Sunday, 22 March 2015

Life on an isolated farm in Tanganyika


There are a number of photographs taken at Oosa River in the 1940s, mostly featuring Tony's sister Joy with various handkerchief trees that grew in the garden. She always posed in the same way.


Living on an isolated farm did not perturb her. She made all her own dresses and grew her hair long, pinning it up to avoid having to get it permed or set. They were miles from any hairdresser. 


Although she sold a few of the water-colour landscapes that she painted, Joy never had a formal job. Being married was seen as an occupation in itself.


She loved Africa and the warm equatorial climate. The fact that a large cobra inhabited the fig tree in the garden did not bother her in the least.




Saturday, 26 July 2014

Vera's Story

Vera with her dog

Vera's house

Vera on her horse

Tony on his gelding

Tony and Vera on Mt Kenya

Vera's garden

Vera and Tony

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Tony's story - a life spent in East Africa



Makorongo had an unusual friend in the form a Policeman of Scottish decent called Tony Maxtone-Mailer.


Tony's parents married in Malaya in 1911. His grandfather John Gibson, a civil engineer from Ayr, famous for building the Kandy Railway, had become a rubber planter owning plantations in Keang.


Tony's father, Maxtone Lockhart Mailer, arrived from Dumfries in Scotland to manage the rubber plantation and soon married Nellie, one of John Gibson's five daughters.


After WWI ended, Maxtone Mailer took the opportunity to move to East Africa to run coffee and timber plantations that had been acquired by the British Government after the German surrender. The youngest of four children, Tony was born in Kenya in 1991 and instantly went down with blackwater fever.


While his elder brother and sisters were sent back to Dumfries to be brought up by their grandparents, Tony was the little one who stayed with his mother and grew up in northern Tanzania. Since he had survived blackwater fever it was assumed that he would be resistant to malaria.


Although he had to be under a mosquito net before 6.00pm every night, Tony grew up speaking Swahili and learning about the bush from the Warusha people working on the farm. His Ayah, who was a man, told me that he was such an active child he had to attach a dog lead to him.


His father taught him how to ride and shoot well - and little else apart from vehicle maintenance. Tony became a crack shot, able to shoot a sixpence from between his sister's fingers with his air rifle.

 
At the outbreak of the second world war Tony's brother Marcus joined the RAF, but was tragically killed in an accident whilst training in Norway.


Tony joined the Kenyan Police Force as a reservist, but soon became an officer, winning the East Africa show-jumping championships on his horse Captain Blood.


Travel and the safari life always called Tony back to the wilderness, especially when it involved hunting , which he loved.


Much against his father's wishes he married a divorced English lady called Vera Winter, nee Yates, the daughter of Yates Shipping. She was an accomplished pianist but loved life in the bush with her dogs and horses.


Although Tony was stationed at Narok and able to tour the Masai Mara, he left the Police, giving up the security of a decent pension to join the Game Department and became a professional hunter.


Tony and Vera farmed cattle, working with the Masai, whose language Tony had picked up whilst working in the Mara. Tragically Vera was struck by lightening. By the time I knew her she was wheelchair bound but had time to show me photographs of a life that has all but disappeared.


Makarongo joined Tony to work on his safaris. He was bright, very amusing and soon travelled everywhere with the Mailers, organising the vehicles and setting up camp. In old age, Tony and Makarongo were inseparable.


There was always laughter and long stories. They shared memories spanning the decades and experiences that outsiders might find difficult to fully grasp.



Thursday, 9 January 2014

How the story came to light ~

Just over ten years ago, I was asked by Angela Howard-Bent of Dashwood Films if I knew of a good story about Germans living in Africa.

At the time, she was co-producing the German-language Rosamunde Pilcher TV series adaptation 'Die Rose von Kerrymore'. Angela was consulting me in my role as an African expert, and explained that she knew of German producers interested in finding a true-life period drama set in Tanzania.

I did indeed have a story.

Back in 1987, I had an extraordinary experience at the Mutheiga Club in Nairobi. I was having tea with my great-aunt Reinhild von Bodenhausen, my great-uncle Tony, and a Tanzanian friend of theirs called Makorongo.

When some Japanese diplomats walked behind Makorongo's chair, he began having convulsions. My aunt and uncle held his hands and reassured him, telling me that there was no medical cause for concern. As soon as the Japanese left the room, Makorongo recovered. Embarrassed, he insisted on explaining why he had lost control.

~ Darsi Ruysenaars with Makorongo ~
~ Darsi Ruysenaars with Makorongo in Kenya ~

When I related his unique story to Angela, she immediately set up a meeting with me to discuss developing it into a screenplay.

I drafted a 1000-word synopsis. Angela encouraged me to start writing the script. She introduced me to her financial controller, production accountant George Marshall (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Saving Private Ryan). They gave me a letter of intent.


I blocked out the scenes, reporting back to Angela and George. Angela insisted that two love stories were featured. This was not difficult as I had notorious family history to include as well as writing Makorongo's story. I presented the main characters to them, and then returned to my office to work on the dialogue.


I drew widely on my experience of living in Africa for twelve years, and my knowledge of kinship and marriage studied when I read Anthropology at the University of Durham.

Months were spent on historical research. I met a former witch-doctor in Southern Africa called Abraham Mashiele, who gave me a lot of original source information on traditional ritual and practise.

Ray Goodwin, from the Kenya Police Force, helped me with Swahili phrases, and professional hunter David Lockwood (cousin of Margaret Lockwood) recommended that I read Jomo Kenyatta's memoirs as a source of Swahili sayings and East African culture.

Sadly, George rang me with the devastating news that Angela Howard-Bent had lost her battle with breast cancer. She passed away after valiantly making a documentary of her last few months.

He assured me that Angela would want me to keep working on the story.


Back in London, I went to lunch at The Drapers Company, where I met Dr Bill Frankland. He gave me detailed insights on WWII, when he served as a medical officer in the Far East, becoming a PoW to the Japanese. He agreed to act as historical advisor.

I sent my first draft to George, who helped me refine the scenes. He was not keen on the elephant sequences, and made me cut anything reminiscent of Disney's Jungle Book or The Lion King. He loved the authentic African references, and thought the additional details given by Dr Frankland were amazing.

The American playwright Lisa McGinnis acted as my script editor, tidying up the dialogue.

In the process of gathering material, I visited my great-aunt who had moved to Eastbourne. I recorded an interview with her on DVD, relating the true story for my records.

Several drafts later, after further historical research, I showed it to my friend, Nick Barton (CEO, Harbour Pictures) for his feedback.

"I think the story is really extraordinary, and you have done extremely well with the script. It's a compelling read."

Nick was so inspired, he listed casting suggestions and possible directors.

By this time, George Marshall and I had registered Witness Films Ltd in the UK for the purpose of optioning the script myself while it was in development.

Nick Barton suggested approaching Will Smith's production company, Overbrook, and gave a copy to Will's creative director when she was visiting the U.K. Nick's friends in the Groucho Club all wanted to read it when Nick insisted it was that good.

In August 2013, George wrote explaining that he needed to retire. Meanwhile I handed my script to a British script editor, who did some research and contributed a fascinating historical aspect, re-titling the screenplay.