PASSPORT TO ADVENTURE
started. Nevertheless, it is entirely accurate to say that it began in a snowstorm, for that was when we actually decided to go, and such a decision, after all, is the real beginning of things.
our expedition to Africa began in a snowstorm. It
is true that months were to pass before we actually
That evening in November, we were at home in our log cabin on Campfire Road. Snow had been in the air as dusk came down, and during dinner the fall had grown heavier. Soon the ground was white, even in the darkness, and a little undulation that might grow into a drift was beginning to form at the corner of the house. The whole place was almost utterly silent, and for a quarter of an hour, perhaps, we hardly said a word. There was an occasional sound from the fire, and a barely audible whisper that came from the falling snow as it touched the windows and piled up on the skylight overhead.
It is odd how remote one can feel there on Campfire Road. Our cabin is fairly deep in the woods for by our
own lane it is fully two hundred yards to the road. Still, we are only about three-quarters of a mile from the State Parkway, and but an hour or so by automobile from New York. Nevertheless, at night when snow is on the ground—and especially before anyone has driven through and left his track on the road—it is easy to feel as detached from Broadway and Forty-second Street as if one were deep in the north woods, five hundred miles away. It may well be that this sense of detachment was what turned our minds to Africa.
"Humph! If this keeps up we'll have to dig ourselves out in the morning."
This was from Bill who stood at a window staring out at the slanting snow.
"Well, that won't hurt us. We need the exercise." Irene rose from her comfortable fireside chair to join Bill.
"You know, Bill, since the war ended, we've been living a very quiet life up here in the woods."
Bill smiled and lit a cigarette.
"You're right, its been practically retirement, and I won't admit that we are old enough for that."
"We seem to have forgotten all our plans for after the war. Remember, you were going to take me on an expedition to Africa."
Bill, drawing deeply on his cigarette:
"I haven't forgotten it. Its been twenty-four years since I've been to Africa, and you've never been there. I do want you to see Africa as I have seen it, and the experience would be interesting for both of us. Yes, I believe that the time has come for us to go."
Irene's eyes sparkled.
"You mean that we can take out an expedition for the Museum as you have done before?"
"Well, they are beginning to do field work again, and I think that the Museum authorities would welcome such an idea if I suggested it. The last expedition I took
out. ... .
"But that was to Central Asia.
"Sure. It was for the Department of Mammals. I don't know what they might need from Africa at present, but there's no harm in asking."
"It is certain that the Museum hasn't got everything
Another pause. Outside the snow sifted down
"How about it?"
"Really, we've been wanting to go ever since you got out of uniform, and we're not getting any younger. . . ." Bill broke in eagerly: "Let's do it!" Irene nodded vigorously. "All right. Let's."
* * *
By morning the snow had stopped falling. With our decision fresh in our minds we drove in to see the Director of The American Museum of Natural History. The first reaction was not encouraging—the Department of Mammals had no need for any additional specimens at that time. However, the Museum is a huge institution and its interests are broad. Thus, when the talk turned to African art, and the possibility of making a collection of native material, the Director was immediately interested.
"That is a distinct possibility," he said. "It will be for the Department of Anthropology to decide, of' course, but I do know that their African collections are far from complete. I'd better talk with the Curator of that department. It happens that he is not here today. Can we get together the first of next week?"
We left with this new idea to mull over. Perhaps we could do some work for the Department of Anthropology. Nothing specific had been decided, but what had been said strongly suggested a satisfactory outcome. Our spirits were high. Even such preliminary preparations as we had been making achieved a new significance.
At one time we had thought that if ever we were to visit Africa, some knowledge of Swahili would surely come in handy. Swahili is the lingua franca of the eastern portions of the continent, and that was where we expected to go. But where could we find an instructor? It is said that if one knows where to look, it is possible to find anything in New York. Nevertheless, we were none too optimistic about locating a professor of Swahili. Many people have a smattering of the language. Since the days of Theodore Roosevelt, Carl Akeley and Martin Johnson, it has been hard for anyone to keep from learning at least a few Swahili words. Everyone knows that bwana means—master or sir—and simba means— lion. Such words have almost become a part of the English language, and many a book about Africa is pock-marked with them.
What we needed was more than a mere vocabulary of Swahili words. We wanted someone who could coach us, if not in grammatical Kiswahili—as the language is properly known—at least in the so-called "Ki-Settler" version commonly used in Kenya by the white settlers in speaking to the natives. To our great surprise, upon our very first inquiry a school of languages in New York City promptly solved the problem as to a possible instructor. In short order we had an appointment and
PASSPORT TO ADVENTURE our misgivings turned into curiosity as to who the
instructor in Swahili might be.
He might be a real East African—black, perhaps, and wearing a fez or turban. Or he might be a European-ized Arab, living possibly at International House, and studying for his doctorate at Columbia University. Or —and this seemed more likely—he might be a retired British officer who had spent much time in Kenya Colony or thereabout. To our surprise, he turned out to be an American business man.
During the war this gentleman, who had lived for a time in Zanzibar and had learned to speak Swahili, heard that the War Department needed some teachers of uncommon languages. He planned to co-operate by assembling a simple 600 word vocabulary as a starter before volunteering his services, and happened to mention this idea to an editor of United Press. The latter thought he could make a good news story of the incident, and he wrote it up for publication. He did so well with it that our instructor was deluged with letters from the Army, the Navy and the State Department—even before he had time to put a word of Swahili on paper. Since then, he had assembled a 2400 word vocabulary and a volume of useful phrases. We were his first students. He knew his subject, and though he never succeeded in making us masters of the language, we soon attained some understanding of it. The trouble lay in the fact that in New York there was so little opportunity to practice.
But no sooner had we left the Museum that day than we began talking Swahili to each other as if our lives depended on it. We went into a little restaurant for uncheon and thought to mystify the waiter by trying a little Swahili out on him.
"Sisi njaa. Tutaka chakula." (We are hungry. We want food.)
The waiter leaned forward politely.
"I beg your pardon, sir."
"Oh, I'm sorry." Bill grinned. "I merely said that we'd like to order lunch."
"Ndio, Bwana. Utaka nini? Tuko mingi!" (Yes, sir. What do you want? There is plenty!)
We couldn't believe our ears! The waiter might not be the only one in the city who could speak Swahili— and with a twinkle in his eye—but what an odd coincidence that we happened to meet!
* * *
The following week came the important meeting with the Museum authorities. To our great satisfaction we learned that, while their collections from West Africa were reasonably complete, there were great gaps in the comparable material from East Africa.
"But it isn't just a collection of African art that we want," they said. "What we especially need is a cross-section of the material possessions of some particular African people. Africa is changing—changing rapidly —and we need a collection, as extensive and complete as possible, made up of those everyday objects that are now in use. Art objects—the real thing—will be preserved, and will be bound to turn up from time to time through the years, but the ordinary utensils and implements, ornaments or even weapons will be discarded as valueless when the natives adopt the white man's 'culture'."
A score of tribes were mentioned—tribes ranging all the way from the Pondos and Xosas of South Africa to the Dinkas and Shilluks of the Upper Nile. No direct
suggestion was made as to the tribes we were to work. Within such limits as might be dictated by the Museum s needs, it would be up to us to make our own selection. The burator of the Department of Anthropology made it clear, however, that in his opinion it would be wise not to decide on that point at too great a distance.
It had been assumed both by ourselves and by the Museum that a trained anthropologist would be a member of the expedition. Thus the talk then turned upon the person who should accompany the expedition in this capacity. The Museum had a candidate. Tall, dark and in his thirties, R. Kepler Lewis had risen during the war from Second Lieutenant to Lieutenant-Colonel of Infantry and was studying for his doctorate in anthropology at Columbia University. The University had recommended him, and we first met him at the Museum, where he seemed so modest about his background and qualifications as to appear almost diffident. We liked Kep Lewis on sight and quickly decided to ask him to join the expedition.
The next problem was just how to get to Africa. The post-war demand for space on every ship leaving New York was still heavy, and every passenger carrying craft was booked to capacity for months—even for a year or more—ahead. We preferred not to fly as we were planning to be gone for eight or nine months and had to take an appalling lot of luggage and expedition equipment. Although we could send all the weighty stuff by ship, we preferred to travel with it so as to have it directly under our control. Still, no one could say definitely whether or not space would be available until at least an approximate date had been set for our departure.
Weather —especially the rains—would be a vital
factor in our proposed African movements. Accordingly we visited the Consulate General of the Union of South Africa, and decided on the strength of the information obtained there, to try to reach Capetown about the first of May. This was nearly six months ahead. Plenty of time, we thought. We wrote letters to old friends of Bill's in Kenya Colony outlining our probable needs in the matter of safari equipment. In fact, we felt that we were making giant steps toward our goal when unexpected difficulties suddenly threatened to cancel the whole affair.
We became grandparents. That, of course, was fine. But then complications set in that threatened to end tragically and for weeks it was touch and go with the new arrival. Then as this cloud was clearing, Bill took his turn in the hospital when a routine check up resulted in a series of treatments for a troublesome back and a minor operation on one foot. All during December plans and preparations for the. African venture had to be held in abeyance.
With the New Year, things took a turn for the better. But time has a disconcerting way of slipping past. We had somewhat glibly talked of having six months in which to make ready. Now we suddenly realized that we had but three or three and a half at most. If we were to arrive in Capetown by May ist, we would have to complete our preparations in something like a hundred days.
We visited the steamship offices again and found ourselves out of luck. All of them courteously assured us that they would like to have us as passengers,, but all their space was booked up for any number of months ahead. So we made reservations by air—planning to fly to London, and thence by way of Leopoldville to
Johannesburg and Capetown, which was to be our point of departure in Africa. From there—in hired automobiles, we hoped—we intended to drive north, but by a route that was still uncertain. And somewhere— perhaps in Northern Rhodesia—we would have our safari meet us—our safari that was being prepared in Nairobi.
The word "safari" is in wide use today. An Arabic word having reference to a journey or to travelling, it has acquired in East Africa a wide and varied usage. Originally the word indicated a caravan through the wilderness on foot and carried connotations of adventure. It is similarly applied to camel trains over the desert areas of the Northern Frontier Province in Kenya. And with the advent of big game hunters from Europe and the United States the term "safari equipment" was commonly applied to the clothes, food and utensils used by them on safari—and even to the natives who accompany the white men, who have become known as "safari boys."
Now we were concerned as to how arrangements were progressing in Nairobi. Even when Air Mail letters are prompt, the eight or ten intervening days seemed unbearably long. Why not call our outfitter on the phone? No sooner said than done. Well, not- quite that, for long distance to Kenya is not a speedy proposition. London answered almost instantaneously, but from London to Nairobi it was something else again. The channel by which such a call must go from England to Kenya Colony was open for but an hour each day, and we had missed it. Thus the call we put in about noon did not get through until the following morning. Even then it seemed unbelievable that we, on Campfire Road, could be talking with someone in Nairobi—the better part of half-way round the world!
We had made notes of the questions we wished to ask. Then other questions—many other questions—occurred to us as the replies came through. What about trucks and safari cars? What about seasons and the weather? What about roads and trails—tents and equipment— guns and ammunition? It was wonderful to get our answers so promptly. The overseas Operator informed us that the final cost of the call was $25 plus the inevitable tax. Not bad, considering the results! Somehow Africa didn't seem so far away from home after that.
It was on January 10th that we talked to Nairobi on the phone. Then we got a break. Greatly to our surprise—and fully as much to our delight—cancellations opened up accommodations on the steamship Robin Tuxford, due to sail for Capetown on April 2nd. We instantly agreed, for we much preferred to travel with our growing pile of luggage and equipment. We cancelled our flying arrangements. However, no sooner had we hung up the phone than we realized that by this new plan our hundred days had been cut.
No longer could the hours of driving to and from the city be spared. We set up headquarters at the Hotel Biltmore in New York. Things began to speed up. We had conferences at the Museum, and discussed the problems connected with a documentary motion picture record of life among whatever African people we ultimately decided to work. We began a protracted series of injections and vaccinations. We scribbled down endless lists of things to be done—of supplies we had to purchase—of clothes and equipment we had to gather together. The clothes problem was a poser for Irene:
"You know, Bill, I haven't even begun to assemble the clothes I'll need."
Bill looked up from his own list.
"Oh, you don't need much. You know . . . slacks and shirts and boots and that sort of thing."
".Now listen. You've been going off on trips like this all your life. But I haven't, and I don't know a thing about it. Now tell me—or give me some idea of what I may need. Just the clothes, I mean."
"Good Lord. How should I know what a woman ought to have? If you depend on me, you'll surely be short of something."
"Well, then, what shall I do?"
"I'll tell you what. We've asked Phil Percival, who was my 'white hunter' in Africa in 1922, to meet us with Mrs. Percival in Capetown. They have lived in Africa for thirty-five years or more, and they know all about it. Why don't you write her, and ask her to make out a list for you. Then, when we get to South Africa if you are short of anything, you and she can pick it up before we leave Capetown."
Off went another letter—one of many—asking for advice on clothes and sundries. We had already applied for passports—had our passport pictures taken. We got our guns and ammunition together, and decided not to take elephant guns; We could do some shooting, but that was not our major purpose. Hours were spent at the Museum, being briefed for our anthropological tasks. Our passports arrived on February 8th, and we set about getting our visas—visas for South Africa—for Southern and Northern Rhodesia—for Tanganyika, Kenya Colony, Uganda, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Egypt, France, and Great Britain. All this took time, of course, and in the rush we neglected visas for the Belgian Congo being"assured that they could be readily obtained ln Kenya. This bit of misinformation was to cause us several headaches later on.
We purchased trunks and lockers. We had several cases and expedition boxes made—some of them of plywood with water-resistant canvas covers. We purchased a dozen insecticide "bombs" so as to be prepared against African insects. And a treasure they turned out to be! We laid in supplies of mending tape and waterproof cement. We ordered spare eye-glasses, against the risk of breakage. We ordered special hunting glasses— which we never used. We made a considerable collection of reference books and note books. We laid in supplies to go with the typewriter. A reply to the letter that had gone to Mrs. Percival contained a sensibly detailed list that was filled as promptly as shops and tailors could manage. We ordered a very considerable quantity of motion picture film, only to find that what we asked for wasn't available, and that necessitated the purchase of a new camera for which film was available. We got together our duffle bags and bed rolls. We read books on Africa and African natives—none of them light or frivolous—books like Natives of East Africa, Western Civilization and the Natives of South Africa, The Vanishing Tribes of Kenya, The Life of a South African Tribe, and more besides. We chattered Swahili at each other in fitful efforts to keep in practice. We even went over to Brooklyn to look over a sister ship of the Robin Tuxford in order to get some idea of our oceanwise accommodations.
Meanwhile Kep Lewis was making his preparations. His passport did not come through until early in March, but otherwise he was a bit more forward than we were. Our "shots," which had given us major and minor aches for a month or more, were now over. We had assembled a medical kit with which we could almost have gone into business as apothecaries. Thanks to our
interested friends among the medical fraternity—our doctors, dentists, and druggists—we were well equipped for any eventuality. We had bandages and dressings and forceps and pills. Countless pills! We had quinine, atabrine and chloroquin for malaria. We bought a quantity of sulpha, and were able to get the new type of penicillin which did not require refrigeration. Fortunately, neither the sulpha nor the penicillin was ever needed. We ultimately donated all of it to two hospitals in Africa—and glad they were to have it.
Then much to our disgust, both of us caught cold. But this may have been a blessing in disguise. We took great care of ourselves, and managed to take three days off and spend them at the cabin. There, huddled in blanket robes before the fire, we digested the last of the reference material that had been assembled for our perusal. Then, on the twenty-second of March, when only eleven days remained before our sailing date, we received the welcome news that the sailing had been postponed until April 16th!
Two wonderful weeks of extra time! We slowed up a bit and took a few extra breaths. Our official papers came from the Museum—complete with impressive gold seal—and our expedition stationery:
"The Morden African Expedition of
The American Museum of Natural History
William J.; Morden, Leader Irene Morden, Co-Leader"
The cabin -on Campfire Road began to take on the appearance of a crowded baggage room, and when mends dropped in they found little space in which to
move about. We had a final session with our attorneys, going over our wills—cheerful subject! We accepted invitations to several parties scheduled for the last week before we were to sail. Then, early in April, came another call from the Robin Line. The sailing date had been advanced from the 16th to the gth!
The parties that had been arranged had to be called off. A dozen long distance phone calls had suddenly to be made, despite the fact that there was a nation-wide strike of toll operators. A truck from the Museum hurried out to the cabin for our trunks and bed rolls, our suit cases, duffle bags and safari boxes, our cases of guns and ammunition, of cameras, film, and other gear— twenty-eight pieces in all, to which Kep Lewis added six more. Kep relieved us of the task of getting our truck-load of luggage and gear to the ship. In order to make certain that nothing could go wrong, he rode with it to the pier, and checked every piece as it went aboard. We hadn't had a ghost of an idea how we would make that deadline. Nevertheless, with Wednesday set as sailing day, we found ourselves actually ready on Monday, and late that afternoon, somewhat overwhelmed with our sudden leisure, we arrived back at the Biltmore. Relieved of any further responsibilities, we actually went out to a movie to quiet our nerves. When we returned to the hotel—believe it or not—we found another message saying that the ship wouldn't sail until Thursday morning after all. As a result of this good word, a final party materialized, and a group of friends took us to a gala dinner at the Stork Club.
It was a little after eight o'clock in the morning when we reached the pier. The Robin Tuxford, comfortable and well equipped though she turned out to be, is primarily a freighter. No crowds of passengers lined her rail as the lines were thrown off. No packed masses of waving friends stood on the pier. With Kep Lewis, who now stood with us, we watched eagerly as passengers always do when the tubs 'come alongside—to see the narrow ribbon of water between the ship and pier begin almost imperceptibly to widen. Now we realized that our expedition which had begun in a snowstorm, was actually under way. We were going to make use of our passports to adventure!