How jiggers nearly crippled future agriculture minister

The late Mwai Kibaki and former EABL Chairman Sir Michael Blundell welcome the new chairman of EABL Kenneth Matiba in November 1977. [File, Standard]

Few settlers have had a more eventful life in Kenya than Michael Blundell, the Kenyan farmer and politician who later became Minister for Agriculture in colonial Kenya.

Blundell came to Kenya in 1925 with only £100 and a healthy dose of optimism.

Actually, after paying for his train journey to the Rift Valley, he only had £73 to live on for a whole year before his first salary as a farm supervisor for Bronco and Evelyn Bill.

He was only 18 then and were it not for his teacher at Wellington College who announced an opening for a boy to work on a farm in Kenya, the country would never have benefited from his agricultural and political exploits.

To further whet his appetite for Africa, Blundell had attended an exhibition at Wembley and got mesmerised by the Kenyan stand.

It was the great rolling plains and the animals, the lanky people brandishing spears and walking humped cattle across the plains.

Blundell decided to forego a scholarship at Oxford's Magdalen College for Africa despite his father's displeasure.

But life for the future minister was not all rosy. His home as described in his memoirs, A Love Affair with the Sun: A Memoir of Seventy Years in Kenya, was nothing to write about.

Lizards ran across the hexagonal, mud and wattle hut without care. But lizards were the least of his concerns.

It was the jiggers that threatened to immobilise Blundell as they fed on his toes or any other part of his anatomy.

"No one walked in the house barefoot as jiggers and fleas were everywhere. I always knew when the jigger had gone for me because of the intense itching. After the initial itching, the jiggers flourished without much irritation," he wrote. 

But the pain he experienced getting the jiggers out of his feet was worse than that caused by the little creatures.

"The form then was to get a needle, sterilise it and an African who knew more about them than we did would pick out the little bag in which the jigger lurked and destroy it. It was quite a painful process." Other than the jiggers, Blundell had fun working at the farm with two horses; Joe Cobb, a Somali pony "whose main object in life was to get through it with minimum effort" and Rosinante, "a highly intelligent and self-opinionated mule who was quite determined that she knew the best way to go everywhere and the best manner in which to do it."