London & Kenya
I have mentioned the isolation of Yuka hospital – how we were separated from Mongu by the Zambezi river, which was flooded for many months of the year. So the easiest means of getting to the outside world was by air and the only planes landing at Kalabo airstrip were the little Beavers of Central African Airways.
This meant that Lilian had to teach our two older children at home by correspondence. This was in addition to being the accountant, and virtually business manager, of the hospital. How she managed to do this efficiently, as well as being a home-maker, I’ll never know. Fortunately she was, and still is, a good organiser. The children frequently tried her patience, preferring to ride their bicycles to being in the "classroom."
It was difficult for the nursing and medical staff to keep up with progress in the medical field. The only visits we had were from the Government Leprosy specialist once a year. As I felt a need for more expertise in tropical diseases, when the opportunity came, I enrolled in a course at the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Our family was entitled to a "furlough" to England because Lilian had not taken her overseas leave at the end of her tour of service,. Also I was entitled to time off and financial assistance with studies, so was able to take this course.
We had planned a trip by plane to Livingstone, train to Cape Town and then by sea to the UK but there was difficulty finding a relief for me - so we were asked to delay our departure and we would be flown from Livingstone to Heathrow. This would still enable us to arrive in time for me to start my course. First we flew on a Beaver to Livingstone, on a Fokker-Friendship plane to Salisbury and then on a BOAC Comet, via Nairobi, Khartoum and Rome to London. It was a long and tiring journey, especially for the three children.
As we would be in England for six months, we packed a trunk with household linens, pots and pans, spare clothing and a set of slides (in case I was asked to give a "mission report"). The trunk would be taken by road to Livingstone, put on the train to Cape Town and would then be shipped to Southampton.
We arrived in a freezing February and stayed for a few weeks in the Overseas Visitors Club, while we looked for somewhere to rent. As the course lasted six months, we needed to have a house, with bus or tube access for me to get to the Tropical School in London and situated within walking distance of a nursery school, for John. Fortunately the Club had a creche where we could leave the children while we went out house-hunting, in the icy winter to which I was totally unaccustomed.
While at the Club, we were notified that our trunk had arrived, so I took the train to Southampton and, with some difficulty, managed to clear it through customs. When we finally opened the trunk, we discovered that everything was soaking wet. The linens were mildewed and the clothes unuseable. The slides (most of which were irreplaceable) were all blank! Only the saucepans survived. Investigation revealed that the lorry taking the trunk to Livingstone had partially sunk while crossing the Zambezi and the matter had not been reported. So the water-logged trunk had travelled all the way to Earl’s Court, London. No wonder the porters at the customs and the station had complained about the weight of the trunk – "Wot you got in there, Guv? Gold bars?" Insurance covered the cost of replacing some of our goods, but only after prolonged wrangling.
Fortunately we were able to rent a nice house in Mill Hill and stayed there until the end of our furlough.
Travel to and from the Tropical School involved a daily commute by bus and tube. The course was intensive but interesting. As I was away all day during the week, Lilian had to run the house and also take Mary and John to school. We arranged for Mary to attend Hyland House School in Walthamstow. Miss Trott, the headmistress kindly offered for Mary to be a weekly boarder. This involved a car trip on the congested North Circular Road on Sunday evenings to take her and Lilian had to make the same trip to fetch her on Friday afternoons, in the rush hour.
After completing my exams, we had a few weeks of vacation. We hired a "Bluebird" motorized caravan and Pr Jack Mahon kindly allowed us to join the first Youth Motor Camp, so we accompanied them for the first part of our trip. This was a great help to us, especially when the starter motor on our caravan gave trouble and our vehicle had to be pushed to get started in the mornings. In Edinburgh, we managed to get the starter repaired and after that we travelled, on our own, from John ’O Groats to Land’s End.
Our return trip was by boat, train and plane. We all had to adjust to life in "the bush" again, after living in a London suburb.
About a year later, we felt that for the sake of all the family we should be in a less isolated post, so I requested and was granted, a transfer. Since,I had a British passport and because of anti-South African feeling in East Africa, I was assigned to Kendu hospital in Kenya. We had a Ford Corsair car and made the trip from Bulawayo to Botswana, where I relieved Dr C. Birkenstock for a month and then we proceeded northward to Kenya.
At the Northern Rhodesia/Tanzania border we had an unpleasant experience. I had been told that if the car was over one year old, I would not have to pay any customs duty, on importing it into Kenya. So I had carefully planned that we would reach the Kenya border exactly one year and a day after we had purchased the car. What we did not know was that East Africa had a common customs policy and that the Tanzania border was the relevant one. Unfortunately we reached that border one day before the car’s first birthday. I suggested that we could go back and spend a night in a hotel and then return the following day, but although I protested and pleaded, the customs officer insisted that since I had already imported the car into East Africa (We had completed the immigration procedures) there was no way out but to pay.
It was fortunate that I had sufficient traveller’s cheques to pay the duty, which was in the region of £110. I don’t know what would have happened if I had been unable to pay!
Tanzania is a long country and it took us two days to traverse it. On the second morning, we left the hotel early and stopped by the side of the road for breakfast. When we opened our eyes, after saying grace, there beside the car were two Masai warriors, with their spears, just standing looking at us. I tried out my few words of Swahili, trying to make conversation but after a few attempts, the two young men started speaking in good English. They told me that they had completed high school, but preferred their nomadic, pastoral life and dress.
We were glad to reach Nairobi and eventually Kendu Hospital.