British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by A. B. Mason
Four Inches at Waa
Likoni Ferry
The road was red earth. We had bounced along its bone-shaking, car-wrecking corrugations for the best part of two days in blistering heat. The whole family gave a cheer at our first glimpse of the sea. The stunning blue of the Indian Ocean lay before us not more than nine miles away and two thousand feet below us. At least, it was downhill all the way now! Crossing the ferry at Likoni modified our pace somewhat. There always seemed to be difficulty in lowering the bow gate. Three men stood upon it in bare feet and danced up and down while one of the number sung a little ditty in a high querulous voice. Their rhythmical antics would have passed well in the West in a modern ballroom jive competition.

We climbed up the slope on arrival at the southern bank and soon caught up with the foot passengers of the previous ferry. They made their way homeward spilling out into the road from either side oblivious of following traffic. We had to nose our way through the crowd, some walking, and some weaving in and out on bicycles, trying to remain upright while keeping their speed down to that of their walking friends. Here a man driving a cow, here another hauling two goats at the end of rope loops. There a woman with a huge bundle of clothes done up in a white sheet which she balanced with ease upon her head. There another with a slatted wooden box containing some hens. We left them behind at the village of Waa.

After Waa the road became a mere track covered in white coral sand. We passed through plantations of coconut palms, pineapples and kapok trees. Near Ukunda the track became wide enough for one car only and passed for two miles through thick bush ten feet high. The house was on a bluff overlooking the sea. The reef was fully exposed indicating low tide. Our children, frantic to get to the sea, waited impatiently while our cases were unloaded. With the help of the elderly caretaker I carried the heavy tin trunk containing our food round to the back quarters of the house so that my wife could unload it into the kerosene operated fridge, or the ant-proof safe. I took the children down to the shore and pointed out the limits. 'Not further up than that big rock. Not further down than the end of the cliff. You can paddle but wait till we come before you have a proper swim!' I returned to the bungalow for tea. I soon had the primus stove going, and while the kettle boiled I filled the lamps and also the tank for the kerosene fridge. After tea we joined the children on the beach. The tide was coming in fast and soon we could find water deep enough to have our first wonderful dip in the sea. We remained down there while the sun went down, and amused ourselves chasing shoals of land crabs up and down the shoreline. As we went up to the house I noticed, much to my surprise, dark clouds on the horizon to the South West. The rains, everyone had assured us, were at least three weeks away. While I supervised the boys showering the brine off their bodies with fresh water my wife laid the supper. With the lamps lit we all dined together. As soon as we could get the children to bed we sat on the verandah enjoying our coffee. Light but persistent rain had commenced to fall. By the light of our only Tilly lamp we sat reading books and occasionally watching the almost transparent geckos as they raced up and down the walls to grab some insect that was injudicious enough to alight and stay too long. It was not long before sleep overcame us. I took a last look round, sprayed the bedroom once more against mosquitos, and tucking in my net securely lay back upon the pillows. I had been up some fourteen hours, driving in hot sun, then swimming and finally racing up and down the beach in the stimulating sea air. Very shortly I was asleep.

I was awoken soon after midnight by the most enormous thunder clap. A fierce, gusty wind was blowing through the unglazed windows of the bungalow. Heavy rain was falling. I shone my torch up to the palm thatch roof but it seemed to be holding up well against the deluge. Virginia went into the childrens' bedroom and shut the primitive wooden shutters. There seemed to be no virtue in doing the same on our side of the house since the wind though strong was blowing from the South West. I lay awake for some time counting the seconds between the flash and the thunder clap. Gradually it became longer and the thunder sounded further away. Eventually I drifted off to sleep.

Four Inches at Waa
Waa Beach
I awoke at my usual time 6.00 a.m. It was, of course, pitch dark and there was no electricity. I lay awake for a while listening to the intermittent drips. The rain had stopped, but clearly only a short time ago. I dozed off into that twilight world between sleeping and waking when so often one dreams. Dreams, the experts tell us, really only last a few second although to the dreamer it seems that one spends hours struggling against impossible odds. My wife's dreams are all about frustration. "Your entry permit is out of date I cannot let you in. You must return to where you came." He looks at her implacably. "But I have come from Agadir. Since I left I have heard the airport has been destroyed by an earthquake." "You cannot stay here!" "I have an onward flight to Eilat" "Israel is enemy territory. All flights to Eilat have been cancelled!" It gets worse. My dreams are of being in a railway compartment with the most improbable collection of people. There is my great Aunt Matilda, and at Woking my old fourth form master boards the train looking exactly as he did forty years ago. We have just accomplished the difficult introductions and explanations when, at Clapham Junction, Mr and Mrs Gorbachov get in. "This is right for the Tower of London, da?" Mikhail asks. This time it was different. We had been shipwrecked. The engines of the ferry had stopped and we had been washed out to the Indian Ocean where we capsized and the family had survived clinging to a life raft. Drifting helplessly, we watched our cases floating away on the deep blue sea. Everything was rocking. Suddenly I realised it was light. Everything was indeed rocking! Our cases beside the bed were floating on water. Andrew's rubber ring and his wooden spade floated past. I sat up in alarm. Everything we had was either floating on top of a foot of water or was completely submerged. I jumped out of bed hitching up my kikoi round my loins like some Indian fakir. I paddled through to the childrens' bedroom closely followed by my wife. The children were blissfully asleep as the shutter had darkened their room. The water was lapping round the level of their bedsprings. I hastily opened the back door but quickly shut it again, since more water came running in. The eleven acre plot sloped towards the house. A deep gully had been dug with the express purpose of diverting surface water from the back of the house but this was clogged with debris and the effect was quite the opposite of what was intended. I hurried to the front door and lugged it open. The water suddenly rushed out with a great swoosh, like the opening of lock gates. It was the right thing to do, but I was not quick enough to remove all the items we had left on the verandah which were immediately soaked. I got the caretaker on to unclogging the drain and my wife and I with primitive brooms coaxed the water out of the building. Almost all the morning was taken up placing and turning our matresses, clothing and other possessions in the hot sunlight. By lunchtime things seemed to be improving a little.I found my portable radio which I had left in the car. On the one o'clock news a voice said: "A freak storm hit the Coast Province last night causing much damage and chaos to roads. In eleven hours very heavy rainfall was recorded; four inches at Waa!"

Kenya Map
1962 Map of Mombasa Region
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 70: October 1995


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