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Jomo Kenyatta and the Texas Longhorns


Jomo Kenyatta, father of the Kenyan nation and its first president, shook my hand on a beautiful seaside morning in December, 1967. I was out for a stroll, dressed neatly for a change, and feeling as spiffy as the bright equatorial morning. But strangely, the usually bustling docks of Mombasa Harbor were deserted.

Tied up quayside was an aging cargo ship, its hull black except for splotches of rust, some white lettering, and a maroon stripe marking the water line. In front of the freighter, an armed semicircle of widely-spaced Kenyan soldiers ringed an area the size of several football fields. In those early years of post-colonial Kenya, President Jomo had encouraged British colonial civil servants to stay on and aid in the transition to independence, and while native Kenyans manned the front offices of the bureaucracy, a leftover colonial often sat in the back to cross the T’s and dot the I’s. Thus, when my morning amble took me towards the freighter, no soldier challenged me, assuming that my white skin was a credential for the ceremony about to happen.

The freighter rose high out the water, its dark sides looming far above me as I approached. No gang planks were down, a security measure perhaps, but an on-board crane had its arm hovered over two stout wooden crates, their sides slatted. Standing in each crate was a bull, two Texas Longhorns I was to eventually learn. Crew members stared down from the deck railing and I stared up. An Army captain and some subordinates, wearing ranger hats and dressed in starched shirts, creased shorts and knee socks, clustered near the spot to which the crates would be lowered.

African soldiers

One of the subordinate officers left the group and came to me. “You must come here,” he said and motioned me towards the little knot of officers. “President Jomo will arrive shortly.” I followed him to the group. At the back, one of the subordinates, taller than his colleagues, held a walkie-talkie device. “By him,” my guide said, and so I joined the lanky lieutenant with the radio.

“We bring the cows down when the car arrives,” Radioman said.

“Good,” I said, feeling I was in way over my head, and wishing I were somewhere else, for it was now evident to me that I was a security breach. Some time passed and then the head officer snapped to attention. The rest of the group followed suit, and I corrected my posture. “Car coming,” Radioman said to me. Far up the docks, a black limo had appeared and was headed slowly in our direction.

Radioman spoke into the walkie-talkie. “Start cows,” he said, looking up to the crewmen at the deck railing. Radioman held the walkie-talkie towards me. “Starting cows now,” came crackling out in a thick accent. Radioman looked at me. “Cows starting,” I said. Above, the crew dispersed and the crane began to take up slack in the ropes attached to the crates. The limo slowed to a crawl while the crates were raised and swung over the side of the ship. First one bull and then the other bellowed.

Radioman waited for a signal from his captain, then said, “Bring cows down,” into the walkie-talkie. The crates began to lower, the limo picked up speed, and as the bulls touched down, the car pulled to a stop about twenty feet away. An aide with a camera got out of the front and opened a rear door. Jomo Kenyatta, dressed in the open-shirted Kenyan style, emerged and walked over to the crates. He peered through the slats while the aide snapped pictures.


Texas Longhorns

Cattle are highly valued in native Kenyan society, and the President was making a gift to the people of two Texas Longhorn bulls, meant to introduce new genes into the traditional Kenyan herds. When he was satisfied that the bulls were what he had ordered, he walked over to the captain and talked a bit in Swahili, of which I understood nothing. The President, who had lived and studied in England, and also in colonial prisons, eventually noticed me. “Thank you for helping,” he said in English and made a short step in my direction. The officers in front of me parted and Jomo Kenyatta extended his hand. I came forward, reached out, and shook hands with the first President of Kenya, Leader of the Mau Mau Rebellion, and Father of the Nation. “You’re very welcome,” I said and nodded a little bow.

Shortly the President was back in his limo and driving away. A few of the officers were busy with getting the crated bulls lifted onto a flatbed truck that had rumbled up from further down the docks and others were forming the soldiers into columns for the march back to barracks. I was left standing by the freighter, Radioman still close by, and it occurred to me that almost two hundred years before, George Washington had worn similar titles – First President, Leader of the American Revolution, and Father of the Nation. “Good luck,” I said to Radioman. “I wish you well.” And that is how, quite by accident, I met Jomo Kenyatta and his Texas Longhorns.

Jomo and George -Something in Common

George Washington


Norman Mailer and Me

a lesion of dissent Norman Mailer was summering in Provincetown, on Cape Cod, and so was I.  He had rented a big house on the beach with a sweeping view of the bay, and I was living in a tiny converted tool shed in a parking lot, two doors west and on the opposite side of the street.  I did menial labor twelve hours per day to pay for my next year of college, the Beatles had just exploded across the TV landscape of America, and Norman was partying that summer, hard, late night after late, late night.

We’d often engage in the early morning on the sidewalk in front of his house, I walking towards the touristy core of the town to begin another long day of scraping peeling paint or scrubbing pots, and he leaning against his car. We’d meet in that early part of morning when the squawk of sea gulls is amplified by dawn quietude, and high-hanging fog reflects a silver sheen off the lapping waters of Provincetown Bay.  And Norman would glare.  Always.  As I turned onto the sidewalk, he’d pick up the sound of my steps as they crunched out of the graveled parking lot, rotate his head in my direction, and glare, his eyes locking into mine and then holding firm while I approached and passed.

The first few times I disengaged and cast my focus along the narrow sidewalk ahead.  My passage to town was half filled with Norman’s legs, which were bracing him against the car fender on which he leaned his rump, arms crossed across his crumpled sport shirt.  Secondly, I tried holding his gaze, nodding, and offering a soft “morning” as I passed.  But neither way did he acknowledge me, nor even shift his legs back to give me more space to pass.  There was just his glare, intense and never wavering.  Discomfit, I took to ignoring him those frequent mornings when he had posted himself on the sidewalk.  It mattered not.  He glared the same.

We had a mutual friend, and one afternoon I saw Norman and this friend walking towards me on the narrow sidewalk. They were talking with great animation and gesticulation.  It happened that I had a message from someone to give to the friend, so I stopped them and delivered the message, then glanced at Norman.  Glare, eyes locked into mine.

We had a second mutual friend – my summer girlfriend, his sometimes babysitter. It was from her that I had learned that Norman partied long, hard, and into the dawn.  She lived in a house directly across the street from Norman, sharing rent with a group of other college co-eds.  One evening, he knocked on her door just as we were ready to go out. “Something’s come up,” he said. “I need a babysitter.  Can you do it?”, his tone polite, normal, friendly.  She turned towards me behind her, apologizing that she needed the money, and Norman’s gaze followed hers to me.  His face transformed.  Glare.  No mistaking it.

He moved away before Labor Day that year and his house stood empty.  I stayed on to catch a last few paydays before my college started up again, and one soft, late summer morning, I walked around to the beach side of Norman’s house.  From his deck, there was a wide panoramic view with the rising sun throwing colors on the gentle waves, the sound of water breaking on the beach pilings, a sailboat catching early breezes as its skipper tacked across the bay, and a setting moon faintly visible in the western sky.

Author Karl Drobnic

Cover image – Annette Monclere at Cabaret Khartoum

I leaned against the deck railing and decided to be late for work that day, wondering why, with such a view, Norman had passed so many mornings on the other side of that house contemplating the sidewalk.  I don’t know, and he’s dead, so I never will.  But I saw his glare recently, in a TV documentary, a still photograph of his face staring into the camera as a narrator reviewed the turmoil and dissent of the Sixties.  It was a photo from late in Norman’s life, the face wizened and leathery, heavy lines etched into the brow and cheeks from hard living.  But the glare was there, deep, straight into the camera lens, and frozen now, reminding me of choices he made, that I’ve made, of how very differently we’ve lived our lives, and of how glad I am that I spent that morning on Norman’s deck.

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A Lesion of Dissent

Set in the flash and dash of the turbulent Sixties, “A Lesion of Dissent” can be downloaded from and in any format.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the storyline:

“A fiery liaison in the burial chambers of Egypt’s ancient pharaohs while Israeli warplanes scream overhead… frenzy and rioting as vengeful Arabs storm into the streets…and Paul Rhodes’ life of exile in post-colonial Africa and Asia has just begun. Buffeted by the smuggling, black market deception and patriotic fervor that marked those continents’ passages to independence in the tumultuous Sixties, Paul is impelled country by country to a stunning, fateful confrontation with the government forces that stand between him and the woman he loves.”

You can order online at either the or link below. Just click on the book cover of your choice. I hope you enjoy reading A Lesion of Dissent as much as I enjoyed writing it. Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks in advance – Karl

BONUS Images and Excerpts from “A Lesion of Dissent” .

Same great novel, your choice of either original art cover

Carla Grissmann, Sri Lanka, Colombo, Karl Drobnic, Khyber, Afghanistan <== Cover, Edition, click cover to buy

Author Karl Drobnic

Cover, Smashwords Edition- “Annette Monclere at Cabaret Khartoum” click cover to buy