Seychelles Days, by Mike McDonald (1974-1977)

Aviation was a relatively new experience to the Seychelles and interrupted the pattern of national life to such an extent that the runway had to be regularly inspected for debris. Fishermen were inclined to dry their nets on the runway as it was the ideal surface for their purposes, but in doing so they created a very real and present hazard to a jet engine.

One day the chief medical officer was on board the inbound aircraft. Colonial regulations to restrict the spread of malaria required the aircraft to be sprayed. This was usually done in a fairly cursory manner on arrival to minimize the discomfort to passengers, the steward on this occasion cheerfully commenting that they usually discharged the sprays just in the toilet and left it at that. This did not impress the chief medical officer, a dour Scot dressed in shorts with colonial long socks, who immediately marched to the flight deck, arrested the captain and impounded the aircraft, to the amazement of the hundred or so passengers on board.

The BA Seychelles manager was busy at a cocktail party at the governor’s residence. A crisis cabinet meeting was called and the aircraft and the somewhat confused passengers were eventually released to the delights of the islands.

Holidaymakers in the early seventies tended to be wealthy, demanding and vociferous. One morning I was summoned early to go to a hotel where there was what was described as a considerable civil disturbance. Several ashtrays had been thrown at the reception desk. Hysteria was everywhere. The hotel was overbooked and there was no room for 11 distressed holidaymakers who had just flown all the way from the UK. 10 of them elected immediately to return to England and sue. One remained.

The subsequent investigation revealed that the all-important booking lists had been sent to the Seychelles for the attention of ‘the Sovereign Representative’. These, not really surprisingly, had been delivered to Government House to the governor general’s office, where his secretary had religiously filed them in the bottom drawer of her desk on the left hand side, so of course they had never been received by the hotel! (‘Sovereign’ was also at this time the brand name for British Airways Holidays)

Life in the Seychelles was on some occasions idyllic and in some cases dramatic. I went home on annual leave and my replacement was sent over from Entebbe. The leave relief had just survived, and indeed witnessed, the Entebbe raid by the Israelis to rescue hostages that were being held at Entebbe Airport. He had witnessed the whole episode, including tracer fire zooming over the roof of his bungalow. He arrived in the Seychelles complete with his wife and mother-in law, expecting to have a restful time.

On his third day there, sitting on the balcony enjoying a cold gin and tonic, he once again heard the staccato rattle of machine gun fire. The Seychelles own revolution had broken out and the airport was the scene of a desperate battle as the revolutionaries took over the airport. His mother-in law sat quietly on the balcony watching the whole thing. He said later: “Compared to Entebbe, this was a picnic!”

A young engineer arrived in the Seychelles with a pregnant wife, and he was clearly concerned, as it was their first child. They appeared to be getting increasingly anxious, so one day I asked him “Why are you nervous?” and he said “Well, it’s because every day we notice an increasingly large number of people come and stand outside our bungalow. They don’t come into the garden or anything, they just stand around, looking, and we find this disconcerting.”

I said, “What time of day is this?” “It’s first thing in the morning” “Fine”, I said, “I’ll come along tomorrow morning and see what happens. I’ll bring a Seychellois with me”. I went up to his house the following morning, first thing, just after dawn, taking with me a building site foreman who had been working on the estate.

Sure enough, there was a crowd of about 25 people, standing, staring at the bungalow, and as soon as he saw this, the foreman burst out laughing. I said “Why are you laughing?” and he said: “Well, you know why they are all standing there?” “No, I don’t”. “Look in the middle of the lawn”. In the middle of the lawn there was a standpipe for watering the garden. He said, “These people have no access to clean water. If you look at them, they are all carrying receptacles, and are waiting for the owner of the house to give them permission to fill up their water bottles, and take them back to where they live.” So I went in and told the engineer and his wife.

He laughed with relief and went out and motioned to the people to come and fill their water bottles and water carriers. Nature took its course; some months later a child was born and the engineer and his wife and baby returned to the house. The following morning, the entire veranda was covered in gifts of fruit and flowers from the local villagers.

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