Monday, September 9, 2013

Trip Around the World: Egypt to Kenya

Aunt Joan was born in Kenya in 1921 to a missionary parents. Her brothers, Homer and Maxwell, wrote journals, which a very kind lady sent to me recently. This post is the about the second half of the family's journey to Kenya and was written by Homer, who was 13 years old at the time of the journey. You may read about the first half of the outbound journey here.

Anderson, Indiana, to Kijabe, Kenya in 1929

Our ship pulled up anchor in Egypt and we steamed through the Suez Canal. Miles and miles of desolate sands. True some of that country is less than thrilling. I was surprised to learn, however, that there were connections between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea in ancient times. In those early days the Nile Delta reached as far as Zagazig whence a fresh water canal led to Lake Timsa. The canal from Lake Timsa to the Red Sea was commenced by Necho in 600 BC and was completed a century later. It fell into decay but was restored by Trajan and again later by Arab rulers. Napoleon considered the possibility of restoring it as well, but it wasn't until 1856 that Frenchman Ferdinand Lesseps workable plans for the present day Suez Canal.

Port Said, entrance to the Suez Canal circa 1900-1920. Photo courtesy of the Matson (G. Eric and Edith) Photograph Collection

Aden stands on a wild, rocky peninsula on the south coast of Arabia. A number of minarets stand tall above the city and long before dawn, the call to prayer echoes over the city. Always I have found seaports intriguing. I love to listen to conversation even though I know not a single word. The ways of other nationals and their customs I find simply fascinating.

Names such as Massawa or Mogadishu and Kismayo have a nice feel as they roll off the tongue. These are port cities along the East Somaliland shores. Our ship had tons of freight for these places. Days in port gave us the opportunity to see the local sights. We took a ride in a small boat having a some sort of boxes arranged along the side with glass bottoms so as to better view the shells and coral reef. It is my own belief that those were the most wonderful coral reefs I've ever been privileged to behold. Talk about colors...well, all the colors of a rainbow were there and simply magnificent.

Mogadishu in 1936

Two islands just off the mainland -- Massawa and Taulud -- are joined by an embankment. These form a large sheltered harbor. Our ship anchored there. A massive steam engine was lifted off the deck, swinging over the side. It was slowly lowered onto a small barge tied along side. That seemed a dangerous job for all involved. A sling containing gas cylinders lowered over the side missed the barge completely. A sailor placed some coal in a sack, attached a cord, and lowered it to the bottom, leaving a floating marker.

Fronded palms wave a welcome as you approach the lovely tropical island of Mombasa. It is a most interesting city as it spreads out over the island. When we arrived we dropped anchor out in the bay. There was no pier so all passengers and freight were moved by small boats from ship to shore. Native porters handled the trunks and suitcases. The boatmen dickered with individuals or families as to fare.  The small boat landed us by the custom house steps in late afternoon. Many were given a thorough going over but for us it was quite brief. We were on our way to the rail station and passed native homes all properly roofed with makuti or palm leaf shingles. Little near naked babies and children were out playing in the yards. Women were busily preparing the evening meal.

Mombasa is richly endowed with beauty. Stately palms flutter in the breeze as just beneath them hang the clusters of coconuts. In groves the gracious green mango trees stand tall loaded with luscious fruit. Other strange fruit trees were the guava and loquat. Never before had we seen bananas. Here they were with mammoth blooms, great clusters ripening on the stalks.

Mombasa. Photo courtesy of

The evening train was loading when we came onto the platform. First class was already full. Second class was full as well. Third class was generally used by local people. Father decided we were going third class. The seating was not upholstered, just bare furniture, easily cleaned. These accommodations were purely for utility not comfort. What a simply delightful time as the shrill whistle announced "all aboard." With steam escaping from the locomotive, people waving farewell, some running along the platform, the long train slowly moved out.

Come dawn we were miles from the sea, chugging steadily for the highlands. Later we learned we had passed through thorny forests as well as miles of scrub brush, inhabited by elephants. At Makindu, over two hundred miles inland, the wilderness gives way to great wide open plains. Some of that region is quite dry except during monsoon season. From that point to Nairobi we saw thousands of wild animals of many kinds. It is surprising to me that these beasts, though close to the tracks and the noisy train, seemed unafraid. Our train stopped a few times for wood and water but few passengers left the train until we reached Nairobi.

At the gates of the railway station a broad street leads straight to the heart of the city. Motor cars and taxis were there as well as the man-drawn rickshaws. The contrast between the different races were obvious. The Akamba people sharpened their front teeth and the Luo extracted some of the front lower teeth. The hairdos were equally interesting and very intricate. The use of caster bean oil with red earth pigment coated some people's entire head.

Nairobi in the mid 1920s

We returned to the train to travel to our final destination. The highlands are like a great, wonderful park land. Great deep gullies were bridged by strong girders of steel suddenly changing the sounds of the passing train. We scurried across several trestle bridges high above chasms in which flowed small creeks. To the left was a view ending in the distant horizon of the Masai. Crossing a wide high bridge the train slowed to a stop and we were at Kijabe.

Train on the Ugandan Railway (the same rail line on which the Bailey family traveled) circa 1910

The African Inland Mission is a place of beauty nestled among the lovely forest trees. at the time I think there were some ten homes as well as the church, a hospital, and schools. This was our new home.

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