The British Empire Library

Not Out of Malawi

by Enid Waterfield

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Gordon Landreth (District Commissioner in Karonga during the year the Waterfields were in the Misuku)
Enid Waterfield has written a fascinating account of her life in Nyasaland in the 1950s. The country became Malawi at independence in 1964, hence the book's title, which is an indirect reference to Karen Blixen's memoir Out of Africa (published in 1937 with a film version in 1985.) As a former hbrarian, Enid writes in excellent prose, and is unashamedly positive

about the role of the British colonial servants in a poor but lovely country. Enid Waterfield married Ken in 1954 when he was on his first leave after a four-year tour as an Agricultural Assistant in Nyasaland. He was based latterly in the Misuku Hills in the north of the northernmost district, Karonga, and was returning there after his leave. So Enid went as a young bride to one of the most remote parts of Central Africa.

The early chapters recount the preparations for the journey, by sea in those days, and her account will resonate with many other Colonial Service families who travelled to Africa by the Union Castle Line. Enid's pleasure in the varied experiences of life on board and at the ports of call was limited by the fact that she was now pregnant and often feeling sick. But after a long stay in Beira they eventually disembarked and travelled by rail to Blantyre. They bought supplies for the life up country and drove in Ken's van the 500 miles to Karonga. Here in the District headquarters they spent some time while Enid recovered her strength and met the small expatriate community.

Their move up to their new home in the Misuku Hills was on foot and took several tiring days. Work on the house, a wattle and daub hut like those in the villages, and with a thatched roof, was not complete, and the way Enid coped with the primitive conditions which she so graphically describes evokes admiration. But the beauty of the location is also constantly described, and how little by little the home was improved - though there was never electricity or hot running water.

Coffee growing was the main local industry, with a coffee nursery near their house. Various servants are described in detail so that it is easy to picture the life there in the hill country. There were also the visitors who braved the journey up there, including an old friend from England who stayed a long-time and fell in love with the place. They had one visit from the Governor, Sir Robert Armitage, of which they had notice of only a day or so. Enid also had to leave the Misuku on two occasions in order to travel down to Lilongwe for the birth of their two children. Even a shopping trip to Mbeya across in Tanganyika was quite an adventure.

Then, when work on a new and much better house in the Misuku was well advanced they found they had to go back to the UK on leave. Their last time in Misuku was short, as the political disturbances in 1959 disrupted the whole country and most of their helpers were afraid to continue with them. The Waterfields made a hasty retreat by road south and eventually decided to leave Nyasaland altogether. They were very sorry to leave their faithful helpers behind, and to say goodbye to an area they had grown to love, but Ken could not see a suitable job being available.

This book is not only a good read, with many exciting episodes and dangers narrowly averted: it is also a valuable piece of social history of Nyasaland in the years just before independence.

British Empire Book
Enid Waterfield
Plaintiles Publishing


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