Lesson Plan West with the Night by Beryl Markham

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The grace, the strength of her backward stretched arm manifested all the simplicity and ease of a cave painting. Africa is many things to many people of many races, but a child nurtured on its red inhospitable soil carries those lessons forever. In a few years, when the farm was settled and a western-style house had been built, Beryl's father brought in tutors for her formal education.

During World War I, she was sent away to a proper English school in Nairobi, but she felt out of place there. After three years she was expelled from school and she returned to her father's farm at Njoro. When she was 16, Beryl married Jock Purves. The marriage was not successful and ended in divorce three years later.

Maryann Plunkett reads Beryl Markham's West With the Night

The British who settled in Kenya brought their customs with them, and horse racing was a popular sport. In addition to farming, her father imported and trained thoroughbred English racehorses.

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He kept over horses in his stables. From early on Beryl had worked in the stables and exercised the horses. Her skill at handling them became legendary. After the war, her father lost the farm and moved to Peru to train horses. At the age of 19, Beryl began her career as a professional racehorse trainer. She was the first woman ever to be granted a trainer's license in Kenya.

A Passion for Flying

She started with some horses given to her by her father, then hired a jockey, and rented a stable. After her horses won a few of the smaller races, owners began to send their horses to her to train. A friend loaned her a string of stables and a hut to live in. She produced winners and by the age of In , her horse, Wise Child, won the prestigious St. In , Beryl married a wealthy young aristocrat, Mansfield Markham, who had come to Kenya for a safari. Two years later, the young couple had a son, Gervase, named after an ancestor of Beryl who also trained horses.

Beryl Markham

They divorced that year, and Gervase stayed with his father's family in England. Lovell quoted Markham in a discussion about her early aviation experience: "Distances are long and life is rather lonely in East Africa. The advent of airplanes seemed to open up a new life for us. The urge was strong in me to become part of that life, to make it my life. So I went down to the airport. How zealously did I enter up my hours in my logbook. That book is more precious to me than any diary. Markham began flying lessons with Tom Campbell Black.

In a few months she bought her own airplane, an Avion IV, with a plan to operate an air charter service. On April 24, she flew from Kenya—crossing the desert and the sea, navigating by sight, stopping along the way for engine repairs—to England. Her unexpected arrival at Heston Aerodrome on May 17 made news. Upon returning to Kenya, Markham prepared for the commercial pilot exam, which involved stripping an engine, cleaning jets and filters, changing plugs and points, and a written test on the theory and practice of air law and navigation.

Markham became the first Kenyan-trained pilot to obtain a commercial pilots license. In her small plane Markham flew vast distances over unpopulated territory, solo, with only a compass and maps for navigation. She was contracted to deliver mail and supplies to camps of a thousand gold miners living in tents at locations so remote that a forced landing along the way could mean death from thirst. Markham provided a taxi service to distant farms and a messenger service for safari parties and took hunters from bush camps in search of game.

She delivered medical supplies and doctors to emergency cases. Markham was called upon to fly accident victims and critically ill patients to the hospital in Nairobi. She also worked as a relief pilot for East African Airways. Here are a few we love to read for your next flight. The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain. Twain contrasts the attitude of America, where everything is new and history is being written in real time with the focus on the past he encountered in Europe and the Holy Land.

He does it all with the humorous insight only he possessed. Travels with Myself and Another, Martha Gellhorn. Perhaps most well-known as the third wife of Ernest Hemingway, Gellhorn was a talented travel writer and war correspondent in her own right and has a journalism award named after her. From the time I arrived in British East Africa at the indifferent age of four and went through the barefoot stage of early youth hunting wild pig with the Nandi, later training race-horses for a living, and still later scouting Tanganyika and the waterless bush country between the Tana and Athi Rivers, by aeroplane, for elephant, I remained so happily provincial I was unable to discuss the boredom of being alive with any intelligence until I had gone to London and lived there a year.

Boredom, like hookworm, is endemic. I have lifted my plane from the Nairobi airport for perhaps a thousand flights and I have never felt her wheels glide from the earth into the air without knowing the uncertainty and the exhilaration of firstborn adventure. The call that took me to Nungwe came about one o'clock in the morning relayed from Muthaiga Country Club to my small cottage in the eucalyptus grove near-by.

It was a brief message asking that a cylinder of oxygen be flown to the settlement at once for the treatment of a gold miner near death with a lung disease. The appeal was signed with a name I had never heard, and I remember thinking that there was a kind of pathetic optimism about its having been sent at all, because the only way it could have reached me was through the telegraph station at Mwanza — itself a hundred miles by Native runner from Nungwe.

During the two or three days the message had been on its way, a man in need of oxygen must either have died or shown a superhuman determination to live.

So far as I know I was the only professional woman pilot in Africa at that time. I had no free-lance competition in Kenya, man or woman, and such messages, or at least others not always so urgent or melancholy, were frequent enough to keep me occupied most days and far too many nights. Night flying over charted country by the aid of instruments and radio guidance can still be a lonely business, but to fly in unbroken darkness without even the cold companionship of a pair of ear-phones or the knowledge that somewhere ahead are lights and life and a well-marked airport is something more than just lonely.

It is at times unreal to the point where the existence of other people seems not even a reasonable probability. The hills, the forests, the rocks, and the plains are one with the darkness, and the darkness is infinite. The earth is no more your planet than is a distant star — if a star is shining; the plane is your planet and you are its sole inhabitant.

West with the Night Character Descriptions

Before such a flight it was this anticipation of aloneness more than any thought of physical danger that used to haunt me a little and make me wonder sometimes if mine was the most wonderful job in the world after all. I always concluded that lonely or not it was still free from the curse of boredom. Under ordinary circumstances I should have been at the aerodrome ready to take off for Nungwe in less than half an hour, but instead I found myself confronted with a problem much too difficult to solve while still half asleep and at one o'clock in the morning.

It was one of those problems that seem incapable of solution — and are; but which, once they have fastened themselves upon you, can neither be escaped nor ignored. A pilot, a man named Wood who flew for East African Airways, was down somewhere on the vast Serengetti Plains and had been missing for two days.

To me and to all of his friends, he was just Woody — a good flier and a likeable person. He was a familiar figure in Nairobi and, though word of his disappearance had been slow in finding attention, once it was realized that he was not simply overdue, but lost, there was a good deal of excitement. Some of this, I suppose, was no more than the usual public enjoyment of suspense and melodrama, though there was seldom a scarcity of either in Nairobi.

Where Woody's misfortune was most sincerely felt, of course, was amongst those of his own profession. I do not mean pilots alone. Few people realize the agony and anxiety a conscientious ground engineer can suffer if an aeroplane he has signed out fails to return. He will not always consider the probability of bad weather or a possible error of judgment on the part of the pilot, but instead will torture himself with unanswerable questions about proper wiring, fuel lines, carburation, valves, and all the hundred and one things he must think about.

West with the Night by Beryl Markham

He will feel that on this occasion he must surely have overlooked something — some small but vital adjustment which, because of his neglect, has resulted in the crash of a plane or the death of a pilot. All the members of a ground crew, no matter how poorly equipped or how small the aerodrome on which they work, will share equally the apprehension and the nervous strain that come with the first hint of mishap.

But whether storm, or engine trouble, or whatever the cause, Woody had disappeared, and for the past two days I had been droning my plane back and forth over the Northern Serengetti and half the Masai Reserve without having sighted so much as a plume of signal smoke or the glint of sunlight on a crumpled wing. Anxiety was increasing, even changing to gloom, and I had expected to take off again at sunrise to continue the search; but here suddenly was the message from Nungwe. For all professional pilots there exists a kind of guild, without charter and without by-laws.

It demands no requirements for inclusion save an understanding of the wind, the compass, the rudder, and fair fellowship.

It is a camaraderie sans sentiment of the kind that men who once sailed uncharted seas in wooden ships must have known and lived by. I was my own employer, my own pilot, and as often as not my own ground engineer as well.