Livingstone I presume?

I’m reading Martin Dugard’s epic adventure of Livingstone and Stanley at present. Actually husband is reading it but since he has abandoned us this week in favour of a few days in the deep south near the border with Malawi, I have pinched it from his side of the bed and reinstalled it on mine. It’s a cracking read of early, usually eccentric, explorers.

I’ve just finished Evelyn Waugh’s slim volume, A Tourist in Africa. I was astonished to read Waugh’s comments on the Mombasa of the fifties when local inhabitants questioned the potential of the place as a holiday destination. Less than sixty years later it is overrun with European tourists , who come on package tours, eats quanties of cheap pizza, drink alot of Tusker, slather themselves in Hawaiin Tropic, fry like proverbial eggs under equatorial sun, saunter around the town dressed in tiny, flesh exposing beachware in barefaced ignorance of local Muslim community’s desire for modesty, and engage the services of either a hooker or a beachboy, depending on their particular proclivity. They take their malaria prophylactics and sleep under nets but apparently have flagrant disregard for the Big A – many take it home as a souvenir, along with dusty carvings and cheap bone jewellery. I don’t expect those with whom Waugh conversed ever imagined the Mombasa of the fifties as it is today: Sun, Sea, Sand and Sex.

Waugh also touches briefly on the story of the ill fated groundnut scheme; a disasterous British venture with which my maternal grandfather was involved, as a doctor.

The history in which I am immersing myself is pivotal to Outpost living: both Stanley and Livingstone set up shop here briefly. And the groundnuts – as my Gran always referred to the project – was just down the road, at Urambo, where my mother lived as a child.

Mum remembers the scheme’s extravagance: she was flown to boarding school north of the border in Nairobi on the company plane until funds dried up and then she and her sister were obliged to take the train to Mwanza and steamer across Lake Victoria instead, a journey which sliced five days off school holidays.

Hat has been studying what those in the past taught us. It only occurred to me last night, as I read, that she and I are living in a place steeped in rich, forgotten, history. From here she is perfectly positioned to understand the fight to end the slave trade, the race to find the source of the Nile and the Brits’ exploitation of East Africa. As well as their hasty retreat. From here, in fact, she’s perfectly placed to begin to understand something of her own muddy colonial history. It might help answer her oft asked question, ”but where am I from, Mum?”

 Then again it might not. I still don’t know what it is I’m supposed to be: British, Irish, Scottish or African?

4 Responses to “Livingstone I presume?”

  1. Roberta Says:

    How facinating, and what an angle to teach your Hat history!

  2. Iota Says:

    That groundnut scheme – I found it fascinating to read.

  3. Paul Jackson Says:

    I noticed your reference to Urambo and thought you might like to see some photos taken around te time of the groundnuts scheme…my folks Allan and Trudie Jackson were there about 1950-1952:

    Unknown Pretty Girl, Urambo Tanganyika (Tanzania)1952 :Now Identified as Margaret MacDonald.
  4. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Paul, thank you so much, that’s such a cool selection of pictures; i look forward to showing them to my mum. thanks

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