Life as a Colonial Service Child in Tanganyika

Courtesy of OSPA

by Debbie Philogene
Life as a Colonial Service Child in Tanganyika
Northern Tanganyika
Well, I thought my life was normal! It was only when we, as a family, returned to England when I was twelve and a half that I realised it was anything but normal. I had lived the most amazing childhood in a complete "bubble" world. Life was free, fun and always exciting, we had not a care in the world.

My father was a Labour Officer and spoke fluent Swahili and Arabic. My mother taught me with a correspondence course from the age of 5 in Korogwe (not too much of anything in Korogwe, not even running water - however, as a child I'm sure I really didn't give that too much thought!) When I was seven I was sent to boarding school in Mbeya, going there by plane. Depending upon where our parents were stationed, there was a variety of transport that we used to get to and from school. Sometimes I travelled by bus for some 13 hours, or travelled by plane, in a Dakota, and so on. Mbeya Primary School was a co-educational school. It had the most enormous grounds with a river running at the bottom where we spent our Sunday afternoons with picnics and lots of fun. As an only child going to boarding school certainly taught me to be independent, to share and to look after people younger than I was. In the last year there our dormitory had an outbreak of diphtheria which meant we were put into isolation so the older children had to provide the entertainment and keep people busy. My senior school was in Iringa where I was for a year or two, also a lovely school. All the children went to these schools as boarders unless you happened to live in the town where the school was situated. So we never felt left out because a friend was staying at home.

Life as a Colonial Service Child in Tanganyika
Northern Tanganyika
In our school holidays our parents put on plays, circus shows, barbeques and a host of other activities. We ran free, to do whatever we wanted... bare-footed climbing rocks, swimming in the crystal clear sea and diving in those waters off Dar es Salaam, riding our bikes wherever we wanted to go. If I wanted to "buy" anything I would wander down to the local duka and put the purchase on my mother's tab... no need for money changing here! Then she would pay at the end of each month.

In all the towns there was always a big clubhouse where all entertainment, film shows, and the pub etc were housed. It was the hub of the social scene in Tanganyika. People from all over the area would congregate... the government folk, the farmers, the shop people. It was never an enormous community and this club was very important in the social life of the colonials.

We had four people who looked after us... a cook, a housekeeper, a gardener and a young woman assigned to look after me when I was quite small.

Life as a Colonial Service Child in Tanganyika
Southern Highlands School
Quite often holidays within the country were around Arusha which is in the highlands so was much cooler. As a child I was unaware that Arusha was the starting point of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (which my son has recently done!) and I have climbed the foothills of the mountain. Or we would go on photographic safaris searching for game. We had 10-ton trucks kitted out with sofas and other similar luxuries and we got to see the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater like this. What a perfect way to go into a game reserve.

Then we heard our parents talk about the threat of the Mau Mau and how brutal they were so my parents made a decision to go back "home" to England. My father was now 45 and it would have been difficult to get employment had he left it much later.

So came the move to London, for a short while whilst my father found work. The first six months were horrific for me... I had to adjust rapidly and I did not enjoy the transition. I had to learn to shop with actual money and talk to shopkeepers I did not know. It was cold and everyone seemed so unfriendly and unhelpful. I had to deal with having lived in "Africa" and having a colonial accent. I had to learn to adjust to going to a girls-only school (I still find this concept disturbing!). I had to get accustomed to small houses and in most cases even smaller gardens (no more adventures in my own garden). I had to learn to do housework!!!

So I obviously survived all that and guess what? After I had finished my Art degree at Birmingham Art College I headed back to Africa, to South Africa, where I have been living ever since. After four months I met my husband, John, we married and had two children and for the last twenty four years have been living in Cape Town.

Colonial Map
Map of North-Eastern Tanganyika, 1946
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 109: April 2015


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