Letters from Sonja: The Floods of 1961
Heavy rains poured onto East Africa for much of 1961.

Letters from Sonja: The Floods of 1961


From deaths to some, to delaying mail and interupting the construction at Buziga, the rains of 1961 affected everyone at the time.

By Sonja Winklmaier
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First published: March 19, 2006


Click Here: Previously on "Letters from Sonja: Walking Sideways"


August 21st, 1961 –

Hubert and Gerd have gone to the pictures tonight. It is 10 p.m. now. Our neighbour just came home. I quickly got my typewriter. Before I did not dare making so much noise, as I tried to listen to every noise from outside. I am very scared when I am at home by myself and even more so when I know that our neighbours are not at home. Phylax is outside and Arco I have with me in the house. My police whistle, as usual, is lying next to me. (Gerd got Arco, our dog with a damaged eye, in 1961 from a Dutch person. It was the children who played with the dog and in the course of playing with him by accident they hurt his eye. )

Arco and Phylax get on surprisingly well and do work very well together. One of Arco's ears is hanging down because of an injury to his eye. Last week thieves have been on the hill and wanted to break into our car. Phylax did chase them off, however. They even left their tools behind. Oddly enough we all slept through this. The people working for us told us the next day and the traces left behind convinced us. Arco, this scoundrel, was not at home. He was visiting the dog of our neighbours two houses away from us. That's the house the thieves chose for their next destination. According to our neighbours they were chased away by Arco. I still cannot believe that we slept through the commotion, as we normally always hear it when the dogs make noise. Gerd sometimes is annoyed when I put Arco on a chain, but I am always afraid, he could attack somebody when running free as he still does not listen too well when given an order. He has even been jumping into the house through the window, which is not very funny during the rainy weather we have at the moment. I am feeding and washing both dogs, which means that Gerd just has the pleasure.

That you like our style of living, African style of living is well expressed, pleases me. If only you could see that in reality! The leopard skin indeed is an outstanding nice piece. It is a mountain leopard from the Ruwenzori mountains which we got from Prince Akiki Nyabongo, a cousin of the Omukama of Toro and Professor of Philosophy. We also have a round floor covering made from Kolobus monkey skins – black and white. Perhaps you cannot recognize this on the pictures. I especially like the kitchen, as the kitchen is very practical. I enjoy the view over and over again. In front of the big kitchen window I have an exceedingly beautiful yellow Hibiscus. The bookshelf is Hubert's idea. I do like it very much. The pictures don't show these things so well, but in reality one can especially notice that, although we got piece after piece over quite a long period of time, the different materials fit very well. The metal of the book-case and the standard-lamp; the mvule wood of the book-case and the ceiling; the fireplace made of natural stone and the animal skins all match very well.

By the way, we have so many grapefruits from our only grape fruit tree which we eat almost every day. It seems to never end. From the blossom to the ripe ones all intermediate stages are available!

Last week Gerd once again returned from a big safary; thanks God in a good condition this time. He still feels a lot of pain and he cannot lift anything yet.

The Botanical Garden after the heavy rains of 1961
The Botanical Garden after the heavy rains of 1961.

We have very bad weather at the moment. For quite some time we have been getting a lot of rain und it is uncomfortably cool. The downpours have been very heavy and have been lasting for a very long time.

I have bought a small "Meccano", the English equivalent to the Märklin building set, for Michy. He now is very busy screwing all kinds of things together. In the evening he puts the Meccano nicely tidied up on the mantelpiece for the "Heinzelmännchen" (these are little gnomes in Germany, who come to the houses to help with the housework etc. during the night.) First thing in the morning he is checking, what the Heinzelmännchen have built during the night. One of us still has to play "Heinzelmännchen" today.

Wacki now does some free standing- and walking trials. She certainly is not too early, but still very wobbly and – quite contrary to Michy –somewhat scared. For me it is very frightening and I am constantly breaking out in sweat.

The photos are Gerd's first pictures taken with the new camera. Lake Victoria – as you know – is the largest inland lake in the world. The size according to the encyclopedia is 68,800 sq km and the deepest point is 79 m. It is a rather shallow sweet-water-lake. There are crocodiles and hippopotamus in the lake, which we can see with the binoculars from our sitting room. Also a variety of fish are in the lake. At least once a week we have "Nile-Tilapia", which is considered a great delicatessen in Europe. The most important and unpleasant thing is, that all microbes of the world are found in Lake Victoria, too.

Gerd, of course, has taken pictures during his last "safari". At the moment it is somehow unfavourable for black and white photos, as – because of all the rain – the grass is very high. Gerd has also realized already, that taking pictures is very expensive here. Each print costs 1,00 to 1,25 EAS.

By the end of the year Gerd wants to take a vacation. Together with Mr. Kenneder, a young German salesman for Bosch, he wants to go to Mombasa and Zanzibar.

Last week I had real bad luck. I got 10 day-old chicks from our neighbour, Mr. McCully-Hunter. During the first night they were attacked by safari ants. Next morning there was more or less nothing left of the chicks. This was the second time that we had safari ants since we live here. Hopefully I am more lucky with the ducklings that are supposed to hatch very soon.

September 5th, 196l –

Last week Gerd took me to the pictures in his "new" car. Although the car is really old, it looks very good. The colour now is perl-white and inside the upholstery is red with small coloured patterns. He also had a new sliding roof fixed and for instance blinking lights instead of the old fashioned direction indicators and so on.

Michy's last term in the Kindergarten-School is from September 7th to December 7th. As of January he will be going to Primary School. On Friday the "robber" will be 5 years old. He will have his first birthday party on Saturday. Gerd has done the shopping for the party and I was shocked how expensive every thing is. But it just is not possible that Michy only goes to other children's parties. He has invited 12 children and in most cases the parents will come too. Hopefully it won't rain, so that more or less everything can take part outside in the garden.

Gerd's boat takes more and more shape. If Gerd would not have had the accident, I am sure, it would already be finished.

By the way some days ago I could hear how Michy was talking to the gardener and his helpers about the same thing over and over again. The Africans to Michy: "wewe goi-goi" (You are a good-for-nothing.)

Michy's reply: "hapana, watcha maneno!" (No, that is not true, keep quiet.) In the evening Michy asked me, what "goi-goi" and "watcha maneno?" means. That's how children learn a language. All words just picked up and automatically used correctly although Michy did not know the exact meaning.

September 21st, l961 –

In the meantime Michy's birthday party took place. On the same evening the 16 or 17 year old daughter of our neighbour also had a birthday party. She had invited 80 guests for a dance. That seems to follow children's parties. Who shall pay for that???

Regarding our wishes for Christmas: I am perfectly happy. Or rather I would be more than grateful for some mending yarn (white and different colours for socks) another laundry brush and perhaps one or two hangers for trousers. Apart from that one can get something in Germany that makes denture stick better and is called "Kukident". Gerd told us that Papa is using that. Our teeth are still very solid, but the dentures of an aunt of the Kabaka give her problems. Hubert has told our African Oma (Oma means Granny) about Kukident and she would be very happy if we could get this for her. I still have 10 DM, which I enclose.

I want to make a little doll's pram for Wacki for Christmas out of a basket. Perhaps the two gentlemen will pull themselves together and make an undercarriage for it. For Michy I am going to sew a Red Indian tent.

Michy has been quite naughty this afternoon. At long last he has decided to play. His toys are two ashtrays, a powder-box, my flour sieve, the lid for the typewriter, the typewriter cleaning set and the "Mensch-ärgere-Dich-nicht" (a game) men and "Mühle" (another game) stones. Isn't that a wonderful selection? Now only Grandmother's button-box, that was always waiting for me to play with in her apartment in Ostendstr. 14 in the shoe cabinet, is missing. (I loved my grandmother's button collection very much. They were very old fashioned buttons from the 19th century and had so many different shapes that really inspired my phantasm.) Michy's whole conversation while playing is in English. If only he would speak German more frequently. Whenever you meet uncle Rudolph please ask him what schoolbooks for Michy's age are available. I would like to have these sent to me. I am mainly thinking about a Fibel (That is the first reading book for children in Germany) and later a grammar book. I have promised the children that we will be playing outside at 4 O'clock. Wacki is totally crazy about the sandbox.

The sand pit
The sand pit.

The swing
The swing.

October 5th, l961 -

An aircraft carrying Dag Hammarskjöld crashed in Rhodesia. I was shocked when I heard of this accident. I always put great hopes in Dag Hammarskjöld. So far he always understood how to bring all difficulties to a good end. Once I have seen Dag Hammarskjöld in Kampala. He made a very sympathetic and modest impression on me. Well, we will have to have independence, presumably in June now, without his help.

UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld died aged 56 in an unsolved air crash in Northern Rhodesia while on a peace mission to the Congo.

November 3rd, l961 -

We recently had an unexpected visit by Norbert. He was on a flight to Europe and had a stop in Entebbe.

Der Schulranzen (a "Schulranzen" is a German type school bag), I am sure, will be alright. Children here just bind their books together with a piece of string, carry them in an old metal box or a bag made of cotton material. I think in Germany this is how it was 50 or 60 years back, too. I only thought that there might be a bag with a special part for something to eat and drink. But I also can put this in a little basket for Michy. There are no meals provided at school. We are happy that there is a school at all. Fortunately the school is cheaper than the Kindergarten. It is 150 Shs per term instead of 200 Shs for the Kindergarten. I will be getting a list with all the items for the school uniform soon and I do hope that I won't have to get too many things.

I will send you a photo from Michy's Kindergarten class. I have ordered it, but I have not seen it yet. I am sure, he is the longest one. He really is very tall. And we hardly can call Wacki that name any more, as she too gets bigger and bigger. Everybody thinks she is at least 2 years old.

Sonja with Wacki (Barbara)
Sonja with Wacki (Barbara).

Paul Kibukamusoke has been in Germany recently on a vacation. He was almost offended because we did not give him your address. He would have liked to visit you. I thought this would be too troublesome for him. He did like it in Germany very much and he wants to go there again.

We had to pay an unearthly amount of income tax on October 1st, more than Hubert earns in a month. And this was only half the amount due. The second half will be due in March. I am constantly calculating how to make ends meet. When everything goes well here, it is worthwhile to live on a tight budget for some time, as in about two years we will have paid off the house. Nothing must go wrong however. Don't mention this in your letters, as Hubert would be mad with rage. He is such an optimist, but we really hardly can make it at the moment.

The Kingdom of Buganda has now signed the new constitution. In Mengo, the seat of the Kabaka's Government, everybody is happy now.

Last week we have been invited twice by His Royal Highness for Cocktails. Gerd now also had the honour of meeting our King. One time Gerd had invited us to a Chinese restaurant after the party. The Chinese food was very good. Hubert used chopsticks for eating.

Just recently eight young Ugandans flew to Germany to study there. Everything now shows that we move towards independence with giant steps. I expect that by March, when Uganda gets Internal Self Government. We will also get a German Embassy in Uganda.

More and more Europeans are leaving the country. On the other hand also new ones arrive. Rents for houses are going up, as all the various countries send their "outposts" already. Nobody wants to be too late. In Dar-es-Salaam - Tanganyika celebrates their independence on December 9th – there is an acute housing shortage and the Federal Republic of Germany for instance is not in a position to find enough housing for their Consular staff, so that they have to restrict themselves to the most necessary staff.

The heavy rains of 1961
The heavy rains of 1961.

Apart from this the weather this year has been very extraordinary. We had lots and lots of heavy rains. For the roads in East Africa that amount of rain was not so good. Many roads in Uganda have been closed and the railway, for some time, is not working. In Kenya people are dying of starvation or drowning.

With regards to our building project, we cannot carry on with the tank at the moment because of heavy rains. The tank is 6 m deep, but the walls have not yet been covered with bricks. Yesterday the hole started slipping and hopefully not the whole house is landing in the tank as the building site is very close to the house. For the yard, however, the rain is very good. I recently planted many flowers again, mainly all kinds of lilies and dahlias. Everything is still getting lost, however, on this big area.

We have had a little monkey for some weeks. This baby monkey was just a couple of days old, when we got it and it looked really bad. I feed it with the help of a baby bottle and now it thrives well. Some days ago we did not have any electricity for the whole day and into the night. I had to cook the meals for our complete "zoo" and for ourselves on a single paraffin flame.

Michy and the little monkey, who has got hair by now
Michy and the little monkey, who has got hair by now.

November 20th, l961 –

There is a terrible wind outside. Although the sun is still shining at the moment, the lake is very stormy already. We have had real bad weather for quite some time already. For the garden the rain is very good and the lawn in front of the windows is of a really deep green at the moment and the Cannas and Salvia in front of the dining room window could not be of a brighter red.

By the way, Gerd has already sold his car again. As soon as new cars arrive here, he wants to buy himself a new car and go on his vacation with it in January. He is taking Mr. Kenneder with him. They have booked themselves in a hotel in Mombasa. They'll drive in Gerd's new car from here to Nairobi and Mombasa and have a look at the national parks on the way. From Mombasa they are going to fly to Zanzibar and back to Mombasa. This is rather a big journey for just a fortnight. They want to see as much as possible.

Yesterday Hubert and myself attended the birthday-party of HRH the Kabaka. It was a really huge party in the parliament building of the kingdom of Buganda. Our new governor – he has taken the oath on Saturday and will be the last governor, Sir Walter, and Lady Coutts, our Mrs. Mayor, all the ministers, the kings of Toro and Ankole and everybody else, who is of importance here, for instance the Bishop – they all were there. It was quite interesting. Gerd stayed at home with the children. He has been working on his boat the whole day and went out on Saturday evening, that's why he rather wanted to stay at home. Otherwise I would have had to stay at home.

I got a very nice pamphlet about Stuttgart the other day from an African. Stuttgart is changing all the time. The African stayed in Germany for quite some time. I met him in Hubert's office. He told me about his experience in Germany and told me, that in the end he came to Stuttgart, where his good German was spoiled again, because of the dialect spoken there. When I told him, that I am from Stuttgart, we had a real good laugh.

December 20th, 1961 –

We are waiting for some news from you since quite some time. Also Cooper Motors did not get any mail from Germany for a while. I presume this has something to do with the giant mix-up at the postal services at the moment. The high water has messed up many things in East Africa. For days no train can come from the coast to Kampala. Then suddenly the loaded wagons can start their journey. Before they arrive at their destination, however, the rails are damaged again. Gerd was really lucky with his new car. For weeks no cars arrived in Kampala. Today it seems that the new vehicle has arrived.

We have postponed the building of the tank until after Christmas. With all that rain it was too complicated. Gerd's boat is almost ready now, but we cannot take it on the lake for Christmas yet. Hubert and Gerd, however, are thinking about a new hobby already. I really do hope that we can add two more bedrooms to the present house soon. Hubert and Gerd are convinced that they will have a railway-room next year.

Last night I finished the little doll's pram for Wacki. I do hope that I can finish Michy's tent by tomorrow. Michy is very excited. Every morning he is waiting for me to get up so that he can get up too and open the new window of the Advents calendar. Surprisingly he did not make a mistake yet. He knew all the correct dates. I am sure Wacki will like the Christmas tree and the little presents she is getting. Michy, of course, this year has a long list with his wishes and he is constantly asking: Do you think Father Christmas (He cannot get used to the Christkind, who brings the presents in Germany) will bring me this and that? Can he carry big things, too? Does he come with a car? And so on...

To end the year in the Kindergarten School there was a concert by the children and also a Christmas party for the children and they even got a report. Michy's work on numbers was praised, but he is not yet perfect with the alphabet. He is very interested in class. I think that this is all very early, but we have to accept the local school curriculum. Michy starts at the Nakasero Primary School on January 11th. I wonder how he will get on there, as this now is the equivalent to our elementary school at home. Michy is very much looking forward to going to the real school. The difference for him will be a new teacher, as the complete Kindergarten class (boys and girls) will be taken over by the primary school. He will presumably stay together with the same children for the first two years. Then the children will be sorted out according to their abilities, as there are several classes in each year.

Hubert and Gerd want to start the ham radio business. Gerd is interested, too.

Michy, too, has a new hobby. He is learning the time at the moment. About every half hour he is asking me now, what the time is. He found an old wristwatch of Hubert, which he is now wearing very proudly. He is constantly testing, whether the watch still shows the correct time.

Hubert, Sonja holding Barbara (Wacki) and Father Eudenbach with Michael (Michy)
Hubert, Sonja holding Barbara (Wacki) and Father Eudenbach with Michael (Michy).

It must have been during this year that we met Father Eudenbach, a White Father from Germany. At that time he was a lecturer of Latin at the school or seminary in Kisubi. Later he left the White Fathers and was the priest at the Uganda Martyrs Shrine Mityana. I will tell you more about this later.

Click here to continue to "1962 - The Year of Uganda's Independence"

By Sonja Winklmaier
more from author >>
First published: March 19, 2006
Sonja Winklmaier moved to Uganda in the 1950s to follow her husband, Hubert Winklmaier, as the German Volkswagen Factory sent him to work with their agent, Cooper Motor Corporation.

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