Chapter 43

Government Request - Unusual Visitor


During the few days I spent in Blantyre in 1922, a senior member of the African Lakes Commission told me to keep in touch with the various officials in Government Departments, as they liked invitations from missions in particular. I was given the names of officials who would help me in my work. A week after my arrival at Livingstonia and knowing what my duties would be, I wrote (with Dr Laws' permission) to various people in Government Departments in Zomba. Three officials came up by steamer and we had long interviews, visits to valleys, hillsides, lakesides and mountains. One man studied flora and fauna, another geological aspects while the third was with me taking soil samples, studying streams with a view to irrigation and the layout of land for new villages and for growing crops.

One day in late 1924, Dr Laws phoned and asked if I was free to call at his office. Was it to be another unusual assignment, I thought. When I arrived the Doctor's desk was clear except for one document. I noticed at once it had the Government Crest on it. The Doctor looked relaxed, had a smile - quite unusual -so my feeling of tension left me. Slowly, my ears heard the words, 'The Director of Agriculture is interested in creating smallholdings for Africans, in upland areas, for mountain wheat, mountain rice and similar foods. Will it be possible for you to hold a survey?'

All at once I felt completely relaxed, for since I had the conference with the three officials nearly a year earlier, the survey had been carried out with one of the oldest missionary teachers on the staff. I asked the Doctor to excuse me for a quarter of an hour until I motor cycled to the Homestead for the information he required.

When I got back the Doctor said dryly, 'I just hope it is the information I need - the Director's letter is a long one.'

The usual pause, then I spoke, reading mostly from notes:

'The survey mentioned in the director's letter is well advanced. Along with Mr Cullen Young (T.C.Y. for short) and some of my students, we studied the uplands. I have planned 100 5-acre holdings; 40 10-acre holdings and about 400 2-acre holdings, to be operational by 1926. One third will be put down in various root crops this year, one half of the holdings will grow wheat and rice (mountain varieties) in 1925 and all holdings available for wheat, rice and catch crops by 1926.'

I could see Dr Laws was annoyed. He snapped, 'Mr Caseby, why did you withhold this survey from me - I am the Principal!! His words came slowly, then the deliberate snap, 'What have you to say?'

I opened my diary. 'Doctor, you received the report from my own hands six weeks ago!'

He jumped up - very smartly for a man seventy plus in years, opened a filing cabinet, took out a folder marked 'Homestead'. He thumbed some documents and got my report. 'Yes, it's here, please accept my apology. It has completely escaped my attention.' He read for a few seconds. 'It's a fine report, you have put in a lot of time and effort- please report progress from time to time, our food supply depends on this.'

We talked and laughed about many things and as I was leaving the dear old gentleman remarked, 'Come to think about your trip with Mr Young, I thought it was a shooting expedition?'

I looked into the Doctor's face, 'Doctor, I had my share of shooting between 1915 and the end of 1918. Killing is not one of my hobbies.'

My wife took an increasing interest in the duties of many departments. Having a grip of the vernacular, she endeared herself to men in charge of outside jobs - especially the gardens and duties where women were concerned. She accompanied me on most journeys, entering wholeheartedly into all activities. On long journeys we travelled by night, it was cool in the moonlight. We usually had twenty followers - carriers, students and guides. William, the gun boy, was always in the rear of the column; in front, ourselves, with a man carrying a hurricane lamp. William was a first class shot. He had an old 303 army rifle. He was allowed two bullets at a time, I usually had another dozen in my haversack. He shot antelope for food, sometimes a leopard. The carriers and students loved travelling with us. They knew there would be fresh meat with their maize porridge.

As we came to a village or hamlet (even after midnight), the Chief or Headman with villagers, would meet us on the path and hand over gifts - chickens, eggs, maize cobs and food for the carriers. In turn, my wife distributed beads, trinkets, safety pins and salt, while I handed round a snuff box with scented snuff, something they enjoyed. For the elderly we usually had soap, a piece of dried meat and matches.

One very hot day the cook told us a very tall man - a white man - was walking up the lake road, towards the Homestead. All the 'bush telegraph' told us was, 'the man is taller than any other man, dressed in khaki and very tanned'. I got on my motorcycle, as we liked to welcome all strangers before they reached the mission. I met the visitor, a Dutchman on a walking tour around the world. He was 7 feet 2 inches. We sat talking for a few minutes in a shaded place. He showed me his passport, a wonderful document, also his log book with hundreds of postal franking stamps. I asked him to come to our home. He said, 'Only for meals. I prefer sleeping on the ground.'

My wife told Dan, the cook, to make an extra meal. Some of my workers fixed two double tents together, waterproof sheeting and straw matting on the ground. It was a super tent indeed. By the time the traveller arrived, a bath was ready. After his bath, he changed into fresh clothes, then washed his khaki trousers, jacket, vest and socks and fixed them on a line under an orange tree. He came indoors and ate a hearty meal, washing it down with cup after cup of black coffee, followed by about a dozen peaches and apples. We had thousands of ripe peaches. He talked about his adventures through Europe, Egypt, Sudan, Kenya and Tanganyika. We listened and later from his English diary, a valuable document, I found everything he said chronicled. His newspaper cuttings and photographs of himself intrigued me.

Before dinner that evening I saw him write up four diaries all in duplicate: Dutch, English, French and German. The duplicates were sent to Geographical Societies in each country mentioned and a fifth hand-written on, to America. He posted five letters from Livingstonia and as he had no money, I paid the postage. He had a lovely camera, watch, compass, an engraved ivory bangle and hand-tooled purse of pig skin leather. He needed 5. In exchange he handed over his camera to me as security. He expected money from a bank down south in Blantyre. I said place 5 to my banking account in Blantyre and I will return your camera by the first steamer. It was a deal. My wife and Dan, the cook, packed a hamper with all kinds of tasty food.

As he was leaving he asked for some biltong, which was dried smoked meat. 'I've given your carriers their native food.'

I said, 'Dried smoked meat has a dreadful taste!'

'Not to me,' he replied, 'I have no sense of taste or smell.' Some climax to the excellent dishes the cook had carefully prepared.



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This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993.   All rights reserved.  Used here by express permission.