Chapter 11

 

When the missionaries arrived , the Africans had the land and the missionaries had the Bible. The missionaries taught the Africans how to pray with their eyes closed. When the Africans opened their eyes, the missionaries had the land and the Africans had the Bible. These were the words of Jomo Kenyatta, to the people of Kenya.

Nderitu was surprised on Friday when Mr. Christopher called him and Kamandu to the office.

"Dress up in your best clothes and meet me at the gate in an hour," the director said without looking at the boys. He seemed to be very busy head bowed over a mountain of paperwork.

Nderitu was excited and dressed up in black pants and a white shirt tucked in. Kamandu showed up in brown cotton pants and a nice maroon jacket. Together, and faces shining from the vaseline they had applied, they looked like brothers from a very happy family.

The white peugout was waiting at the gate. Mr. Christopher must have seen them through the office window because he came out fidgeting with the car keys. There was no smile or eye contact.

"Get in," he said, as he opened the driver's door.

Such was Mr. Christopher's personality. He took care of children, fed, clothed and sheltered them. He knew all their names, backgrounds and how they performed in school. But he never really talked to them and so the children never got to know him.

"We are going to meet some important people who help with the running of the orphanage," the director said. "You will speak only when spoken to, and when you do, you will remember to smile and say thank you. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, we do."

The boys sat in the back seat as the car rolled through the gate and into the world. Nderitu glanced at Kamandu's face and noticed a glim of excitement in his eyes. Both boys were excited to leave the orphanage and thrilled by the mystery of their destination.

The time was ten in the morning as the car whizzed through green farms and mud huts, the land glowing under a hot sun. The boys' noses stayed glued to the window and Nderitu felt important riding in a personal vehicle.

Half an hour later, the car slowed down and stopped in front of a wooden gate. Two British soldiers with rifles walked over and peered inside the car with a lot of curiosity.

"Good morning gentlemen," Mr. Christopher greeted as he rolled down his window.

"Good morning sir," one of the soldiers in a brown uniform replied.

"Beautiful day it is, ha?" The director added.

"It's lovely." The soldier was staring at Kamandu. "How old is he?"

"Fourteen," Mr. Christopher said quickly before Kamandu could speak. "These are my children from the Mathari Orphanage. I'm taking them to see Mr. Alexander."

Kamandu was 16 years old. The boys knew why Mr. Christopher had lied about Kamandu's age. The Native Registration Amendment Ordinance of 1920 made it compulsory for African men above the age of 15 to carry a Kipande (pass), so that the Colonial British could radically restrict the movement of Africans from reserves to white man legally protected areas. The Kikuyu people placed the passes inside a small metal container the size of a cigarette box, and wore them around their necks. They often called it mbugi, or goat's bell, because it made them feel like flock working on white men's farms.  The pass contained a person's name, fingerprint, ethnic group, past employment history, and current employer's signature. It was also one of the ways used to flash out Mau Mau rebels who did not have jobs.

"Get out of the car!" The soldier suddenly roared, pointing the rifle at Kamandu.

Even Mr. Christopher was caught by surprise. The soldier yanked the back door open and ordered Kamandu out of the car. Nderitu stared in complete shock, confused by what was happening. Kamandu got out of the car with both hands raised. His face looked scared and his eyes flitted from the gun to the soldier's stern face.

"How old are you?" The soldier barked and pointed the weapon at the boy's head.

At the age of sixteen, Kamandu stood just as tall as the soldier with a very mature appearance. He did not have facial hair but the anger and suspicion, plus the death of his parents had aged him early. Nderitu was shocked to see tears pour down Kamandu's face. They were not tears of fear or pain, these were tears of injustice and heart break. Kamandu said nothing.

Mr. Christopher jumped out of the car and yelled at the soldier. "Do you know who I am young man? I'm the director of Mathari Orphanage and am a friend of Colonel Collins. What is your name? Ha? One phone call is all its going to take and I will have your job and career."

The soldier hesitated and Nderitu saw a flash of uncertainty. Colonel Collins was a big name in the military and it showed on the soldier's face.

"He's older than fifteen. He needs a pass. How do we know that he's not Mau Mau?" The voice was softer. The soldier lowered his gun but didn't take his eyes off the boy.

Mr. Christopher took a step forward with a sigh. "Listen to me. Most of these boys in my orphanage don't have parents. These parents were either killed by the British soldiers or the Mau Mau. My job is to protect them and you may not know it, but so is yours."

Without waiting for an answer Mr. Christopher walked over, took Kamandu's hand and helped him back into the car. He then walked around, got in the car, waved at the soldiers and drove off.

There was silence in the car after that; a dead kind of silence where thoughts were loud. Kamandu wiped the tears from his face and refused to look at Nderitu. Nderitu on the other hand, felt sorry that his friend had been humiliated to the point of tears. It was shameful to make a man cry. It was heart breaking to see a man cry.

The car drove through a large coffee and banana plantation. Through the car window, Nderitu saw Africans without shirts working on the land; men pushing wheelbarrows full of dirt and women harvesting coffee into large bamboo baskets. Far in the distance, a white man wearing a cowboy hat rode on a horse and seemed to be in charge of the workers.

The White Highlands; that's what these lands were called because since 1939 only Kenya's 60,000 Europeans were allowed to lease these farms. The White Highlands consisted of large parts of Kiambu and Murang'a, as well as areas farther North around Nyeri and Nanyuki, and parts of the Rift Valley.

The first white settlers to arrive in Kenya took the best land they could find for farms. The Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1932 was directly responsible for the direction given to the Carter Land Commission to give Europeans a piviledged position in the White Highlands; 'that no other person other than a European shall be entitled to acquire land in such areas'. The State forcibly seized land, livestock and other indigenous means of production from certain regions, communities and households on behalf of the settlers. In addittion to this, the State provided the settlers with the necessary infrastucture, agricultural and marketing services and credit facilities. And above all, the State sought to create , mobilize and control the supply of African labour for capital. 

Nderitu saw a few bungalows with red tiled roofing. The car finally pulled in front of a large brick house and Mr. Christopher killed the engine. He half turned and looked at the boys, taking a moment to make sure that they were listening.

"I'm sorry about how the soldier treated you back there," he said. "But I want you to remember something. You are the leaders of tomorrow and one day this country will belong to you."

I glanced at Kamandu and saw him listening, hoping for words that would lift his wounded pride.

"You are both very young," Mr. Christopher looked at Kamandu. "From time to time you will meet people who will assume that you not capable of certain things, and they will try and put you down. You must not let them." The director locked eyes with Nderitu. "You must continue to believe that there's good inside of you, no matter how bad things look outside."

Nderitu took the words to heart and felt better. The director had many faces and this was one that Nderitu hadn't seen. In the face of danger Mr. Christopher had thrown himself between the boys and the guns, and whisked them to safety, and Nderitu felt a connection to the big man.

The front door of the house suddenly blew open and an old white man with a walking cane walked out. Everybody in the car turned to look at him and Mr. Christopher was the first one to step out.

"Good morning Mr. Alexander."

"Good morning Christopher. Always nice to see a fellow country man so far away from home."

Mr. Alexander wore khaki brown safari shorts, a white shirt and a wide white hat to keep the sun off. He was the perfect image of a tourist in Africa although he had lived with the natives for over three decades.

"Hello boys. Come inside and put your feet up."

"That's Kamandu and that's Nderitu," Mr. Christopher said. "They are some of my brightest boys."

Nderitu and Kamandu beamed at the compliment.

"Very good boys," Mr. Alexander said with a smile as he shook the small hands. "Its exactly what this country needs. A few more educated natives to help forge ahead with economic, social and political advance in Kenya. We have more jobs in the city than skills at the moment."

Mr. Chistopher laughed and pointed at the native workers on the farm. "Looks like you have enough skills around here."

Skills was a polite word for labour. There were approximately 250,000 people living on the White Highlands who were not Europeans. They were employed as farm workers at low wages plus had no rights to the lands.

It was easy to force the Africans into labour. First, take away their land and their means of making a living. This forced Africans to migrate to European farms in search of jobs. The Europeans in turn allowed them to live on the White Farms in return for labour. 

Mr. Alexander's living room was elegantly decorated in red European couches that looked expensive. There were flowers on shelves and colourful pictures on the walls. Black servants tripped over each other to bring drinks to the visitors. It was the first time in Nderitu's life to be asked what he wanted to drink. Usually, there were no options.

Mr. Christopher and Mr. Alexander sat on the couch, across from the boys and talked about the weather. It rains a lot in the mountains, they said. When the drinks arrived, they moved their party to the back yard, drank tea and smoked cigars. From where Nderitu sat sipping his orange juice, he could hear the conversation very clearly, and concluded that the two men were very good friends.

"How's the recruiting business?" Mr. Christopher asked. He looked very relaxed and the director in him was forgotten for a moment. Here in the White Highlands with his fellow country man, he was just Christopher.

"Its really good," Mr. Alexander said. "I've been talking to some of my old friends in Europe to try and convince them to move to Kenya. I've offered them acres of land near Othaya, Nyeri and they are very interested."

"Aristocrats?" Mr. Christopher smiled knowingly.

"Yes. They have a lot of money to spare."

"They will come to Africa and love it. There is adventure here, and those estates in Othaya Nyeri have herds of elephants to hunt for tusks and sports."

"I sent them pictures already. They can't wait to get here. That's how I got here. I came to Africa to hunt lions, and returned yearly to resume the hunt. Now am stuck."

Nderitu watched the servants with an uneasy feeling as they brought the boys refills. The natives on these farms crushed together on small land where they tried to eke out an existence. The land they lived on was only big enough to grow food crops and survival was fully dependent on labour.    There was bitterness and a sense of injustice caused by the broad acres reserved for a few white individuals. There was also 800 square miles of unused land in the White Highlands that could have been allocated to the natives. But that was a waste. Giving Africans that much land was a waste.

"They are talking about helping the Africans to farm," Mr. Alexander said with distaste.

"Why?" Mr. Christopher looked surprised. "I thought profitable farming was only reserved for the Europeans to avoid competition."

"They think it will triple the growth of the economy. Right now Africans are not allowed to grow coffee, tea and sisal. They say the economy will benefit to help the natives acquire farming licenses. It's unfare because we are the ones who risk our capital to contribute to the future of this country."

"You still believe that Africans can't farm?" Mr. Christopher laughed.

"They are very bad farmers," Mr. Alexander said, joining in the laughter.

Nderitu and Kamandu were beginning to wonder why they were there when suddenly the front door opened and a man carrying a big camera walked in. It was the first camera the boys had ever seen. It stood tall on three legs and looked more like a projector.

They were told to stand in front of the two white men so their picture could be taken.

"I'm a reporter with a  London Newspaper," the man said. "We are running a story about the current state of affairs in the country and we want to get all the angles."

"This is John Nderitu," Mr. Christopher said. "His father was killed by the Mau Mau rebels. If it wasn't for Mathari Boys Orphanage he wouldn't have a home to live in."

Nderitu winced at the words and Kamandu looked angry. Mr. Christopher was using Nderitu's life story to draw a picture, and make the Europeans look good.

"I'm very sorry about your father," the reporter said. "The Mau Mau will be brought to justice like the barbarians they are."

Nderitu felt angry inside and struggled to hide it. He knew that the Mau Mau were fighting for the land taken away by the white people and did not like that the reporter was telling lies. Mr. Alexander handed over a white envelope to the boys and a photograph was taken to document the event - a donation to help the Mathari Boys' Orphanage. The message was very clear: the Europeans in African were doing more than hunting for game, they were also helping the children affected by the civil war inside the country, the newspaper would say.

 

 

 

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My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.

 

The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen

 

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