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Jambo Paulo - Jambo Mykoli: 49 - Return To Nairobi

...Whenever during scripture lessons I asked question to which the teacher had no convincing answer, I contested the matter. Invariably I was sent off to the resident priest, whose solution to the problem was to crack my hand with a thick round ebony stick...

Kersi Rustomji continues his must-read account of his early days in Kenya and India.

After mum died, dad had decided to live in Nairobi with his brother and our uncle Jehangirjee, aunty Aimai, three male cousins, Dali, Savak, and Rati, and two girls Nargis, and Amy. I joined him in Nairobi where we lived in a large house in Parkland. Dad and I shared a room and a little later Yezdi arrived from Mombasa, and we began our Nairobi stay.

After a week of idling about, dad took us to the Catholic Parochial School in the city, at the rear of the main post office. A rather severe looking nun Mother Gertrude, who did turn out to be very kali, strict, interviewed us. At the end of it she asked dad, ‘ And will the boys be learning scriptures too Mr.Rustomji.’ ‘Oh, indeed Mother indeed. They are to know all about good Lord Jesus and all, but you are not to convert them into Christians,’ he replied.

Mother Gertrude and Mother Stanislaw, together with lay teachers, all ladies, ran the school. Once more I made new friends and enjoyed school, except for one reason. Whenever during scripture lessons I asked question to which the teacher had no convincing answer, I contested the matter. Invariably I was sent off to the resident priest, whose solution to the problem was to crack my hand with a thick round ebony stick. This went on for a long time and in fact I had an injury to the bone below my thumb. Finally when I was once more shunted to the priest's office, I stood at his desk stuck out my hand and said to him, "Father, you know that this is not going to stop me asking the questions." He looked at me for a few moments, rose from his chair and replied, "Oh, be gone from here, Kersi. I too am tired of hitting you." There was no more punishment after this and I too ceased asking too many questions, for I came to realize that there would never be really satisfying answers.

Later the school moved from city centre to St. Teresa's School in Eastleigh, which had a large playing field. It was not long before I got the boys to dig out and make a cricket pitch in the black cotton soil. I then went to a local Punjabi contractor and got him to drop us a truck load of murram. We filled the empty pitch area with the murram, which we compacted with a large hand roller, he had also loaned. We now needed all the playing gear and if possible, a mat and I worked out a plan. I obtained a letter from Mother Stanislaw, which stated that we the kids were keen on cricket, and had already dug and made a pitch, and that we now needed the rest of the gear. Making copies, we approached sports stores and clubs. As I knew Jehangir Jabbar, of the well known Suleman Virjee Indian Gymkhana, now Nairobi Gymkhana, cricketer and manager of the club, I first approached him. To my greatest surprise, he gave us several old but usable bats, balls, stumps, gloves, a few pads, and an old but good mat. And the mat proved to be the problem. We had to find a truck to carry the huge full-length mat to the school, and my Punjabi contractor was not able to help, as his truck was very busy. We were stumped, as we did not have funds to hire a truck. Then one morning a solution appeared. Every morning a Goan parent came in an army truck to drop his kids to school. We talked about approaching him and one morning I went up to him and explained our problem to him. He said that he had seen us work on the pitch and would let us know the next morning. In the morning, we formed a cluster near the gate to meet him. He called us over and said that he could get the truck at three in the afternoon and bring the mat over. We cheered and ran off to tell Mother Stanislaw and she said that we could store the mat in the boys drinking room. Moreover, we were also very lucky, in that all the Asian sports stores that we approached for help, donate various gear, and to all we sent a letter of thanks. A month from the day we had started, we played our first game between two teams, picked from the school. From it we later picked a school XI and played other schools in the in area, and yes I was elected the skipper.

Although Nairobi was the largest city in Kenya we lived in, I liked it and in my free time explored areas around our place. On the weekends I tramped through the wooded areas and went as far as Kabete and sometimes even to Limuru walking and thumbing lifts. Sundays allowed me an entire day to romp about so packing a light lunch and a water canteen I went to Embakasi. Here, I followed the Nairobi National Park boundary and spent the day watching and tracking animals. At the Embakasi entrance, which had no checkpoint I entered the Park, trailed and watched lesser game.

I stayed off the park roads but kept these in sight as on the undulating savannah, there are not many landmarks to guide one. The two most prominent features the Ngong Hills in the west, and the line of thorn acacias along the Athi River were the only visible pointers. As the grass dried it became a uniform yellow, which stretched over vast distances, dotted with thorn acacia, the flat topped umbrella trees, and afforded excellent viewing of game. The grass stretched up to my shoulders and gave me very good cover, but I had to be very attentive, that I did not stumble on big game. These trips were very exciting but also very intense in heedfulness, and always I came out well before sunset, to hitch a lift back into the city. The very first time I ventured into the park after the dry, my legs were covered with a fine layer of tiny pink creatures.

These were grass mites which abound in the grass, and it took very hard scrubbing to get rid of. After that, I wore trousers and ex-army gaiters around the ankles, as it was easier to boil these than scrubbing the skin hard.

The best that happened to me in Nairobi was joining the Scouts. I was attached to the 4th Nairobi, Ashok group, which was the troop of a very large City Primary School in Ngara. Every weekend we had training camps on the school grounds, and later we camped at the Rowallan Camp the main national training Centre for the movement. This camp was set in a magnificent wood that stretched to the Ngong Hills in the west, and verged onto the Mbagathi River. From here, the plains stretched into the Nairobi National Park, and a track led to Embakasi and the main road to the airport and the city. I attended every training camp, and my bush craft and camping skills were further honed. The thick forest outside of the camp perimeter afforded excellent experience in spoor watching and tracking. Here I spent long hours following and making casts of spoors and I learnt to read other telltale signs of the bush and the forest. I could very easily knock up a simple night shelter, or a more elaborate camp for a longer stay. Later when war surplus goods came on market I used a portable two-man tent. This was most useful on the plains as away from the tree line by the river, only widely scattered acacias provided little shade.

The skipper at the Rowallan Camp was also a game warden and through his recommendation, I was granted a permit to camp in the park areas. I spent weekends with game rangers in their huts or camped along the Mbagathi or the Athi River within the Park. My gear comprised of an ex-army rubber lined canvas backpack, attached to an iron frame and was very sturdy. All my tinned provision, some change of clothes, a sleeping bag and a torch fitted in easily. The small tent with folding poles and a peg bag was tied to the bottom of the pack, two water canteens sat in the side pockets, or I wore them on chest webbing. The clothes went to the bottom of the pack, on which sat the tinned rations with tea and sugar also in tins with snap on lids. A spoon, a fork, and a few match boxes wrapped in a small towel were jammed by the side, and the sleeping bag sat on all this. A small first aid kit was also included. An ex–army dixie sat on top of the sleeping bag, all this tied down tight to avoid clanging. I wore a bush knife and a compass on the belt, whistle on a lanyard round my neck, another box of matches and a small magnifying glass in my shirt pocket. In another watertight tin I carried plaster of Paris for whenever I wanted to make spoor casts. A large ex-army felt hat gave very good protection from the sun, as well often made a good carrying bag for rations from the stores. Alone or with the rangers we worked within a radius of one to two kilometers depending on the weather of the day. If it rained, we stayed at the hut, or the camp, for there was nothing gained wondering in a monsoon down pour. The day after a downpour was very pleasant, as it stayed cool and tracks and spoors were easy to follow or cast. The animals also remained closer as water holes filled, which reduced the distances they covered in search of a drink, and the birds too did not go very far.

I spent a great deal of wonderful time in the field with the animals and the birds, and many of my scout badges needed for promotion, obtained through this fieldwork. I obtained my First Class badge but was unable to proceed to King Scout due to age limitation. Later as a Rover, I achieved its highest award, the Silver Acorn, which is another tale.

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