We have had a busy week plus and I am not sure if we are finally caught up or my memory has just folded. I completed the coffin (Halloween decoration) and delivered it and 6 headstones to my friend who had asked me to make them for her. I definitely ate a lot of sawdust on this project and it make take weeks to get it all out of my sinuses.
During all of this we also had to deal with Mr S. getting to take an ambulance ride from his residence to the hospital about a mile away for "problems unknown". He told us that he had been in bed "all week" (two days) unable to get up. The staff confirmed that he had indeed been in bed and skipped meals. When we drove over to the facility and walked into his room a staff member was in there checking him out and had already called the ambulance. He had complained of chest pains and shortness of breath to her so she made the call. No fault there.
When we arrived he took a different tone and all of a sudden he was claiming that the young lady who was checking his complaints had "fixed him" somehow. Enter the paramedics. They checked him out and found nothing overtly alarming but decided to transport him "just to be safe".
Several tests later a small cloudy spot in his lung was deemed to be pneumonia and he was prescribed an antibiotic. The doctor wanted him to stay overnight and receive IV drugs but Mr S. was convinced that if he was admitted he would surely die. To lessen the stress he was allowed to return to his home.
We have been working to get a better balance on his pain meds so that he doesn't suffer, but there really isn't anything that can be done to fix his problems.
Of note: today when we went to see him he was lying on his bed saying that his legs had given out and he couldn't walk at all. When asked if he wanted to go to lunch he was up like a shot. When asked if he needed me to get a wheelchair he said that, "Oh, I can walk with my cane."
Some of the problem is physical, some is mental. It can be a real challenge to figure out what to do.
Anna has been having sinus problems for weeks now and finally gave in and went to the doctor. As we suspected, she has a sinus infection and will be taking drugs for that now. Hopefully relief will be swift.
It has taken longer to edit the story for today than it took to write many of the others, but I believe that it will prove to be worth it. You have sex, drugs and adventure in this story so it has to be to be fun, right?
This took place in April of 1983 which is a few months short of 30 years ago now, although it seems like it all just happened when I read this. The sights, sounds and smells are lodged in my memory and I am forever grateful for that. I still want to return to Africa. Please enjoy!
To be able to go to Africa is a dream of many kids who grew up in my generation watching Tarzan films, and it was most certainly one of mine. In 1983 I was able to see some of eastern Africa, mostly Kenya, while serving in the Navy aboard the aircraft carrier, U.S.S. America.
It was April and we had been flying non-stop for weeks on end supporting various exercises and missions, some of which involved long distance reconnaissance flights and complicated refueling evolutions. The ship's crew and the air wing personnel were all getting worn out from the constant work and you had to question how well the maintenance was being performed with tired people being pushed day & night. As always we did whatever was expected of us, but we were seeing more aircraft break downs and system failures, which made tempers flare.
During all of this, we had been taking malaria pills for six weeks, in preparation for a visit to Mombasa, Kenya, which was generally recognized as the malaria capitol of the world. Without these little orange wonders (about the size of a baby aspirin) we would not be able to go ashore; it was that bad there. The trouble was; I got the same symptoms as if I had malaria, exactly four hours (to the minute), after I took my pill. I had to time the taking of my pill so that I would be off duty while I was sick, and recover in time to go on watch again. It wasn't fun, but it was necessary, which is what I told myself for six weeks as I sweated and shivered with pseudo-malaria.
We dropped the hook (anchored the ship), outside of a reef just off of Mombasa City, which is itself built on a river delta island (Mombasa Island) and has a harbor on the south side, and navigable waterways on both the north and south sides. There is a large motorway on the west end connecting to the mainland and from there you access the rest of the area.
There were many local ferry boats available to supplement our own liberty boats, so there was lots of transportation going back and forth, which was a welcome change; you could actually get ashore anytime that you wanted to. Some of the guys were so frightened by the thought of getting malaria that they wouldn't leave the ship, which also meant shorter lines for the rest of us. This was the easiest and quickest port to get ashore, (outside of actually being pier-side), that I had ever experienced.
I was lucky enough to have my shipboard watch scheduled for the last day in port, which gave me more free days to wander. Even as short of funds as I was (having to send everything home to support the family) I was able to take advantage of some of the tours and rode the train to Nairobi and back.
There were a group of us from the same work area that went together and rented rooms at the Nyali Beach Hotel, which was north of the city of Mombasa itself, and was a truly beautiful place right on a spectacular white sand beach. It was because I was staying there, that I was in the right place at the right time.
One of the sailors that was on the "fringe" of our group, a friend of a friend of someone (we just didn't remember who that was), a young man that didn't really fit in with us, and spent most of his time drunk and passed out, decided that he had to return to the ship. His reasoning was that he "just couldn't get any sleep", which I found rather strange, because I had only seen him awake two or three times. We found out later that he was experiencing pain and discomfort in his private parts, and fearing the worst, (which was accurate) he sought medical attention aboard the ship.
He had been consorting with women who gathered in Mombasa from all over Eastern Africa whenever a large group of men (usually sailors) came to town. They were not all "professionals", but were all hungry for the American money that several thousand sailors bring with them. It truly was understandable, when you work for literally a few pennies a day, at very hard labor that gets you nowhere, the thought of being able to make a year's wages in a single night, selling yourself to sailors, gave literally thousands of African women reason to flock to the area. Consequently, venereal diseases were in epidemic proportions in that region with the added activity and you had to be really stupid to take the chance. This young man was that reckless and paid dearly for his fun. I won't go into the frightful details, but he was flown home to a hospital and ended up losing a dear part of himself and being discharged from the service.
As this fool was packing up and departing he said to me, "Here, take these, I won't be using them" and tossed an envelope onto the table. Fearing what this guy, "wouldn't be using", I was hesitant to even touch the envelope. I nonchalantly reached out with the pencil that I had been playing with and pulled the item closer to me and flipped open the flap. Inside were tour tickets, and I said, "Are you sure man?" He just laughed and said that he wouldn't be coming back. If he had only known how true that was, he wouldn't have been laughing.
Not wanting to seem too eager to take this hand-out (foolish pride) and not wanting to touch this envelope with my bare hands (I had heard him crying out in pain as he went to the bathroom earlier and knew that he had problems that I didn't want), I waited until he left in a cab. Then I got a rubber glove out of the first aid box and took the tickets out and selected the ones that I was interested in and left the others on the table for whoever might want them. I figured that since the tickets were in their own little glassine envelopes, that once I got them out of the main cover that I would be safe from contamination; call it paranoid, but I didn't want anything "falling off" from whatever. We all decided to burn the envelope and the rubber glove outside in a barrel... away from the room.
The tour that interested me most was a trip labeled: Out to the Wilds of Africa", which I hoped didn't mean a tour of Mombasa bars. When I opened the packet, it was with Serengeti Tours, Limited. Whoa! These guys were the biggest operators in the entire region and had branches of their company all over the world. Right on! This was a major score and something that I would never have been able to afford on my own. I was seriously excited to say the least. I wouldn't even drink more than two beers with the guys that night lest it might give me a hangover or in some other way comprise my enjoyment of the tour.
I was dressed, ready, and at the front desk for half an hour before the scheduled tour pick up time of 5:00 a.m. I wasn't going to be late! The staff was incredible at the Nyali Beach Hotel; they made me fresh coffee and served pastries and brought me dishes of fruit, all of which I had my way with for the thirty minutes that I was the only guest in an upright position. At 5:00 a.m. the others from the Nyali Beach Hotel that were going staggered into the lobby in a bunch, and the coach that was to be our ride arrived "on the dot", stopping at the red carpet and opening the door to the coach at precisely 5:00 a.m. Wow, these guys are good... this will be awesome! Naturally, I was the first one aboard and took the seat right behind the driver. If you want to know something, ask and then LISTEN to the local guy, it's their backyard and they know best.
While we were waiting for the tourists get their butts in the coach, a cab came flying up and slid to a stop (in dramatic movie style), across the front of the bus. I admit that I was on the alert, and ready to move; terrorist and bandit activity was not unknown here. Thankfully this wasn't the case this time. A single young Japanese man with a backpack and bag with a tripod, fairly ejected from the taxi and ran to the coach and boarded, sitting across the aisle from me. He had just come from the airport and had paid nearly one hundred dollars to catch this tour. That was one happy cab driver! The taxi did make a quick exit through the back of the property as a couple of policemen in a marked car were coming up the driveway. My new friend said that there "may" have been a few traffic violations in their high speed run from the airport... but the cops never boarded and eventually just drove away, so it was all good.
The Serengeti Express was loaded, moving forward, and hangover crowd was already snoring again as we pulled away from the curb. Let the excitement begin!
Kenya by Coach
When last we met, the coach was just pulling away from the curb at the Nyali Beach Hotel. It was April of 1983 and I was on liberty from the U.S.S. America which was anchored just off of Mombasa, Kenya.
I was aboard the Serengeti Express, a motor coach tour of Tsavo and Amboseli National Parks, and wishing that it included the Maasai Mara as well, which is the northern end of the Serengeti plains and completely awesome, but I was fortunate to have the trip at all, so I wasn't going to worry about it.
The Tsavo National Park is actually divided into two parks; Tsavo West and Tsavo East. We were stopping at Tsavo West going out and would be ending the two day trip at Tsavo East and then on to Mombasa and back to the Nyali Beach Hotel. The end of day one and the start of day two would be at Amboseli National Park in full view of Mt. Kilimanjaro. WOW! Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro! For a literate adventurer, this was nirvana!
This coach was something else; not only did it have a bathroom, but a little kitchen space with a refrigerator. It was made by Mercedes and ran on diesel, but I didn't smell any fumes and it ran very quietly. There were only 20 seats besides the driver and they all reclined and rocked. It had extra large windows and they could be opened completely and slid back into the overhead to allow for photography, and in case the air-conditioning failed I suspect. And the really great part was that every seat was a window seat, ten to a side. The driver claimed that since they had not one, but two, ac units on the roof, there would be no temperature problems as we traveled. And that bus had no power problems either; it could "fly" down the old Mombasa to Nairobi Road.
As we traveled along in the early morning semi-darkness, (speeding under the protection of payoffs to the local constabulary), I wondered about all the animals that could be on this road in the dark and what it would be like to collide with an elephant in a Mercedes bus. Would I bounce around like a ball in a bingo cage? Or just ride the driver through the windshield. You do think of strange things when you are forced to "pause" your state of high excitement.
The Japanese fellow across from me was re-doing everything in his gear bag again for the... I don't know how many times; it seemed like it was every ten minutes. I could see the anxiety on his face and was curious about his health, so I asked him if he was all right. He said that his stomach was a little upset from nerves; he was trying to win a position with National Geographic and only needed some African wildlife shots to complete his portfolio. He felt like he had been given the "thumbs up" for getting the job based on his previous material and was terrified that he would "blow it" with this assignment if it wasn't good enough. I didn't know him and had not seen any examples of his work, so all that I could do was nod in what I hoped was a supportive fashion and resume waiting.
Behind us was a collage of travelers of European and British extraction, with one exception; a sort of loud, rude, and uppity, snobbish acting American couple, who made me ashamed that they were countrymen of mine. What they thought made them better than anyone else, I couldn't see.
I could see that they were either not too bright, or were completely inexperienced travelers. They were both wearing expensive jewelry all over them (earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings), which is a very basic taboo when you travel; as it can get you killed and frequently will lead to burglary or robbery. These two were ready-made victims.
Tsavo West was spectacular with the sun coming up behind us and red elephants in front of us crossing the road. That's right, I said RED, not pink. They were gray just like any other elephant when they started out, but the dirt of that area was very red and tended to dye everything that it came in contact with. The elephants loved to take a dust bath to help with the insect pests. In-between baths in the river or a lake, they happily blasted themselves with red dirt. It was a sight to see.
Always in evidence when you stopped was a troop of baboons somewhere in the vicinity. It did seem like they were on our schedule, which was easy enough with all of the tourist traffic. Baboons are some ornery creatures; they have an unbelievable "pecking order" to their troop and any baboon not obeying their rules was subject to the wrath of the leader and usually a few of his sub-leaders too. They have very large canine teeth and a short fuse, making them better left alone and photographed from a distance.
Speaking of photography: I don't guess it was such a great idea to put my camera right by the door of the hotel room, "so I couldn't possibly miss it", instead of with my clothes like I had originally planned. It just goes to show you; go with your first answer / idea / plan, etc.. Yes I did, I forgot the camera. And I will suffer for all eternity for that error.
Besides the red stained elephants and ever present baboons, there were enormous numbers of animals running around loose; no license, no tags, not even a collar! OK, so there were some radio-collared individuals, but you know what I am joking about; it was Africa gone wild! Boy was I glad that I didn't have the pooper-scooper detail! We followed one family group of elephants down the road and they dropped enough fertilizer in one kilometer to fill up the bed of a pickup truck.
The Tsavo park is renowned for two things; the red elephants and it's lions. Probably more so for the lions, as there are lots of lions in that area and we weren't even in the "busy season" when the herd animals are in mass migration and hunting is relatively easy for the big cats.
You see funny things on TV shows about Africa, like lions or cheetahs on top of vehicles, but even that didn't prepare me for the sight of a young male lion inside a Land Rover with the windows up and the doors locked... and the humans on the outside looking in!
We were near the western boundary of Tsavo West and we could see a green Land Rover parked just off the track ahead, tilted just slightly due to being on the side of the "road" and I use that term loosely.
The two humans that used to occupy the interior of this vehicle were standing next to it, looking in and being very calm, I thought. When we got closer I could see that they actually weren't being calm at all, they were scared out of their wits. All around them roughly in a circle, though back away from them about twenty yards, were the rest of the pride of lions, napping in what shade they could find and generally appearing uninterested. Of course if these folks decided that they were going to run for it, the females would give chase and pull them down in a flash. Even in their full and satiated conditions, they would respond instinctively.
Our driver was a member of the Maasai Tribe, (also spelled Masai) and was very familiar with the habits and actions of lions, as they dealt with them all the time and he said that if these people panic and start running when we pull up, the cats will give chase, without fail. He drove that coach right up to the Land Rover and using his P.A. system advised the two unwilling pedestrians to walk very slowly to the coach and he would let them in. They had to be told a couple of times and the driver wasn't happy about that because the P.A. disturbed the cats and made them stir.
Once inside and presented with a cup of tea each, the man and woman, all decked out in "official safari khaki" clothing, told us the events leading to their present predicament.
They had been out on a self-guided photo-tour and had stopped for a bite of lunch, pulling the vehicle just off the track in case someone else came along and needed to get by. Being Americans they expected rush-hour traffic to appear any minute now I guess. The couple had spotted a pair of lion cubs and had dismounted to get closer and photograph the babies, which they did; apparently dismissing of the rest of the pride which was all around them.
While they were concentrating on photographing the cubs, a young male lion, old enough to have the beginnings of a mane, smelled their cut up meat and cheese and being still a bit hungry after being rather rudely shoved around during their earlier feed of wildebeest, decided to investigate the smells and meandered over and hopped into the Land Rover, where he was rewarded for his efforts. The goofy tourists had left both doors standing open and the vibration of the big cat jumping inside had shut the high side door.
The icing on the cake though, was the wife running up and pushing the lock down and slamming the door shut, "So the lion can't get out and attack us!" The second slam upset the cat and he tried to go back out the way he came in, but ran into the window and door and pawing at the window managed to locked that door as well; with the keys in the ignition, naturally!
The big cat must have been fond of salami or whatever "flavor" their meat stick was, or had found the corkscrew and was sipping the wine, because he went back to doing that and for now at least, wasn't concerned about not being able to get out.
And that's where we came in...
A park officer was requested via the radio in our coach and we waited there until two of them arrived and slipped a wire inside the door and unlocked both sides. The doors were opened at the same time and the men got back inside their truck and waited. Before too long the cat got tired of this game and hopped down and walked off into the bush, with the pride following him, a few at a time until they had all gone.
And then the tourists could get back inside their Land Rover, which they did, and locked the doors again, this time with the Lions on the outside.
When all was safe and there was no more for us to do, we departed for Amboseli and Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Kilimanjaro and the rest of the story
We left the American "Cat Fanciers" sitting in their Land Rover, "enjoying" the aroma of the male lion having marked of its territory, the inside of the Land Rover. Ah, Yes... Equatorial Africa in a rolling "litter box"! It was 1983 and Kenya, and I was there.
There were two things that stirred my excitement about going to Amboseli; being able to actually see Mt. Kilimanjaro with my own eyes, and being amongst the Maasai in their homeland. Both had been etched in my memory by books and movies growing up, and here I was on my way to actually experience them in person. I was very fortunate indeed, because it was purely a stroke of good luck that had provided me with a ticket for this tour, there was NO way that I could have purchased it on my own. Or was it Fate's reward for being a reader and a dreamer all of my life? Who knows? But I loved it!
Our driver grew more excited as we neared Amboseli, which he told us means "Place of Water" in Maa, the language of the Maasai. This was his home and he had been away driving a different Safari route for a month. The word "Safari", which brings visions of hunters and big game to those of my generation, simply means "to travel" in Swahili, which along with English are the two official languages of Kenya. The business people were well aware of the romanticizing of the word "Safari" and used it unceasingly to stir the emotions, and empty wallets.
This Maasai man had been traveling longer than he wanted and became more talkative as we neared the gate to Amboseli National Park, his "neighborhood" and it seemed his connection with life itself, from the passion in his voice.
He was explaining to me about the name for what we know as Kilimanjaro... the name was actually Kilima Njaro or "Shining Mountain" in Swahili and in his people's language, Maa, they called it "Oldoinyo Oibor" or "White Mountain". Both making reference to the ever present snow cap (Global warming has sadly changed this. The snow is gone.) on this 19,342 foot high extinct volcano, which is the highest point in Africa.
"Kili " as the group of climbers at the lodge liked to call it, was actually 40 kilometers away in Tanzania, but it looked like you could reach out and touch it, creating a larger than life, surrealistic feeling for those that view it with their own eyes. It was similar to the feeling that you get when you look out across the Grand Canyon and can't decided if it is real or an illusion, at least for me it was.
Amboseli, the place of water, was a mixture of terrain that seemed in great contrast. There are vast plains which are dry except during the rainy season; something akin to watering your grass nonstop for a few days, and then it has to make it the rest of the year on its own. Sure it cuts down on the mowing, but it wouldn't do to feed the pet goat. And then you have swamps and water holes, which don't dry up because they are fed by "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"... sorry, couldn't resist that.
Our now quite animated driver was telling me of the great herds of "Tembo" or elephants that roamed Amboseli and we had no sooner entered the park than the largest family group of elephants that I had seen so far, decided to "merge with traffic", that being one Mercedes coach (us) and proceeded to set the pace to the lodge where we were to spend the night. This was incredible; we were in the middle of wild African elephants! It did not seem possible that you could get this close to them and live to tell about it. Or so it felt to me.
A Frightening Memory
One of the passengers got up to open the window and the driver nearly jumped out of his seat. "No, NO, NO!", he shouted, "Tembo is very dangerous!" Shocked, she sat back down very quickly, as our driver had not raised his voice once during the entire trip. I thought that he was over-reacting at first, but it was his "backyard" after all, and one must yield to experience.
When he calmed down again, he told us that once he was riding on an identical coach as "Second Driver", which I thought must mean relief driver, but actually was "Second in Command" or "Mbili", (meaning "two" in Swahili), which is good except when there is only a crew of two, and so makes you the worker and you can't expect the "Moja", (# One) to do anything when he has a "crew" for that. This sounds familiar somehow, doesn't it?
Anyway, he was describing an event that took place on Amboseli, but near the entry gate on the Nairobi Road side. It was many years before, when he was doing his "time" as a Second Driver, but watching his face as he spoke it was obvious that he was living it again right in front of me.
They were in the midst of an elephant herd and a passenger pushed open a window (just as our lady was about to do), they weren't sure if it was the appearance of window sticking out like some sort of appendage reaching towards one of the group of Tembo, or if it possibly caused a reflection of sunlight to strike the dominant female in the eye and alarmed her. Whatever the cause, the results were drastic. The huge female wheeled about and charged the coach, colliding with it head on. The bus was going along at a speed so slow that the speedometer needle didn't even register, but the angry elephant was gathering speed and hit it, stopping the bus completely and even knocking it backwards a little. The passengers and my friend were sent tumbling into the aisle and several were slightly injured, including our driver who broke his wrist falling down the entry well to the door. As he scrambled back up to the driver, he could see that his Moja had banged his head on the windshield and split his forehead open, which caused a dramatic looking injury (facial cuts always bleed profusely).
The Tembo weren't done with them yet though and more of the group got into the act and they actually turned the coach over onto its side. Then dropping some "aromatic reminders" of their having been there, (like a turned over bus wasn't enough) they ran off herding their calves in front of them. The lead female was later found dead, a necropsy (paid for by the bus insurance company) revealed that she had a cerebral hemorrhage which was aggravated by the impact with the vehicle, but they felt that it had been going on for much longer than that, and she was dying anyway, before the incident. Which all caused much discussion about the why's and where-fore's of the animal's actions, undoubtedly in an attempt to get money from the park for the bus and insurance pay-outs.
Armed with new knowledge and new respect for Tembo (and my driver), I watched with "wider eyes" as the landscape unfolded around me and tried to take in everything that I could, and commit it to memory so that I could re-live it over and over again during the years that I had left on this planet. Of course I had no idea that I would ever be writing this down for others to read.
The lodge itself was a simple affair with dormitory style bunk rooms and a few "couples" rooms, and then common areas like the dining room and the entry hall. Entry Hall is kind of a misnomer to an American because it wasn't a hall (hallway) at all; it was a great big room! The entry hall was very well decorated with stuffed animals and heads on every wall, as after all, this had been a hunter's paradise before it became a park. There was an incredible library in the entry hall as well, with just about anything in print about the park, Kilimanjaro, the Maasai, etc. A signed copy of Ernest Hemingway's book, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" was locked up safely in a glass case, and strangely enough it was the only thing that I can remember seeing locked up, (the guns weren't). It was said that too many tourists had wanted to "borrow it".
The food was local fare; antelope meat and some potatoes and squash grown in a much worried over garden patch which had around the clock attendants to keep the baboons and other creatures from raiding it and destroying the considerable efforts of our hosts, who were also the gardeners. Our driver went off to his family after parking and securing the coach and paying his respects to the hosts and having a cup of "chai", (which is the Swahili word for tea) also out of respect for the hosts. There is no doubt that he would rather have run home as fast as his long legs would carry him, but he was a very respectful man.
The Maasai are not farmers, they do not profess to be, nor do they want to be. Their culture is a well defined one and I have learned a great respect for their ways. I have also learned not to judge and to just accept their ways as their own, not to be measured against my own culture. Theirs is the life of a nomadic herder, moving their cattle and goats as necessary for food and water.
There are four distinct stages in the life of a Maasai male; Childhood, Initiation, Warrior and Elderhood. Childhood is a time of freedom and play, with everyone else taking care of you. Initiation is a time for proving yourself, which usually encompassing ages 13-17, and includes such trying events as circumcision and tests of bravery to qualify as an adult. Warrior or "Moran" stage usually lasts about 15 years and they serve as the guardians and herders. They were the "army" of the Maasai in the days of tribal wars and cattle stealing. It is possible to marry as a senior warrior, but it is not likely until you become an elder. When you reach Elder status you are expected to marry and raise children and be the teachers of your culture.
We were fortunate enough to be well received by the local clan of Maasai and were invited to watch a ceremonial dance late that night. We arrived, escorted by lodge employees with rifles due to the presence of lions and leopards, who don't normally bother the camps, but you never know when they might want a "snack". I was amazed at seeing our driver, who we called "Robert", (which make it easier for the tourists to address him, but wasn't really his name) sitting in a place of honor, next to the head man of this clan. I stared long and hard which wasn't polite, but he was no longer wearing the brown uniform, complete with tie and jacket, which he must never get out of the bus without putting on.
Robert was now sporting a red toga and had his hair braided and plastered down with red ochre. There were white marks decorating his body and he had a red stripe horizontally across his chest. As I got closer I could see that he was also wearing a lion's mane headdress of some sort. Wow, this guy sure knew how to dress for a party!
When he looked at me and we made eye contact, I offered up a hearty "Jambo" and he replied "Karibu, habiri" which means "come in, how are you?" and gestured to a spot next to him. I quickly realized that he was no "lightweight" in this tribe and struggling with my poor Swahili finally got "Mzuri, Asante sana" out, or "Fine, thank you" I was in a bit of a panic at this point, fearing that we were going to have to continue in Swahili. I had worn out my limited vocabulary very quickly, and I was holding, "Wapi choo" for when I really needed it. It means "where is the bathroom" and generally gets a good laugh and a broad sweeping gesture of the outstretched arm from the person you have asked.
Nyama (meat, usually beef) and Pombe (beer) were served to us by young women with brightly colored skirts and lots of coils of wire around their necks and yes, they were bare chested (whew, it was getting warmer sitting there).
In the Maasai culture two things were very evident; men were supreme, women were nothing more than servants of man. And they were really openly sexual people. Not only did they share wives, but the young men of the Warrior class were required to have sex with as many women as possible to prove their virility. They told the dirtiest jokes and most ribald stories that I have ever heard! They could even make ME blush, if you could imagine such a thing happening.
The inevitable came about and Robert indicated that I should take my pick of his wives to take care of my "needs". Honestly it was an exciting prospect, but along with being married myself, I was infinitely more afraid of the possible outcome. Diseases were rampant then, and now I have learned that the Maasai are in serious jeopardy of being wiped out by Aids, which is spreading at the rate of 25 people a day in their country.
I was worried about offending him and his wives, but I just told him that I was already married and my customs did not permit me to "use" other women. He looked into my eyes and simply said, "bad custom" and no more was said about it.
The Maasai Moran dance in a way that is mostly a lot of jumping up and down. They are already a very tall people, standing well over six feet on the average, and when they launch upwards it is truly incredible how high they can get. As they do this high jumping there is both the rhythm of the drums, and the trance producing chanting of the dancers going on, which draws you in and you find yourself chanting words and sounds that you have no idea what they mean, but it just feels right doing it. Mesmerizing is the best word that I can think of to describe it.
The Animals and a Surprise
I can only describe what the Amboseli plains looked like covered with thousands of wildebeest, zebra, antelope (and more) from our observation point high enough to see all around, as it was like being on an island in the middle of the ocean. There was a veritable sea of four legged life moving around; grazing, playing, running... and yes, being hunted. It can only be described as "unreal", unless your own eyes are doing the seeing; and even then you aren't sure that it isn't some kind of illusion. (I have seen the same reaction from first time (ever) viewers of motion pictures in Africa and India).
I confess that seeing individual animals held more of an attraction for me than the herds in all of their massive numbers. So on the morning of our second day, I elected to forego the trip out to the plains to drive among the wildebeest and zebras, etc. for a closer, more personal trip.
Instead of taking the long drive, I was able to get a personal guide and walk out to a nearby waterhole before breakfast, so that we would catch the animals coming in to water after feeding all night and doing their "long distance" moving around while it was still relatively cool out.
Once the sun got up into the heavens the temperature made unnecessary movement a very undesirable thing; it was equatorial Africa after all. There is wisdom in following the ways of the beasts and the people who lived closely with them knew that. It took the white men much longer to adapt as they constantly wanted to change nature to suit their plans, much to the amusement of the Maasai. Eventually, even the Brits came around and found a way to make it sound like siestas were their idea from the beginning.
My guide was a bit of a surprise; I guess because I had expected one of the men in the "Salvation Army shorts" (I called them that because they looked like they had been "donated" several times over they were so worn out) carrying a high powered rifle, to be my escort. I don't mean this to sound judgmental of their clothing, they wore what they had and that was precious little.
What I found waiting for me standing beside the front veranda of the lodge, with one leg raised and resting against the other (somewhat like a flamingo), was a young boy of maybe thirteen; certainly not any older. He had been assigned to be my guardian and guide by Robert, and if that was good enough for him, it was good enough for me. Once we got our "jambo's" and other pleasantries out of the way, we marched out of camp.
I was elated to find that the boy, Jomo, (named for his famous countryman, Jomo Kenyatta), not only spoke Maa and Swahili, but spoke English better than an English Lord in Parliament! He had just recently returned from school in Nairobi to begin his Initiation stage and was still kind of "itchy" from healing after his circumcision. The poor kid was a bit miserable, but would not complain or slow down, as he had to prove his worthiness every minute, of every day; because he wanted to. He was proud to be a Maasai and wanted nothing more at this point than to become a Moran (Warrior) and make his father proud.
Being a nosy American, this led me to my next question, which was; "who is your father?", and for once I was glad that I was a "pit bull" for learning information.
Jomo's father was none other than my bus driving party host, Robert! He had sent his young son out to protect me with his life if necessary, which I sincerely hoped would not be in the plans for our day. We would be going out among the creatures of Africa, armed with a short spear and all the guts in the world wrapped up in one young boy.
I must say that I noted a huge difference in attitude and behavior towards duty between this teenage boy, and what any American thirteen year old (including me) would have shown. Jomo was serious about his task, even pleased and grateful to have been given the responsibility by his father.
As we hiked along a well worn path, I asked him about his father and the meanings of the garb that he had on last night. I was even more impressed and amazed as Jomo explained that his father is among (they never brag of being #1) the most respected men of the Maasai, having earned his Moran status in the old way of killing a lion with only his spear; which is why he wears the lion's mane on his head. Only those who kill the lion in this fashion can wear the mane, any attempt to do so otherwise will get you banished. (Respect must be earned and lying or false pride is considered a serious fault).
He had completed his manhood tests in outstanding fashion and was moving up in the ranks of Moran in his village, when he was repeatedly accosted by a member of a neighboring clan who was under the influence of pombe. In the end Robert killed the man with his spear in a matched one-on-one battle and while it was clear that he had been attacked and had to defend himself, the local authorities didn't see it the same way.
The red horizontal stripe that I had observed painted on his chest signified having killed a man in battle. Even though the authorities didn't approve of his actions, the Maasai elders did.
Robert had been taken away to a work farm and "rehabilitated" from his tribal ways, or so the Ministers of Justice proclaimed, none of which were Maasai (all of them were white men) and so didn't have a clue how deep their conviction to their ways lies. Robert was required to take a "real job" as a condition of his early release and fortunately he had found that he could make enough money to support his family and send his children to school driving a bus. Soon he would have enough years to retire with pay. Something that no one in his tribe had ever heard of, much less received.
Through all of this, Robert had remained Maasai. No amount of beatings (and there were many) at the work farm, nor hours of prayer over him while he was forced to kneel in the sun, by overzealous Christian Missionaries trying to force their ways on him, could ever change who and what he was.
The Water Hole
When we arrived at the water hole, Jomo lead me around to a spot that was well hidden and had a comfortable log bench tucked away in the bushes. This was his favorite spot growing up and he had made the bench himself, for when his father got old and needed a quiet place to sit and speak with Engai.
Engai, the Sky or Sky God, is the God of Heaven and Earth and the one who gave the Maasai "all of the cattle on the earth" as their own, sending them down to earth through the roots of the Sacred Fig Tree. (Before you laugh, consider the Christian Garden of Eden, etc.)
We didn't have to wait long before the procession of animals began arriving in a fashion that made it look like someone was running them through; lions, gazelle, ugly little warthogs, giraffe that were so tall that should have a nose bleed all of the time from the altitude. There were monkeys in the trees around the water hole and they kept fussing about us being there, warning everything that humans were in the bushes. When the baboons trooped through the monkeys shut up, going completely silent. I don't think they wanted to anger those soldiers in green fur. I know I kept a watchful eye on them; baboons are mean and easily angered. Even the calm and quiet Jomo shifted his spear towards the direction of the troop leader, something that he didn't do when the lions were there.
The scariest time wasn't when the lions or the baboons were there, or even when a black mamba slid through the clearing that we were sitting in. It was when the crazy and energetic Cape Buffaloes stormed into the water hole on the run. Something had apparently spooked them and they split up and were coming around both sides of the pond at the same time. Yikes, we had nowhere to run! Little Jomo got in front of me with his spear at the ready (like THAT was going to stop a buffalo!). Just as quickly as they started that stampede, they stopped, put their heads down and began drinking like there was no tomorrow. Geez!
When the leader was satisfied with his drink, they departed in yet another explosion of buffalo anger and ran through the brush instead of back out the path. I can really see why hunters consider them to be so dangerous; they are ticking time bombs with no fear of anything.
We had a wonderful morning with some great animals, wonderful conversation, and pleasing silences. When I said "Kwaheri" (goodbye) to Jomo, I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.
His answer said it all... "MAASAI!"
(You must understand that at school and among the government leaders of that area, blending in and "westernizing" were favored over tribal affiliation. This is much the same as what happened to Native American youth under Christian Missionary influences, especially at boarding schools. Jomo just wanted to be allowed to be Maasai like his ancestors and family.)
The trip back was uneventful and a new driver (who didn't like to talk) had taken over for the run to Mombasa. Robert was on a layover and then would go to Nairobi to pick up a group going to Tanzania to climb Kilima njaro.
The stop at Tsavo East was good enough I suppose. There were lots of elephants and lions, the ever present baboons and herd animals, but too many vehicles and people, it felt crowded. I was growing increasingly concerned for the future of the environment in the Kenyan Parks. There was already too much pollution and intrusion of people, which will beat down and eventually destroy the vegetation and run the shy animals farther away. The more aggressive animals will get into trouble with the humans and what is lost will be almost impossible to regain I fear.
I will end this saga on a positive note: as I have researched my spellings of the words that I have used in this story, I have been very pleased to learn that Kenyan Conservationists and Wildlife officials from various agencies, (along with volunteer groups), have brought about a change in the way things are done. There are strictly enforced rules regarding travel in the parks and harassment of animals. Travel off of roads and tracks is no longer authorized and vehicles entering parks are required to have mufflers and spark arresters to help prevent fires. Government is taking a pro-active role at last, in the battle to save the environment from its worst enemy: man.
Kilima Njaro still shines in the hearts of adventurers, the Maasai still dance and herd their cattle, and the lions still rule the night on the Serengeti. May it always be so.
I shall always be grateful to a sailor whose name I don't remember, and a place that I will never forget for giving me these experiences and memories.