His memoir called "Human Traces"
Spring of freedom
It was in1942. We were in Russia nearly two years, though it seemed like a lifetime.
It was the “Spring of Freedom” for our family. Our whole family was waiting and ready to continue with the flight further to the south.
Born free; like an Albatross that goes to stay over the clear blue waters most of its life. Humans too, always yearn and need to be free. Our family, with only a handful of belongings, we said their last farewell to our new found neighbours and friends, to continue on along our unknown trail of hunger and cold, along our destiny. We traveled in the opposite direction of the birds migrating to Europe at that time of the year.
When I saw all the birds flying north, it crossed my mind that the white and black storks would be flying to Poland, without realizing that a war was raging there and that the human traces were being washed away in their own blood by the atrocities of human greed.
The early spring of 1942 in Kirghizstan was like a promise of a new life, not only for our family, but also for over a quarter of a million other Polish people uprooted by the brutal force of armed thieving, red Russian terrorists from their homes.
Even the gentle warmth of April sunshine, which only just about managed to thaw out some ice here and there, was a most welcome sign to both man and beast.
Different events were taking place. They happened so fast that I could not remember their order or the names of different places that we had passed through.
Eventually, we all reached Jalalabad, where we got a rare luxury, a simple a hot bath, which we'd had missed for a very long time.
The hot bath also helped us to get rid of most of our uninvited and unwanted companions, during that unbelievable, horrendous journey, the lice.
Afterwards, I recall, the Polish Red Cross workers giving our family and all the Polish nationals arriving in Jalalabad, clean clothes, donated by our sisters and brothers in USA.
People were so exhausted from their experienced adversity that even in our clean clothing; we all looked more like human skeletons, or more like shadows than people. Our bones were showing through our skins.
We were indeed a sight of misery. Slowly, though, and with a slightly better diet, we started regaining our health, strength and our former looks.Unfortunately, our shrank stomachs, having got used to touching our backs, started rejecting food in the form of dysentery.
The eldest of us, children, seventeen years old Genia, ended up in hospital.
A week later, when she returned, she had all her beautiful hair cut off. Again, with a lot of love and care, she began to feel and look more like a human being.It was Saturday, when we left Soviet Union in Krasnowodsk, a day before Easter of spring 1942.
“Christ has risen!” It was Easter Sunday, when we disembarked in Persian port, Pahlevi. At long last, all of our family arrived safely in Persia. We were housed in concrete buildings, built as shelters from the war, on the outskirts of Tehran.
Father and our sister Genia together with brother Zygmunt joined the Polish armed forces.
I remember them all in their khaki coloured, army uniforms.
Zygmunt was only thirteen years of age, but somehow he got accepted to joining the cadets.
He did look a bit of a sight though, with his boots so big that he could make a step inside them, before making one with them. Nonetheless, I was a bit envious of my big brother, but being only just over eight years old, I was far too young to join the cadets. I started going to polish lessons instead.
At the improvised, temporary school, in transit, all the lessons were being carried out in the open, under the cover of canvas. We, the schoolchildren sat on bricks and used brick tables to read and to write upon them. We were taught reading lessons from prayer books.
The conditions were very basics, much below any standards. Spartan as they were, they seemed to have been of second importance. We were keen to learn. That was most important and what mattered.
We made extremely good progress. In fact, I am in proud possession, to this day, of my first school report, for six months in that Polish School in Tehran, in 1942.
There, also, I'd received my Second Holly Sacrament, my First Holly Communion.
I look back with great affection at that most moving and such important experience of my boyhood. I was over eight years old, then. For that significant moment in my life, I wore a brand new white shirt, dark blue short trousers, white shoes and knee length socks to match.
After the Holly Mass and the First Holly Communion, there was a party given by the Shah in his beautiful gardens with large golden fish in a big pond. The fish reminded me of the mirror carp, back home, which I was led to believe come from the same fish family.
Afterwards, all of us children, who took the First Holly Communion, went to the nearby mountains. There, we watched the wild goats grazing happily, upon a dangerous terrain, between sharp rocks.The views from the slopes of the mountain were breathtakingly beautiful, whilst the mountain air was so refreshingly cool.
After that short excursion, we finished our exciting day with some ice cream and lemonade.
Newly formed, Polish Army was stationed on the other side of the capital, Tehran. It wasn’t far, so our father used to visit the family and take us shopping in the city of Tehran. It was during one such shopping spree when he bought me a small leather suitcase in readiness for the long journey.
I was then the eldest of the remaining three children with our mother. I was going to help her with carrying some of the luggage. Not that there was much of it to carry; only a few photographs and some other bits and pieces of memorabilia from Poland. One of them being the family’s most cherished and treasured possession, which our mother had managed to keep was, the picture of Our Virgin Lady of Sorrows. It used to sanctify our house back home, in Poland, which I had kept after our mother died.
In Europe, the wild war was escalating and raging like a wild bush fire after a storm.
Great Britain’ and the armed forces of the U.S.A., were fighting the barbaric, Adolph Hitler’s Nazi forces. The newly formed Polish army, under the command of General Sikorski, was getting ready to help beat those blood-thirsty German warmongers and end that senseless war.“The hideous, devil cunning, Adolph Hitler would have been better”, according to one of my Dziadzio’s sayings, “to have had tied a mill stone around his neck and drowned himself, rather than to have enticed his deranged Nazis murderers to have unleashed the war. The Poles”, he stressed, “are well known for their hospitality, sometimes to a fault. That is why the Polish soldiers have more reasons to fight the warmongers wherever they have the chance and the opportunity of doing so. They’ll fight them in every corner”.
Indeed, the Polish armed forces, though small, fought the Germans in the battle of Britain. They fought them in Africa, at Tobruk, at Monte Cassino and in other battles in different parts of Europe.
Polish pilots, with just a few squadrons, have contributed one seventh of the entire British air force engaged in the battle of Britain.One of my distant uncles, Tadeusz, was not only an acclaimed hero for flying up and knocking down the evil, Nazis’ flying bombs, but also for commanding a Polish squadron over Germany with many successful sorties, both during day and night.They fought the evil warmongers for the freedom of millions of people, as well as theirs, and their country - Poland.
There are many monuments of Polish traces of freedom scattered across the continents. There, they have suffered and even died, fighting for God’s given freedom. The Poles always set the spirit of freedom alive. The noble, golden freedom, given from God, with birth to every human being, will always win.
A small group of people, somewhat paler than the rest of the crowd, stood at the railway station.I was the only male in our group, putting a brave face of responsibility at the early age of just over eight years.
My Mother was holding my baby sister Izabella on her left arm. I stood on Mother’s right hand side holding by my right hand my sister Irena.We were all very tired and hungry.
It was the end of summer in 1942 at Tehran railway station.Having been separated from our Father, who had joined the Polish Armed Force, we were waiting to catch a train to Karachi. It was the next trip on our way to freedom.
The hot climate of that part of the world made the journey very tiresome, even with all the train windows fully open.In Karachi itself, though, by the water, or maybe because of it being by the water, it was even worse.Fortunately, a few days later, with my Mother and the two sisters, we were on board a British ship, destined for Mombasa.At sea, everything went smooth at first. The waters were calm.
War is evil. Because of it raging everywhere, we were forced to go through some panic stations. We were told that some German submarines were sighted, so we had to put on safety jackets to undergo survival drills.Those cursed warmongering Nazi Germans seemed to have been in all the oceans - everywhere.
From time to time, up, on the top deck, I would meet other children. I would kill the time of that uneventful, somewhat long and boring sea voyage.Fortunately, now and then, I would get cheered up a bit by the friendly ship’s crew. I’d join in with singing, for which I'd get some sweets.
Most of us, children learnt a few words of greetings in English. We would learn some songs, like “My Bonny is over the ocean”, while others learnt counting from one to twenty.
In that friendly atmosphere of games and singing, the time went a bit quicker.
With God’s speed, escorted by some acrobatic dolphins, the ship docked at the port of Mombasa.
At the railway station of the port, the African natives came especially to greet the Polish war refugees, doing their pilgrimage on this, God’s earth.Although, by then, I was a big boy of eight years old, I got a bit frightened. I saw the tall, black natives, all colourfully painted. They looked like warriors; holding spears and shields in their hands, dancing around to completely new, strange melodies.I stood there, close to my mother, and holding her hand.
I wondered how she had experienced that African welcome in Mombasa.
After lunch and refreshing, lemon tea, the four of us were on a train traveling to Nairobi.
What a completely different countryside, compared to that in Russia, there was to be seen from the train windows. It looked endless. There stretched masses of flat land. It was very sparsely inhabited countryside.
Straight ahead of the train, there were large trees standing out, protruding from the huge clumps of tall grass and dwarf bushes just protruding above them.There were mountains on one side and deep green canopies of rainforests on the opposite side. The endless open spaces filled the in-between land.The heat was in the air. It was such unbearable heat, which could be seen hanging around in the spaces.From time to time, herds of elephants could be seen, grazing majestically. Here and there, the wildebeests, in the thousands, were roaming the vast open plains, looking for pasturage.
Magnificent giraffes were there too, foraging the leaves high up, off the trees. Stripy zebras were grazing the luscious green grass next to the slim, golden brown gazelles. Then, there appeared the two, one over the other, horned beast; the huge, massive, strong and deadly looking rhinos. Some lions, too, as if for show or for introduction, showed up. They were having their mid-day rest under the shade of the large trees of baobab. They looked quite cuddly, as though they had finished their feed and resting. The young cubs were playing innocently in groups, just like cats.
Such was the beautiful scenery, which I was privileged to watch and admire for two days of the entire, colourful, train journey through that part of the African continent.Though it was not first class train, it was considerable luxury compared to that murderously exhausting, close to starvation struggles of the uneventful journey through the various states of Russia, divested of everything.We traveled on to Kampala without changing the train.The landscape of the countryside in Uganda was as colourful as that, which they saw traveling through Kenya. It was full of beauty, which was Africa then.It was during the time, when everyone was napping, except me, that the train stopped in Kampala, around mid-day.
I was tired, but was too excited with the new spotted wild animals and flora of this vast and beautiful continent, which we had only seen in books before.
After a Spartan lunch, all of us, Polish people from Russian imprisonment, went sightseeing in Kampala. The first thing that struck me was that the town of Kampala was very modern.The streets were very wide, full of shops with big show windows.I stopped at a Bata shoe shop. There he came across a very pleasant, young Czech assistant.
She made me feel, just for a moment, as if I was back home. She spoke Czech. I spoke
Polish and it was that magic moment, there, in the middle of that vast African continent, where the two Slavs, next-door neighbours, met, miles from their homelands.
After tea, my family and I, went back on to the train. It was their last lap of the long, but colourful and very interesting, educational journey.On the way, the train stopped twice. Eventually, just as the sun began rising on the far horizon, early in the morning, it pulled in at a station of a small town of Masindi.
From Masindi, after a very substantial breakfast, about a thousand Polish war refugees boarded open lorry trucks, which were to take us to our final destination.It was only about twenty miles away. It was short, but a very exhausting trip in African heat. The open trucks had only hard wooden benches to seat on. Everybody was sweating in African - hot swelter.
The settlement, or rather the designated place for a human settlement, was in the middle of nowhere. It was in some desolate place. There were mountains on to the right hand tall grass, which we called -the elephant grass, on the left. The dark green rain forest, the African jungles filled the spaces in front and behind the settlement.
With my Mother and the two sisters, we were dropped off outside a primitive hut. It was made of the same grass, which grew all around.Thought such idea of housing was very practical, it was –also- very frightening.
The inside of the grass hut was very dark. There were no windows. What added to the complete darkness inside the grass hut, was the overhanging, untrimmed roof. It was touching the green elephant grass, still growing around the small hut. This was more depressing sight than the one I remembered in Russia.Inside the tiny and very dark, straw hut was spooky. The floor was just like a rye field. It was just basic dirt floor.
Half of that hut housed the four of us.
There were four wood twined beds next to each other. A small table filled the rest of a single roomed accommodation. With no space left to even swing a cat.Over the beds, hanging on four wooden sticks, were mosquito nets. They were to protect people from the millions of mosquitoes.
Unfortunately, even with such protective arrangement, those nasty insects still, somehow, managed to sting and infect everyone with malaria throughout our entire stay of six years. Such was the climate in the middle of the Ugandan jungles. It was absolutely unbearable.
Luckily, we were issued with sufficient numbers of blankets. They were ideal to cover the inside of the huts.
With a small glimmer of light coming from a paraffin lamp, the two very frightened children; my sister Irena and I knelt down by our Mother, with her baby daughter, small Bella in her hands, to say our evening payers before going to sleep, that first night in Uganda.
Soon, we were all in their beds, fast asleep, except one.Somehow, tired as I was, barely able to keep my eyes open, but I could not fall asleep.just tossing in my bed.The reason could have been the journey under the hot, African sun. On top of that,
I could hear very loud drum’s beats and strange singing going on, all around our new settlement in Masindi settlement, all through that first night there.To top it all, a big snake had fallen on top of my mosquito net. Fortunately it did not break the wooden posts and disappeared into the straw wall of the hut.
“Fright plays havoc with one’s imagination, it magnifies everything”. I remembered my dzidzio’s saying, but my imagination went riot just the same. I really got frightened.
Trying to reason where, why and what, I could not close my tired eyes until the daybreak of the following morning. All my dark restless night moments had grown into
ages and ignited my frightened imagination.There were drumbeats mixed with strange noises coming from a near distance.Those drum beats and the natives’ singing were just continues occurrences. They were the natives’ ways of entertainment; of socializing and expressing their happiness. They were some of the many hidden African charms of Uganda and their friendly, happy people.
The music and the rhythm of the drum’s beats were those indigenous people’s gift from above.Considering that they had not much else, their talents make them the happiest people on this, God’s village earth by far.
Five thousand Polish mothers with young children, many orphans, few old and crippled people, eventually lived in that war settlement. It was called: The Polish Settlement, Masindi, Uganda, and East Africa.
There were also two other Polish settlements in Africa. One was in Kenya, in Keru and one by the Lake Victoria, called Koja, also in Uganda.We were all looked after and cared for by the Polish-government-in-exile and the British government, with the cooperation of the local people and the U.N.
In the middle of the African jungles, over fifteen thousand Polish war refugees have settled for the duration of the bloody repulsive war, started by the Nazi Germans in Europe, which by that time had spread all over the whole world.Slowly, with my Mother and the two sisters, we started to shape our lives a little, though extremely Spartan, almost to a normal life, quite happy and a peaceful one.
Fortunately, we were far from the horrific war. It was raging worse than a hurricane all over Europe; destroying not only human cultural achievements, in that process of devastation. The war was wiping out millions of human beings; in gas chambers and other places of torture.
Occasionally, I could hear the heavy roars of airplanes. Though they were very high in the sky, beyond the clouds, they sounded loud, full of danger.The warplanes carried packed storms and were about to drop them upon the earth below, as God’s punishment upon people, who dared to even try to obliterate human traces.
The punishment for the evil people who started the war was flying high above from South Africa. The destination was Germany and her people. They started that horrendous, the most barbaric and senseless war. It had to be stopped.Though the bombers reminded me of that destructive war, there was nothing I, or anybody in the settlement, could do. We, ourselves, were being the victims of that war, struggled on as best as we could with our hard daily living. All of us just remained life witnesses to the atrocities of war.
Soon, we, the Polish war refugees in Masindi, created some gardens to remind ourselves of the homeland.
The flowerbeds blossomed with colourful flowers in front of every hut.The local artisans trimmed the roofs of our huts. They made the huts’ walls from local clay, with openings to let some daylight in. There were no windows as such. Still that was a bit of an improvement of the previous experiences.
Across from the main hut, some fifty feet distance, there was a tiny hut, the kitchen. Our
Mother had to share it with the homemaker next door Mrs. Turowicz. The kitchen hut had only a dwarf wall. That way the open top would let in the daylight. Inside the kitchen, there was an iron stove with a bit of room left, where
I would stock up enough dried wood for his mother to burn whenever she needed to prepare hot meals. That was three times a day; early each morning breakfast, before going to school. After school, we had the main meal and a very light snack before going to bed.
The whole settlement incorporated eight villages. In turn, each village had its own water pump and a large water storage tank. From there, there were four piped taps connected in such a way that each of the four streets had its tap within about five hundred meters to get the water with the buckets.
In the middle of each village, there was a general store. The daily rations of food and other bare necessities of life used to be issued from that store.Once a week fresh provisions, such as bread, dried beans and cooking oil would be issued. There was also a new product, called margarine. It was supposedly healthier diet than butter. Unfortunately, it had such strong, revolting taste, that no one would bring themselves to eating it. Mother used it only for frying.In addition, once a week, we used to get fresh meat.
Quite often, though, the hawks, which there were aplenty, would grab with their sharp talons, a portion of the precious luxury from the plate, on which it was being carried, and as a result, many people would end up eating worm-infested beans instead.
The impudent actions by the hawks gained such enormous proportions that we, the lads, have had to do something to get rid of them.By making some cross bows, we got rid of the hawk’s nasty habits and a few hawks in the process.Occasionally, from that same store, everybody would be issued with some clothing and also footwear. They were all second-hand, but clean and wearable.
The Polish families from the U.S.A. donated the garments. Unfortunately, as in most such situations, the system of distribution of those goods was dismal. It was a case of who was the nearest of having a hand in the till.One poor orphan girl got a very tatty jacket, which no one else would take. Being in the situation of beggars not being in position to choose and having nothing else to wear, she took that jacket to her hut. There, as she was trying it on, she noticed a patch sown inside of the lining.Carefully, she cut it out and, to her amazement; a ten-dollar bill fell out. In addition, there was a short letter and the address from the donors. The message to the recipient of the jacket was to write to them.In the end, Ania, the girl who got that tatty jacket, was the best-dressed child in the orphanage. When the war finished, Ania ended up in the U.S.A., with a fairly rich and generous Polish stepfamily in Chicago.
One Saturday morning, I went from our hut in Konopnicka Street, from our village, which was popularly known as village number two, to village number four, where my best pal Tadek lived.Whistling happy tunes on my way, I noticed that every street I went through was named after some famous Polish ancestors.
Glory is to God
A year later, in 1943, while walking along the same, main dusty road in our settlement Masindi, I noticed that on the left hand side of the road, there were some small mounds of wood. They were covered with soil and smoke was coming out their tops. They were burning slowly to produce charcoal. It was being used to fire bricks with which to build a very special and noble project-a church.
The church was growing slowly on the opposite side of the main dusty road of the settlement. It was further on, around the bend, on the northern slopes of Mount Wanda.
It was being built in a simple Gothic style, in a shape of a cross; the symbol of Christian faith.
All the Poles who had been freed from the inhumane persecution, had been oppressed, suffered cold and hunger in Russian labour camps, built that church.It took the Polish war refugees two years to build the church. I hope that it will serve many generations of the local Christians to worship God.All the bricks to build the church were made from the red clay brought from the nearby African jungle. They were fired in the improvised furnaces with that homemade charcoal mentioned earlier.
The main cross, which is firmly fixed in the middle dome, was made from the railings. It symbolizes the long journey of the many thousands miles completed by then, by those five thousands Poles, who lived in Masindi, Uganda for six years, during and after the war. (1942-1948)
Inside the church dome is fixed a small bell, but because the temple stands up on a hill, it can be heard loud and far.Above the main, front gates, there was an inscription in Latin: “Polonia Semper Fidelis”. Poland is always faithful, it says. With that conviction to the most cherished heritage of always being faithful to the Christian beliefs, the homeless Poles, blown by the cruel wind of the repulsive war, tried to live there, in the middle of the African continent.
There, before our presence, only wild animals roamed the terrain. It was there, where even the slightest signs of human traces had been eroded by time; in that secluded place was where the Polish settlement has been built.Slowly, but with a lot of determination and even more efforts and human sweat, the church was rising up to heaven, on the northwestern slopes of Mount Wanda.
Before it was completed, I recollect going to worship in a simple church hut. It was similar to the one I lived in with my Mother and my two sisters, only slightly bigger.The reason why I remembers it so well because the Polish Bishop, Jozef Gawlina, had confirmed me in a church-hut in 1943. It was a year after my first moving experience, that of receiving my first Holly Communion in Tehran.
The church standing on the slopes of the mount in Masindi has got four copper plaques fixed into the front wall by the main gates. They are there for all passers-by to read the inscriptions engraved in four languages; Polish, English, Swahili and Latin. The inscriptions says: “This church was built by Polish war refugees, during the long journey to free Poland; for the glory of the most Holy Maiden, Virgin Mary, the Dark Lady of Czestochowa Queen of Heaven, Patron of Poland”.
On the left side of the church, there is a human monument. It consists of over fifty Polish people, young and old, resting on the way to the life eternal with Jesus Christ.
Amongst others, resting in the African soil, are: Stefan Gruszecki, Aniela Tyszko, Agnieszka Strzelecka, Helena Szymanska, Stefan Markiewicz, Jozef Mierzwa, Cecylia Kubisz, Zofia Rajchel and other.Over each tomb, most of which are made of concrete, there are also concrete crosses with every war refugee’s name inscribed upon it in white.
Their Polish traces left in the middle of the African continent are human traces. They are there as proof, if proof needed be, of the atrocities of one human being unto another.
Hospitals, Schools, Theatres and Shops in Masindi
In the later part of 1943, after all arrivals of Polish refugees from different parts of the Russian labour camps and prisons had finished, a sort of normal day-to-day life began to take place in the Masindi settlement.
Almost in the middle of the settlement, there was a large hospital. It was constructed of timber. It had its own electricity generator and a full laboratory.Five doctors, sisters, nurses and technicians looked after the hospital. They all gave their professional best and loving care. Otherwise, amoeba, malaria and other, tropical diseases would have decimated the already health exhausted Poles.
The proportion of school-age children in the settlement to the rest of the people was enormous.That is why there were three primary schools, one grammar school, with advanced level standards, a mechanical, as well as a commercial college.There, also, were two general shops and a very large recreation hall, where different stage shows, dances and cinema used to take place.One of the shops had a post office counter in it.
One Saturday morning, my Mother asked me to pop over, to that shop, to see whether there was any mail for us.
Willing, as always, I ran up and a few minutes later, I run back with a couple of letters. One of them was addressed to me. It was from Poland.As I was collecting stamps, I, carefully, opened the envelope with a knife and then, first of all, I found out that the letter was from my granddad.“It’s from Dziadzio!” I announced exited, before seating down to read it.
“Our dear Witus,
I hope this letter reaches you and all in good health, which both of us, Babcia and I wish you from the depth of our hearts.
It took me a long time in trying to find where you might be. Luckily, a letter from your father arrived from Tehran. He wrote to say that all of you might be in Uganda, for safety.
I hope and pray that all is well with you and everyone.
Your uncle Mark ended up in the Warsaw underground movement and was killed during the uprising. Before then, he wrote a letter about the uprising, how the red, Russian Army arrived outside our capital on July 30 this year, 1944. How their arrival was the start of resistance against the cruel German occupation.
The Russians halted on the right side of river Wisla and let the mad savages, Germans, massacre tens of thousands members of the uprising.
Your other uncle, Tadek, is in England, in the Air Force. Tadeusz would have made his mark in the Battle of Britain, helping to stop the Germans invading the British Islands.
He went on to say that Stalin’s political Commissars, who rifled the history of Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine and other countries, knew what they were doing when taking away all the archives by the wagonload.
The communists were trying to rewrite the past and purge history of anything, which contradicted the Stalin’s way. He wanted our underground destroyed, but he let the Germans do the dirty work for him. The Russian army waited for over two months, hoping that all the future intellectuals, who might form the basis of our government, be destroyed completely.
After those murderous savages, the German Nazis, had slaughtered the resistance and moved out, the Red “liberating” Army moved in, unharmed.
That act will surely go in history as the most cynical and shameful act of manipulation during any human conflict.
Murderer Stalin was obviously hoping to pave his way in governing our country without any opposition by destroying the uprising movement in Warsaw.
I am very sorry to be the bearer of these very sad news, especially that of the death of your uncle.
As to the fall of the uprising, remember one true saying: “as you sow, so shall you reap and that God’s will be the final judgment”.
Please keep in touch and write to me about everything.
May our good God keep you in His love and care.
Your loving Dziadzio Stanislaw.
P.S. If you don’t hear from me soon, please remember the happy moments we have had together and pray for my soul, because I will not be long on this earth. I am getting on at 82”.
I ran to my Mother, cuddled up to her very tenderly, and cried my heart out. My Mother cried too, but held me tightly, trying to comfort me in my early life’s sad experience. She ran her tender and loving hand over my tormented head.Two years had passed. It was like a spell, a very short time.
There, in the middle of vast African continent, in Uganda, in the Polish settlement Masindi, it seemed like ages. Especially for the young ones, that tender age group, which turns from children to youths. It is a short moment of life to savor and to treasure.
The new generation of many different talents was growing and coming to the fore. I, too, was in that group. I recollect two very talented painters, Stanczak brothers. A number of other talented people were entertaining as best, as their talents would stretch, in singing and dancing. Mietek Ostapko and his best friend Merkis spring to mind.
I am gifted with many talents. I was a born actor. I played parts in various pantomimes; singing my role of the brave Shoemaker in The Dragon and The Flying Horse. Then, I danced away, happily, as the prince, in The Cinderella; to come back as prince charming in Snow White and the Dwarfs, singing “One song, I know, the love song” with my unbroken, high voice. I, also, recited poetry on various celebrations.A group of musicians used to play during different, national and religious festivals.
The Boa Six bivouac
The summer vacation was only half way gone.After a week of rest from the most memorable safari, I called on five of my scout friend to discuss the possibility of having a weekend bivouac somewhere. Romek suggested exploring the less known slopes of the Krakus Mountain. It was the twin mount of Wanda, which was much less visited. His proposition was put to vote, as always, and the six of us, boy scouts agreed to explore mount Krakus by having our bivouac there.
With great enthusiasm, we decided for the nearest Friday as being the start day for that adventure.When the date came, I was already packed, only needing to add some food into my rucksack.After full breakfast, I went to the meeting point by the general store, near whereI lived.
At around ten o’clock that morning, six smiling faces were struggling bravely up along the slopes of Krakus Mountain.The short distance from the settlement made the task light.
By about two in the afternoon, we were on top and looking for a spot where to set our bivouac camp.Finding an ideal spot for our tents was not difficult at all.
There grew this broad, dwarf tree on one of the gentle, mountain slopes, offering plenty of blessed shade from the blazing sun. That’s where we, the happy –six-scout boys had made a small campfire and took a break for some hot tea and sandwiches.
After singing for a short while, we split up into two groups to pitch our tents.Romek, Tomek and I, were going to share one tent, while Rys, Kazio and Adas were to share another.
Keeping our campfire going, we put up the tents around it.By the time we had tidied up and fenced off, our small spot, daylight was gathering a touch of dusk. Soon, it was starting to become dark.
“Who is going to be our cook to make the supper?” Romek asked. Kazio volunteered, while the rest of us went to gather some more dried twigs and wood branches for the fire.
Half an hour later, the six of us were all seating by the glowing warm flames of the campfire, enjoying our simple scout supper.
A few songs later, we said our prayers together and went to our tents for much deserved resting sleep.It was a warm night; with the full, bright moon up above, showing it’s face clearly through the tents’ canvas.
Below, in the valleys, it was full of the usual, wild howling of the hyenas and the monotonous barking of the jackals, breaking the dead of the night, echoing in the air.
Apart from that, the night was rather still.
We hardly closed their eyes though, when suddenly; there was this loud cry of extreme fright coming from one tent. Next minute, Rys came out running from his tent, raising panic alarm! That moment seemed to stretch out interminably.Others came out running, too, jumped from their sleeping bags and out their tents in their pajamas.
A few torches were trying to light up the immediate area. Every one of us was trying to look for the cause of that alarm. “What could have happened?” We were asking ourselves.
After a while, we all saw the answer.
There it was! A large boa constrictor was scudding out from the corner of Rys’s tent. It was huge indeed; some three to four meters in length. To Rys, who’s bed it tried to share, it must have looked twice the size.
Now, with the wriggles and the twists, most probably frightened itself, by all the commotion and pandemonium around, it was trying to hide in the nearby undergrowth and bushes.
The six of us, being in the scout movement and remembering the commandment for to love the nature, just stood there, numbed, and watched the boa slowly, but surely, disappear from our sight.After that experience, not many of us managed to sleep that memorable night.
Early the following morning, Rys was making a new campfire. He was on the daily duty, so, when the rest of us got up and ready, he let us in the morning prays, before the “Boa Six”, as we called ourselves from that night’s experience, sat down for their breakfast.
In the day’s programmer was to survey the top of the mount and a goal to make a rough map of it by the lunchtime. After lunch, we were to compare all the findings and discuss them.The task, for safety reasons, was to be carried out in twos.
At mid-day, our whole team of six scout boys gathered together by the glowing campfire. We all wanted to speed up the preparation of our lunch, for all the exertive walking as well as some climbing got us all hungry.
With many hands to the task, practically in no time, we were enjoying a hot ‘nail’ soup, followed by some beans stewed in oil, with some rye bread.Romek and Tomek were the first to relay their morning’s expedition findings. Tomek, being the drawing artist, made a very detailed map; with every large tree and rock shown on it. Romek, having the gift of the gag, flowered and expanded on Tomek’s drawings, especially over the steep, almost vertical, far slope of the mount, which all agreed, was extremely dangerous.
Rys and Kazio could not wait to tell the others about their findings. As soon as pans, cups, saucers and spoons were washed, Rys opened his rucksack and took out a very thin boa skin, which he and Kazio had found between the bushes. It looked like freshly sloughed layer of skin by the same boa constrictor that nearly got Rys out of his skin.
Adas and I brought some mangos, which we found growing in the wild, on the sunny, southern slopes of the mount. We filled two rucksacks and proceeded to share them out.
Two days later, as people were going to church for an early mass, there were six silhouettes seen coming slowly down the slopes of the Krakus mount, with their rucksacks on their backs, joining the worshippers, for it was Sunday morning.
At home, I could not get any rest. My two younger sisters; Irena and Izabella, kept -for ever- asking me about the boa constrictor experience: ”Did it really get into Rys’s slipping bag?”“Did you see that thin layer of freshly sloughed boa’s skin?” and endless other questions about the weekend bivouac on the Krakus mount.
In 1947, after seating my entrance examinations, I started grammar education.
During that same year, being in the scout movement, I went to the scouts Jamboree. It was by Lake Victoria, in a place called Kazi.
Out of many thousands of scouts, there were three troops from the three Polish settlements: from Tengeru, from Koja and from Masindi. Poles were by far the biggest group of one nationality.Such big gathering of scouts, as Jamboree, must count as an excellent example of harmonious and friendly pastime of different races and nationalities of youth getting together under the banner of the scout movement. There, blacks, browns and whites sat, crossed-legged, all together by the common campfire.
Campfire is, by far, the longest existing human place of meetings, a warm sign of welcome. It unites in real friendship and binds fellowship of youth internationally, irrespective of age, skin colour or religion. Campfire brings out the happiness, reflected in the singing together, without any language barriers as the scouts start singing: “ging gang gooli”.Most of those happy melodies and some words will always linger on.
There were thousands of scouts singing their hearts out and the echoes taking those joyful melodies all over the lake and beyond, thus spreading the gospel of love and goodwill, cementing that goodwill forever.
One morning, when I was on kitchen duties, in the early hours, I and another scout, Stefan, went to the lake to get some water. As we were going through some overgrown terrain, suddenly Stefan stepped on a big lizard. Frightened, he fell to one side, the two water buckets, he carried, went flying in the opposite direction, during which time the lizard sneaked out and disappeared in the nearby undergrowth.
Bravely, I helped my companion, who, apart from his damaged pride, came out without any bruises. Stefan picked up his buckets and both of us carried on to the lake with more alertness for any danger. These might have been lurking ahead, like a crocodile or a hippopotamus, of which the lake was full.In fact, two days later, on the last day of that eventful and memorable Jamboree,a tragic accident had happened.
One Polish scout from Tengeru went for a swim one afternoon. Unfortunately, against orders, he went swimming on his own, onto an unsupervised part of the lake and was killed by a crocodile.
From our settlement in Masindi, there were regular excursions to the Albert Lake. It was only about twenty miles distance by a dust road from our settlement. Usually, those, who loved swimming, would travel by open lorry. They would be seating on the wooden benches, on both sides of a truck, on a Sunday, after an early morning mass, traveling westward from the settlement along bumpy and dusty road.On one special occasion, I'd been offered a chance of a lifetime to go on a special safari trip.It was to be a small party of people traveling in a canvas-covered truck.
Let me tell you what happened.“At thirteen years of age, I was the youngest in that party. Traveling west from the settlement, we passed a number of local, small villages on the way from Masindi to Butiaba, our destination for a special safari.
Driving along the dusty pathway through one of the villages, I could see there happy children roaming around; laughing and shouting, playing with a couple of skinny dogs, chasing them around, with that usual, child, carefree joy and happiness without a care in the world.
Some mango and banana trees decorated the otherwise simple dwellings of the village. The round, chimneyless huts were made of straw. Smoke was coming out through the tops with some very appetizing aroma of food lingering in the hot air.
“Jambo!” someone shouted. “Abari?” We shouted back, waving to them, when a very faint, “muzuri” could just be heard, as we drove on.We arrived in Butiaba by about mid-day.
It was unbearably hot, so the driver pulled up by a large tree for some shelter. Two of our couriers went to look for a hotel, for our party of six, to stay in for a few days.
After a short rest, we managed to stretch our legs with a walk by the lake. Soon after, we had some lemon tea from the flasks. By the time, we finished, the couriers; Ted and Frank were back, bringing with them good news about hotel accommodation.We were informed that Chandra and his wife came from India with their families.They had five children of their own.The whole family settled in Butiaba, by the Lake Albert, and they ran this, white painted hotel, also named Albert.
There were palm trees on both sides of the dusty road in front of the hotel.A lovely green lawn covered the gardens, embellished with some exotic flowers. They were spreading their scents like that of the best perfumes into the blazing hot air, yet so refreshing, with a light breeze coming from the lake.
Nizi, who was about eighteen year’s old, dark bronze, Ugandan beauty, greeted us at the desk with a friendly smile. We all signed in. Afterwards, we were ushered to our rooms by her twin sister, Zizi.Very strong, young Bobo brought our hand luggage. Ted tipped him generously.
After taking a shower and changing our clothing, our party was served in the back garden, on the veranda, by a pool. It was surrounded by an even prettier garden than that in the front of the hotel. On the far borders of the lawn grew some banana and mango trees with pineapples filing the gaps in between. Colourful flowers in full bloom finished the borders.
All the staff of the hotel was from the local, native people, whom we found very friendly, extremely helpful and polite.
Ted, the organizer of the safari, went to ask the locals about the interesting places worth visiting.He learnt and told us that there was an island on the lake. The locals called it “The Crocodiles’ Island”. For crocodiles lived there longer than humans around this part of the country.We, also, learnt that we could have a hunting spree for those “pre-historic monsters” organized, if we wanted to.
In the meantime, we learnt that there was a fenced off area in the lake for safe swimming.
Our planned stay for a few days only, looked to be extending already. That first day ended with discussions, planning of how best to spend our time in that area and a very good rest in beds.
After a very early breakfast, the following morning, off to that crocodile island we went.
We hired a motorboat, which was just about big enough for our party of six. With the invited guests, there were twelve of us, so we ended with hiring another boat.
Armed with a couple of rifles and plenty of ammunition, we went straight for that crocodile island, which could be seen on the near horizon.
Fifteen minutes, or so, later we could clearly see hundreds of crocodiles, various in sizes, lazing about on the sandy beach of the island. Ted stopped our boat’s engine, so as not frighten those unusual animals with long jaws and very sharp teeth. Quietly, we floated within a few meters from the golden, sandy beach of the island.
Suddenly, the other boat overtook ours. The occupants did not stop the boat’s engine. Hundreds of those vicious creatures, which were absorbing the heat of the tropical sun few minutes earlier, jumped into the clear water with so much commotion and power, which created big water waves that turned their boat over. Fortunately, it was shallow waters, close to the island.
We could see that some crocodiles were heading for the ill-starred occupants.
Ted and Frank had their rifles at the ready, when one big crocodile got hold of one of the unfortunate victims of the overturned boat.
Bang! One the vicious monster started colouring the water red, letting go of the victim’s leg at the same time.Ted was a sharp shooter. The crocodile was shot right through the head; its blood was discolouring the water all around.Another shot was heard. Frank shot another crocodile, which was about to try his luck on the other side of the boat.We were heading to the spot where all our companions from the upturned boat were getting together.
The victim with the badly bitten leg was brought to the shore, a few minutes later. The fresh wound on the leg looked much worse than it actually was. After it was cleaned and bandaged with a clean shirt torn up as bandages, Zimba, the victim, assured us that he was all right.Someone volunteered to take him back to the hotel, so that Zimba’s leg could have some proper medical attention there.
In the meantime, we managed to bring the upturned boat to the shore, hat it checked out for the fuel and so on.Frank suggested a bit of a rest for the benefit of all those who came through that nasty experience.
Ted and Frank, our two sharpshooters, sat on the warm sandy beach. With their rifles loaded, they kept watch on each side of our party, in case some of those pests dared to come near us.
After a short rest, everybody wanted to explore the island. It was not very big and looked flat, so it was decided to go across it. There was undergrowth, grass and small bushes with a few dwarf trees scattered here and there. I noticed quite a number of birds’ nests built on most of them.
One of our couriers enlightened us that they were the nests of “dentists” birds. They risk their lives in their occupational hazard of cleaning crocodile teeth. They actually get inside crocodiles’ open jaws and sitting on their teeth, get bits of food embedded in between them. Often, they are trapped, when crocodiles decide to shut their jaws unexpectedly.
We walked slowly and very attentively. In no time at all, we were smack in the middle of the island. As nothing of interest was there to be seen, prompted by the couriers, we headed to the southern part of the island.
Coming closer, we saw some big hips of tree branches and leaves scattered not far from the lake’s shore. “They were crocodiles’” nests, we were told.Right on the sandy shores, we saw quite a number of crocodiles, with jaws wide open, warming their long, scaly looking bodies, like those of the mythological dragons, out in the sun.
The “dentist” birds were busy getting their food from crocodiles’ teeth. ‘Snap’. One bird got trapped inside the deadly jaws of one of their patients.‘Click’; Nukuta took a group photograph of the beasts, but that tiny noise from his camera was enough to alarm them all. One by one, they started jumping into water with big splashes.
We followed to a spot where Ted had found a small, shallow pool of water filled with tiny crocodiles. “Here!” he shouted. We gathered around. Looking into the water, we could hardly believe that such small, harmless looking baby crocs would eventually grow to such enormous sizes and, we were assured, to a ripe old age.
Walking along the beach, heading to where we had left our boats, we noticed some hippopotami in groups of three and four: mother, father and their young offspring. They certainly seemed friendlier than the crocodiles. We had learned that the eternally hungry crocodiles manage to snatch and kill a baby hippopotamus, when one strays away from their watchful parents.
It was almost lunchtime, when we got back to our boats.Nukuta skinned the killed crocodiles and Bobo chopped up their flesh throwing the chunks into the water for the fish, which there were in great abundance in the lake, some quite big too.At the hotel, lunch was about to be served. We managed to get a quick shower and change our clothing beforehand.
After a mild Indian curried chicken and refreshing mixed salad for our desert, we were finishing our lunch on the verandah. There, we were enjoying some cool breeze of air, while discussing what to do and where to go in the afternoon.
Ted’s wife, Wanda prompted a swim and sunbathing. After a very short discussion, all agreed to have a mid-day nap and then to go to that, save for swimming, enclosure in the lake at about three o’clock that afternoon.
Nizi had that afternoon off. She too joined our swimming party, together with her friend Umu and their athletic boyfriends; Joshua and Pablo. It was only a short distance to the lake, from the Albert hotel.
The local talents came in evidence while we were walking. About ten of them started singing on our way to the lake. They were both very melodious and rhythmic. That rhythm turned our walk into pleasure. So much so, that we were all wishing for it to have been a lot longer, but we were by the lake.
The golden, sandy beach was sloping ever, so gently into clear water. We plunged in with big splashes. It was marvelous.Some were swimming around, while the others were already on the beach, stretched on their bathing towels, absorbing the gentle rays of the sun of the peaceful afternoon.Suddenly, there was this shout of great despair. It broke the silence in the air.We got on to our feet to find out what was that about, what was happening?Joshua was in some sort of trouble. He was waving in despair, in the far corner, by the wire fence.We all rushed to his rescue.
As we got closer, we could see blood around Joshua’s agonized body. Somehow, a vicious crocodile must have managed to get in and bit off one of his limbs completely.We were helpless and did not know what to do.
Joshua’s girlfriend, Uma, seemed to be the wisest in that moment of such calamity. She was comforting Joshua as best she could and at the same time telling us to stay close together, so that pest would not attack a group. We got safely to the beach.
A couple of our friends fainted at the sight of such a nasty wound, with strands of muscles hanging down and blood pouring out.Umu covered the wound and tied her towel around what was left of the bitten off leg.Bobo ran, as if being chased by a lioness, to the hotel. There, he phoned for an ambulance to get Joshua to a hospital.
Just as well that Joshua had such strong body. A weaker person would have not been able to withstand so much loss of blood, or sustain such pain.An ambulance arrived soon. Joshua accompanied by Umu was on the way to the nearest hospital.
“What a nasty first day of our safari in Butiaba that turned out to be. Our newfound companion lost his leg and another was bed bound, all because of those vicious crocodiles. All that happened in a space of one day”. I thought.Seating on a bench, I saw Frank rushing out through the front door of the hotel with his rifle.
“Where are you going?” I asked him. ,”I will get that pest, or another in its place and hang it on that fence to rot there!” He shouted, as he rushed out.“I wonder”, I thought to myself, as I followed him to the lake.
It was still bright outside, when I saw Frank up to his waist in water, in the middle of the fenced off area, in the lake. He was looking around with great concentration.
“Indeed”, I thought, “the animal would not find that gap which it must have swam in through, so Frank’s idea might work”.I just stood there and waited quietly.
After a short while, a loud rifle shot broke the surrounding silence. As I looked in that direction, I could see a big crocodile floating on its back, upon the calm surface of the lake. Then I saw Frank coming up to the shore. As Frank noticed me, he stepped up his pace.
“I only wanted to bring my rifle to the dry shore”. He said. “Ill be back soon”, he added, as he went back into the water, to where the crocodile’s body was.
Not long afterwards, I could see a silhouette of that crocodile hanging in the middle of the fence.It was fixed about half a meter above the surface of the water.Frank was coming out slowly, holding something in his right hand. As he got closer, I did not need to ask him as to what he was carrying. I could see that it was munched and chewed, with powerful teeth showing, on what used to be Joshua’s leg.
We started walking slowly in the direction of the hotel. None of us spoke a word.At the table, during our dinner, that evening, everybody looked very depressed. In that somber mood, everyone was glad to retire. Everyone, hoping that perhaps the next day might be better, more cheerful.
The gloom of the previous day was indeed broken by the bright sun shining over the colourful horizon. By the time we all sat out on the veranda for our breakfast, the sky was light blue. There was not a cloud to be seen anywhere on a bright, big horizon.
Umu and Zizi came out serving us withy grapefruit, Ted asked Umu about Joshua. We all heard her assurances that he would be all right. “Probably coming out from hospital in a week or so”, she hastened to say.
As we were finishing our coffee, Frank dropped in to tell us the latest news. A couple of divers were coming to find out exactly how that crocodile managed to get in the fenced off area in the lake.Having a few minutes to spare, we decided to take a walk there. The lake’s water was very calm. A jumping fish and the two divers only broke the water’s mirror surface, here and there.
Half an hour later, they came to the shore to share their findings. We all were very pleased to learn that the small gap had been found. It would be mended immediately. It only needed about a square meter of fine galvanized wire mesh to make the fence good again.
The divers also assured everyone that they had inspected the whole fence and found it to be solid for at least six months, stressing the need for its regular checks.
“Splash!” Shapely Umu dived into the warm water, coming up to the surface with a big smile.She beckoned invitingly, waving to join her. Thereafter, all, who came there in their swimming costumes, joined her immediately. The others rushed back to the hotel, coming back and joining the swimming party in that water where the previous day it was a scene of such a tragedy.
It was getting past mid-day. The sun was directly above. It was so blissful and yet so deadly dangerous at the same time. We had to find somewhere to shelter, so as to avoid blisters on our skins.After about an hour, we managed to walk to our hotel for a cold shower and a spot ofa rest before lunch.
During our lunch, a safari by a jungle, bordering with massive wild, open plains, was suggested.Shortly afterwards, Ted and Frank checked their rifles and ammunition. With packed supplies of food, we left in our truck, taking the extra few men, whom we had befriended.
Dusk was already creeping in by the time we had found a large shelter on a very large tree.
It was a purpose built observation point in the middle of a vast open space, where different, wild African animals roamed and grazed freely. It was also where the hungry predators, such as lioness with their, always hungry, young cubs, lied in wait.
Stars twinkled above in the bright, clear sky over our heads, well before the time we were ready to retire for the night.We could hear the usual wild yipping and howling of the hyenas and the barking of the jackals nearby. It was part of the untold African charm of the everlasting struggles for survival of the wild animals taking place during the nights, out on those vast, open African plains.
Early, the following morning, we went to a nearby stream to freshen up our sleepy bodies and take some water back to our tree top hut.We walked carefully, with our usual protection of Frank up in front, while Ted guarded our backs.
As usually, we were overtaken to the water supply by the thirsty animals. It was a lovely sight, though it only lasted a moment, for the easily frightened, wild animals ran away in a panic rush.After our wash, we had a Spartan breakfast in our tree house Different ideas of how to best spend the day were discussed, there too.
The ideas hardly finished flowing in, when the animal world provided it’s own suggestion, as well as answer. There, in front of us, was the most magnificent, full of natural beauty and colour, picture of the African animal world.
The wildebeests by the hundreds were grazing on the plains below. Zebras, the antelopes, the giraffes and the buffaloes, were all there, under the protection of the mighty elephants, the kings of the animal world on the land.
Indeed, it is the mighty elephant, contrary to other believes, who is the king of all the land animals. We were privileged to witness a living example of their predominance over a lion. One of the latter got too close to a young elephant calf. The mother just grabbed the intruder with her trunk and the lion a fair, safe distance away. The poor intruder could hardly pick himself up and ran for his life.
Actually, I had learnt that day, that the lion stays away from his pack, the family. It is the lioness that does all the providing of food. She does all the waiting for her prey, chasing and killing it to feed her young, hungry cubs.
It is a very cruel scene out there in the wilderness, when a lioness starts a chase to kill a zebra, a young buffalo or any animal, which she judges that she can manage to catch. With her speedy, long leaps; her weight and the born kill instinct, once a lioness catches her prey, she goes straight for the throat. Many times, she gets carried herself, having bitten her sharp teeth into the throat of such a strong prey like a wildebeest, yet unable to defend itself.
It is by far the most cruel life example of fight for survival; I have ever seen there, in the wilderness of the vast African, open spaces.We all learnt a great deal during that day, by watching the wild life of the African animals from our tree top house. In fact, we got so spellbound on our first day, so we decided to stay there for another day. That evening, Ted and Frank went out, shot a young hog, and brought it up to the tree house. We too, at that time, had to kill to eat. At least, the animal died instantly, without any traumatic suffering.
Early, the next day, we saw yet another spectacular live scene; a lioness started chasing a fully-grown gazelle. Standing in our tree house, we could see, to our delight that the distance between the predator and her prey was increasing. After a while, the lioness had to abandon the chase, ending down by the nearby river, having to gulp great amount of water to quench her thirst.
The river was on our right. There were hundreds of wildebeests grazing on that bank. Suddenly a couple of lionesses started chasing one, young wildebeest. They toppled it, and immediately one went for the throat of the prey, while the other was firmly on it’s back. The lionesses surely had their meal, for themselves and their cubs.
Unfortunately, by their commotion of the chase, they had frightened the huge herd of the wildebeests. The nearest route of escape was across the wide river. They had no option but to jump into the fast running water, from a steep edge of the embankment of the river. Some seemed to be well used to such emergency. Others, though, especially the younger ones, were falling in sideways.We could see that they were in great difficulties.
Clouds of dust wee coming up and slowly covering all the animal struggles on the near side of the river.
On the far side, the wildebeests were trying to climb up the embankment. Some of them were falling into the water and seemed to be dying there. Majority, though, could be seen to be climbing over those half-dead bodies to safety. Such was the picture of the law of survival in the animal world.
Ted was looking through his binoculars. He had clearer and better picture of what was happening out there on the open, African spaces.“Look; dozens of crocodiles are attacking those struggling wildebeests”. We could hear him shout.
Frank began loading his rifle. Then, after attaching the telescopic sight on to it, he was firing at those, hungry beasts, at regular intervals.There was another cruel scene taking place in front of our eyes. The strong-jawed reptiles did not seem to take any notice of dozens of their own species lying dead. They were climbing over them to get to the struggling wildebeests.
We witnessed another example of the survival of different species of the wild animals taking place in that fast running river, water of which was red with blood.Ted joined Frank in the shooting. Together, they were putting the injured wildebeests out of their miseries and shooting the crocodiles at the same time. Surprisingly, none of us were feeling any emotion or even slight remorse for those hungry monsters, the crocodiles.
After a while, the dust has settled down on the nearside bank. All those wildebeests, which have crossed safely, were, by then, grazing happily, as if nothing had happened.Frank came up with an idea of going down to the river to get the skins of all those crocodiles.
Bobo and Moi volunteered to help with the skinning. Soon, the four of them went down.
It was a very dangerous undertaking, even with such excellent sharpshooters as Frank and Ted, as we were about to witness.Frank went down to the river first, right down to where there were about a dozen or so dead crocodiles.
With a sharp knife in his hand, Moi went for the nearest dead crocodile. Snap.A monster size crocodile leaped up behind him, grabbed the prey by the waist and bounded away by disappearing into the depth of the fast running water. Frank shot in that direction, but to no avail. We have not seen; neither Mois’s body, nor the crocodile coming up to the surface.
It amazed us all that young Bobo went on with the skinning of the rest of the shot crocodiles, after that horrific accident. He did do, and was extremely skillful at that.
By the end of that day, we put over two dozen crocodile skins on the truck and headed back to our hotel before nightfall.Chandra sat on the veranda, sipping some fruit juice on our arrival. He greeted us with sight of relief showing on his friendly face.
We all slept solidly until the late hours of the following day. After a very substantial breakfast, and after expressing our great appreciation for the friendliest hospitality, we said our last farewell, ready to go back to Masindi. With joyful singing, as always, we were hoping to be back in our settlement for lunchtime.
Virgin forests - African Jungles
On the opposite side from the mountains, our settlement in Masindi bordered with the elephant grass. Further on, there were huge, green, impregnable, virgin rain forests, commonly known as the jungles.
Even the word jungle, itself gives a picture of an untidy, neglected, almost forgotten terrain.
African jungles, like others in the world, along both sides of the Equator, could be imagined and painted that way.
There are vast areas of thickly grown over; centuries old mahogany -and other- trees, with massive big girth buttress. They grow to hundreds of meters tall, filling up the deep valleys.
Hard ebony trees, massive palms and other trees grow there, names of which young, as I was would not know, also grow there, cramped, they fill those deep, African, wet valleys.
The extreme, tropical heat of the sun turns the waters from the many streams, rivers and lakes into a warm mist that fills those jungles with such nutritious conditions for all the trees to grow to such gigantic sizes and dimensions.
All the trees grow to such enormous sizes by trying to get to the sun. There is competition for space and that is why they fill those warm and wet valleys in such a way, that when looking at them from a distance, there is a lovely thick, dark green canopy to be seen. They, in turn, give shelter and home to many species of birds and animals.
From the outside, there is this tranquil beauty, rich in colours. When one goes closer and tries to get inside, that is when the complex difficulty begins to unfold. Not only is a jungle full of various trees, but also, there grow thick lianas, like massive vines. They in turn grow over the trees, interweaving, climbing and filling all available spaces, also trying to reach for the, life giving, sun.
It was on such lianas, according to some different tales, that Tarzan - a lost man- had an easy means of fast travels through such jungles. My friends and I used to practice that sort of dangerous sport, of swinging across the jungle valleys, especially after watching different versions of Tarzan films. Many times, quite a number of my mates ended up with big lumps on their bodies. There were also a few, who finished in the hospital with broken limbs.
The inside of the jungles were the natural habitation for dozens verities of monkeys, orangutans, chimpanzees and even some gorillas. We used to venture to those territories from the neighbouring jungles, across from Rwanda and from the Congo.As soon as the lads would get inside any part of those jungles; the entire menagerie used to make a lot of fuss full of noises. They would even start throwing branches of trees at us, though; neither my mates, nor I would ever do the animals any harm.
We were fully aware of the natural, day-to-day struggles of the animals, their coexistence and their fights for survival, which were vivid, cruel and bloody at times.
At the very edge of those green jungles, there grow much shorter trees with very wide canopies.
These, in turn give shelter to many species of colourful, various in sizes, extremely beautiful birds.Their magnificent singing can be heard from afar. They sounded as if hundreds of different choirs were giving their concert in unison.
The flora world, too, is very rich and varied in Uganda. There are flowers, which neither
I, nor even many botanists, have ever seen before. Those flowers have more colours than could be found in a rainbow. Their tropical scents lured hundreds of different insects and dozens of unusual butterflies amongst them. These butterflies are so full of most attractive colours and unusual shape wings. They were also their peril, because we, the young children could not resist catching them for collections and keeping them in special boxes with glass tops.
In fact this new hobby became so popular with the youngsters, which it had grown to the number one hobby, on par with the collection of postage stamps. It pushed a very popular hobby, that of keeping of domestic rabbits, into the second place, among the schoolchildren.
There were many streams, some rivers, as well as smaller and larger lakes, not far from the Masindi settlement.Those lakes and rivers were the water holes for all the wild animals and birds. They used to visit these water holes at different times of day, or under the cover of night, for their portion of thirst-quenching drinks, lifesaving water.
When the elephants get to their water hole, they really have a proper swim, bath and drink - all at the same time. While in the water, they almost seem to smile with their enjoyment of being in it.
It was such a pleasant sight, that my companions and I often used to spend many hours just watching the elephants in those happy activities of swimming. Those enormous in size, the prehistoric animals, so slow on the land, were so happy and at such ease in water. They were spraying one another, almost with a certain touch of delight, tenderness and great satisfaction.
Elephants might look clumsy, but they are ever so gentle in taking care of their young ones. That behaviour can be especially noticed, when they teach their young calves in the art of swimming. The most interesting, from the whole experience of watching elephants behaviour was, to see them coming out from the water. They head straight into dry dusty sand and cover their bodies, from head to toe, in all that dry muck. They somehow knew that such treatment would protect them from different insects and their nasty stings.
Other animals used to come to those same water holes. They would come at different times, as if they had known their turn. Some would come there in the evening, or during the night. Almost all the grass and leafs eating animals used to come during the elephants presence, as if to get their protection against all the predators. The kings of the animal world on land, the mighty elephants, feared no others. They traveled slowly, almost majestically, and never disturbed other animals, but which in turn used to make way for them.
There was a chance of seeing all those African wild animals by the various water holes.
Sometimes, I would venture into those jungles, armed with an axe, to get some dry wood for my mother.
On another occasion, my mates and I would go into some woodland in search of wild bees. If we were lucky, we would open bees nest and enjoy the taste of wild flower honey.
It was most delicious, compared to any honey that we had ever eaten.
There were different varieties of bees, one of which were so gentle that they did not sting at all.
The elephant grass filled the spaces between the jungles and the sweet potatoes fields of the settlement. Here and there grew some wild fruit trees. With young, inquisitive mind and the adventurous attitude, we soon discovered a number of trees, fruit of which were, not only edible, but also, some of them were, rather quite tasty and no doubt nutritious.
Among others, there were black fruit. They were similar to our plum, slightly smaller, with dry flesh, by comparison. They had big stones. My companions and I used to end up with black tongues, after eating the black African plums.
Another type of fruit looked like a small pear, yellow in colour. The fruit grew on comparatively small trees, scattered between the tall, elephant grass. Because the young lads saw the birds eat those fruit, they, too, tried them and found them to be very tasty indeed.
Hunting - the Native way
Once a year, during the dry season, when all the grass and the undergrowth were completely dry, the natives would start burning them.Huge, bright red glows filled up the sky, during those fires. They would be mixed with the smoke from the burning bushes and would move with the wind. Those clouds of smoke, would hang up in the sky above, like ghosts. They would wonder around, up and down for many days and nights.In the end, all the dry grass, the undergrowth and even some large, dry trees would burn down completely, on those vast African plains.At night times, only burning trinkets could be seen all over the burnt up areas with luminous insects flickering up above.
Few days after the fires would die completely; there would vast areas of clear, open, smoldered spaces. It was like an open invitation for us, the children to explore and investigate those burnt out territories. Indeed, we would find and pick some deliciously tasting fruit, or was it vegetable? It tasted like a cocktail of orange and lemon. It grew directly from the ground and had a very hard, red skin. There were great numbers of them all over those naked sites cleared by the bush fires.Soon the rain would come.
In turn, the grass would begin to grow at an alarming rate.With the hot sun up above and a moist soil, one could see the grass growing daily.Luscious, green grass would cover those naked, burnt up, African plains.
Before long, the grass would be about three quarters of a meter tall. It would be supporting a variety of animal life. It was then, when the natives would start their annual hunting for some of the animals like gazelle and other, smaller animals.
It was a very perilous occupation; therefore, only men would go hunting. Matter of fact, only those men would be allowed to go on a hunting spree, who passed the bravery test; by spending lonely nights, on their own, out in the wilderness, with just a spear and a shield.
The brave hunters used a number of very long nets. They would set them over a long distance.
Then; while some braves would stand by those nets, with their spears and clubs
at the ready, others would go a mile or so to chase the animals into the nets. The animals got killed with the spears or the clubs.
The hunters were very skilled in that type of hunting. It did not take them long to get plenty of meat to feed their families. They would also end up having animal skins to sleep on, or to make their drums from.
There was singing and dancing, as usual, on such occasions.
They must have enjoyed their hunting. Possibly, that was the reason why they never stored any meat. It seemed that they trusted in nature, that it would provide the food, that there would never be any shortage of animals to hunt in that vast and sparsely populated country of theirs - Uganda.
About five miles from the Masindi settlement, there was one of the natives’ nearest village. It consisted mainly of small, round, chimneyless huts made from the elephant grass, with a hole in the roof, to let the smoke out. Though on a clear and sunny day, the natives would do their cooking outside, under a shade made from broad banana leaves.There were about twenty families living in that village. The huts were just scattered in a close proximity to one another, clustered around.
Inside each hut, there were a few animal skins, on which they would sleep, a spear, a bow and some arrows and, quite often a drum, as well as some handmade musical instruments. There would also be some assortment of cooking utensils, in which the women would cook manioc, green bananas or sweet potatoes. They would bake their sweet corn, with the leaves left on the cob, in hot ashes. It was extremely tasty baked that way.
They cultivated small fields where they would grow their manioc and some peanuts. They roasted those groundnuts in their shells. Again, these tasted much better done in such a simple way.
It surprised me, that for their nomadic way of life, they kept small gardens with tomatoes and other vegetables. Groundnuts occupied some of their best patches.They even kept some fruit trees like paw-paw, mango and banana.
Banana plants have very broad leaves and create an excellent environment for the malaria carrying mosquitoes to multiply in. Those leaves can hold great amount of warm, stagnant water.
In that hot, tropical, African climate, the natives did not need to wear much clothing. They have had enough cloth, only to cover their private parts.The grownups would barely cover around their hips, while the children roamed about naked. They were full of such innocence, with their charming, big smiles, their white sparkling, healthy teeth showing their happiness.
I have met and made friends with children of different races during my short life of adversity. I had noticed a common behaviour with them all. They would always look straight into my eyes and come up with such great and loving smile. “Why?” I often asked myself over the years after.
I came with the same, very simple answer; "because children have no worries and are, above all else, honest, and that shows from their innocent souls and their simple trust in everyone".
The adults too, lived very contented lives in that part of Uganda at that time 1942-1948.
The reason must have been in, that the European ‘civilization’, which, over the ages has gathered so much selfishness and, which, in turn bred so much greed and inequality, did not –fortunately- influence most of the African people at that time.
The two evils: greed and inequality create conflicts as terrible and as destructive as the ugly wars. They ruin all human achievements, often stooping so low, that they degrade themselves below that of wild savages.
Whereas, the indigenous native, unassuming and carefree, semi nomadic way of life, was very vividly portrayed around that part of Africa, in Uganda, where I lived with my mother and two younger sisters, in our heaven of the exile, during the war.
Sometimes, the indigenous people would just burn their straw huts and move miles to start a fresh. They would build a new village, where, perhaps the pasture for their few domesticated animals, were better, or because there might be better hunting grounds.
Whatever it was, their way of life must have also been the reason for their happiness. Their happiness was very much reflected in their daily life of continual singing.
Even when walking from one place to another, the people were -happy- playing their small, self, handmade musical instruments and singing on the way. Greetings too, were exchanged with some melody - "jambo, abari, musuri etc. Whoomm, whoomm" - still singing in my ears.
Sadly, Uganda was in the hands of colonial oppression.What surprised me, as I grew up a bit older and learnt geography and history, that the Asians, especially from India, who themselves were maltreated by the same colonial system, in their own country, were keen instruments in that same system in another country.
That was half the problem, though. What really shocked me most of all, was to learn, by witnessing even worse treatment of the natives by their own ‘askari’ - their police officers. The local men; influenced by corruption of the ‘civilized world’, exemplified and testified the strength of money.
Money seemed to be stronger than bullets. For serf’s miserly thirty shillings a month,
some local men were happy –as “askaris”- to oppress their own people. (“What are you willing to give me, if I hand him over to you?” Judas asked. “The chief priests counted out for him thirty pieces of silver”.)
It continues these days, as then. Only different people take the roles of greedy sellers. These “askaris”, recruited from native men, did everything what their white and brown ‘masters’ wanted; trained, and paid them to do.
Foreign; colonial civilization turned free, open spaces loving, nomadic people into slaves.
You should see those “askaris”. They looked like the court jesters of bygone days; with their, brimless, round, red hats. That way they could be seen from afar.
They wore dark blue shorts tightened by a broad; white canvas belt, with a big truncheon hanging on one side, which with, they upheld and promoted the sinister colonial discipline among their sisters and their brothers alike.
I had witnessed, with my own eyes, one man from a nearby village having been beaten up by the two “askaris”. He was beaten for attempting to sell a bundle of firewood in the settlement. The two “askaris” hit him on his head and over his body. The victim was falling down, probably unconscious.
He was bleeding, when the “askaris” put him into a primitive jailhouse, locking him up without any tribunal whatsoever.Such maltreatment happened regularly, for a menial breaking of the ‘law’ set by the white and brown colonial masters, so brutally executed by the “askaris”, supposedly, for the protection of the law and order.I'd often pondered as to how those people survived all those thousands of years, before the Europeans and Asians even ventured to Africa, where they introduced their “cultures and their laws and orders”?
In fact, from what I read, and for what it’s worth, it was supposed to have been the other way round. The people from Africa went across to Asia and, then centuries later, to Europe.
I had no idea that the natives from the neighbouring villages had been forbidden to enter inside our settlement. There, certainly, were no fences around the perimeter of the settlement. Neither were there any signs to show the locals where they were not supposed to go.
On the other hand, anybody from the settlement could and used to go, frequently, to the natives’ villages.With their few cents in possession, we, the Poles would venture to buy some of the locals’ garden produce and some of their, deliciously tasting, small in size, yellow in colour, fully ripe bananas. They were the types and the likes of which I had not seen or tasted before or since.
My personal experience of contacts with the Ugandan people was that they were very friendly. They had never harmed anybody during the six years of my living there. In fact, they liked the presence of the Polish people in and around their villages. Once they got to know us better, they wanted, and were very keen, to learn to speak our Polish language.
One young, native lad, who used to help the two Polish priests at the vicarage, had shown not only his keenness for the Polish language, but also his enormous capacity for learning. He also had a great determination. He learnt -by heart- one entire book of Polish poems in a very short space of time. So much so, that soon afterwards, everybody called him “Pan Tadeusz”, after the title of the book. Few months later he was baptized and took on that name, in addition to Adam, the Christian name of the author, the very well, internationally known poet, Mickiewicz.
We, "The Boa Six" lads loved going camping to different parts of that unfathomable, magnificently charming country - Uganda. There were so many picturesque and such tranquil surroundings around the Masindi settlement, that they were forever spoiled for choice.
One day, it was on Sunday, the six of us went to hire three bicycles, unfortunately, ending with only two, because cycling was very popular. That, in turn, created a great demand for the hire of bicycles. Anyway, my mates and I hired two bicycles for one shilling each a day.
Now, bear it in mind, that it was 1947, in Uganda, where one shilling would also buy a hundred cigarettes, or pay for a day’s full board.
"The Boa Six" always tried to share fairly. In this situation of only two bicycles, they drew lots.The lucky four went cycling, with two youngsters on each bicycle. I, being one of them, was getting a ride on the frame and alternating. That way we managed to ride on all the way to Masindi town and back, about twenty miles each way. The friendly natives greeted us with their usual big smiles and with their, musical, "Jambo! Jambo!" could be heard everywhere, throughout the entire journey.The Ugandans were very friendly people, indeed. Jambo!
Having been fully pledged scout, at the age of twelve, I loved spending my summer holidays in that exciting youth movement. Two weeks long scout camping counted as my most enjoyable.
This particular camping was going to be special one for sure. What, with our scout troop of Kosciuszko, having won top marks at the Jamboree, the previous year, every scout patrol and even small unit would want to gain one better over us.
The destination was chosen. It was a place half way between Masindi settlement and the Lake Albert was going to be for that particular camping.
As usually, we traveled on the open trucks. Though during that journey, we were packed, standing, like sardines, we still managed to show our contentment and our happiness by singing for the half hour trip.We were dropped off near a rubber plantation forest.Our unit of twelve scouts kept together. We were determined to carry on winning scout points as always. While looking for a suitable place for our tent, we came across a couple of trees growing close to one another. Their branches were so interwoven, that they gave us an idea of pitching their tent up there, on top of them. We cut off a few of the protruding branches. Then, after putting plenty of grass on to those branches, as well as a couple of blankets on top, we finished with the tent on those trees.
The camp kitchen, as always, was in the middle of the camp. A large pot was already hanging over a big fire. In the pot were some chunks of mutton with pieces of onion and other vegetables bubbling away. The smell, or rather the stench, coming from that mixture, boiling slowly, was lingering in the clean air all over the camp. It was so revolting, that even the thought of eating that concoction was bad enough. By the end of the day, though, and all the finished activities,
I was, also, tired and hungry. Having no other choice, I had to have some food. However, from that day I had stayed clear of eating mutton.After the scout supper, when the entire scout troop was by the campfire, "The Boa Six", which had grown to twelve, had gained maximum points awarded for the proficiency and for the originality of choosing the place and pitching our tent.
A few days later, when the news had time to travel, everyone from the entire camp went to admire the tent up in the trees.Even with the campfire burning all through the nights, animals’ presence could be heard in the close proximity. We, the scout boys got well accustomed to that by then. It was part of the hidden, untold and mysterious African charm, about which, many storytellers can only but dream to share, even some of such experiences.
Early the first morning, we, the brave scout boys rushed to a nearby stream, to get washed. There, we witnessed similar scene to that which I have described seeing during safari, near Butiaba.
We stopped in our strides by seeing that beautiful life picture. There, the wild animals were just having their early morning drink. Unfortunately, as soon as they noticed human presence, frightened, they ran away in a panic. They did not trust people. They knew from the local hunting experiences, as well as from various small, tribal wars, how cruel people can be to one another, and even more so to the wild animals.
Romek mentioned something about predators, that lions and jackals might be tempted to come to the water hole. At that point, quickly, even the brave six just refreshed themselves and back to our tent we ran, never even looking back. As it happened, our tent was not that far from the stream.
After scout breakfast, which consisted of a slice of brown bread, so thinly spread with butter that the sky above could be seen through it, and a jug of white coffee, we went marching to the nearby rubber plantation, for a bit of a practice of the Morse code.
Having seen the wild rubber trees in the local jungles, near the settlement, I could not help to notice a great deal of difference between them. Those trees growing on the plantation forest were smaller and much thicker. They were also planted at adequate spaces.
They had plenty of sunlight and were not squashed by other trees. Not like those trees in the wild; in the jungles, which had to grow tall in competition for the warmth of the sun?
Rubber trees, as their names indicate, are very valuable for their resin. It is white and is processed into rubber. The first step is quite simple. The bark of a tree is cut in shape of ‘V’ and a small container is fixed just beneath the cut, to let the rubber tree resin drip into. These containers are collected at regular intervals and replaced with empty ones. The resin is then taken and poured into larger containers with water in them, to keep the resin fresh and workable.
Afterwards, the resin comes out white in a shape of a big mattress. This in turn goes for further process of manufacturing variety of different rubber products.
After spending four hours in the rubber plantation; practicing Morse code and other skills, like tracking, we marched back to our camp.
After two weeks of overcoming different challenges, we, certainly gained a lot of various, practical skills: cooking, first aid and handicraft being some of them, worthy of a mention.
The biggest and the most memorable event of the two weeks scout camping was the last campfire.
It was Saturday, our fourteenth day of camping. During that day, all the scout boys were busy gathering dry wood and building a massive mount with it, all in readiness for the last campfire.
On most of such gatherings, the campfire would be fairly far from the tents. This time, it was decided to have one just a few meters across the main road, on a small plain, encircled by three tall trees. Actually, it was along the daily footpath which we had made going up and down to the stream for their daily wash.
During the last evening, after supper, all of us gathered by the wooden mount. Over a hundred of them sat, cross-legged, putting our scout staffs by our sides. This way we always kept vigilant, as is expected of every scout boy. Then, the chief scout lit the wooden mount, setting the big campfire going. It crackled and sent the sparklers into the dark sky of the night. The hundred young voices sang happy songs. The echo picking them and passing on; merry Polish melodies and carrying them high and wide into the African, magic night.
In between singing, there followed the proficiency badge awards, according to various achievements: like cook’s badge, gained by all those on kitchen duty. In fourteen days, with three ‘scout meals a day’, almost everyone had a hand in the kitchen duty. After the Morse code practice, again, most got their signalman’s badge. As to the entertainer’s badge, everyone got that one in addition to that of a male-nurse etc. Individual and collective shows followed afterwards.
We, "The Boa Six", together with the six other scouts, must have got most awards for their achievements, once again.About half way through that memorable and enchanting gathering, while the singing was going into high notes, the scouts noticed dozens of shining eyes in the depth of that dark night, in the near distance. It was a very unusual sight indeed. It prompted a guessing game, why those eyes of the jackals were there. Either the campfire, or the young, powerful singing, must have lured them there.
The close proximity of those jackals presence did not surprise anyone. The brave scout boys carried on with their singing, as if nothing had happened.
After a short while, the jackals, in turn, disappeared into the dark of the night, as they appeared.The guessing games, as to why they had come in such numbers, continued for some time afterwards.Was it possible, that with their animal instincts, the jackals might have known more than the people? Perhaps they had known that the war was over. What then were all those Polish scouts still doing in Uganda that late after the war in 1947? The war, started by the terrorists from the west in September 1939, joined in by the terrorists from the east two weeks later and the evil war carried on until 1945.
Maybe, the wailing animals just came to say their last farewell to the Polish people in exile, the pilgrims in their land.
The jackals’ barking, echoed around and got mixed with the familiar yelping and howling of the hyenas, filling the air, as it went around the bright campfire.All those animal lamentable noises were different, thought, from the usual, as if they were filled with some kind of sorrows.We, the Polish scouts, too, felt very strange somehow. From that night, Africa has not been the same.We felt, as if something went missing. This untouchable something created a kind of emptiness, full of yearning for something that was lost. It was something, which had gone forever, something, which could never be found again. It was happiness, yet full of sadness and sorrows, which filled everyone’s heart.After a while, neither I. nor other scouts felt like singing their happy songs of “how wonderful it’s to climb the mountains and touch the sky from up above”... on that exceptional, mysterious, extremely unusual, most memorable night in Uganda.