18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:
Wednesday, October 22, 1913:
10/20 – 10/24: It’s been so rainy and dreary this week that I begin to feel awful grouchy. I certainly am under the weather these days. Any way October never was a favorite month of mine. I don’t have much to write about for her.
Lagos, Nigeria (Source: A Woman’s Winter in Africa, 1913)
Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:
This is the third of five days that Grandma combined into one diary entry. Sometimes her world seems so small. In the nearly three years that I’ve been posting the diary, she seldom traveled more than five miles from her home—and the longest trip she took was a train trip which took her about 15 miles so that she could visit relatives who lived in the next county.
The world was a much bigger place a hundred years ago for a few fortunate women. For example, Charlotte Cameron was a wealthy, English woman who traveled to interesting places and wrote books about her adventures In 1913 she published A Woman’s Winter in Africa: A 26,000 Mile Journey.
Mrs. Cameron went around the entire circumference of Africa. She visited many port cities—and from time to time took train trips inland.
In 1913, the colonial era was at its peak in Africa; and Mrs. Cameron visited Europeans who worked at many of the colonial outposts. She also sought to understand African culture—and sometimes framed things differently than we would today.
I was surprised how modern some of the areas were. Here’s a few excerpts from the chapter on her visit to Lagos, Nigeria:
Lagos is extremely modern, and am enjoying all the advantages of an up-to-date town. In 1898 electric light was introduced.
The European population consists of some 572 males and 36 females, while the natives number from 70,000 to 80,000. As the town is situated only five degrees north of the Equator, the heat may be imagined. Climatically it is very moist, with much fever, and English ladies as a rule do not remain more than six months or a year.
The town of Lagos covers over two square miles, and there are innumerable streets, especially in the crowed native town. Never shall I forget visiting the bazaars. Medleys of colour greet the eye on every side. Old and young, rich and poor, are struggling for existence—a colony of tribes, speaking a multitude of languages and dialects.
Through the labyrinthine windings I strolled. Most of the buildings are in corrugated iron, but some of bamboo, with palm-thatched roofs, while reed curtains and matting exclude the inquisitive sun and prevent it damaging the wards. Yams find constant purchases, and calabashes are popular. Bananas, oranges, mangos, avocado pears, coconuts, sweet potatoes, cassavas, and plantains disappear like magic.
We feel like we have viewed this kaleidoscope sufficiently for one morning, and take our places in the motor-car which has had a long wait. On arrival at Government House, luncheon is served. In the cool and shady dining-room with the punkah’s soft and silent breeze and our English comforts, we feel the contrast with the mobs we have just left behind.
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