I started my career conventionally enough. I trained for 2 years in a Fever Hospital in Little Bromwich, Birmingham. It was a really old building but little did I know how invaluable such training would stand me in Africa. Fortunately, with the coming of all the wonderful antibiotics, Diptheria, Scarlet Fever, Smallpox, just to mention a few, would be wiped out in Europe, but alas not so in Africa - or at least not in the Africa of the 1950s. My experience in the Fever Hospital meant that I was able to help all the young doctors coming out to Africa but having never seen these diseases for themselves.
I also trained at the Children's Hospital in Birmingham and the General Hospital there. I was fortunate to see the first iron lung in operation. A young woman had one of her lobes of lung removed - the first operation of its kind to be performed. The surgeon in charge was Mr Samson. It was a clumsy machine pumping up and down but we all dreaded that the wretched thing would stop for some mechanical reason. On one occasion it did stop when the electric generator broke down and everything was thrown out of sync. Alas, the patient slipped away - a pioneer for greater surgical feats to follow in later years.
I trained also at Queen Charlotte's hospital in Marleybone Road. This hospital had been given by Queen Charlotte when she had seen a single girl deliver a baby in a ditch. I also remember the Jubilee Year when King George and Queen Mary passed our hospital. We had put out stands outside the hospital and joined in the festivities. Of course, this was all years before the NHS and before the Second World War disrupted so much of our lives. It was in this post war period that I decided to embark on a new adventure in my nursing life.
Chapter I: The Journey to Africa
Africa, vast continent, where man's soul is his own, where the
African's wonderful philosophy outshines the sun itself, where disease is
rife striking black and white, big and small. This, then, was the place
I had chosen with the aid of a pin, closed eyes and fate.
My journey started as we sailed down the Thames that drizzling
afternoon. Mixed were my feelings as I was leaving England, embarked for
the first time. In the tiny cabin I found ample space for my personal
luggage and I quickly settled in, unpacking all.
Never did I think a person could be so sick over so little. Why
had I left terra firma? Thoughts tumbled and tossed each other as the
ship ploughed those awful seas that memorable night. Article clashed
against article, cases met mid-cabin and reverted with the sway of the ship.
Would the night never end? Worse to follow! Heavy seas were expected in
the Bay of Biscay so for four days I was cabin bound, existing on biscuits
and water until we came to Marseilles to land the casualties. Yes, there
were many broken bones on that trip; the Captain said the worst for
27 years, so giving hope to comfort the weary.
Once firmly on land again, knowing I couldn't face that return
trip, I just had to go on but not before I had seen all there was to see of
Marseilles. How I loved to see the mimosa growing on the hillside, and
all the almond trees alive with blossom. Surely, I thought, we can't be
just four days away from England.
On then to Genoa, Italy, whose jolly people, the salt of the earth,
I took to readily enough. They showed me round, on to trams, buses, etc. and
I missed little there. Port Said, - little said the better. I found all
on shore aggressive and an English woman's anatomy not her own. I was
glad to return to the cleanliness of my cabin. I liked the Suez Canal,
but was disappointed in it although, even yet, I wonder how those big ships
navigate its waters so easily and smoothly. Then into the Red Sea past
the place where the sea divided to allow Moses and his tribes to pass over.
What a hot sea! Humid but so smooth that one could forgive its heat, flies
and sunburn, sit in the shade and watch the flying fish dart through the air
and some big fish that tarried in the blue translucent waters awaiting its prey.
To Mombasa! We had to stay here for six days so, stupid-like, I
thought I would venture off alone, and knowing no Swahili, I went off in a
native's boat over to a stretch of land I saw in the distance. Landed, I felt less like David Livingstone, hero worship of whom had brought me to
these foreign shores. The natives all went their ways and I was stranded.
The little African children came round in dozens, trying to sell me parrots,
monkeys, nuts, etc. I was beginning to get panicky now. How to get back?
What a clot I was! Seeing one of the African boats, I showed the man there
two shillings and with gestures that would have equalled Robinson Crusoe and
Man Friday, I got into that frail craft and have been fascinated ever since
by them. I finally got back but once aboard ship never ventured out again.
The land that promises nothing but gives plenty, from disease,
experience, surprises, shocks and recoveries, - here we came at last, slowly
sailing into its beautiful harbour, peaceful waters, shores graced with
slender palms, white sands fringed with the ever colourful bougainvillea, -
balm indeed for any bruised heart. This, then, was the promised land!
No regrets as yet for having burned my boats behind me. I wondered what
fate had in store for me or what Africa had to offer. Many lessons I have
learnt but have I given anything to the Africans?
The Tanganyika mail train, that great puffing monster that slowly
eats up the wide open spaces known as the bush, must be travelled in to be
believed that we actually live in this year of grace and not in Queen Victoria's
The Africans love travelling free as far as they dare, and later
on I had to look after so many of their mutilated bodies because not having
paid, when they knew the Inspector was about, they quietly dropped through
the windows with little thought regarding their torsos. The platform was
a colourful sight, with enough material to please any artist, and flies in
plenty to satiate an army of spiders. The European was allotted her
compartment or sleeping berth, and the African his accommodation into which
crowded anything between thirty to forty people.
Time to depart, we started slowly out of the station, watched by
hundreds of envious Africans whose colourful display of Kangas gradually
faded into the distance as we gathered speed. Having a keen eye for beauty,
my appetite for the visual stimulation I encountered knew no bounds. I had
read so much about scorched Africa that I couldn't believe the tropical scenery
spread about me, - vivid green, banana trees laden with bunches of green fruit,
maize six feet high out of which flew birds of every colour, and as I learned
later - getting to know it better - danger in every form, from lions, snakes, etc.
Beauty is but skin deep here. Each station averages about one hour apart and each one is like the other, with crowds offering fruit, coconuts, carved
animals, baskets, etc. Each stop an hour's wait before we departed with
lightened purses. Wonderful rate of exchange for the tourist; if I had
plenty of money I would make full use of it this way. I must say I love
travelling but the journey became rather wearying as the sun struck down
with its full strength, so I was lulled into slumber and back-fired into
consciousness as we drew in and out of each station, until I reached my
destination and future friends. (Morogoro). The place of mountains, - a
beautiful sight, peaks hidden in the descending haze, well covered with
fir trees and plentifully supplied with waterfalls. They afforded me
pleasure in my homesick moments and great joy when I found my mountaineering
Having been met by homely friends (strangers) I was quickly
acquainted with the rules and regulations of Europeans. "Don'ts" and "do's" from
the well-wishers, so that I quickly found myself armed with a houseboy, cook,
dhobi (wash boy), shamba (garden boy) and ayah (housemaid). To pay them was
one thing but to feed them and their many hangers-on was another vital point
which had to be battled with every day. I had to work, then, to keep and
feed my army of servants. Those few weeks of "getting to know them" needs no
mention; their last thought was work, their first subs on salary not yet
earned. Having successfully glided over these pitfalls, I was next acquainted
with the number of dead the African had to bury. My cook - that old rascal -
must have buried the entire village and dutifully resurrected each corpse in
turn by the time I caught on.
Medicine was the third item. I gathered the African by then thought
it grows mysteriously near every European, only to be asked for to be received.
My houseboy came to me during the first few days. "Madam," he said, "the
cook has stolen some pills out of your cupboard." I asked him to show me
the jar from which they were stolen. Ah!, I thought, strong cascara in
concentrated form, known to the Army as No. 9. Serve him right for stealing;
he will be back for something to ease that troubled stomach before long.
The wait would be rewarded. Back came Ali, holding his stomach, looking most
accusingly at me. He was dying, he had diarrhoea, had I any medicine to heal
him? "Yes," I said, "I had." So, taking him to the cupboard, I handed him
two more of the same tablets. "Oh no, Memsahib, not those!" "Yes," I said.
He was very persistent but so was I. The house boy fetched him some water
and the reluctant Ali dutifully swallowed the pills. We didn't see him for
two days after that and then for weeks he complained of weakness of unknown
My dhobie made up his lack of earnings "by acting as a porter (we
lived near the station) so, having washed and placed the washing over the
line (no pegs, Bakali said none were needed), he departed from his work with
every coming in and going out of the mail train, only to return when his
pockets were lined with coppers, and got lazier and lazier until I finally
had to tell him to go. He thanked me very much and we parted great friends.
I must say he was an excellent wash boy and his dry cleaning an art im itself.
My informers, those everlasting bores one meets in every walk of
life, who know everything yet know nothing, informed me that life at the
hospital was wonderful. Salaries high, no night work and every weekend off!
Oh joys untold - an easy life at last!! Why, oh why, didn't I check up
first? I applied for a temporary post as nursing sister, thinking I
should have a long wait. Little did I think I should be rocketed into
nursing quicker than it takes a rocket to hurl into space. Within two days
of applying I was accepted because the one sister was off duty and the
two hospitals were left uncared for. Blow followed blow; the salary for
all certificates was thirty eight pounds each month. On call alternate nights,
no time off during the day and when the Sister-in-Charge, who was for ever off
sick, was off duty, then on continuous call. Miss Nightingale couldn't have
had a keener sense of duty than this idiot, to accept such terms but accept I did. I never regretted it for the patients and experience I gained, - wealth untold in the annals of nursing. Things
that couldn't happen anywhere but Africa.
My first day on duty seemed endless with muddles untold or so I
thought then. I met my head dresser (male nurse) by the name of Juma whose duty,
besides his normal hospital ones, appeared to be getting my best
ayahs pregnant. He was a proper Don Juan but a likeable enough
fellow who kept me very alert and tested my sense of humour to breaking point on more than one occasion.
The wards were full. Patients were everywhere, but there was only one
women's ward which had to cope with medical, surgical,
children and maternity issues. The wards were well spaced, clean
and fairly well staffed. I must have covered miles that day
getting to know everyone and everyone getting to know me.
The medical assistants I have worked with over ten years
would take some beating. I always found them wonderful, cooperative
and always on the spot when I needed them. I gratefully
remember these particular four whose team-like spirit out-rivalled anything I have ever experienced since.
So came the end of the day or so I thought. I went off duty for
tea and a quick rest. But at 8.00 pm I started a round of the hospital holding a
hurricane lamp. This dampened my spirits no end for it meant that there was no electricity.
To lighten the hospital, emergency operations were all
successfully performed by the aid of two of these lamps. Honestly though. the feeling of having achieved something great under these difficulties was a reward in itself. Having
finished my round I found one woman in labour and it was the
Sister's duty to deliver one and all, (a rule, thank
goodness, now abolished). I was to be recalled to deliver her at 2.00 am that same night.
I knew no Swahili when I started, and so when two
dressers came to fetch me each armed with a stout stick and a lamp
all I could get out of them was "Hatari - simba wana -
tembea". To go or not to seemed upper most in my thoughts
but duty won. I looked up in the dictionary to see what
they were on about. "Lions out walking" ha, ha! I thought.,
so are we! Pull yourself together now, this is not the Zoo,
so with adrenalin pouring into my blood stream, the toilet
visited twice in the process of putting on my uniforms, a
double brandy to fortify my nerves, I looked at my two
St Christophers to see if I could at least outrun the dressers should the
occasion arise. Looking at their thin legs and at my own
well covered mosquito bitten adjuncts I knew the race was
lost before even attempted. Nevertheless, I stepped into the unknown African
night. I don't know who delivered what that night. I seemed
to be forever swallowing my heart, masticating my stomach.
delivering my uterus and bowel all at once. Why, oh why had I
left the mother country?
After I delivered the woman of her baby, I pushed my organs back
into their proper prospective places and made the trek home in the
charge of the dressers. I was thankful that there was no lion to polish me off
that night. But I decided that there were no more night walks for me. I had to get a car or die a thousand deaths nightly. I don't remember who it was
who said a coward dies many deaths, a brave man only one -
well, I belong to the former union and I must be well
supported. Vote carried!
Chapter III - My encounter with the Lions
Lions were indeed persistent in those parts and I got to see their results all too clearly via
the badly mauled patients coming through our doors. They were a beast to respect and to avoid like
the Smallpox. But how?
I well remember one night in the hospital grounds being
dragged to the floor by two ayahs. I was puzzled to think of any reason for why such treatment was
warranted. Sure enough, prancing along the grounds sedately was a
lioness and her mate looking for dainties as an
hor d'oeuvre before attacking some larger species of animal
or human. Many were seen that night alone but they were best appreciated when I was safely in my car travelling
along a dusty road thinking what a heavenly scene.
Twilight is the magical hour in Africa where shadows are pinkened with
the sinking of the sun. The tortuous sphere was punishing by midday yet
its beauty at each dawn and dusk remains unimaginable.
Settling down between two mountains it looked like a huge
ball of fire saying goodnight to one and all and letting the
shadows deepen quickly. Suddenly out of the high maize I saw
what I thought was a huge dog in the middle of the road so I
slowed up. In fact, it was a lioness in full beauty. I stopped and
saw yet more join her. All together girls I
thought. I could easily have touched one of them. I beeped
the horn but no movement came as one lay beside me licking her paws
like a huge cat and just as pleasant. I could have stayed
there with my delightful wild guests until dawn. Reluctantly
I drew away from those gorgeous beasts to warn the
travelling African - danger seeps in the night, yield to the
Now for a little note about the patience of African women. All this bull
rot about the African women not suffering makes me see red.
Who should know better a few well intentioned but ill-informed commentators from afar or their midwife who got to love and know them as
well as their own sisters?
Because of their patience and tolerance to pain, they bore themselves with fortitude. Of course they felt pain even if they did not show it. They did not scream and suffered in silence, but suffered they did. Some had to travel great distances over mountains and through deserts often in the self
styled stretcher that carried Livingstone to the coast.
The number of women who had dead babies galvanised me into
action. I decided to set up an ante natal unit forthwith. I went about gathering all the necessary permissions and on my first Wednesday had just four attendees. Within weeks this had risen to an average of seventy to eighty each week. Some
of the patients coming as far afield as 100 miles away.
establishment of nursing sisters increased to three which allowed us to rotate our duties which at least allowed us to occaisionally relax and have pleasant picnics up the
mountain or beside the streams. However, we were always on the look out for
snakes. Snake bites were yet another fact of life on our wards as were crocodile bites to add to the lion maulings.
We also had a ward of twenty beds just for leprosy cases. I recall watching some brave European women giving lessons to the
Leprosy patients. They were optimistically trying to teach sewing, weaving and basketwork which was hard work for those who had lost so many of
their fingers. I was impressed with their dedication to the cause though.
Living costs seemed reasonable in those days, especially as our accommodation was provided. The biggest expense for Europeans was to send their children off to a boarding school somewhere. However young childhood could be idyllic especially as those under eight years of age were not expected to go to school at all.
I feel this case deserves entry somewhere. The mail train was incredibly important and really
marked the week for us expats. Paludrine, the anti malarial drugs, were duly
swallowed and then everyone went to the station to meet their friends and see who was going up country or back down the line.
I remember one day going to see a patient off home, when
the Station Master hailed me. A woman had been caught on a railway
bridge carrying her baby on her back and with a small boy of eight
walking besides her. Unaware of the speed of the train and with no means of escape on the tight bridge she was promptly hit by the engine and had been
knocked down a bank. Someone shouted "send for an
ambulance" even though none existed in that town. I went to the woman and could immediately see that she had been badly
injured and her respiration was almost nil. I thought poor thing. She's
had it as has her baby. Organising a landrover to act as our ambulance we got the
family into hospital. Unfortunately, the baby died just half an hour after
admission. The 8 year old boy suffered severely from shock - no
other injuries. He was struck dumb and even after four
months had not regained his speech. The mother had received a
depressed fracture besides multiple injuries and remained
between life and death for weeks. When she did come round
and was fit we discovered that she had also been paralysed from the accident. It was decided
to send her to one of the larger hospitals for brain
surgery. She went away for one month but when she returned her case seemed as hopeless as ever. However, something made us persevere with her and with
the aid of a huge burly dresser we massaged her deadened
limbs not knowing what we were doing really. We were just applying
friction and goodwill. Our patience was rewarded one day when she said she
had pins and needles in her legs and arms. Joy knew no
bounds and those limbs were simply pounded back into action. Week
after week this went on. We then taught her to sit up, to feed herself, etc... and soon enough we tried to get her walking again. After four months and with only
the slightest of limps she walked out of our hospital, the luckiest
woman alive. I never knew what became of them as they went back
to their home in Uganda.
Out of the dark clouds the sun always came through shining.
Going on duty one day I took a look at the new patients for the day. One had
accidentally shot himself. As he had been far into the bush his
intestines had lain outside his body for twenty four hours prior to being
brought into the hospital. An emergency operation followed
and a Ryles tube - a piece of fine rubber tubing about 24ft
long - was passed into his mouth down to his tummy and the
contents were fully withdrawn. We had to do this every hour by means of a syringe which was
attached to the tube each time. All went very nicely for two days until
one morning I arrived on duty to be met by the dresser in
charge with the unusual note:
Dear Mama Sister,
I am sorry to tell you that the patient in bed 26 has
swallowed his Ryles tube and I can not get it back, what can
Head dresser, Hussani
I stood in the grounds and chuckled aloud, nowhere else I
thought could this happen. If he did not know what to do,
neither did I! The Matron in charge was cross at the loss of
an article so newly issued from the store. How could she enter
fair wear and tear through the books. We had so little equipment available, it was all precious to the Matron. Everyone had their own concerns I suppose.
Anyway, I went to see the old African patient who said his usual
'jambo' - good morning. I then heard how the
dresser had taken his tube out because it had got blocked up and
then told the patient to go on swallowing it until he got back into
his stomach. Why, I thought, hadn't the dresser given him another
tube to swallow in its place Don't be hasty
I thought, things might have been worse.
I reassured the old chappy that it was a new method we were using for
exploring purposes. I was thankful that he didn't ask any more questions as I did not really know the answers. I decided
upon now or never tactics, so I armed myself with a larger tube which I put into his mouth and gently threaded down his throat. He vomitted profusely which was enough to help him return the Ryles tube back up his tract. I thought we had solved our problem but unfortunately the extent of his wounds were so bad that the patient later died. It was only a small consolation that we at least recovered our Ryles tube intact.
Chapter IV - The Mail Train
On one operating day I answered the phone only to receive a
panicky message. Would I come to the station and bring the
oxygen cylinder? A man had had a heart attack and the "mail" was consequently being
held up. Getting the necessities in my car I went to inform
the medical officer of the situation and to gain his permission to depart. I hastened on
that mercy errand taking a dresser with me to help carry the
oxygen cylinder. Never did a queen get so royal attention as your humble nurse did that day. No banners or red carpets heralded the
visit but I was right royally met by the Station Master, the ticket
collector, the guard, the engine driver not to mention all the lesser
With the dresser to the fore with the oxygen cylinder thrown
over his shoulder like some kind of gun being made ready for action we boarded the
awaiting train. A youth met me to explain his father had previously suffered from a cardiac arrest but who thought it would be fine for him to travel across the country. However, he was developing a problem with his breathing and required oxygen until he reached
his destination about 300 miles away. The patient was a man of
about forty years. He was a nice looking jolly type (or so I thought) and was
sitting up breathing peaceful like. He was quick to inform
me that his attack was now over and that he no longer needed the
oxygen. "Look" I said, "if you think I've brought this
precious gas all this way and that you have delayed the mail train
for nothing then you have another thing coming!" "Come on now,
think to the future". The reluctant patient took my news
and the oxygen canister with a contented look. He had a twinkle in his eyes
as his hands clasped mine - calling me "hard hearted"
The mail train left just ten minutes behind schedule - Bon Journee - I hope
he made it to his destination!
Chapter V - Morogoro
Lord and Lady Twining were ardent workers for the Red Cross. Thus they were interested in our leprosy ward of about 30 patients.
Every six months or so, both of them would arrive at Morogoro and
travel to the Leper Centre at Charzi. On one occasion I too was invited along by
the Superintendant and his wife to visit the centre with Lord and Lady Twining. I inspected the expecting
mothers in the camp and saw the work that they undertook there; growing
bananas, pineapples and maize amongst other things.
Afterwards we went to visit the lonely
missions which we all found very interesting. At the end of
the day Lord Twining would hand out certificates to the
patients who were no longer infectious. and could once again
return to their own village.
One lovely mission, high up in the mountains, was entertaining a
very famous French priest. He had decided to retreat from
his worldly travels there. One day though when they received urgent calls from
a local village saying that a man-eating lion was taking off at least one person
daily! The fathers decided to go off and hunt the lion
down. Unfortunately for the famous French priest the lion in question was
waiting in a tree and jumped down and badly mauled him.
His fellow priests were able to shoot the lion but he himself was brought to the
hospital. By the time they arrived gas gangerene had set in and it was not long before he too died.
At the same time we had a woman admitted who had been butted by a
rhino. Both of her buttocks were badly damaged but after much
treatment she was eventually discharged home.
Shorlty after we received another urgent message at the hospital; a surveying plane
had crashed in the bush -- position unknown -- would we send out our landrover to look for it. One medical assistant dresser and one male
nurse with surgical equipment, splints etc were despatched. We soon got another message saying that they had given the wrong direction. Would
we send out yet another search party; -off went a doctor and a
nursing sister and most of the surgical equipment from the
theatre in a completely different direction. It was not long before they also were lost in the bush with their car broken down and were surrounded by Rhinos!
Fortunately, a missionary on his travels had found the missing plane and
brought the three injured passengers and crew into the hospital. They were all badly injured but the remaining doctor and myself had hardly any instruments left as they had all been taken by our own search missions. Still we had to improvise and start stitching up as best we could. We put 26 stitches into the captains head alone! Eventually
a plane arrived to take them all to Dar-es-Salaam for further
treatment. They were eventually all flown back to England.
Our truck and landrover
were then found and were sheepishly returned. We were severely chastised as a small hospital for sending out so much of our medical supplies and staff and leaving just two staff behind with very little material to hold the fort. They were appreciative of the job that we did do, but it showed that our small hospital with no electricity, very few
instruments and a tiny theatre really could not be expected to deal with too much strain on its meagre resources.
Chapter VI - Famine in Dodoma, 1955
Reminiscence - that wonderful act of remembering from the
past. These pitiful reminders need no jabs for me to recall them. Needful to the
last, my job took me to a hospital even further into the bush. I called this hospital "Belsen Camp" as I became acquainted with
too many living corpses living in the surrounding area. It was a land where no rain had fallen for four years. It was totally barren. It seemed to be the remotest of British outposts, outflung on the edge of nowhere except that no
flag could fly in the absent wind. So no attempt was even made to fly such a pitiful flag. Surely this deserted place must hold something of interest? My heart sank though when a
servant informed me that it was a land forgotten by God! I
well believed him.
Starvation ran riot. It was shocking to see people crawl to the
hospital bins because they had no strength to walk and were desperate for food. How
depressing it was to work under such circumstances. I never have got over seeing
emaciated bodies brought in to us to die even before aid could be
Charlie was just one of the many victims of this harsh situation. The health visitor doing her
usual round of the bush saw lying under a tree a small
group of people. Thinking that she might be of some assistance she stopped
her car. Mother and father were already dead. Granny was dying. A child lay
unconscious diagnosed with starvation. She left the dead and
brought the dying to us. Slow patient feeding allowed the granny
to recover relatively quickly - but not so Charlie. We had him for eight
months before we made any progress at all. First the five year old snarled like a
wild beast - barking at everyone who
went near him. Indeed, he never walked but went about on his hands and feet. It seemed that through lack of food Charlie had reverted back to pre-man. Patience was rewarded very slowly to
those who looked after him. One day though
I actually saw him trying to stand up. With much coaxing I
managed to get nearer to Charlie, who snarled readily enough
and then the miracle happened, he smiled. The Child inside was winning
through. Charlie soon became the pet but later the pest of the
nursing sister! Mary's little lamb had nothing to Charlie
Soon enough he followed me everywhere, now that he was on his legs. You have to remember that we had very limited water supplies due to the drought
- we were severely rationed! Unfortunately, most of the time Charlie was incredibly dirty and he would
insist on wiping his hands down my white uniform or using it
unintentionally do deal with his perpetually running nose. It was quite exasperating but at least he was recovering. At long
last he began to put on enough weight and was duly collected by
his grandma. He was wearing the trousers and shirt that I had made for him. They slowly
left the hospital but to go where? I can see them now trudging
off wit no funds, no pension, no food. They were walking into the future as an unlikely pair. Into the great wilderness - poor old gran.
After a little time rain began to fall. Oh, blessed rain.
fall, fall fall and give them all food. Please God hear my
How it rained! That living fluid poured down allowing all the precious drops to soak into that thirsty land. The Africans were crazy with joy and I was
happy with them. My heart bursts with emotion thinking about it even now.
It is wonderful to relate that even after just a few days that green
grass covered everywhere there were countless blossoms of beautiful hues. Nature was trying
to outbid itself in all its glory as life appeared from dead branches or dry ground.
Soon, everywhere was alive with music from the insects and the birds.
With dropping raindrops, could a poet's heart but be gay to see
them continue to fall and for the transformation to unfold before one's own eyes. There is no other name I could
ever give to it, for its beauty outdid anything I have
ever seen. I would get up early to walk to the hospital
just to linger a little longer in the fields of wild flowers of every
description. The bees and birds were at their best and forgetting
the skeletons about me I relaxed into singing to myself "Nearer God's heart in the
garden than anywhere else in the world."
Conditions quickly improved, we received outside aid with arrivals of milk
and food. But it was really the four months of good rain that supplied a brighter
outlook for all concerned.
It has always amazed me during that famine of 1955, when relief
was sent by good people, why a little more thought wasn't
put into sending appropriate food and supplies. Dried milk was sent from United States of America, to an area where no water was available. The only way to get the water was by the women treking miles to a dry river bed with a reed to suck up water and spit it into a waiting vessel. It took
hours and queues of women patiently waiting their turn to get the smallest quantity of dirty water. Then there was the long walk home carrying the precious cargo. So dried milk was invariably
turned down. The maize sent was a deep yellow variety, in contrast
to the anaemic corn of the African variety. It was therefore held in
deep suspicion, and eventually was traded away to the Arabs who were more comfortable with its colour and texture. I'm glad
in this present age that more appropriate vitamin packed biscuits are being served, together with
other useful food items.
Ulcers of the mouth were another problem as the flesh
rotted away leaving holes in the cheeks where the rotting
teeth could be seen. Many of the children who suffered this condition sadly died.
one doctor coming out from the United Kingdom testing leaves
etc... and saying that there were plenty of vitamins in the leaves for the locals to use.
I could not help but wonder if he would like to live for years on a diet of
leaves and a few animals that he was able to snare with his own bow
and arrow! One has to live among the people to know them and
One day we had an urgent message saying a village had been
wiped out from some disease thought to be the plague. Very special care had to be
taken. Doctors and the medical staff were well protected as they
set off some forty miles into the bush. Unfortunately everyone was indeed
dead. One body was brought back for testing and a post-morten. It was found out that it was not the plague but anthrax. Probably, they had all eaten a
diseased cow. This was not much help for the poor villagers but at least there was not a dangerous disease sweeping through the population.
The Wagogo women, were very fertile. We had many multiple
pregnancies. Unfortunately triplets and twins invariably died if they were born prematurely and before they could receive specialist care.
One thing that I could never
understand in this area was why all the women were circumcised? The
clitoris being cut with glass, not razors or knives, but a
piece of old broken glass! The two cut ends were then held
together over the opening of the urethra. Somehow the
urine had to come from this disfigured vagina. I dreaded a first baby
case as before delivery could be done one had to cut through the mass of
scarred tissue to allow the head of the baby to be born. Once delivered, the patient then had to be
restitched. Due to their circumcision scars they were often so badly torn after delivery that many of the women suffered post-delivery complications, diseases and must have suffered
great pain. Why did the cutter have to cover up the opening of
the bladder, and how did they know the urine would come out
of the vagina.
One tragedy was when the first African District Officer and his wife took up
office in Dodoma. Just a week later they were in the mortuary. They had
died from monoxide poisoning. They had had a charcoal fire in the
bedroom to keep warm, so had died in their sleep. They were so young. It was
such a tragedy.
Out of the frying pan into the fire. Just weeks after those quenching rains, the locust came, en masse! They blotted out the sun as they arrived in their billions. The African took great delight in trying to kill them off and even frying them. This plague lasted well over 14
days before gradually dying out. However their trail of destruction was clear to see - it seemed to be back to square one!
Chapter VII - The Nightmare Journey
An invitation was received from Government House that my husband
was to receive the Order of St John from the Governor, Lord Twining. Our
sleeping berth was booked, but our medical officer wanted me
to break the journey at Kilosa to spend a weekend trying to
find out what was happening in the medical centre there. So I set forth to spend
the weekend there with the local nursing sister. Something was
definitely going on, but all ranks were closed - even
hostile to my enquiries. I couldn't pin point anything specific but suspected that something was amiss. Soon though it was
disclosed that a booking had been made for me to escort a doctor
down to Dar-es-Salaam where I was headed anyway. The sting in the tale was that I was told he was near suicidal and that on no account was I to leave him alone on the long
train journey. A complication arose when an 8 month pregnant European lady
also boarded and was bound for Dar-es-Salaam to have her baby there when realising that there would be no doctor on duty in Kilosa for the foreseeable future. This turned into something of a logistical nightmare as there was only the one sleeping berth available which had already been booked for me and my husband. How was I to keep an eye on a suicidal doctor and a heavily pregnant mother who could have gone into labour at any point in the journey. I lost a lot of sleep on that journey, as did my husband, as we took it in turns to sleep and keep an eye on our patients.
Fortunately when we did arrive in Dar-es-Salaam, an ambulance had been laid on for
both patients so we were discharged of our duties forthwith.
We went to Government House and re-met Lord Twinning and my
husband duly received his medal with all the pomp and ceremony due.
I later learnt that the doctor was indeed examined and was due to return to his duty after one month's leave. He returned only to book himself into a hotel and took a fatal dose of drugs! The pregnant mother despite taking the precaution of travelling to Dar es Salaam for the greater medical care available still underwent a difficult labour and alas had a still born
child. God does work in mysterious ways.
Chapter VIII - Elephant Hunting at Kongwa
A group of friends decided we must go camping and try our
hands at elephant shooting. Why can't people leave these
game alone? To shoot these poor beasts, unarmed as they are,
knocks me cold and brings out the fury in me. But I'm out
for adventure to the day I die and I allow the peer pressure to work its magic. So, with a label of
destination unknown I gladly embark with my friends.
Our truck was full with camping equipment, what nots and
have aIls, only those who have travelled the roads of
Tanganyika after the rains can have any appreciation of the difficulties in our
journey to get absolutely anywhere! Eventually, we branched off into the bush and
came across a suitable camping site. We pitched our tent and
gathered wood for the fire. Life in the open is definitely
not my ideal but I must say that with jolly company I enjoyed
myself immensely. Darkness soon fell and around the fire we fried
sausages, steak, baked potatoes and beans. We had copious drinks and
soon began a sing-song that must have startled every wild creature for
miles in that wild place. Reluctantly we made our way to bed before awaking expectantly at dawn
to look for elephant!
Dawn came early enough, cold and hazy. I was well wrapped up though and
the station wagon was well armed with guns sticking out of all
windows. We looked more like a battle ship looking for a sea to sail upon.
What a fool I thought to be dragged into this, but everyone
else appeared to be at his best, especially my son Stuart
who was twelve years and the expert shot of the crowd. His
job was to organise camp life although Stuart himself thought that his primary function was to hunt and kill dik dik. The dik dik is a little doe-eyed creature with his trusting eyes just standing there
watching us, little knowing the deadly bullets were about to be
fired. I remember making Stuart very angry on one occasion. When seeing a dik
dik, he was making careful aim when I suddenly clapped my hands and
that deadly aim never reached its mark. I cured him simply
enough by drawing a cartoon of two dik dik looking through the bush,
"Shoot Stuart, But not tonight
Else our babies you put to flight,
And who would care for us small wee things
If you took our hearts, and gave us wings?"
He took it greatly to heart and never went shooting again
Once again to the elephants, we were supposed to be looking
for droppings but my eyes darted everywhere, let others look
for manure! Aound the lake I saw trees whose bark had been worn thin
by a passing elephant rubbing his hide against it. Ah! a
track at last - broken trees where it looked as though a tank
had blazed the trail.
"All to the guns" someone shouted excitedly.
"Why not battle
stations!" and all the army sayings I thought
spitefully, I hope you don't see a thing.
"Down on your belly!" someone whispered, "they are passing near here."
rather be up a tree if it's all the same to you" I whispered
back - "the higher the better".
"Sh sh!" they dismissively replied.
I thought tha they can track whatever
they like after this lot I thought, I would sooner be in my
Yes, five elephants lumbered quietly at some safe distance.
Of course they simply had to go after the bull - the usual fishing
story, the biggest yet! tusks must weigh about 70 Ibs etc!
How long were they going to crawl on all fours and when were
they coming back, I demanded to know.
"We might be away a
week or a few days" said one youth.
My friend and myself
returned to the camp and waited. True enough within a few
days the triumphant party returned with their precious ivory, the four feet of the elephant plus his tail. The feet
they gave to me, whatever could I do with four feet! however,
when time came to pack up I put those smelling objects well
out of vision and smell, and returned home feeling as though
I had been pulled through a hedge. What the poor animals
feel though is unknown. The feet I placed outside
the house. A hyaena promptly made off with one of them and the
Health Officer made off with the others. He returned them
four months later made into beautiful tables, a reminder of an unforgettable experience from a bygone era now!
Chapter IX - The Crowning of a Chief
As usual I fell into the thick of this event rather
unexpectedly. The wards were quiet and every man was left to himself
that day. Their chief was being crowned and seeing an
opportunity of dodging duty I passed around the wards when
the Doctor said, "This Chief's a friend of yours isn't he
"Yes" I said
"Then off you go."
I arrived just ten minutes before the ceremony started. Ah well, better late than
never but I had forgotten a vital tool for the memory - my cine camera! I flew home and collected the cine camera having had it refilled just the day before by a friend. I drove like fury back to the village.
The crowds were immense and spilled over everywhere. Every African was in his Sunday best and blocking each route. I persevered and was determined to get a good view even with just a few minutes to go.
I threw a good front as I shouted "photographer for the
pictorial papers" a magic password if ever there was one. I got to the front armed
with my camera which I had actually never used myself before. Dozens of helping
hands were on offer to advise on the light, distance etc. I was content with my grandstand
view. I was moved right in front of the Chief by a kindly
policeman (whose wife I delivered just the day before - such a helpful
profession sometimes). I made my bow to all I knew.
I watched and snapped everything of that colourful ceremony
and the thrilling event. It lasted a good hour and then
having mixed with the crowd and danced in with the dancers I
felt I had done well that morning.
I returned to duty well satisfied and gave a running account
to the ayahs and the patients who absorbed every detail like ink
to the blotter. I then went home to relate my adventures to my
friend. She waited until I had finished my story and eaten my dinner
and then quietly informed me that there was no film in the
camera after all, she had used indeed used it the day before but had not got round to refilling it after all. I really did weep and I
have never used a cine camera since!
Chapter X - Superstitions
These naturally are the same the world over but there are possibly none so bad
as the Africans. Superstition can indeed be an incredibly important part of their whole worldview. Many a
patient has been brought in dying only there is nothing wrong with them at all
medically! It is just that a spell has been cast on them and nothing
would release it until death itself. Of course the patient does indeed
die. We have tried taking the patient to theatre, of anaesthetizing him lightly and telling him while going under
that our medicine is greater than his but only once can I remember it
succeeding and the chappie going back out cured.
One girl came into us one busy morning weeping bitterly. She said that she had been bitten by a dog. "So had thousands more" I
said, "you are not the first."
"But how do I know that the dog
isn't mad" she blubbed.
"Do not worry about that now we will know
sooner or later."
The crying continued but my temper began wearing
thin. I asked her what continued to worry her, her wounds
"Well" she said, "her friend that brought her to
hospital had told her she would now lose her voice and bark
like a dog."
In very cold tones I told her that the Sister would
be the first and the last to bark if she didn't go home. I
saw her again after a few months and asked after the bark?
She smiled sheepishly and said "Bado" (not yet).
The case that crowns all however was the village heroine.
One of Sister's duties was to go round all the village hospitals which also acted
as dispensaries to check up if everything was satisfactory. On one such visit I came across a most unusual event.
"No sister" said a dresser to me, "a strange thing has happened,
a woman has given birth to a duck."
"Really!" said the Sister in stranger than fiction voice. "Show me this woman!"
And lo! the Sister was taken into the labour ward, showed
her the specimen in the receiver and sure enough it was indeed a
duckling just hatched complete with its broken shell. The Sister
now asked for full details and gladly the dresser supplied
them. The patient was an old ancient woman and hearing that her
husband was looking for a younger wife because her own child
bearing days were well past, she had the bright idea of
inserting a duck's egg into her vagina and the heat hatched
it and so quite truthfully she had delivered a duck. She was
hailed the Queen of the May. Much fuss was made of her feat and she continued to
reign in esteem ever after in the village.
These other cases should also go down in medical files. One
female patient of about twenty years of age was admitted to us
having been recommended admission from a Missionary Doctor. She was
diagnosed as having an abdominal pregnancy. This was a rare event where the baby
reached its full term outside the uterus. Yes, the baby was
alive! The Surgeon performed the operation, withdrew the
crying baby but was unable to extract the afterbirth because
of its tight hold on various vital organs. He decided to close the
abdomen and leave it to absorb the afterbirth itself. The girl did very
well but continued to have a high temperature. The baby
thrived and put on weight. She was well visited by her
friends of the village and six weeks afterwards while still
in hospital the baby mysteriously died, from what we shall
never know. The mother eventually went home only to be
de-tribalised because, they said, she was left with the devil
inside her, the Mission Mzeza Missionary Hospital had to
take her in.
Four months afterwards the same Mission Doctor brought us in another
patient. This was a cousin to our previous patient and she also was diagnosed with
abdominal pregnancy. I was green with envy, I've yet to
diagnose one and each palpation I do I long to have to say these
words. However, the patient was operated upon and a live
child extracted once more. The afterbirth though was just as troublesome. So
once again the doctor decided to leave it well alone. The poor
woman went down-hill rapidly, more from fear I think. When a new Surgeon took over her care he decided to re-operate and
try to remove that foreign body. Unfortunately, she died so whatever we did seemed to be the wrong choice! This time though it was the forlorn little baby that had to go to the Mission as it was unwanted by the village.
The case of a patient suffering burns must be told also. A child lay dying,
badly scalded. It suffered greatly from shock. When the
parents demanded to take the child home to die near its ancestors we reluctantly granted permission. All the Elders of the
tribe came and so our little patient went home to die.
A few months later the ward orderly called me and said "here
is the child with the burns". And yet he had nicely healed skin and seemed in rude health. Being nosey as usual I had to have the history of this case.
Having consulted the witch doctor aIter arriving at the
village the parents were advised to take the child to a pool
in the bush which was covered with green slime. The slime
must be well applied to the burns and left on for several
days. What other medicine the child received I never found
out but the healed flesh was evidence enough for all non-believers!
Epileptic fits were another great source for the superstitious.
The number of awful burns we had to treat due this malady was disturbing. Apparently one is possessed
by the devil when the fits occur and the patient is left
severely alone to get on with the fit as best he can. If he
falls into the fire so much the better because they believe
that the devil will fly from the fire and not return. It
doesn't matter how much a patient is burned, his fits will
be lessened afterwards. Shock tactics I suppose! The patient suffers
for months and goes out crippled because usually it's the
feet that get burned, hoping that the devil will go out of the
Having a morbid mind I usually found out what went on
in the village without the aid of the newspapers simply by
visiting the mortuary each morning on the clearing check up.
Seeing a larger crowd than usual, I decided it needed some
investigation. It appeared that a man had run berserk in the
village and had attempted to kill his wife, had killed his mother-in-law and then ran into the bush. Remorse followed. Thinking that he
had killed his wife he now returned and put on all his
wife's cloths. He even put on her under clothes and used her coloured
scarf over his face before he went back into the bush. Whilst there and dressed like this, he hanged
himself. His body was brought to us. We treated his
wife who had multiple injuries but she eventually went back to her
village home. I never did find out precisely why he dressed in his
wife's cloths before taking his own life!
The scenery in Africa, to my mind, can never outshine that of my home. However, it can be truly majestic and has some breath-taking
scenes. I for one will never forget the time I saw Mount
Kilimanjaro for the first time.
I was going on holiday and coming out of Moshi Station. one
of the children travelling to boarding school said "look,
there's the mountain." I looked everywhere but could see
nothing but mist above a plain covered with a tropical
plantation. Then, rising above the clouds, looking like a huge
christmas pudding with snow on the top I could see the mountain. It was sparkling like
tinsel for ever catching the light! William Wordsworth's poem came quickly into
my head, "Beauty never saw I at a glance". I still gaze upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude, then with a smile - please forgive me this little tale.
Chapter XII - Pot pourri
How the African loves medicine and how they value the medicine
bottle. The patient I am reminded of now is a Masai woman. This is from a vantage point well gained because these women (then)
would not come near a hospital! She was at risk of losing her baby
but steadfastly refused to come in but was willing to take
any medicine I would give her because she very much wanted
her baby. I reluctantly gave her a sedative to cover the next few
days but will never make this mistake again! Within a week I had the tribe to face,
many wanting some of the same medicine for themselves. Apparently the woman
had taken the whole amount at once and four days afterwards
they still had a job to keep her awake. Needless to say she
aborted but she knew little about it. I still do not know why the rest of the village wished to have such powerful sedatives for themselves?
Next on the list was the
everlasting hospital bird! Every hospital gets them and
these habituals practically begin live there. They seem to know everthing and adamantly
refuse to go! How we got rid of ours was quite accidental. She was
known as old Ma Hookworm because she was suffering from
that familiar pest and had developed a typical cough. During my stay
she outran all the signs and symptoms of the disease - not to mention
any other disease found in any medical text book! One of our ayahs was new and willing to please. When our hospital bird
asked for some medicine for her cough the ayah was happy to
oblige and picked up the lysol bottle in mistake and
administered unto her. The woman knowing full well that this was
not the normal custom drained it back quicker than an addict and
then screamed she had been poisoned. Little did she realise just how painful her ordeal was about to become. There was pandemonium everywhere. We
manned the stomach pump all that afternoon and in
due course normal reactions eventually returned. She
progressed towards normality but when she found her legs she demanded
her discharge. I think we must have cured her accidentally
either of her hookworm or of her hospitalitis as we never saw her again.
The wrong injection brought its laugh as well. One dresser
had a large list to get through and went through ward after
ward. He had a clear list of patients to see to when he arrived at ward 6 and found the necessary bed empty. He shouted for "AbdulIa Bin Siku" (a common name like Smith in English).
AbdulIa Bin Siku duly came forward and received his injection like a man in his rear end. He then put his trousers back with a quizical look. You see he had merely been a visitor out to visit his sick son at the hospital. He walked home rubbing his backside as he left us!
How the paint brush found its way to me is one of the mysteries of my
life. But yield to the brush I did and I set about painting pretty much every
canvas brought into Africa.
One day I bought a
drawing book and some Kodak tinting paints and decided to
have a go - at what! My enthusiasm knew no bounds - even though I owned no brush per se. Instead of a
paint brush I used a cocktail stick and a dab of cotton wool
and daubed all over the page. The effects were so pleasing that I went
to bed that night, not to sleep, but to grieve for my vocation
lost. Why had I taken up nursing.
Before long friends were astonished to find picture after
picture hung in the dining room. Book after book was filled with
every available inch accounted for. In fact, the ceiling
was soon under threat from my attention. Feeling homesick one day I
thought I would like to paint some ducks flying over. I painted them diligently but they did not cure me of my homesickness! Visions of the
misty fields of England warmed by the midday sun tantalised
me, and my emotions ran amok. I laid my head to let my thoughts run riot
before summing up those fallen spirits. No injections are
available to ease those reminders of home that kept springing up.
Village scenes in every season, the weather, the people and the changing seasons all crowded my emotions.
England beats in rhythm with every beat of my heart and this
will remain to the end I am sure. I said suddenly to my partner "the
day calls for a sally into the bush. We must visit the dam
to see if I can find any duck life!"
Into the wild again as we set off up the beaten track over the mountain.
When eleven miles from civilization we struck a hidden rock -
the horror of all motorists. The life giving oil so
necessary to get us back lay on the sun baked track and the
irate driver was giving vent to his feelings! I listened in silence, blaming myself but
not losing my sense of balance. "Look" I said, "the captain of
the Birkenhead I did not lose his head when he struck that
hidden rock off the African coast, he sallied forth and so
must we." More unprintable storms of anguish spilled from the driver's mouth. We were right on a
cliff edge with dense bush on the other side! It left little room for the
imagination but that car just had to be turned! Once again
reminding my partner that a man worth while
is the man who can smile when everything else goes damned
wrong. I got into the car and my partner manipulated it carefully.
It needed all the patience of a doctor manipulating bones back
into their original place. We scratched some paint off but inch by inch we turned the vehicle battling the thorn trees with our skin. Once turned we could then free wheel back down the recline to a very welcome Mission at the foot of the hill. The Father greeted us with open arms, and we gratefully fell into them.
They had been busy baking a cake because on the morrow their
bishop was coming to tea. But all was stopped for us, the
cake was probably ruined as the kindly Father towed our frail craft back
over that treacherous mountain road. It was little used by the
Africans because of the many lions in the area. Needless to add, the
Fathers received a bumper cake in time from an ever grateful
nursing sister whose best wishes go out to these far away
missions and their devotion to duty. Father, my admiration
increases with the years. "God expects every man to do his
duty. they are doing theirs."
Fights also come into my painting. In one case, I was painting a lion
scene where the lion was receiving a mortal wound. But I could not get
the agonized look on the lion's face. At
midnight I got wearily into bed and dropped off into a night-mare with that lion chasing me all night long. I got up at 6am and with a few strokes of the brush - that would have
been admire by any Royal Academy of Arts (I hope) - I got the desired effect I was after.
The picture was well criticised by my friends - the spears
of the Masai were not straight; the lion's wounds would not
be there etc. so in the end I hid it well from their gaze but took
it out silently when in solitude to admire it. It found a
timely end whilst at Tabora Hospital. There an old father
and his two sons had been badly mauled by a huge lion
- their courage while in hospital needs no humble pen of
mine to discharge - its already written in the golden book
above. but before going home I gave my lion picture to the
father who was so pleased and bowed so many times I
threatened to take it back if he didn't go home. Next day he
came back. I thought, please don't say he wants a re-print.
Oh no. he only came back to give me his blessings. The
picture had exchanged hands. The dresser had taken a liking
to it and had gone after the old chappie, a fight had taken
place with the winner going off with the prize.
The dresser received a stern punishment whilst the patient got his picture back!
Chapter XIV - Fatima
Humour, like April showers, continues to have its key moments, or as we learnt to say "the day
Fatima fell down the choo."
The "choo" or 'lavatory', is a deep well about sixteen feet
down. It is a cess pool which is used by dozens of people. It has
no drainage owing to the water difficulties and it is the only form
of toilet for our community!
Fatima was an old ayah. She was very much the sentinel of the hospital having
been there twenty three years even before my time. She reigned
supreme in many ways and each new Sister has tried to sack or
reform her but like any mighty river she just goes on forever. She runs
the ward like a mother hen! Dead or dying, the patient is
taken to Fatima for treatment or medicine as she found it awkward to take her trolly round the ward because of her weight of 21
stones. Some of the wounds she had to deal with would
have quailed the stoutest heart but not Fatima's. Her circulation was on autopilot and she did not seem to require a heart per se. Into the shower
room she sent each patient, she had them strip and literally drowned them by
throwing buckets of cold water over them. Their bodies
and wounds now clean, her hands wielding forceps to clasp "sterile"
dressings and placed them on any wounds together with ointments
that Fatima approved of, whether the doctors had ordered their application or not. The patients did
remarkably well considering and she was known for her healing powers far
and wide. She also had a flourishing business on the side-line of her own ointments and potions. Life seemed unchanging for her - at least until the day she 'fell down the choo!'
Going round the women's ward this particular day I noticed a big bulky body
in bed, all covered up. "A new patient?.. I enquired."
Fatima, sick!" Came the reply.
"But she was all right yesterday" I said. Out
popped Fatima"s head from many blankets, making a horrible
noise and explaining her presence. She had been cleaning the
choo you see. It had been her turn of duty that day when the floor suddenly gave way and
down she went and sank into the sewage below. She surfaced and
yelled for help as best she could but being so heavy had great
difficulty in keeping her head above the mass of waste. Many
gallant persons rushed to the rescue of this old lady. It took an enormous effort to retrieve her. Unfortunately in her panic and with her screams she had swallowed much of the contents of that foul pit! Smelling and crying she
crawled to the village tap with help and began the laborious cleaning process. Her ex-patients were more than keen to help her administer buckets of
cold water over her huge bulk (revenge is sweet). Eventually Fatima emerged from the ordeal. However, to be clean outside was one
thing but what about those teaming bacteria Sister was
always lecturing her about? To swallow your own stool was bad
enough but she couldn't cope with the thought of having swallowed the whole village's
stools! Off to the cupboard she went and gargled away at the castor oil. Not being content to
await any deleterious results she got into bed for a rest well earned. But then the thought came to her - what about some
injections? She submitted daily to receive five injections into her
mighty posterior before laying contentedly in bed defying those
germs to do their worst. She suffered no ill effects and the
admiring villagers paid their respects by crowding into the
ward to pay their respects to her. In fact so many arrived that we were glad "the day Fatima was discharged".
Chapter XV - The Auction Sale
One of the Sisters had flown to England to get married and
before going had left her furniture and much of her possessions. After a few months back in England she decided that she would like to nurse in England.
Would we please sell all her wares that she had left behind? I quickly spread the the news
"Sale of Sisters what-nots" - like bees to a honey pot
the people crowded. They were all out for something for nothing. So we
decided to auction and sell everything saleable. A nice fat cheque
was sent to us in due course which we passed on to the overseas owner. I was also richer by a
few mats, bookcases etc. However whilst giving it an extra clean I could not help but
notice the big PWD stamped on its underworks! Yes, we had sold all the
hospital and Public Works articles from her house too! To sell them off
was one thing, but to get them back needed some serious thought. What
a pickle to be in. Most of the furniture had been locally
made by the Mission as special extras for the Sisters
comfort. News soon got out about my difficulty and the folks rallied round and returned
most things intact. The Sister never knew just where her
wealth had come from and two wiser Nursing Sisters emerged
from the wreckage, down in pocket, wiser in experience and
definitely not volunteering to undertake any future sales unless everything was well and truly labelled and accounted for!
Chapter XVI - Housing
Having been blessed with a vivid imagination, I wondered if we
would be housed in a tent upon our arrival. I little thought that some of the
houses assigned would be far worse than any tent I could conjure up in my imagination. An official group of men nicely
housed themselves especially as they were well acquainted with the inner circle. These same people got together to chat about once a month and allot each new
member of the community a house or a hovel - according to
their membership of the inner or outer circle! The unfortunate
latter, having obtained their keys inspects their living
quarters with trepidation and concern. I seem to hoover up these poor quality houses up and down
the railway lines of Tanganyika. I seem to drop in for every house under
the sentence of "condemned" or "no money in the kitty to
clean up and redecorate."
The last house I was allotted galvanised me into action - to ensure that I
built a house suitable to live in. This last house wa
situated on the marshalling yards of the docks. Far from the exotic image of the wilds of African open spaces, there was no
peace by day or night due to the constant shunting of engines and banging of waiting wagons into one another. It was also a target each night for
nocturnal visitors keen on taking their contents. I constantly slept with one
ear open listening to hear a razor blade sawing through the
mosquito gauze, fumbling through skeleton keys or picking of locks as Bill Sykes nightly
tried to enter his quarry. I usually gave him a sporting chance
(only because I am well padlocked inside) to try out all his
keys then would creep out of bed and frighten him off in my best
swear words kept for just such an occasion. My back door was well
flood lit by the docks on the lookout for these pests. The open spaces at
the back afforded an easy get away and the constant din of
the engines drowned any noise that might have been provoked.
We were told not to grumble. Any house was better than a pre-fab and there was no rent to pay. But the bathroom! It contained just two small washing geysers to bathe four adults. There was no door to the pantry meaning that food was at the mercy of servants. The walls were well marked with dirty fingerprints from mischievous little fingers.
build a decent house of our own after eleven years of these
hovels? If not one to live in then at least one to escape to for holidays! I went into action, and along with four other
British families bought a acre of beach with building land at
Kunduchi along a most lovely part of the coastline about 18 miles from Kunduchi.
Having bought the plans for a suitable house
we started to build. The plot was surprisingly
windy and explosed but having seen tiny fir trees growing in the ruins of
the old Sewa Haji Hospital, I emulated this idea and planted some of our own at the bottom of the propery
near the sea. We employed workmen to build it whilst we lived in
a caravan to supervise the project. Soon the house took
shape; gardens were dug out of the coral, seaweed was added,
soil was collected from further fields; twenty three
different types of Bougonvillea were planted. Every kind of flower grew in the garden. Many people used to come to our house just to see the
Our original British builder was a let down. Two hundred pounds for first floor,
going up brick by brick - he sent his simple 18 year old boy
to sit in the car watching (reading his books really) the African
workers. Week by week we went to see how they had
progressed. The workmen were lying about sleeping this one
time. I was really angry and said "Why are these men
sleeping at 10 am.:
He replied "the bricks haven't arrived yet." I
decided there and then to go to a solicitor.
The British solicitor said that he was a
well known fraud and that we should have come to him first. He
said "All I can advise you to do is to go to all the
merchants (and order all the things you need on his
name. Then sack him."
Well being a well know Midwife it was
no trouble at all. After ordering everything we needed, we rode through a storm through the
coconut plantation to pay him a surprise visit. It was a
surprise for sure but strange to say he put up no resistance!
job it was for us to finish the house ourselves. How we quarelled
every time we went there! With tempers flying by the end, The
house ended up by being 4 yards longer than the plan so we
had a larger kitchen, spare room and a bathroom, although there was no water unless it rained.
It was a beautifully if lonely place. The sea was ever dashing on the cliffs
then receding leaving lots of coloured shells on the shore.
I bought a book on shells and decided to collect them, Soon
it became a collecting habit of mine - the rarer the better. There
were fifty three different kinds of cowry around the coast line so
every day with the going out of the tide I walked the shore
line eagerly searching for my bounty.
There were also wonderful butterflies in their hundreds. I
never saw anything like it ever again.
One day at 7 am it became very dark and down out of the stormy sky
came a finger drawing towards the troubled sea below. When it
touched the water, it was like a bellow working, taking up
the water to the sky. It was a wonderful dramatic water spout
causing sea and sky to tumult with fury.
Rona and I were quite isolated so a trip to Dar es Salaam each Saturday morning a journey for
our weekly shopping was our only escape - and possibly not much fun for a 14 year old teenager!
so I was really angry - I said, -Why are these men
sleeping at 10 am. he said -the bricks hadn't arrived,- so I
decided to go to a solicitor, (British). He said -he was a
well known fraud and we should have come to him first. - He
said -all I can advise you to do is to go to all the
merchants (Asians) and order all the things you need on his
name. then sack him. - Well being a well know Dddwife it was
no trouble. We then rode through a storm through the
coconut plantation to pay a surprise visit. It was a
surprise but strange to say he put up no resistance - What a
job it was for us to finish the house. How we quarelled
every time we went there. tempers flying in the end, the
house ended up by being 4 yards longer than the plan so we
had a larger kitchen and spare room. a .JOVE~]y tiled
But as our holiday time experied we had to return to work and leave our lovely house in charge of the
shamba boy and headed back to our hovel!
Chapter XVII - Tabora - "Maria"
The health visitor was on her round of the many tiny
villages, and came across a tiny skeleton of a baby nine
months old sucking at the breasts of her grandmother whose
glands must have been as dry as the river beds for many a
year. She gave the baby over readily enough and explained that the mother had died
at birthand the father had left the village to find work but was never heard of again.
Every hospital in Tanganyika had its orphan, usually one of the staff would
care for it at home, but this baby became the pet of the entire
hospital. The nuns from the local convent had christened her 'Maria'.
When I first came across her she was three years old. It was still a shock though to discover her as a bag of bones all decked up in ribbons with beads and a pretty
dress but most miserable specimen nonetheless. At three years of age she weighed just seven pounds. She was being fed and fussed over by the whole staff - male and
female but whilst in hospital she seemed to contract every disease going: TB, measles, Chickpox and Malaria to name but a few. She was just kept alive largely by love and well meaning. Often she could not move due to her afflictions and would whine and whimper for hour after hour.
As I came across her I decided to take a more proactive role in her care. I send down to Stewart's Stores for Virol and Nestles milk for starters. This,
I thought, would soon have Maria on fer feet. Month
after month we massaged her bones with olive oil. We plied her with
vitamins etc. and she actually gained six pounds in weight. However she cried and found and could not yet walk. She had hardly seen the outside
world - well someone had to make the first move, so with a
new frock on we moved her bone by bone until her legs were
over the edge of the bed - then gently we let her feet touch
the ground. We held each tiny leg and led her forward. It was only at this point that I
realised she must have had Polio too which had left her
paralysed. No wonder she couldn't move. So back to bed she
went. The next morning Philippa the trained African nurse came crying
and saying "It's all your fault sister, Maria's leg is broken"
I thought how strange it was as we he had returned her to her
cot so quickly. Having inspected Maria's bones we found not one leg but two were
broken. Now what was the Surgeon and the rest of the staff going to say to that?
"Wasn't she alright before I interfered?".
Well there was not a word from the Doctor - just a deathly silence which was just as accusatory. Then a sort of frame was built to hold poor Maria's legs upright in the air. After six
weeks her legs were taken down, no X rays were available in that hospital - she remained bed bound. Agonisingly
another three months went by and the crying continued. Then I could not help but notice that a
change became apparent on poor Maria's face. The end was near, and death was
about to release this tiny suffering girl from the bonds of love
which had kept her earthbound. I told this to Philipa who just
refused to believe it. She said that she had seen Maria pull through many similar
stages. But I also had seen death many times and so informed my relieving Sister and let the nuns at the convent know. I dreaded the night away.
The next morning I read the night's report and saw that Maria had indeed died at 2 am.
The whole hospital went into mourning. There were red eyes throughout: men and
women, Sister and probationer. The other sister and I went
into the mortuary and saw two tiny bodies on the slab - the other being a
little lad. He had been playing with fire outside his straw
house and accidentally set it on fire. When he saw his grandma running
towards him, he had dashed into the house and was burnt alive despite
his granny making desperate attempts to save him. She herself had been badly burnt and was in hospital for treatment. The poor child looked
just like a burnt up chicken. Then we turned to Maria, peace at
last. We both sobbed uncontrollably. We went to the store and got out a
new white towel to wrap her up in. We placed a lovely
vangi pangi flower on her which left a beautiful heavenly smell.
Afterwards, I composed a note for the sisters of the
convent to tell them she was now one of their flock.
We were moved when we saw two youths clad in choir boy's
attire and carrying a cross in front of a tiny stretcher as they
took Maria away to be buried in the convent's own grounds. All
the nurses, male and female, went. We were indeed grateful
when we heard that the Bishop of Tanganyika who happened to be visiting the
town took the service. Moslem and Christians alike got together
to say goodbye - One of the Asians who worked for the
railways made a beautiful cross with the name of 'Maria' on it. A
builder set it into a concrete block. This tiny orphan - who
through much suffering - brought so much love to dozens of
simple folk - went out like a Queen.
Ten years later, In Dar-es-Salaam I was invited to a party
by Mr Amos Nsekela, who for many years was Tanzania's High
Commissioner to Britain. I saw a pencil sketch and
recognised. it at once as a picture of 'Maria'. Mrs Nsekela explained that the Arts'
teacher from Tabora Boarding School had sketched it and had
given it to them as a present.
I would think of Maria whenever I visited the nearby Livingstone museum where Dr
Livingstone and. Dr Stanley had met surrounded by large mango
trees and with the graves of some of Livingstone's followers. Time seemed to stand still under that hot sun and melancholy place.
Chapter XVIII - The Explosion
While having a lie down just after lunch, I heard a terrific bang! I
instinctively knew that my 12 year old boy was involved in it . That was the kind of boy he was - if he were not looking for trouble, then trouble would come looking for him.
I got up and anxiously looked for him. A Doctor's car eventually came to the house with some news - none of us had phones there! One 12 year old boy was indeed badly injured
and one other was missing. Rushing to the hospital and entering the theatre I saw my sons friend
Matthew lying on the table. There was a huge cut down his thigh. I asked what had happenned to my Stuart. He said that he was so frightened that he had run into the bush. We stitched up Matthew's wounds and a search was started for my missing son.
Apparently the boy whose father had been our team leader for the
Elephant hunt had left bullets in a drawer. The boys
decided to crush the gunpowder into lead pipes attached to
the kitchen outside and set it alight to see what happened. Well what happened was that they demolished the
kitchen and injuried one of the boys. My son was mercifully found intact. However, as a punishment I had Stuart 'volunteer' to look after the patient at our house and to commit to doing all the household chores. Theirs was a
large family, and the mother and father were in Nairobi on business leaving a 16 year old girl to cope with looking after the rest of the family. She was relieved to have one less responsibility and consented eagerly.
Well, aIl is well that ends well. Some sixteen years later and long after that
family had returned to South Africa to settle down, I drew up my car at
Mombo for petrol. I saw a young man with his wife also pull
in. He was wearing shorts. I said "excuse me are you Matthew?"
I said "you once lived in Dodoma?"
"Do you remember the bullets, and your wound?".
"Why Yes!" It was indeed the same boy of
years ago who just happened to return to honeymoon in Tanganyika the same time that we were there.
Chapter XIX - Infectious Diseases
The hospital was quiet, so I decided to go round each ward and see if all was well. I entered our 'prison ward' first. The police officer there said that one of the
prisoners had a temperature. I examined the patient and was
puzzled by his symptoms. I wondered if it might be haemorrhagic Smallpox - but, something was
not quite right. All the Doctors were busy so I asked the Chief Medical
Officer if he would take a look. He confirmed that it was not Smallpox - but
haemorrhagic Chickenpox which although I had trained for 2
years as a fever nurse I had never come across nor even read about it in any
The patient was moved into a side ward and put on
Penicillin but remained very ill. In Africa I always found
children with Chickenpox a much more serious condition
than European Chickenpox. The patient remained very ill for a long time before slowly recovery set in. We had a hut for isolation supplied by
the Red Cross, but we already had a child and her mother in there at the time. The
chiId had a severe case of Smallpox. She was treated with
Penicillin whilst the mother made the child sit in the sun all
day long. The mother used to wait until
all the European staff were off duty then, owing to boredom, visited
the women and children on nearby wards. She thought nothing of
giving Smallpox to the others! We were relieved when they were eventually discharged.
In one of the hospitals, a side ward of 20 beds was set
aside for sleeping sickness cases. These were caused by the Tsetse fly.
They employed a specialist and male nurses to look after them quite independently from the rest of the hospital.
I was surprised to find that medical assistants were not trained in midwifery. This was owing to
their cultural aversion to discussing or teaching anything about the female body - best left to women I suppose. However I found that these assistants were always very eager to learn. I decided to teach them the basics with a pelvis and
baby's skull made from plasticine. I taught them the methods that I had
used myself when I had been working at Queen Charlotte's Hospital, London.
Chapter XX - Ocean Road Hospital 1959 - 1963
Having worked so long up-country, with all their difficulties, lack of resources and challenges I decided to apply for a change. Although the Ocean Road Hospital hospital had been built by the Germans before World War One, it still seemed more like the 20th Century than any other place I had worked in Africa to date. There seemed to be as many
doctors and specialists as there were patients! Oh dear, what
a lot I had to learn in an environment like this. This particular hospital was reserved for European
and Asians only. The Africans had just had a beautiful new hospital,
which HRH Princess Margaret had recently opened, later to be called
Of course, the choice of specialisation had to be Maternity again. There were a total of four nursing sisters and a
good supply of nurses - each doing eight hours shift work.
This was almost a return to normality for work patterns. The sisters there were
marvellous but unfortunately being so young they thought that I had come
out of the ark.
My first day on duty at 2 pm, I was introduced to a lady
Gynaecologist. Unfortunately, we took an instant dislike to one
We had an Asian lady in the ward awaiting her third
Caesarean section. She went into labour and I informed the
Gynaecologist. She set the time for the operation to be at 6pm. The labour
progressed but as 6pm approached I had to set up for forceps as the Doctor was nowhere to be found! Having been used to being my own boss for so long, I just rang up the
anaesthetist to tell him my plans. He came dashing down and gave me a good
telling off for ringing him, even more so when I offered to
give the anaesthetic if he were too busy to do it! Apparently only the surgeon could authorise this. I wonder if the
anaesthetist would like to know how many patients black and
white I have anaesthetised in the past? What a
lot I had to learn? I never knew why she had to be
operated on as there were no medical notes to go through. As it was, she progressed well.
I scrubbed up and delivered a normal easy delivery. The
crowd of Asians outside went wild with joy - for nobody here
whether Asians or African likes unnatural deliveries. The Gynaecologist eventually arrived at 6.30pm having had trouble with her car. We said little to one another but our animosity remained.
For a seemingly modern hospital and plenty of staff the maternity ward had very basic facilities.
There was no incubator and only one and a half pound babies or less could be fed by the tubes available. There was an air conditioning system of sorts, although it was rudimentary to say the least.
The hospital was near the sea and had great baobab trees in the
grounds and plenty of coconut palms. At night time though what
a nuisance the bush babies were, screaming all night.
I had to learn blood testing afresh - I had never heard of Rhesus negative or
Rhesus Positive before. It was like a
foreign language to me, but I had to learn it to survive.
I now had to cover up blood when getting a bottle from the
laboratory. There was no more spooning out the blood from the stomach
and putting it into the glucose tube to refeed the patient.
So every day we all had to be re-educated towards a better nursing
Chapter XXI: A Brush With the Witch Doctor
I have always had the greatest respect for Witch Doctors who were clearly gifted
people. I had seen many examples of their craft up-country.
an Asian, came into hospital one day. It was her second pregnancy,
but in the eighth month she felt abdominal pains and went to her
private Doctor. However, still her pains continued so she came to
us. Her placenta had separated, and her uterus soon filled
with blood. The baby had died and soon the mother's brain also became clinically dead. Sadly, the
baby had to be cut away (so sad) piece by piece. The mother was
returned to the ward, but her relatives insisted that twenty
seven years was too young to die. We could keep her going by tube
feeding but there were no visible signs that she would recover. One day the father said
someone had put a spell on the daughter so could he possibly
bring in the Witch Doctor to examine her. This was against hospital rules but I thought "why not?". There was no medical hope for her after all. So at 12 midnight
along came a Witch Doctor all painted up - he was very well
known in Dar and lots of Europeans had consulted with him also. Intrigued, I asked
if I could stay in the ward to watch and he consented. He made Incantations
telling the devil to get out of Hala's body via the feet,
but there was no response. I
tried hard to explain that owing to the afterbirth
separating that the brain had been starved of blood. The Witch Doctor continued his incantations for half an hour before he left. We were all someowhat taken aback that she did indeed die of natural causes the very next day. Her family took some solace from the intervention and took her body away to be prepared by the priests of her
religion. She was cremated on the beach near to the German and British Soldiers' cemetery.
I also went to a cremation once, although being near the sea and shore
I could watch them at any time. This time though was particularly sad.
I had been called out at 7am by an Asian friend saying we've
lost Paul! I asked "Did he leave a note?"
"No!" They said. "We have already Lost Him!" He had been taken ill with a high temperature. They had sent out for a
private Doctor who said that
that he should be given a hot water bottle to sweat his disease out. This was despite the fact that the patient had a temperature of 105 degrees!
Needless to say this poor
14 year old lad had died at 4.30am that morning. The parents remained
too shocked to move until they thought of me. I was dismayed
to say the least as they had recently decided to move to England for good. Alas I found we had to
do everything for them. They said they would like
the lad to be burnt and his ashes taken home. We got permission
from the Hindu priests. The parents were still deep in shock so
two neighbours went instead to the cremation. Ghee (oil) was poured on a
huge stack of wood. Priests walked around chanting whilst more wood and oil was added to the fire. We stayed until the body had disintegrated then on the morrow we took
the slIver casket of ashes to take to the parents. It was desperately sad.
Chapter XXI: The Last Year of Colonial Tanganyika
How the air was full of promise as spring was in the air. I
found my shamba boy busy cleaning my car - most unusual I thought. On asking him why he was cleaning my car he said that when they got their independence our car would become his. He said that the Russians had promised that every African would own a car and a house. Well, I let him have his dreams for a little longer.
Nearing the end of the year we had an influx of trained
South African nursing sisters arrive at our hospital. We had to find some suitable employment for
them. They were nice girls - well trained - but their primary
interest seemed primarily to be politics rather than nursing. Times were changing.
We had already said goodbye to the old governor and his wife and had welcomed the new Sir and Lady Turnbull as their replacements. These had arrived with a view to helping the Africans gain their independence in an orderly manner. The new governor started changing things straight away. For starters, the Dar-es-Salaam Club was no longer allowed to be for whites only.
Soon after St Joseph's Convent, the nursing sisters' home, was also
opened up to all races - although only after some resistance to the idea. Indeed, the first black nursing sister had been invited to have lunch in
the sister's mess by a white nursing sister not long before. When they
entered the dining room though many of the sisters got up and
walked out. The senior nursing sister came to me in the maternity unit and
asked me to complain about their behaviour to Matron, (why me!). However at 2pm I set
off to the office and recounted the story. Matron said that as far as she was concerned it was the sisters' dining room and that it was up to the sisters to do as they pleased there. I went back to report this and after considering the actions of those who had been present at the time decided that they should recognise the changing dynamics and permit their entry.
There was plenty of going and coming by all parties in the run up to independence. Two of our wards in the maternity unit were given over to preparing for the momentous event within our hospital alone. There was excitement in the air as famous faces came and
went. This was all done with a band permanently practicing in the gardens below. The great day was approaching fast.
Mrs Lulu Nyrere, the sister-in-law of the coming President, happened to be in for her baby. I had to stay to look after her. I also had an American lady expecting her first baby. As Independence Day approached, the (German) doctor called on her to ask how she was. The Doctor mentioned how lovely it was to see another British flag being hauled down in Africa. The American patient was outraged on our behalf! She asked what side he had been on during the war? Didn't he swim with the tide? This doctor had been known to have flown a swastika flag during the early war years whilst in Tanganyika. He had only taken it down when it appeared that the Germans were going to lose the war.
Independence day itself was gorgeous. The sun shone, the band played
"Oh what a beautiful morning! Oh what a beautiful
day!" all day long. Crowds of visitors had arrived from all over the country and from overseas. The journey of development and all the hard work was now passing into the hands of the Africans.
As the day subsided we were on the way home and were passing along a quiet side street when a car passed us by. It was Sir George and Lady Turnbull who were leaving all alone. There were no crowds. We merely waved them goodbye and they waved back. Yet on the small jetty a man
went wild saying that they must not go - what would become of us all without your help?
When all was said and done, most
of the nursing staff and doctors decided to go home to the
UK. The nurses sold up their furniture from their homes and paid
off the servants. The nursing quarters became a big office building. Life went on.
I remained at the hospital though.
Chapter XXII: The Night Visitor
One quiet night at 2 am we
felt the presence of a cold wind. A sister came downstairs,
extremely frightened. I gave her a drink of brandy from the bottle we kept in
the medicine cupboard. She said "I got my notes out to
check up on injections when suddenly everything went so cold
yet the night was warm and suddely a young man came into the
room. He was dressed in a sports' coat and long grey trousers. He
tried three times to pick up the phone, then turned and
walked out" I tried to give several reasons to her although I too have
seen two ghosts, but didn't tell her this for fearing of making her worse! She reported it to matron, and refused to go on night duty
Going home that night, I was met by my son who said sadly that they had lost "Rusty" that day. A group of them had been on vacation from boarding
school, and this boy was staying with his friend at Oyster
Bay. They decided to try out their new fishing gun, so went
to Leopard's Cove, a dangerous place when the sea is in.
The other boy soon go tired of swimming and returned to the beach. He waited and waited for his
friend to return but he never did. The police and eight of the
students had spent the night swimming and checking the shoreline. It was only days
later that the sea brought the body back to the same cove although by then
unrecognisably so. It was only teeth and skin on his little finger that proved
And what was he wearing on his holiday outing? His sports
coat and long grey trousers were unusual for Dar-es-Salaam which
is always so hot. How often do I ponder this coincidence. Might he have to our hospital? He knew I worked there, but we had never
met. He could have returned to his friend's house who did actually have a
phone. And why, having drowned near 6 pm, did he return at 2
am? His body was brought to Ocean Road Hospital but I could not bring myself to see him. His parents lived over 500 miles away. This has long been a subject for my brain to ponder on and probably until the day I
Chapter XXIII: Post-Independence Realities
Life continued at the hospital, but things were beginning
to deteriorate from a materials perspective. Medical equipment, dressings, surgical supplies had become more expensive and the normal source of our goods, South Africa, had put restrictions in place for many goods coming to Tanganyika. The hospital lifted restrictions on who could or could not be treated at the hospital, but this put even more strain on the tightening resources of the place.
Indeed, the Sewa Raji Hospital
was one of the busiest hospitals that I have ever worked in. It had a steady stream of customers principally as it was near the docks and so had many fractured skulls and broken limbs from dock workers (Usually Africans).
we had a boy of 12 years of age who was badly injured after a
coconut tree fell on him. He was unconscious, so up went
the drip, next day I saw brain material coming out of his
ear, so sent an urgent message to the surgeon who was operating in the
theatre. He said "stop the drip but do not touch the ear", but I couldn't bear seeing
the discharge so plugged the ear. The surgeon came later and told
me off, but I still left the plug in.
Days turned into weeks and weeks into months, the boy very
gradually improved. We took him to X-Ray and found that so many
of his bones had been broken, but had mended themselves as he
had lain unconscious for so long. I took a keen interest in his progress,
but alas, I was sent to Dodoma. The last I heard was
that he was in a wheel chair and had Epileptic fits but that he had survived at least.
Chapter XXIV: The Awakening - Dar-es-Salaam
On another occasion, the maternity unit was quiet. There was one patient going through a
trial labour having had two Ceasarian sections previously. She was a very pretty lady from Mauritius.
The Gynaecologist was on a week end trip to Dodoma, so once
again the heavy burden of responsibility was placed on my
shoulders. The Surgeon on duty called in to see the
patient, who was having contractions, at 4 . 45 pm and said he
was going to the cinema at 6pm and that if I wanted him to call him
there. I tested the foetal heart every half hour and asked
the father if he would like to listen. He was pleased and said
it sounded like the ticking of the clock. I asked the nurse
to catheterize her but I was surprised when she came back to
say I'd rather you did it sister. It was most unusual a refusal from
so steady a nurse. I went to withdraw some urine
and thought that while I am here I may as well test the heart again. But this time there were no
foetal beats. I asked the patient how her contractions
were, she said just general pains - I knew then that there was a problem.
I phoned up the surgeon and told the manager to put a notice on
the screen there "surgeon wanted urgently at Ocean Road Hospital". This the manager refused to do, so I rang up a Goan Doctor who I had
worked with for many years and told her the problem. She said leave it to
her, that she would go and get him.
Next, I sent a male nurse to get the theatre male nurse from his
home and to prepare the theatre for a Ceasarian section. I then sent
out another nurse to look for an anaesthetist who was out shopping. Then I had to call a pathologist giving her details of
patient's blood group. She came at once and gathered up the
anaesthetist with her en route. I had to send out the Marines virtually to get the Theatre Sister. As she had been out yachting and a boat was literally sent out to bring her back in.
Having accounted for everyone required they all inquired who had sent for the. I had to admit that I had. The surgeon examined the patient but couldn't
make up his mind if surgery was required as he was not an expert in maternity affairs. So I
said to him "Sir, her uterus is split from ear to ear" As he had known me for many years he trusted my judgement. It was
then that I realized for the first time in all my nursing career that some one
else had been using my voice box from the spiritual world and had been directing my actions. The husband thanked the surgeon profusely
for saving his wife's life but the surgeon said don't thank me
thank the Sister. I smiled but secretly thanked God!
When finally leaving to go home after Independence, the surgeon (Mr WaIter Kerr)
stopped by and said that he couldn't leave
Africa without shaking my hand and saying goodbye. I was very touched.
Chapter XXV: Presentation
Once when hearing President Nyrere speaking on the wireless I decided to draw a picture of what I was hearing. The
staff said it was good even if it was quite plain in detail. It showed four
Africans pushing their trolly up a hill with sacks of coffee
beans. It was uphill all the way to Uhuru (freedom). There was also a garden boy
sitting under the shade of a tree with a mountain on one side and
the sea on the other. There was only hard work which lay ahead.
I didn't at the time do anything with it but after I had
painted it fully I asked my husband to take a photo of it. By coincidence the Daily Paper was holding a competition for the best picture of the year and I very unexpectedly won it.
I wondered if I should give the picture that
had painted to Dr Nyerere? I rang up the secretariat to ask
the private secretary about doing so. She put me in
touch with Brother Oscar Kambona who I duly went to see. He said that
the President is a very busy man but he would try his best to make it happen.
The next day I was on duty until 2pm but did not get a vital message that the President had indeed agreed to see me that very morning. I had missed the appointment and had sheepishly gone back to Brother Kambona to explain the reason and to request a new appointment. He used very sharp
words to me, saying the President was a very busy man indeed! But that a new appointment might be set up.
I rang up Miss Joan Wickham Dr Nyrere's private secretary for many
years. She said that this weekend the President was off to
Zanzibar but would make it for 11am next week again.
My friends told me that I had to dress up for the occasion. I had never even thought of it
but agreed it was a great honour. So needing no more excuses I went shopping for a new
hat, gloves and shoes. This time I set off quite sure that I would arrive
there on time. Everyone knew that punctuality was a strong point with the
I was invited into a large hall where Dr Nyrere entered and we shook hands warmly. He then asked
me to explain the picture to him. I am known for being blunt
and speaking my mind, so I just said "I've put no houses in the
picture because the Africans have always lived in mud huts, and
when they fell down - they just built another." I went on to say "I've made the
roads rough, for the Africans never built or made roads,
only tracks made by the walking over the centuries for many
Africans" I then said that I included "6 men representing the country - four
willing to work, one the shamba boy who does all the talking and
knows all the gossip but is shy of work, and the coffee boy
who goes around selling cups of coffee representing the tiny
majority of self-employed Africans and the sea is our
overseas trade, agriculture, sugar cane etc.... and the last mile
to Uhuru is uphill all the way." Only at that point did I realize fully what
I had said. As the penny dropped I prayed for the earth to open up and drop
me in it. But the President had a twinkle in his eye as he
absorbed my words. He thanked me warmly and we parted. I did see him again on a number of occasion but mostly in the hospital itself.
Years afterwards when listening to the wireless, I
heard the President announce that he had opened a road to Aringa. But in doing so he
turned round to the audience and said that Italians Prisoners of War had largely made
this road, now show me the one to your Village? They showed him an old old track. The President said that the next time he visited he wanted to see a proper road built by them - I wondered if my words had made an impression on him. However I did often have second thoughts on that encounter with the President. Perhaps I thought I had a
right to say what I did for no one had tried harder to make the Africans' life a
better one in that decade as I had despite much opposition.
Chapter XXVI: The Snake Bite
Never go out without shoes on when in Africa! Yet forgetting this
rule one evening I went to put out the rubbish in the bin forgetting
I had no shoes on. Of course, I trod on a snake, who in turn, turned
round and bit me on the toe. Being dark I did not get a good look at which kind of snake had bitten me. Feeling a fool and 18 miles to the
nearest hospital, I put my foot in pot permanate and headed off for medical treatment.
The staff on duty in the isolated hospital did not know what to
do with this snake bite. One was supposed to be a first aider - the second a
nursing sister, and the third an elderly South African policemen. He himself
had served many years in Tanganyika but alas he was a sick man after
had gone down a mine in South Africa to rescue two
Africans who were trapped but was badly gassed himself. These were not able to help me
We remembered that our neigbour had a snake serum outfit so off we went
to get it together with the nurse. No one had any idea what to do with it though - so we carefully read the
instructions. We drew up the serum then someone gave me a
razor blade to cut open the wound and leave it under running
water as per the instructions but of course there was no running water in Africa! I let the
nurse give me the injection anyway and crossed my fingers.
Unfortunately I proved allergic to the serum and came out
in a dreadful rash and had to go to hospital. I was put on
adrenalin every four hours until the rash subsided. I knew that in
Morogoro the snakes could be fatal so that was why I had insisted on medical intervention. Lucky I did.
Chapter XXVII: Odds and Ends
One day I found a bead in our grounds and later when my husband was
digging, he found a slave's ankle band with Arabic words on
it. We also found an imposing chain. We took them to the museum in Dar-es-Salaam, and was told the bead was from China who traded
along the coast line of East Africa about the 6th century.
The slaves ankle band, the chain had been broken, leaving us
to believe the slave may have escaped. We were near a direct route to
Zanzibar, and escape was possible by boat or was it a jetty
to ferry the slaves to Zanzibar, we will never know.
While on the beach some months later, I was attacked by a
gull, first felt a swish on the head, then another and
looking upI saw the bird really meant business, so I beat a
We always listened to the BBC news but one day I was suprised to hear
that we had had a mutiny with the army. My husband came home from the docks and said that a soldier had said, "take the day off, or better still take the week off."
So here we were
in a no escape erea listening to the local news, and then
to the BBC to find out what was going on. Nearby families decided to go off into the bush. I said it would be better if we stay put as
we had a coral reef so no big ships could get near us.
We soon saw a British helicopter go over us so we guessed
help was at hand. I understand in Dar it was quite
frightening, but out in the back of beyond it was surreal. I understand that the barracks were bombed by the British in the helicopter
and the unfortunate soldiers there, mostly boys, were terrified.
Having never been in action they had fled for their lives in their night attire. The
helicopters flew over and caught many of them out in the open. Some soldiers
did indeed reach us after a few days . We gave them food and said that the
goverment had promised if they surrendered no action would be
taken. One by one they came in and surrended. We even took some of them back to the barracks in our car.
People entertained the British troops when they arrived and a friend brought a
young soldier out to us - when leaving he said, "Thank you
for a lovely day! Where ever I go, into any land, and when I need
peace and tranquillity, I will think of you and this lovely
house, wonderful garden, the birds and butterflies and know
I have peace within my heart". God bless you soldier, for
you, too, have cheered me up on many a dark day.
One day the garden boy from the next house ran to tell us a
python had swallowed two lovely hens. The snake had found a
hole in the fence, but now couldn't get out. My husband shot it, and two
garden boys carried it on a pole down to the sea, they did a
caesarean section on it, got out the fowls and had the best
meal of their lives.
We once saw a male and female lion with two cubs - passing the
road through our window - so decided to put a bowl of water
outside and each night they all came and drank from it.
Of course never thinking that we had to travel 18 miles to get a barrel of
water each day to keep us going, and water for the birds.
Alas one day the lion ate one of our neighbour's dogs. She
was most upset, set out to go to the town and get the game
warden to shoot the lion. A trap was duly set and the gun fired by the
game warden but we all thought that he had missed him. Some weeks later
going to see a rare butterfly I smelt something dreadful and saw
thousands of flies buzzing around. There I saw the remains of the
lion in the rubbish pit. (We had to bury all our rubish
ourselves). It was very sad.
I got near enough to get his claws out of one foot. I washed them and had them made into a pendant, earrings
and a tie pin. This was in memory and to never forget that everything has a
right to live and will fight for survival.
We eventually returned to the town of Dar-es-Salaam, where my husband
got a job as a caretaker to Barclay's Bank. We had a lovely
flat high up, could see for miles along the coast when we first moved in. But before
long, so many high buildings were put up and closed us in.
Hearing on the grape vine that the Goverment were taking
over the bank, we told the manager, but he said no, they
would have to notify us first, but 7 am next day thousands
of people all carrying green branches beat upon the walls
shouting and screaming. Police were everywhere. The crowd went to
each bank demanding nationalisation. So that was the end of my husband's career
After a time we decided to go to Lushoto high up in the
Umsambra mountains, and started a bird and butterfly
sanctury. My husband planted over 2,000 trees in our ten
acres carrying the water in buckets to water each tree,
flower and fruit for the birds, and life became hectic once
Chapter XXVIII: 'The lovliest Period of my Life'
When Kiss Mary Hancock, MP, OBE, holder of the Pope's medal,
asked me if I would stand in as acting matron to a boys prep
school, I was horified! Boys of between 8 years and 14
years, so the answer was definitely no! However on deeper
thinking I decided why not.
Dr Sterling MP and Minister of Health in the Tanzanian
Goverment came to see me and took me down to Soni to the
see the Headmaster. So at the age of 60 I was back to work.
What a lovely school it was! It was set between the mountains, well
built and planned by the fathers. It was well managed. I went in to
meet the 110 boys at Tea time at 4 pm.
Soon the surgery was full of eager, young faces. I have
always stated children are a gift of life. Soon I was involved in every activity going - gardening,
with 10 acres of beautiful parkland. I studied Joy
Adamson's (Born Free) book on gardening in East Africa. I
knew the poisons and antidotes of most of the shrubs
growing, also pot planting etc.
I tried to tie this into information for the
11 plus exams - Frogs being the subject to stury. Well I made a rough scale for
weighing the frogs and reported their weight, also guessing
whether they were pregnant or not!
One day I was called in
regarding hens eggs not hatching on the expected day, so along
with a stethescope I examined the eggs. I made a temperature chart
and the boys took it morning and evening, so our results
were good - I might add I had to do a lot of studying
myself. It truly was
a wonderful school for learning, with educated fathers to
teach. We all had to be at Church for 7 am and then breakfast at 7.30 am. The boys then were
hard at lessons - and plenty of sports of course. How I wished I
could have afforded it for my boys but the fees were high
so they had to go to Goverment boarding schools except my
daughter who went to a boarding school 10 miles
up the mountain . I never knew how boys and girls cried at
being away from home and so this taught me a valuable lesson. I've always
been a loner myself so maybe I wound not have been affected! Who
knows? One is always wiser after the event - I never saw any
bullying, I took part in cricket but never liked it. In fact the
school became my life and the boys one and all became my
One boy stood out above the rest - alas there is always the odd
one . A boy from Rewzeland - a real toughy. His father was chief
of a big Bank. He wastrouble from the word go (although I secretly admired his spirit). On one occasion he had made an escape from school - this was no mean feat in an area crawling in lions, snakes and insects and it was 10 miles to the nearest bus stop.
The hunt was on, as a farmer rang up the Headmaster to say
he had seen a boy running past his farm. So the head dashed off by
car, but was too late to get him there. He eventually found him at Mombo. He caught the boy and boxed his ears, and brought him back like a prisoner!
then placed in my care - he was a real rebel, but as I
said I admired his spirit. I had to take him to the Head's
office at 8 am sharp the next morning. The Head asked him why he had run away?
Looking the man straight in the face, the boy said that this school
is lousy and the food is terrible, and why do we have to get
up at 6.30 am. We should have a trade union to stand up for
our rights! He was given clear answers from the head but
dismissed without punishment. We were told not to mention it
on Parents' Day but alas the parents of the boy openly
boasted about it. He tried to escape three more times before the
Fathers had had enough. His parents were asked to take him away.
He was sent to the Dar-es-Salaam day school. I later learned that he was
expelled for unruly behavior from there too. Did the parents wish that they had
punished him first time around? I often wonder where he is.
Whilst there I also had to nurse the house keeper
with Bronchitis, and go through the woods to look after the
Thank goodness I had read the book on poisonous
plants in Lushoto. One day a pupil came to me saying
he felt sick after playing in the grounds. I noticed his pupils were very much
dilated. I asked the boy was his eyesight blurred and he said
yes. I got him to show me the bush near where he had been playing. it was the Hybiscus. No
I didn't know the poison or cure - I just bathed his eyes, and
told him to rest and went straight to the Head to tell him the problem. He was most
upset and told the Father in charge of the boy and instead of speaking
quietly to the boy called him in front of the whole school -
told everyone what a fool he was for playing with that bush and punished him. The
boy never forgave him or me - yet there was no more double
vision. But I was very sorry over the result, as it may have scarred the
boy for the rest of his life. I remember when 10 years old -
I spilt some ink on my book for excerises and tore the page
out, within minutes I
was reported by a girl named Honour Naughton and the teacher, a
Miss Taylor, called me out in front of class and caned my
hands - I never forgot both of them although I had only wanted to
give my best work in!
Well the term ended with great excitment, cases were packed and the
private buses arrived to take the boys to Tanga or Dar-es-Salaam. How I wept for those who were leaving for good. But still work had to go on, so with the
African servants the next four days were spent
spring cleaning and ordering new stock. Soon the normal matron was feeling better and returned to duty. So home I
returned although I did have to stand in three or four times after
that, and at half term the boys used to come to our bird
After that job, I went on council meetings with my MP friend. She
had started education for girls, and went into
their villages, pleading with the chiefs to let their
daughters be educated. Most of them agreed and were of great use to an infant Government.
My MP friend knew everybody and everyone knew her - She
travelled the world with President Nyerere on his state
visits and travelled all over Tanzania. She continued to
serve the goverment to the last days of her life, died in
Muhambili Hospital in October 1976 after a long illness. She was
buried under the snows of Kilomanjaro Mountain at her
favorite mission. Her father had been a vicar in Southampton. She told us one story of how
one day her father called had to his wife "can you come down
dear, we have a visitor" she did come down and found herself
being introduced to King George V whose car had broken
down near the church on the way to the docks.
Oh to be in Lushoto in blossom time - to walk down
the long drive past the Mimosa trees, huge trees of
Pointsetta bushes yellow, pink and red. Lilies of every
variety and colour, coffee trees laden with flowers,
Jacaranda trees, my blue bells of the sky, surely this is
the garden, God first made for men?
Hugh banana trees, with bunches of red bananas whose leaves
like banners wave, the bark that gave me much pleasure to
make pictures from - the orange grove whose trees were laden
with fruit year after year. Lovely coloured birds on the
wing, huge bob tailed butterflies, about their nectar they
went, birds who built in every tree. saying this world was
made for you and me.
Alone I wondered over the grounds, looking at bird nests, eggs
and identifying the parents. One lovely day a bird dropped
from the banana tree, being taunted by weaver birds - a bird
so pure white so holy I thought it came from heaven as the
african birds are usually so colourful.
It was a Fairy Tern - a wonderful gift from God to us. Harry
planted well over 2,000 trees in 10 acres of land, and
watered each one by hand, all flowering and berry trees for
the birds and butterflies - When my soul leaves my body it
will wander again in the garden God made possible for us to enjoy.
We had lots of famous visitors at Parkland - our home, and
when they came we got them to plant special trees in the
park, brought specially by our friend Dr Plava a
Czechoslovian who had to visit every nursery in Tanzania. We
had every variety of Gum and Eucalyptus trees - all of various
colours, which attracted birds to build nests and butterflies and
bees to pollinate the flowers.
I wrote notes to Dar-es-Salaam about the butterflies, I also
wrote many letters to the BBC nature note book, as we were
members on their Overseas channel. They sent me a lovely book on butterflies and their life cycle and habits.
Oh happy days when we discovered clay under a garden pond - with buckets of clay I made everything,
I found an old book on baking blay in underground kilns with
charcoal. I made a wonderful crucifix with Jesus - everyone
said it wouldn't bake, but full of hope we dug two deep pits
near each other put a small opening to run through one
another and gently laid the cross on charcoal then filled it
up, lit it and covered it with soil. We let it cook for 3
days - dreaded opening it, but it came out perfectly. There was just a
tiny patch of black on the face which looked like a bruise.
How happy I was, alas I had to leave it behind when we
decided to come back to England as it was much too heavy to carry.
Chapter XXIX: My Own Health
As I have said before Tanganyika (Tanzania) gave you every kind of
disease that you could think of. Over the years there, I guess I had plenty. I got Asian Flu in 1961 which was complicated by Encephalitis Lethargica. Two other nursing
sisters also had it and being from Crown Agents we were all boarded
out for treatment.
I went back to England to recover but also to seek treatment for a terrific pain in my arm. The first doctor I saw said it was a legacy from the Asian Flu and there was nothing he could do about it. However not satisfied with this advice, I went to a private doctor who
sent me for an X-Ray. It proved that a big piece of calcium was
pressing on the bracial nerve and that all my bones were paper thin.
I was given an injection of Cortisone into the Glenoid
cavity of the arm. I went again to see the Doctor
who said that the Cortisone did not enter the cavity but it
must have done something, as he pushed a long needle in and
withdrew a milky fluid. The agony was out of this world
but just three days after I could use the arm and there was no more pain.
So we arrive at the crossroads where patients and
biological products target one another at the point of a needle. Where
blood cells are on speaking terms with germs who themselves can be neutralized by
penicillin or fortified against by other anti-biotics. Where disease is no
longer a disease but a tryout for the most suitable drug
and the stomach is iron lined and vitaminized and where nerves are lulled by
the sedatives and tranquilizers.
The feet, after the trying years, now need that rest.
The heart is weary, the spirits drooping, so I end as I started
never regretting my decision to leave Africa. It was wonderful but life must continue.
P.S. I was sad to discover that the Africans who I knew and worked with had gained relatively little since Independence. 10 years later I recall asking my house boy how independence had benefitted him. He said that all he had got was a Presidential Flag! It was a little depressing to hear given all the expectations built up over Uhuru.
Chapter XXX: Precious Memories
(1) Crossing the Sahara Dessert at 2 am by jet and seeing
the red rim around the earth a new day dawning.
(2) The day the soldier said, where ever he was in any
land and needed peace, he would think of me, our
lovely house, so many beautiful flowers, birds
butterflies and the ever restless sea, he would
close his eyes and be back again at Kunduchi.
(3) Mrs Maria Nyerere when she used to come to the hospital asking
me for medical advice, such as the day her little
boy fell down after trying to climb a coconut tree,
I said to her, my dear, any doctor would deem it an
honour to visit you at State House she said simply
I'm content to come to you here.
(4) A Goan man and his wife, who said they had travelled
500 miles for me to help them as they had had two
babies who had both died a few hours after birth. This one was a success
(5) Managing to bully the hospital's authorities into understanding that a 21 year old girl was going to die of Scarlet Fever and to send for her father who arrived just in time to say goodbye.
(6) In a chemist shop I saw a lady stare hard at my
granddayghter aged 8 years, she turned to me and
said, I've never seen such a lovely face, if I knew
her mother I would like to congratulate her. I said
I'm her grandmother and I think she's wonderful too.
A tribute indeed as she is Anglo-Indian and had a
hard time at school, fighting race prejudice all the
(7) When a Head Master and wife retired from teaching in
Tanganyika they came to visit us in Lushoto. They had adopted two boys one black and other
white - both 14 years of age. Both went to a big
Public School. The African boy came around our bird
sanctuary with me. I said how do you like your
school? He confidied much to me. He said it was hateful and that he hated being
black whilst his adopted brother was white. He
objected to being called a "nigger" by the boys at school and said
he was going to Australia when he left school. His adopted Mother and Father never
realized the festering that was going on inside
his head. I thanked him for his
confidence in me and I often think of him, would
it have been kinder to have adopted 2 black boys or
two white ones?
I hope with the excellent education his parent gave
him and the love they showed him were enough to guide him but I do know how unkind children, and many adults, can be. But it was nice to at least have been a sounding board for his problems and I hope I gave him some positive advice for dealing with his problems.
(8) When acting Matron at the boy's Private School, four
boys had been bitten by a Rabies infected dog. An
African boy had previously been diagnosed and died. To make matters worse, one of the boy's sisters had
died of rabies in West Africa. The Headmaster
wanted the boys transfered to Dar-es-Salaam,
but all the mothers wanted them to stay under
my charge. I gave 14 injections to
each boy - starting above the side of the umbilcus and
alternating each day. They used to argue who
would be first to have their injection, I asked the housekeeper
if she would bake a sponge cake and ice it over
with pink icing which she gladly did. In turn I
drew a big dog on the cake with red ink jaws and
placed 4 syringes across the cake. I then invited
the boys to have tea in the surgery - they all laughed at the cake. No harm
came to any of the boys. Thank God in his mercy.
God in his most gracious flair
Gave each country a gift to share
To us he gave a sheer delight
A lovely mountain draped in white
M1st curls around it's ancient dome
Forests dress the slopes where the lions roam
Running streams gave diamonds rare
Brown skinned people the earth to care
If I wander from the saddle ways
Over the mountain cold with snow
Lord, be thou my shephard,
Seek and guide me, gather me back unto the fold
He was right, to place the torch up there
To breath freedom in the air
Hope and courage to carry on
Forgetfulness of days now gone.
by Betty Riddle