At the end of February 1968 Mary and I moved into our new house in the Catholic mission compound in the village of Nkubu in the Meru area on the eastern slopes of Mt. Kenya. We had been living in an old, stone schoolhouse since we arrived in January 1966. Our son Joseph Mubundi had been born in that house, but that’s another story. Mary had spent most her second pregnancy lying on the same bed on which Joe had been born. Malaria caused premature contractions.
As much as we liked moving into a government-standard teacher’s house, we left a lot of living behind in that old schoolhouse. As I said, it was made of stone with a peaked metal or “mabati” roof, which thundered during the rainy season. The structure was about 20 ft. wide by 60 ft. long. When we first moved in, our only water supply was the through the system connected to the village pump on the other side of the market square, down by the Thingithu River. The mission had to construct a small, elevated holding tank to ensure a steady supply for mother and baby after the system broke down for a few weeks. The stone platform for this tank took up a bit of the limited space between our house and the road down to the seminary, where I taught. We had electricity in the evening, when the generator was working.
The whole mission compound lay on a slope that started at the main road through the market square and fell down to the river rapids below the seminary. The schoolhouse lay at the intersection of the narrow, dirt road to the seminary and a driveway to the small school where Mary taught science and maths (that’s what they called math in Kenya) to second year high school students preparing for the Sacred Heart Brothers, who taught at the big government boys high school on the compound. Our schoolhouse residence took up most of the area that had been filled in at this intersection. So, on the side away from the road, facing Mary’s school, the ground dropped off quickly to a large field between our house and her school. Downhill from our house and along one corner of that field were two stone barracks-like structures, which housed the families of African teachers at the primary and secondary schools on the compound. Joe could play with their children at times.
There were doors at either end of the corridor that ran through our schoolhouse. We used the door at the uphill end as our main entrance. It was about three steps down from the driveway that separated our house from a government primary school. Thick evergreen bushes over 12 ft high gave us privacy from the road and the driveway, except for a fenced break along the road through which we could see a grove of coffee trees. I soon learned the exquisite pleasure of the smell of coffee blossoms when the trees bloomed each year. Our new house was too far away for us to enjoy this fragrance any more.
What I remember most vividly about those bushes are the spiders—large, black and yellow spiders as big as a man’s hand. They spun thick webs among the branches sprouting at all angles from the bushes. These webs were thick enough and the spiders big enough to catch small birds, but they preyed mostly on insects. I left the spiders alone unless they spun a web across the steps down to our front door. Then the web had to be broken. Very carefully. I had many nightmares about these spiders, especially when the mosquito net over our bed touched my face. I would wake Mary with my yelling and thrashing.
About two weeks after we moved into our new house, the morning news on BBC announced that Eugene McCarthy had received 41% of the vote in the New Hampshire primary. I went running out the door to tell the news to Ron Randa, another American expatriate teacher, as he was passing by on his way to the first class of the day. He was not as excited as I was because, I think, he had been living in Africa for about 10 years already. He had missed much of the excitement and changes of the 60s back home. Ron had moved to Kenya in a hurry the year before. He had been teaching in the Sudan and made the mistake of commenting unfavorably to his class about the competence of the Arab armies during the Six-Day War.
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Not right, nor orderly.Non-Fiction
The phrase "not right, nor orderly" comes from John Donne's poem, "An Anatomie of the World," written on the first anniversary of "the untimely death of Mistress Elizabeth Drury," the 14 year old daughter of his patron, Sir Robert Drury. The poet u...