Memoir #4: Robert M. Martin; African Safari, 1963; Part 4

(African Safari, Tanzania, et al.; December, 1963)

Stopping briefly in Port Elizabeth and Durban, I returned north-by-north east into Mozambique. I had ample time, so I took a steam ship, the Prince Perfumo, from the capital of Maputo to Beira. Seldom had I previously been treated so much deference.

When completing my passage application I was asked what my profession was. “Teacher. Why do you ask?” I replied. The thirty something woman said that my profession would effect my dinening, and since I was a teacher, I was a professional and would be seated at the Captain’s Table.

I was amazed. “You mean, out of a passenger list of many hundreds, there are only seven professionals on board?”

"Yes", that is was what she meant. I probed a little more and found that among those few none were African. I expressed my concern, but she thought that there was nothing unusual.

I thought later, that maybe it was not my concern, as the visitor, of how many professionals there were but rather the business of the nationals who lived in the country.

As Mr. Kazi commented about why he could not support my grievance against Mr. Mwakasindili’s in the bribery case. Since he was a permanent resident while I was a term employ leaving the country when my contract was over greatly made all the difference in the world.

The White power groups were concerned about holding onto power and retaining their colonial structured order and they felt comfortable with and were interested in its continuation, but in 1963, there were numerous forces and expectations, simmering and brewing in large segment of the Black sub-Saharan Africa, some already competing with White minority power.

The pressure was often from the United States in the U.N. or bilateral negotiations with the Trust and Colonial powers, mostly in high profile areas like Africa and South and South East Asia where journalism gave ample coverage to current developments.

After the captain arrived and introductions were made, a waiter brought over a silver pitcher with a finely decorated rim, spout, and handle and announced that this wine was from the captain’s personal reserve. If I had ever had a wine that suited the meal, this dry red was perfect.

The food and wine were not separate parts of one meal, but one integral part of the same meal; and if the composition of a meal stimulated conversation, our evening pleasantly flowed, unrushed, with topics and anecdotes that would enjoyably fill out any good novel.

With just hours before arriving in Beira our ship was buzzed by a patrol aircraft. The scene was right from a wartime novel. The pilot had his cockpit window moved back; and was flying close enough to the boat for us to see his leather flight jacket, goggles, and long white scarf flowing from around his neck out of the cockpit as he banked slightly in his two observation passes of our ship.

Then he was off in his vintage World War II German ME 109. I thought the only ones in existence were in aviation museums. Their durability must be akin to the DC 3.

I had a top bunk in a four-person room, my head toward the porthole, with an easy view out into the bubbling white foam under the floodlight shining down along the side of the ship. It must have been the fine dinner beverage that made me sink into a very deep slumber.

Well into the evening, one of the other passengers came in late, or maybe it was very early, and closed the door with a thud. I opened my eyes, and had not the foggiest idea as to where I was, except that the ship was being flooded.

I saw the rushing water being illuminated by the floodlights. “Out to the corridor,” I shouted and rushed up to the door. By the time I had reached the door, I was awake.

Very apologetically, I requested, “Excuse me. My mistake,” and felt lucky that no one could see my redden face. As my embarrassment subsided, I felt off to sleep, confident that the bubbling, foaming waters of the Indian Ocean were remaining outside and would not be coming into our cabin.

As the nations I passed through coming south were very Afro-British Mozambique was Afro-Portuguese. Beira had filled sidewalk cafes, broad relatively trafficked boulevards, the youth promenading along the trendy shopping neighborhoods, and there was a real Latin flavor. This Portuguese colony was side-by-side British possessions and each exuded their own transplanted European culture.

There were delays getting into Mozambique, but not a long or as thorough as those attempting to get out. I asked my first ride what was happening and he blamed the delays on the search for the Finance Minister Chipenbery.

The minister had been embezzling state funds for some time and the authorities were on his track. The puzzler for me was why did the government make such a major procedure out of checking vehicles, why not the airports. There were hardly any checks at, all at the airports, the drivers responded.

The government reasoned that if Chipenbery wanted with all of the money he had stolen and had a luggage search at the airport he would be in custody immediately, and soon thereafter in prison. So the government informed the police and military to concentrate on land traffic for the culprit.

I added, “If he were guilty of the theft, and was trying to get out of the country, suppose he stashed the money or gave it to someone he could trust, they left by air, and later on had his confederate(s) send him more of the money, perhaps in small increment by Post or wire, until his family Chipenbery’s could begin carrying out larger amount.

Similar to the way the East Indian did before when they were expelled from Uganda, being targeted by the Black government for operating midsize business, and supposedly taking advantage of the indigenous Black population. The Indians also had the device of cashing travelers checks or exchanging foreign currency, giving the higher black market rate to the customer, but writing the receipt for the lower bank rate.

This is only possible when the currency you are working with is highly inflated and you have a large store of currency notes. Then, when the businessman or their family members wished to leave the country with amounts larger than the normal restricted amount their accumulation receipts allowed then to take much more money for “business purposes.”

By the time the last of the family members has immigrated out of the country the family had transferred the bulk of the family’s accumulated savings, sometimes from generations back. The driver thought that this was a likely possibility, but had confidence that the government would apprehend the Finance minister. He never was.

I had made it Blantyre that first travel day in Malawi I spent the evening with an Indian businessman and his family. Rama had relatives in Tanganyika, but not in Mbeya.

His wife was a superb cook, especially with her preparation of chicken curry. Rama agreed with me that the Finance Minister was out of the country already, and more than likely was out of the country long before any government check points were erected or a government alert was transmitted over the radio.

Chipenbery was a well-liked and slick fellow and if he hadn’t seen that the government was closing in on him, most assuredly he was tipped off with plenty of time to vanish out of the country.

Of all of the groups I came to know the Indians were the most apt to favor conspiracy and collusion theories. Maybe it was the rich Hindu mythology, which encouraged it.

Rama’s wife prepared my bed in the family temple, not a large room but one large enough to accommodate dozens of Hindu religious statues and prints, and lots of candles. It was easy to fall asleep, but when a cat began hissing outside, I opened my eyes, because I thought a cobra might be close by.

The two upper molting half-windows on the length side of the room seemed clear, and I didn’t hear any thing plop or thump on the floor, so I thought that no snake was slithering about in my sleeping space.

The distance back to my school was narrowing. I estimated that it would probably be another couple of days more before I arrived back to Mbeya.

Malawi, formerly British Nyasaland, was not well developed in the Northern lake region beyond Lilongwe, the capital. There were still some heavily forested areas and the roads were just passable. Throughout the whole of southern Africa I found that there were road links into large, small, and mid size communities.

Many roads were dirt but the large one to the White commerce community had a better chance of being tarmac. Both southern Tanganyika and northern Malawi were among the least developed and remote of areas in their parts of Africa.

The scenery along parts of Lake Nyasa was outstanding

Parts of the road were built along a high ridge above the lake, giving panoramic vistas of forested hills, lake-side clearings and unending blue sky. It looked like great Safari country. We also dipped into forested areas with indigenous trees and buses providing a good cross section of botanical live in the area.

Not long out of Lilongwe, our bus made a turn and came to an abrupt halt. I looked up and saw a group of men standing in the middle of the road, a few waving their arms for the bus to stop. A few had a rifle or pistol, most held machetes.

The passengers stayed put but talked fast and low with their seat mates or other passengers close by. I just watched. The bus driver did not seem to be too disturbed by the road stoppage.

Several of the armed men came on board walked slowly between the rows of seat, stopping to ask or say something to most of the passengers. When one of the men with a pistol came to me, I politely greeted him with a “Hello” and offered him my shoulder pack.

I glanced quickly at his eyes, and then turned away. Some of the Black dissidents had had bad encounters with the White colonials or their Black employees earlier on in their lives. All to often, they had encountered the long stare of authority before some sort of punishment or abuse.

I attempted to make my encounter as normal and as friendly as possible. The man that had my backpack spoke some English and asked, “What is this?” Feeling a bulge on the side of the pack but not being able to reach it because it was in a compartment pouch with a covered zippered flap. I said, “Kitabu” Swahili for book and unzipped the compartment and produced a book of poetry.

He seemed satisfied and moved on. One person was especially chatty with the dissidents, but it sounded like nervous prattle. “Shut up,” I thought, “you can get us all into big trouble.”

The talkative man and two others, for no special reason I could perceive, were taken off the bus. When the others were off and we got a wave to move on, the bus driver closed the door, and we slowly moved away from the group of men on the road.

The talkative man was pleading with the man with the pistol who had taken him off the bus. My last glimpse of the group showed them going into the forest, the talkative man being dragged by two of the men with machetes. I could only say, “There but for you go I.”

Copyright © R. M. Martin, Peace Corps, Tanganyika III, Traveling South, 1963.

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