My brother Trevor (five-years-old) and sister Toni short for Antoinette (six) were due to go to school in the UK. This involved us driving to Nairobi in Kenya. In those days, the roads were just dusty or muddy tracks, depending on the season. For health and safety reasons, my parents wedged an empty gin box (well I think it was empty) between them in the front seats of the car and placed me on a cushion inside. Some 500 miles later, in the Kenyan Highlands, in the middle of the night and during a heavy rainstorm, we crashed into a ditch. I must point out this was during the Mau Mau uprising (they were fighting for independence) and we were in the Kikuyu heartland, an area that had been taken over by white farmers.
A lorry-load of rather drunken men just happened to be passing, they jumped out and started to push us out of the ditch. I was only a couple of months or so old and looking up from my gin box, I could see their faces through the wet windscreen. I know it is hard to believe, but this was my very first memory. My father thanked them with a contribution to their drinking fund and we continued our journey to family friends who just happened to be one of those white plantation owners.
The next morning our hosts told us of a similar crash that had occurred a week earlier. A white couple had been stuck in the very same ditch – instead of being rescued they were murdered.
Sadly, we found out later that the village chief of the men who had rescued us was also killed. We suspected it might have been for their compassionate action in helping us.
The following day in the departure lounge of Nairobi Airport, you would have observed the very sad sight of my siblings being handed over to a stewardess and put on a plane for England. They were to be picked up by my father’s sister, Eva and her husband Allen. My siblings did come back for short periods but spent most of their schooling in England. My sister Toni finished her education at Kenya High School for Girls and my brother Trevor returned to Africa after completing his exams. Except for a few occasions, I lived my life as an only child.
On the long drive back to Dodoma, my father found himself behind a lorry that was churning up a large dust cloud. Mile after mile he could not overtake as he couldn’t see what was ahead. These lorries usually had a boy on top whose job was to signal when it was clear for a following vehicle to pass, but in this case, he was asleep. After an hour, my father became impatient and decided to overtake, he entered the blinding dust and then he had second thoughts. Just as we had returned to our side of the road a bus rushed by. He came to a halt, shaken by the close encounter with death. If there were any gin bottles under my cushion, I’m sure he would have drunk it.