A Boyhood in Africa

Africa in the early 1960s as experienced by a young ex-patriot

Archive for April 2014

Africa

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I don’t like fiction. I don’t like to write it and don’t like to read it. I don’t know why.

I like pondering world events and enjoy reading and writing about them as well. The problem is, despite the apparent uniqueness of my views, that I’m just another voice in the chorus. To a person, none of my close friends enjoy what I have to say about current events. But those who do follow my writings and trouble themselves to comment at all, repeatedly ask me to write more about one subject: my boyhood in Africa.

No more fiction, no more attempts as fathoming current events; henceforth I shall write about the Africa I grew up in decades ago.

But first a little background. I was born in northern Wisconsin to a family of modest means. My mother had been an accountant though she had never been a CPA. My father had been an instructor pilot for the Army Air Corps in the war and attempted to make a living managing a small civil airport while giving flying lessons. The word after the war was that civil aviation was going to “Take Off”, but the FAA promptly stepped in with books of regulations that put a stop to that.

Undeterred, my father tried his hand at trucking. He bought a small fleet of trucks and secured what seemed a lucrative contract to ship lumber from a reservation just up the road from our home to the Dakotas where the railroads were expanding service. My father was on the roles as a member of the tribe and therefore went to the head of the line when it came time to divvy out contracts. The problem was that Federal funds were involved and because of that he was obliged by provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act to pay his drivers union scale. After just a few years it became apparent that his salary was less than what he had to pay his drivers.

I don’t know by what means this happened but one evening he got a call from Washington. The voice at the far end of the conversation belonged to a recruiter at the State Department. The US had just won a world war and the county’s new status obliged massive upgrades to diplomatic facilities everywhere. He had been picked to serve as a Foreign Buildings Officer in Africa. That was in late 1957. He was initially assigned to the Foreign Buildings Office (FBO) in Paris where he was brought up to speed with the way the State Department let construction contracts. In August of 1958 the rest of the family joined him in Paris.

After just a few weeks, we moved to Rabat, Morocco where we lived until December of that same year. By that time he was up to speed with the nature of his brief and was reassigned to Nairobi, Kenya where we lived for the next two and a half years. Until the summer of 1965 we lived in various places in Africa including, in addition to those places already noted, Salisbury (now Harare) Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Cairo, Egypt.

Over the coming months, I’ll share some stories about my exploits as a young lad in the Africa of the early 1960s.

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Written by GW Abert

April 21, 2014 at 07:10