Letters from Sonja: Early 1963, After Independence
Everything went very well in the beginning.
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First published: December 15, 2006
I clearly remember that I was very optimistic after Independence. Everything went very well in the beginning. The first thing I noticed was that the Africans improved their houses. To me they seemed to make a real effort now to improve their living standards.
January 10th, 1963
Michy started school again today. He is in 2nd grade now. Monday through Thursday he goes to school from 8:15 am to 12:30 and from 2 pm to 4 pm. On Fridays school finishes at 12:30. There is no school on Saturdays.
We had a very bad train accident just before Kampala a week ago. A complete goods train that - apart from other things - carried aircraft fuel, blew up. It was a total loss. Nothing could be rescued. Three wagons carried Christmas mail. We, however, were lucky. Our parcel arrived to-day. At once we all sniffed at the little twig of fir which was in the parcel. It smells so good of Germany!
February 14th, 1963
We have had one storm after the other. During the last two years we had lots of rain. The lake rose by 4 ft. This is a lot really when you consider that the lake covers an area of 28,000 sq km. A result of the heavy rains is that we have lots of mosquitoes even during daytime. I am bitten all over by them. We never experienced that before. Also our roof got very brittle due to the heavy storms. I have got pots standing everywhere to catch the rainwater. Unfortunately our nice ceiling got damaged near the fireplace.
Since about 10 days our mason is working again. Of course he cannot do very much during this weather. He made a new concrete ledge around the whole house and also a 2 ft. wide concrete strip. We now can have a lawn around the whole house. On the side looking towards the lake, the lawn is very nice already, but in the back of the house all the tarmac has to be removed. We have to level the yard and fill up new soil. Then the lawn can be planted. All this has to happen before we go on long-leave. As it looks at the moment we even need a new roof before leaving, as a lot can happen during 3 months in this stormy weather. We have decided to make a roof of corrugated asbestos-cement sheets. The water tank will be completely finished by tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. The whole house has also been newly plastered. It will be painted before we go on leave.
Apart from that I am still busy sowing. The disadvantage of travelling by boat is that one needs plenty of clothes for changing.
In midst of all this turmoil I had invited several neighbours for an afternoon coffee. We were a very international group. Our next door neighbours, the Hunters, went to England for an unknown period. A couple from New Guinea with two small children stays in their house at the moment. So there was Mrs. Maddocks from New Guinea whose husband is a psychologist. Then Mrs. Sherrill, writer and anthropologist from America, Mrs. Calvert, who is a Scot, Jackie Hitchens, partly English, partly French and myself a German. Unfortunately the ladies very soon engaged in some political talk. Jackie said, that soon she cannot admit anymore, that she is half French. The problem was the European Common Market. If it was not because of Adenauer convincing De Gaulle, the French would have never dared. Hopefully Adenauer is soon retiring and so on.
I was not very happy with this heated discussion. I looked after the 5 children who were also there. By the time I had attended to the children the conversation had changed to a far more peaceful subject.
I too liked the pictures of the Uganda Calendar. Uganda certainly is a very nice country. Also the people here - I am talking about the Africans - are more than pleasant. Uganda has very good chances. If only the people would not be instigated from all sides.
Tuesday afternoon I went to town quickly and brought Michy back to school. A big brown and white dog was lying in the schoolyard. Michy told me that this dog always comes to school. Some children of all races have already been waiting and Michy was welcomed very excitedly by an African boy. When I left, the little African boy and Michy sat there with the dog in the middle and they both were patting the dog. That was a really nice picture. Many Europeans are still very upset that children of different races go to the same school together. They have all sorts of arguments. The children, however, get on really very well together and are happy. Grownups should learn from them.
February 28th, 1963
John told me this morning that he has to go home for 10 days. Unfortunately everything always happens at the wrong time. Hubert had to go to Nairobi for a week and Gerd is also on safari for a week. I would have felt very much safer with John around, but it can't be helped.
By the way... Hubert's permit of residence is expiring in March. There already was an enquiry into whether Hubert can be replaced by an African. The directors of CMC therefore have a meeting with the Prime Minister, Mr. Obote. Hubert thinks that we will get another permit.
The calendar that is hanging in my kitchen shows a picture of the Kurfrstendamm in Berlin during night for the month of February. The children are so exited about this picture and cannot believe that they soon will see something like this. Michy wants to drive through a city the first night in Germany in order to see the neon advertisements.
Last week was an outbreak of small-pocks in Fort Portal. This happens every now and then.
March 19th, 1963
Our residence permit has expired in the meantime and has not been renewed yet. Hubert takes all that very easy, but - according to the law - we are illegally in Uganda at the moment.
John returned yesterday with a week's delay.
Since Sunday evening we don't have a drop of water in the house. Fortunately we still have a small rain-water tank at the house, were John lives. Our underground tank is now ready. The tank is a quarter full but with dirty water. This water has to be pumped out so that the tank can be cleaned. Unfortunately the pumping does not work yet. We have two pumps; an electric one and one that runs on petrol. Both, however, have not got enough power. I do hope that it will work soon.
Michy's teacher has advised me, not to send Michy to a German school during our vacation. She and also the other teachers are of the opinion, that this would only confuse Michy. She gave me the curriculum and the books for next term, so that I can teach him. I am quite surprised at what the children have to learn already. At the moment Michy learns the multiplication tables. Michy finds that still quite unimportant and is not terribly interested. At the moment he does not like number work, but he is really getting very good at English and reading. Well, I am sure that I can get him interested in the multiplication tables as well as calculating with the English currency, which he will also have to learn during our vacation.
Our neighbour, Jackie Hitchens, has flown both her children Christine (8) and Jan (5) to her parents in England. She and her husband will be flying to Hong Kong on Thursday. From there they start a tour of the Far East and then fly to England via America for the rest of their vacation. They are trying to find a place to live after Uganda. Another neighbour, Mrs. Parkinson, has her mother here from England at the moment.
April 22nd, 1963
It is surprising how time is running. Three weeks from today we will be on our way to Europe already. We will be leaving Kampala on Sunday, May 12th, by rail towards Nairobi and Mombasa and on May 15th the boat will be departing from Mombasa.
Michy had a report again for Easter. I was quite satisfied. It says that he has worked very well and that he is a keen child in all subjects.
In the meantime we have received a permit for another 3 years. This permit is called a temporary work pass and cannot be extended, but we can now apply for a permanent resident's permit. There are only few Europeans left here now.
May 15th, 1963
We did arrive well in Mombasa yesterday after a 39 hr train-ride and have already seen the boat. The children are very enthusiastic. Embarkation is at 2 pm today. The boat will be leaving tomorrow.
When we went on the train, Barbara was screaming like mad. That big train engine scared her. We had to use all possible tricks in order to get her on the train. After she calmed down, she enjoyed the train ride.
When the engine had to climb higher and higher in Kenya I read a story about a little engine to the children. Michy would later tell me how haunting this story was throughout his life. In the story whenever there was a difficult task for the little engine to master, the little engine would say: I know I can, I know I can... So, whenever Michy had to overcome a difficulty he remembers the little engine and also said: I know I can, I know I can...
On the boat we had a wonderful time and both the children enjoyed it. We took the boat to Triest from were we took a train first to Munich for a short stay. Then we carried on by train to Reichenbach, were my parents were living. During this vacation we had no car but still a wonderful holiday. Specially the children who enjoyed staying with their Oma, who spoiled them immensely. Opa, on the other hand, was too strict for their taste .
The children with Opa.
We had Barbara's eyes checked at the University Clinic in TÜbingen, were we were advised to wait with the operation as Barbara first had to wear eye glasses with one eye covered up - each weak alternatively - in order to train the eyes before the operation. Barbara was very good with wearing her glasses. As Hubert took over the task of daily fixing the capsule, that closed one eye, to the glasses she felt very important.
Michy and Barbara in front of my parents house.
On June 28th, 1963 Gerd wrote a letter to us and told us, that our neighbour Mr. Hunter had to leave the country within 24 hours. The police first had to find him and then he had to leave. Apparently while in England he expressed himself against the politics of Mr. Obote. But he also left debts amounting to 13,000 pounds. Gerd wrote: "As your good help John is so thorough, I unfortunately cannot send you the newspaper article about this and also not regarding the new taxes. Sonja, hold tight, everything for us is unchanged. Changes came for the Indian family businesses and for big companies."
Gerd was also told that his next contract will be in Nairobi.
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First published: December 15, 2006