24 February 2013

Tanzania: The First Few Days of a Colonial Officer's Wife in Tanganyika


When I learned that a friend of my mother's, Mrs Anne Jackson, had lived in Tanganyika from 1950 to 1952 as the bride of a British colonial officer, I asked her what she remembered.

She told me, "Freddy came to England on home leave. We were married in April, 1950. After two weeks honeymoon, and hurried packing of wedding presents, we flew out to Africa in one of the last of the old sea planes. They were called "flying boats"; they had pontoons underneath so you felt safe because if the plane crashed in the water it could land on the pontoons and float.

It was a delightful way to travel. "We flew from England and then across the Mediterranean. There was a bar with a bow window and since we did not fly very high we could see the sea traffic below us, and the country side around. Our first stop was Alexandria."

She remembered sitting out at a café by the sea there, and calling her new husband "darling". "Then followed the fascinating journey following the Nile and after the night and another day flying over Africa, which seemed to be vast dusty plains interspersed with little clusters of beehive-like huts and an occasional clump of trees, we landed on Lake Naivasha beside hundreds of flamingos. It was beautiful.

"A bus took us to Nairobi, where we spent the night, and then flew on to Tanga, where we were met by Freddy's driver, Selemani with the car." The car was a big Ford with a lorry like front and station wagon box body with expanded metal sides. The seat was wood. The three of them set off to their new home. They drove and bumped over dusty roads, with corrugations and huge holes.

She says, "Here I met Tanganyika's dust which permeated everything, our hair, our throats, and even tightly packed luggage." Their first stop was Handeni where Freddy had been District Officer before his home leave. They stayed with the new District Officer and his wife. The next day they drove to Dodoma where they stayed with another District Officer and his wife. Finally they drove to their destination which was Manyoni - half way between Dodoma and Tabora.

She saw the countryside as dry and barren red earth, stones, thorn trees, and the occasional baobab. "My first married home was picturesque from the outside. It was a bungalow with a large archway separating it from the district office which was called Boma. We had a sitting room with gauzed windows and door onto a veranda, dining hall and two bedrooms off the dining room. If was furnished with heavy colonial furniture, some of which was a legacy of German colonial times. My dressing table was of dark wood and the mirror engraved, in the middle, with the large letters K.G. which stood for Kaiserliches Gouvernment!"

"There was of course neither electricity nor running water. The radio received no station. Light was by pressure and hurricane lamps and our water came in empty petrol cans carried on the heads of extra-mural prisoners. She asked her husband, "But what happens if there are no prisoners?" And her husband the District Officer and the Magistrate as well explained, "It's a funny thing, but there are always prisoners."

Mrs Jackson remember they had four people to help with the household - the driver Selemani, the houseboy Mhando, a cook Ali, and a dhobi to wash the clothes. They lived in the land of the Wagogo. Upon her arrival some of the women brought her a basket, embroidered for the bride. She has kept it till now. She said the Wagogo prized their cattle over anything.

"The only cattle which the Wagogo killed were the diseased ones which would not pass the veterinary inspection in Dodoma (district headquarters) or could not walk there. The chickens were scrawny but edible. Once a year an African would turn up with a mud fish, which surfaced in the dried up rivers during the rain... So if we wanted meat, Freddy shot a dik-dik or a guinea fowl. I often accompanied him and would spot the dikdik or kanga for him, but must admit that I always felt sad when the lovely animals were killed."

"Sometimes an African would appear at our house with fruit and vegetables now and again." There were some local shops "but when I bought some flour to make a cake I found it full of weevils. So after that, because we were on the rail way line, we ordered our groceries from Dar es Salaam. Our grocery order would come once a month and every two weeks the mail train would bring us perishables like butter, bacon and cheese.

"At night we could hear lions padding round the house and occasionally roaring. Leopards would sometimes get into the roof during the night. I could not go for a walk unless Freddy was with me with a gun, but when we ventured out together, we saw all kinds of game, including giraffes which I thought very attractive."

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