the time you were living in a time of such change and also the last moments of protected environments?

    • Thank you Paul. Means a lot to me. Now common sense is the least common of all senses, right?
      Life in Africa with all its perks was “normal” to me. Only realized when I went to boarding school later in France that it was not. My compatriots either did not believe me or were not interested. So I shifted conversation themes.
      In East Africa we were aware of “the last of the wild”. I even bought a book with that tile at the bookshop in Nairobi. We were also aware that the parks (set up by the British) were a clear effort at preserving. What I/we did not know was that poaching and encroachment would decimate wildlife and nature so rapidly. Greed is so powerful.
      Take care.

  8. You have led such a fascinating life!!! Thanks for sharing it with us … I love all these pics, but the one of you and the hedgehog is my favourite! Cheers, my friend!

    • Pleasure Jill. And yes, finding “Hector” in the garden was a great event. They’re quite easy to grab, as long as you use your extended palm. don’t use your fingers obviously. Then patience and quiet, until it uncurls… Lovely little things, The cutest nose. (And lots of fleas!)
      Stay safe. 🙏🏻😷

  9. What a richness of family history; more wonderfully evocative shots. And what is it about elephants that is so appealing? I anthropomorphise, but they look as if they’re smiling.

    • Not sure I ever “felt” them smile. Up close, they’re just indifferent. The mightiest animal on earth is pacific. It will only attack to protect its own. And just charge most of the time. Give you time to flee.
      How are things on your side of the Channel? I don’t see much improvement in the UK’s figures. Sadly

  10. I’ll say it again, you had a childhood worth reading about! Even with pink shirts.
    The hedgehog reminded me of the time my Dalmatian found a porcupine going about its business. The vet had a field day taking all the quills out…

    • Ponk shirts did come back in fashion a few years back. I refused to wear one. Once is enough. 😉
      Actually Hector was discovered by our dog. A dachsund. She was barking like mad at the end of the garden. I went to see. Took her away as she’d pinched her nose a bit already. And came back for the hedgehog. They’re easy to pick. AND they don’t shed they’re quills as porcupines do… Very sorry for your dog. I hope it recovered. Where was that? Not many places have porcupines.

  11. I read this outside in my garden…I’ve been hiding there 😉 your narrative threads all connect Brian…lovely for your grandchildren too… sending you joy from etown…hugs and all good things your way ~ Hedy

  12. Simple stories invite us to reflect on our own lives. One way or another, they represent everyone’s story. If a story is good, it has the power to inspire questions and encourage us to look for answers. If a story is very good, it can get under our skin and dare us to see the truth. It can open new doors of perception. Wonderful! Thank you for sharing!

    • Well, well. (Blushing). Thank you I’m glad you like it. This is q perfect example of what I call the “sample of one”. In quantitative research one uses large samples. But 1000 is enough. In qualitative research (largely inspired by psychology and psychoanalysys, a sample of 6-12 in-depth interviews is often quite enough. Now, “sample of one”? If you hear one story, one testimony you know it represents many people (we are not unique at all). The only thing we don’t know is whether it represents a thousand or a million voices.
      This particular story? A few hundreds or a few thousands have lived the same.
      Thank you my dear. I hope you are safe and healthy. Sein gesund. 🙏🏻

  13. You had a most interesting childhood, Brian. I remember the pink shirt fad. I think hubby only succumbed once, when his mom washed his white school shirt in with a red blanket. He’s never forgotten it. Your sister’s suit looks like it’s made out of the infamous Crimplene. Those were the days. 😅

    • Those were the days indeed of tie-die and washing errors.
      Crimplene? Not sure, I think it was corduroy. Though it could have been terylene? The colours and fabrics of those days! Fun though.

    • Going back to the childhood, add to that that I was born in Pakistan… And still speak a few words of Urdu and Swahili… Hence the “Mzungu” chronicles. 😉
      (God, I miss our dear “Colonialist”.)

    • Those are the fun parts of the safari I guess. Rain, yes. There are 2 rainy seasons in Kenya, so if you decide to go, check the dates well. Don’t remember exactly when. (Crikey? What on earth does it mean? Never heard that before)

      • Google it…..its a very common english colloquialism.

        “Crikey, I can’t believe you’ve never heard it before!!”

        Similar meaning to ‘omg’, good grief…..you could call it a verbal gasp!

      • Learnt something new. Duly noted. But then new expressions appear in french too. e.g. “Y’a pas photo.” No (need for) picture. = No doubt, no necessity to take a picture as in races to tell who’s the winner.
        Have a nice week-end Cherryl

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