Letters from Sonja: Moving to Uganda
It is not an easy move for Hubert, Sonja and Mwinzi in their beetle on a murram road to Uganda.
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First published: June 1, 2005
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It came as no surprise to the directors of CMC that I had refused the house in Mombasa for they were well aware of the conditions there before sending us there. So when I came back from Mombasa without having accomplished anything, CMC developed other ideas. They wanted Hubert to go to Dar-es-Salaam instead of Mombasa and build up a VW service there. In those days it was almost impossible for Germans to get a visa to stay in Tanganyika. We might have got one, but it would have been quite a lengthy process and CMC did not want to wait that long. Hubert was to be sent to Kampala instead. Nairobi was now running well, as Hubert had trained enough staff there. When Hubert originally arrived in Nairobi, he did not find much of a workshop and no properly trained mechanics. At that time, they for instance, were sitting on the floor in the sand, holding a carburettor between their toes as they tried to clean it. CMC needed to strengthen their other agencies (Mombasa, Dar-es-Salaam and Kampala), so they just started with Kampala.
During Easter of 1955 CMC sent us on a vacation to Kampala so that I could see Hubert’s eventual new place of work and of course the place were we should be living. As Hubert’s first contract was coming to an end in April of 1956 they suggested that we wind up everything in Nairobi, go on home-leave to earlier and after returning from home-leave move to Kampala via a quick stop in Nairobi in order to pick up our stored household goods, get the visa and so on.
When our time plan was worked out, we told Juma and Mwinzi. Juma decided to go back to Kisumu as he now had two wives, children and his family there. Mwinzi was quite happy to come with us to Kampala. Later on, when he went on his first vacation from Kampala to Machakos, he got himself a wife. At first he thought of bringing her to Kampala, but it then turned out to be quite expensive for him and he returned alone. In early 1957 he decided to rather go back to Kenya. Unfortunately after they left I have never heard of either Juma or Mwinzi.
Christmas at my parent's house in Germany
My little brother Gerd, Hubert, myself, my dad and my stepmother.
Christmas 1955 found us in Germany. As this was our first time at home since we got married, I received many presents for Christmas- all useful things for our new household. Our “long leave” came to an end right after Christmas. As we had got a new VW beetle on “home-delivery”, we now drove in this car through Austria and Italy right down to Brindisi. The car was packed with all the Christmas presents and our personal belongings. It is unbelievable what could fit in such a small beetle. Hubert was also an excellent packer. And I, being very tall, in those days always said, that I have a chassis that could be folded up. Those days are long gone and I have big problems to get in and out of any car now. We even had a large lampshade for our standard lamp hanging from the ceiling of the car. This was hand-made by my mother-in-law and beautifully decorated with dried red wild-wine leaves. Hubert made the standard of wrought iron. Inside the lampshade was Hubert's hat. I cannot believe, that I could sit between all this luggage, but we had a wonderful trip.
My parent's in front of their house in Reichenbach/Fils
and we in our beetle on our way to Kampala
We were in Naples on December 31st, 1955 and the Italians were having a good time in Naples welcoming the year 1956. We could not find a place to spend the night. So we parked the car directly on the beach promenade and slept in the car, or rather, I slept and Hubert kept night watch. The next morning the whole promenade was covered with glass from broken Chianti bottles. Along the shore was one big hotel next to the other and in their joy people residing there were throwing the Chianti bottles on the road. In fact we took the last pieces of glass from Naples out of the tires of the car in our garage in Kampala.
In Brindisi we had to spend a night at a hotel. I was rather sceptical about the hotels in Brindisi. The situation, however, had improved a lot compared to 2 years before on my last trip. There now was a brand new "Holiday Inn". Our finances after this long leave were very tight, as we only were allowed to take a certain amount of money out of East Africa, due to the foreign exchange control. So we were not even sure, if we could still afford the hotel room. Although very shortly after our marriage Hubert had declared me the finance minister of our household, in a situation like this Hubert had to take over. He was able to negotiate and get cheaper rates.
Port Said Kette - This is the necklace I got in Port Said. The bracelet, which plays an
important part in my next letter, I already gave to my granddaughter.
The next day we, including our car, boarded the Europa of Lloyd Triestino. This was my second voyage on this ship and Hubert's first. This time we could enjoy it together. Port Said was still as fascinating as during my first voyage. In my excitement I was holding a one-dollar note very openly in my hand. It did not take very long for it to be gone. In its place I had a riding whip under my arm. I did not really need a riding whip, but the way I got it, made me like it. The Arab who exchanged the riding whip for my dollar note said in German: "Mensch hau ab!" I cannot really translate this well, as this is a kind of German slang, but it meant, that I should just move on.
In Port Said I discovered a very unique necklace and bracelet made of silver and ivory. Hubert realized, that I like it but had no more money to spend. Hubert, however, had saved some of his travel-allowance. So he got me the necklace and bracelet.
On January 26th, 1956 I wrote to my parents as follows:
We arrived in Mombasa on January 16th, 1956. Everything went very well except that the car could only be cleared the next day because there was a lot of rain. We were able to stay another night on board the ship. On the afternoon of the 17th we got on our way to Nairobi. We planned to drive right through the night to Nairobi. Due to bad roads, and especially due to something big and black suddenly appearing in front of us, which happened to be Mama Elephant and her baby, we changed our plans and stopped at Mtito Andei for the night. (This in those days was the only hotel between Mombasa and Nairobi.)
Now we needed E.A. currency. Between all the luggage I was unable to find our chequebook. Fortunately, we looked innocent enough and were able to get credit. We also mentioned the name of Major Gosslin of the Royal Automobile Association of East Africa, whom we knew well. I think this helped.
The next day we arrived in Nairobi. There we practically "were faced with utter ruin". All the hotels were full. In the end we were very glad that Mr. Gordon's Boarding House existed. (We knew Mr. and Mrs. Gordon very well, as some other Germans stayed at that place.) Before we went there, Hubert had to get me some samosas. I could hardly wait. I liked them so much. That was the only time Hubert got a scratch on our car. In the meantime I also sent a letter to Mwinzi. It was a great pleasure and surprise, when Mwinzi arrived the next Monday. By Monday evening 6 VW boxes with our household goods were on the train to Kampala and by Tuesday we got our visas for Uganda and could proceed to Kampala. We got as far as Kakamega, where we were received very well at the Catholic Mission. The next day we arrived in Kampala. It was January 25th, 1956.
By the way, the first time we came into this building, there was a Kobra lying curled up in the left corner of the open entrance on the highly polished red cement floor. We only noticed the snake, when we were coming down the stairs.
- What a reception!
Hubert's predecessor will be moving out of the flat by February 14th. It is going to take some time for the flat to be cleaned and painted. Until then we are staying in a Hotel. The Silver springs Hotel is not the best, but at the moment I couldn't care. The whole family including Mwinzi seems to be on the brink of breaking down. Hubert has injured himself in lifting something heavy. I don't need to eat anything, as I am for sure vomiting will shortly follow. But if we are lucky, better times will be coming for us again. It should have been summer in Kenya right now. Instead it was very cold and the whole country was under water. This made the driving from Mombasa to Nairobi so difficult. (The road from Mombasa to Nairobi in those days was just a murram road, no tarmac! Sometimes the mud was quite deep and the cars were more “swimming" than driving. The beetle was especially good on this kind of roads. It was always a great adventure to drive in them.) And in Nairobi we had to squeeze Mwinzi plus a big carpet in the car that was already full.
February 6th, 1956:
We have no more Mau Mau in the extremely peaceful Uganda. Instead everything is more and more “mau”. (Mau is a German slang word and means "bad") I practically don't feel well since we have left the boat. I have been vomiting permanently and have now got quite a gastritis. I got two injections, which did not help. I can hardly keep myself on my feet. I have seen an English doctor. But I did not go there a second time. I found the only German doctor in Kampala. She is Dr. Oberhofer of the Rubaga Mission Hospital, a very, very nice lady. But so far she could not help me either. On top of everything we are still living in this terrible hotel. Either this or next week we might be able to move into the flat. Repairs will have to be done in every room, however. And I am a real "heroine" at the moment. During the day I am now staying in the flat of Mr. Geyer, which is on the same floor as the flat we are going to move into. Mwinzi cooks an oatmeal soup for me there, as often as I feel like. That's the only thing that stays in my stomach. I even cannot drink any tea… not even peppermint-tea. Mwinzi surely is a faithful soul. I am sooo glad that I have got Mwinzi and I am very much looking forward to give him the suit. (My parents gave me a suit for Mwinzi) He doesn't know anything about it yet.
Paul Kibukamusoke, the friend of the Kabaka, who has returned to Kampala in the meantime, has brought me a Grundig Radio to my hotel room, so that I have some entertainment. Isn’t that nice of him! Kampala is a very charming small town. A thousand times nicer than Nairobi! (Although I did like Kenya very much, I never specially liked the city of Nairobi.) The natives are very friendly. We can sleep with open doors and windows during the night. The climate - at least at the moment - is very pleasant. Including the German doctor, two German nurses, Hubert and myself, there are 10 Germans in Kampala at the moment. Hubert has much nicer working conditions than in Nairobi. He has got a nice office and in fact is sitting with tie and “stiff collar” behind his desk. I wonder, how long Hubert will stand this. I don't know. I only hope he does not start catching the manager's disease. Everybody in Kampala knows that "Winki" has arrived. His customers certainly listened to the drums of Uganda.
February ?th, 1956:
One misfortune seldom comes by itself! Since yesterday Hubert is in hospital. What the problem is is just an assumption. The night before yesterday Hubert was vomiting, he got diarrhea in its worst form and breathing got more and more difficult for him. He went to the hotel’s dining room for breakfast yesterday morning but did not come back. Instead two Africans came later and informed me, that Hubert is in the hospital. I contacted Mr. Geyer immediately. He had a “very good nose” and in the first hospital we tried, we found Hubert. The first nurse said, that we could not see the patient. But another nurse thought he was getting a bit better and I could see him. Hubert virtually had broken down on his way from the dining room to our hotel room. He had had great difficulties breathing and he thought he had seen his end. The doctors are guessing that Hubert lifted something too heavy and has squeezed his lung. I myself still live on oatmeal soup. (The guess of the doctor‘s must have been right, as he sure had lifted something heavy, as I mentioned before.)
His Highness, the Kabaka of Buganda, has invited us for lunch on Saturday. I have to cancel this now. We have not met the Kabaka yet, but Paul introduced us to one of his brothers, Prince Lincoln. He is a nice person. Prince Lincoln felt very comfortable with us in our hotel room (me lying in bed) and he then arranged the invitation by his Highness.
Yesterday I moved into the flat by myself. The painters started today with the kitchen, which already looks very much better. It will however take some time, until everything is ready.
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First published: June 1, 2005