On Sunday, in between wasting time – and money – on ebay (I have a party to go next month across the border in everybody-notices-what-you-wear-Nairobi as opposed to nobody-notices-Outpost and I have nothing to wear and absolutely nowhere to shop for something suitable), I insisted husband take Hat and I on a photographic tour of immediate environs.
Despite it’s obscurity today, the Outpost was once a thriving community. Abdallah the driver, says to me ‘Once mama, a long, long time ago (Abdallah is getting on) this place was full of wazungu’ (white folk). Really I say, and now, if I tell anybody where I live they respond, ”where?!” Abdallah thinks this is very funny.
He’s right though; the Outpost was once a des-res and only began to diminish in profile at the time of Independence, in the early sixties. Founded in 1852 by Arab slavers who travelled to the interior from the Indian Ocean, it became an important junction for caravan routes. The slavers are unwittingly responisble for the Outpost’s mango tree avenues, voluptuously green and shaded. Dr David Livingstone, as part of his crusade to put an end to the slave trade, bought an Arab house here which the slavers had built. Henry Morton Stanley stayed with him in 1872, not long before Livinstone died. Previous to that, the explorers Burton and Speke had enjoyed a pitstop in the Outpost during their expedition to Find the Source.
Captured in 1891 by the Germans, this became an important administrative centre between lakes Victoria and Tanganyika, providing a rail link between western and central Tanzania. The Germans built lots of beautiful homes and flew their flag from the town’s several small hilltops.
Until the Brits beat them during a battle on 11 September 1916; they kicked the Germans out and hoisted the Union Jack instead then. And built rows of somewhat smaller homes for their – clearly less demanding – civil servants. Homes not at all well suited to the Outpost’s geography; low ceilinged, small windowed and tiny verandah-d, their houses were hot and squat in comparison to lofty abodes left by the Germans. The Brits played cricket and tennis, their community swelled with the arrival of Groundnut employees in the fifties and shrunk when the project failed. It diminished further with Independence and further still when the country was nationalized in the seventies, when much of the Outpost’s history was wiped out. Seventy houses were razed to the ground in a single day.
Sunday’s tour took us down mango tree avenues where the trees grow so close together and so thickly, it is like driving through a tunnel.
We admired beautiful flamboyant, in flower now. Bedecked briefly with vivid red and orange blooms as if on fire.
We went to see Livingstone’s house; it is flanked by three of the biggest mango trees I have ever seen. Hat clambered into one and wished it were in her own garden, ”think of the tree house we could build in it, mum”, she said.
A landcruiser full of American hunting clients rolled in, the occupants piled out, posed in front of the house whilst their guides took pictures, laughed at Hat and drove off in a cloud of dust. Weren’t they, I wondered, intrigued to climb the courtyard wall as we had done? Didn’t they want to peer inside the holes in the thick walls, vents for poor slaves once trapped inside? Didn’t they want to sit in the shade of those trees for a moment and consider the plight of thousands of men and women shackled for miles, or ponder on the achievements of the great explorers who passed through this place? Evidently not, they wanted lunch.
We meandered home eventually, past a school built decades ago, famous for one student, Julius Nyerere, past the bus stop, through a town which time and place and politics have forgotten but which history keeps a tenacious grip upon.
Long may that last.