Jane Campbell (Ethiopia APCD) Remembers Her Trip Up The Omo River

In 1966 a UN advisor was named to Ethiopia to help establish game reserves and, in general, take on environmental issues for the Emperor. In early 1967, as I was planning my final days in Ethiopia, this UN gentleman asked me if I would like to go on a trip to Lake Rudolf and from Lake Rudolf up the Omo River to one of the new game reserves. It sounded like a great adventure and I signed on.

The story was that there was a fishing boat in a western small port of the lake which had been owned by the Duke of Gloucester (I think) who was giving it to the emperor for use in one of his game reserves.

We flew to Nairobi and then took a small chartered flight to the western shores of Lake Rudolf. When we arrived we joined the other gentleman slated for the trip who was a British officer working on Lake Rudolf.

A certain amount of time was spent in deciding what supplies we would take with us, and I found that my Coca Cola didn’t make the cut while two cases of beer made the list.

The British officer also had a local cook who seemed to be traveling with him which I considered a very good sign, but quickly learned that I was going to be expected to cook as we were leaving the nice cook behind.

My cooking was not a great success and I did very little of it until I got to the game preserve in Ethiopia.

We set off with our supplies, the men fully armed, and headed out on a twenty-foot motorboat into the lake. We hadn’t gone five minutes before the huge swells of the lake caused by westerly winds make me very seasick. The men did not seem to be bothered.

We went along until we could get into the lee of the islands in the middle of the lake which gave some protection from the fearsome winds. Having been sick for most of the past four hours I couldn’t wait to jump in and refresh myself in the calmer waters. I swam around the boat and looked up to see the UN man with a rifle pointed at the island and he said to me quietly, “Jane get back in the boat.” I did so with alacrity because the gun was fixed on a group of about thirty crocodiles on the shore of the island.

Once we were all back in the boat we decided to spend the night there as it was getting very dark. The boat had a small cabin on it with a small wooden platform for sleeping which I slept on while the others slept outside on the deck.

The next morning we left very early to proceed northwest toward the Omo River for about three hours when we saw a tiny fishing village on the edge of the lake. The British officer and I went swimming again as there were no crocodiles to be seen and we walked into the village to see if they had anything that we might use on our trip. There really was nothing that they had that we could use and after being stared at and followed for twenty minutes we went back into the water and returned to the boat.

Everything was going smoothly as we headed east again to where the delta of the Omo was encountered. The problem was that the various streams flowing through the delta silted up the river and eventually our motor got stuck in the silt. The men decided they would have to haul in the engine because it was useless in the silt and the British officer jumped into the delta, took the rope from the boat, and began to pull it up the delta as if he were Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen.

We struggled through the delta taking various wrong streams before finally he found the main channel of the Omo River. The engine was put back into the water and we proceeded on up the Omo because it was getting very dark. We stopped and were thinking of eating something, heaven knows what, and as the boat stopped moving a swarm of mosquitoes attacked us; a swarm so thick that it filled one’s nostrils with each intake of breath. It was so bad we started up again to get away from them.

At that point it was dark and we heard some shouting from the shore and some native, perhaps Turkana, men could be seen climbing, armed, into their boats and heading toward us. They appeared very angry and I suppose it was because we had somehow crossed the border between Kenya and Ethiopia and they didn’t know what we were doing there. We thought they were going to board us, but after various shouts and carryings on they backed off and we were able to carry on up the river stopping soon after to get a little rest for the night.

The next morning was very bright and clear and we proceeded up the Omo River into Ethiopia and came to the little dock that had been erected on the river for our boat by the Englishman who was in charge of the new game preserve. His name was Marmalade Brown.

We tied up and came back on land in a lovely safari setting with individual tents, other equipment, and food. I had a tent to myself which was very comfortable and I could hear the lions growling very nearby, but they were of no danger to us. It made me think of my own lions back in Addis.

Jane Campbell Beaven feeds her lion in Addis Ababa

The Peace Corps had been asked to provide a volunteer who could work with Brown and we were happy to do so and sent a fine young man named Michael Huxley, the great-nephew of Aldous Huxley, for the job. Michael and Marmalade took very good care of us and I was feeling decidedly more secure than I had been on the lake.

Peace Corps was sending a small chartered plane down to the game preserve with a Peace Core advisor named Shlomo Bachrach who would be staying on the reserve for a while before he went back to Addis. Shlomo was a wonderful character and he and I had discussed what I should cook when we got the preserve and I decided that I would make artichokes with hollandaise sauce so Shlomo brought the artichokes, the eggs, butter, and lemons required. We surprised the other men with a delicious first course.

After a very pleasant night in my tent on a comfortable bed, we left the next morning on the plane which had stayed with us to take us back in daylight and we arrived back at the Addis airport after what seemed to be a long journey.

When we got off the plane, I was delighted to see Jack Prebis, another staff member, waiting for me and I burst into tears. I said it was a long story and I’d tell him all about it when I had recovered. It was a grand adventure, but one I would never repeat.

Jane Campbell Beaven was one of the first of Peace Corps in 1961, assigned to the Division of Volunteer Support. Jane, who has her master’s degree in African Studies from Colombia University, is the co-author, with John Middleton, of the book Zanzibar, Its Society and Its Politics. In 1964, she went overseas to Ethiopia as the Peace Corps  APCD. In Addis Ababa, she would also raise lion cubs and was the only person in the Empire, besides His Majesty Haile Selassie, to have lions playing on her front lawn. Following her Peace Corps career, she became the first Director of Admissions at the new SUNY College of Old Westbury, and then went overseas again, this time to Asia,  with UNICEF. Later she was transferred to Nigeria where she met and marry British Ambassador, John Beaven who became the British Ambassador. Jane would work for UNICEF in Khartoum.  When John was reassigned to New York, Jane, still with UNICEF, worked at the U.N. Headquarters in New York. Retiring, they moved to upstate New York where Jane currently lives in Columbia County.

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