Welcome to Africa

The Flight In

It was the summer of 1972, and we were on a student charter out of Copenhagen. We had been in transit for about 72 hours and had just had a large shot of gamma globulin in the left buttock. Each time we allowed our weight on it, we discovered why the health service had recommended a 5- day wait between the shot and travelling. I was over tired and unable to sleep. Looking out the window, the curvature of the earth was just visible against the stars. An aura of violet, then indigo appeared above the curve, then a faint yellow, followed by deep orange tinged the indigo. A rim of red grew to show a yellow centred corona, and the Greek islands emerged from the darkness as the indigo sky and stars faded. The corona flared suddenly white, temporarily blinding me, as the sun emerged from below the horizon. Despite my fatigue and the pain in my buttock, I felt a sense of anticipation which grew as we crossed the Mediterranean and I could identify the coast of Egypt. As we flew over the Sahara, clouds appeared and cast shadows  like groves of trees on the barren desert. The harshness of the desert softened, and as we flew further south grasses, shrubs, and eventually trees appeared. By the time we began our descent into Nairobi, the earth was mantled in the soft gold and taupe of the dry-season savannah. We had graduated university a year earlier and had spent the intervening time working and saving the twenty-five hundred dollars that we estimated  as our combined cost for a three and one half month trip to Europe and Africa. We had just finished seven weeks of camping through England, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece. We were now heading into Africa. Europe had been interesting but relatively uneventful. Africa awaited. We were young, idealistic, politically naive, and profoundly ignorant of Africa. We were about to land in a region of newly emerged nations, conflicting political ideologies, and growing racial tension, and we knew nothing of it. Being young and Canadian, we were politically preoccupied by North American politics and the Vietnam war. If we thought of it at all, we thought of East Africa as an idyllic, picturesque land of thatch roofed huts and big game safaris. We had heard of the Mau Mau uprising in the nineteen fifties but with the exception of a little anti European sentiment, we believed that this had all been resolved with independence.

Arrival

The old Nairobi airport felt more like an armory or aircraft hanger than an airport, but the customs officials were friendly and efficient. Our passports were stamped “Republic of Kenya – Immigration Office 14 Jul 1972 – Nairobi Airport”, and we were soon standing in the east African sun, packs on our backs. We were travelling on a very limited budget, and rather than take the airport bus or taxi into town, we walked about a kilometre out to the main road to catch the much cheaper local bus into Nairobi. The brightly coloured bus standing by the road made finding the bustop easy. About 15 people stood around the bus and inside we could see three uniformed men, who we took to be employees of the bus company. The sign on the front of the bus said Nairobi, but questions about the bus’s departure time were met only with polite smiles and shrugs from the people waiting. Knowing that schooling was in English, I had not expected a language problem. What I did not realize was how few adults had been to school. I took off my pack and boarded the bus to ask about departure time. Three pairs of bloodshot, inebriated, unfocussed eyes turned to stare at me. Neither the driver nor the conductor spoke but the luggage handler managed a “Bus broke, you go off.” accompanied by an emphatic and unambiguous gesture. The combination of his gestures and overpowering halitosis provided all the encouragement I needed to leave. The other would be passengers seemed to be expecting some form of transport, and so hot, tired, thirsty, and confused, we waited. About an hour later, two Peugeot station wagons arrived. Somehow we got a total of 17 people with their luggage into the two cars and sped off to Nairobi. The road was dirt, pot holed, and narrow, but the Peugeot’s made at least 90 km an hour and left billowing clouds of dust to mark our passage. Some time later we arrived at the Nairobi central bus depot, hot, dusty, and tired.

Nairobi

It was after noon, the sun was high and hot and reflected off corrugated tin roofed sheds. Hard packed earth was strewn with litter, decaying vegetables, and sugar cane chaff. A sea of black faces surrounded us. People moved back and forth like water currents moving with the rise and fall of waves entering a small inlet. Baskets and bundles carried on heads floated above the sea like flotsam on the current. This sea of people was noisy. It chatted, laughed, and shouted. On closer observation, the currents had purpose and could be identified by the number and size of the bundles being carried. Large bundles and full baskets moving one way, empty baskets the other. For the first time in my life, I was a highly visible minority. Our white faces, outlandish dress, and backpacks made it hard to blend in. Our lack of Swahili and our ignorance of the city made it impossible to ask or to  know which current to join.

Finding Our Way

We intended to camp at the Nairobi City Park and asked repeatedly, “Nairobi City Park?” Each time we would get and uncomprehending look, a friendly smile and a pointed direction. We would walk for a while in the indicated direction and then ask again to repeat the process. We were completely lost. As we moved the crowds and the smells changed from those of produce, livestock, and garbage to the smells of exhaust mingled with the smell of restaurant food and cologne or perfume. The crowds would thin and thicken and clothing styles changed from tattered and old to business suits and stylish dresses as we walked.   Where We Belonged? After what seemed like a very long time walking, we arrived at the Hilton Hotel just in time to see an airport bus arrive with passengers from a later flight. Clearly, white people who could not speak the language must be looking for other white people, and where better to find them than the Hilton Hotel and so our frequent queries had brought us here. The walk from the bus depot to the hotel should have been about 600 metres, but our circuitous route ended up being about 1.5 kilometres. We had saved about three dollars but still had no idea where the park was. Finally, following the advice of a young Kenyan speaking impeccable English, we asked the concierge of the hotel how to find the park. He gave us the number of the bus to catch and showed us where to wait for it.

First Bus Ride

The bus was large, it had an open, standing only, area at the back, and it was full. We managed to squeeze ourselves and our packs into the back of the bus and we were off. When the conductor finally worked his way through the crowd to reach us,  we asked again, “Nairobi City Park?” and got another friendly smile before he worked his way back up to the front of the bus. We noticed fewer and fewer buildings and more open space. We grew increasingly concerned that we had boarded the wrong bus and were headed for Uganda. Each time we would ask, “Nairobi City Park?” we would get the same friendly smiles but that was all. Suddenly the bus erupted, people shouted, stamped their feet, and pointed. The bus stopped in the middle of the road and off in the distance we could see a multi-coloured assemblage of backpacker’s tents and converted vans. As we descended from the bus and it pulled away, a small forest of arms waved goodbye from the windows.

City Park

We had made it! We were not exactly within walking distance of downtown Nairobi but there was a grassy place to pitch the tent, shade trees, a water tap, pit toilets, and the price, at twenty five cents a night, was right. That night, as every night, the campsite attendant/guard helped build a bonfire and sat with the campers as we passed coffee and other things around the fire. I don’t remember much of that first night. After  eighty-six hours of napping while sitting up, sleeping on the floor of a train station, sitting on gama globulin injected butts, finding our way on foot tothe Hilton Hotel, and a final bus ride, we were pretty much out of it. The nightly fire was a great place to meet fellow travellers, to swap stories, to get tips on travel destinations,  routes, and methods, how to change currency on the black market, and on how to meet the daily necessities of life. We learned that to shower, we could go back to the Hilton Hotel where they opened their swimming pool, and more importantly, their pool showers to the public on weekends. We would generally carpool for trips into Nairobi. The public market was a great place to shop. It sold everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to clothing and souvenirs. Bouganvillea and frangipani scented the evening air. They  grew with Acacia as a hedge marking the perimeter of the campsite and along the road. The campsite’s night watchman/guard was a short, stocky, tough looking but friendly fellow. Despite his genial character, he carried a mean looking rhinoceros hide whip to deal with any trouble that might arise. A friendly and very helpful American couple were travelling with a three-year-old daughter. We were a bit surprised to find that she was still breast-feeding but apparently it made traveling a lot easier. We baby-sat the little girl one night. She slept with us in our tent and I remember a wet, very smelly diaper rubbing my face as she roamed the tent in the middle of the night. 

Apocryphal Story?

One day we were asked if we wanted a lift into town. The people asking were going to visit a friend in hospital. Their friend had been on Safari and had asked three young Masai if he could take their picture. They agreed, but it would cost three shillings. After taking several pictures he handed over three shillings. “No,” he was told, “not three shillings, three shillings each.” He handed over six more shillings. “No,” he was told, “three shillings each person, each picture.” He became irate and refused to pay. The story went that the Masai smashed his camera and lanced his side with a spear. It may be that the story was apocryphal, passed on to us by someone who believed the story and embellished it by claiming to be visiting the man speared when they offered us a ride into town. Whatever the truth, the story stayed with me and I was reluctant to take pictures of people for the rest of the trip.

Street Beggars

During our visits to Nairobi, we became accustomed to beggars. Unfortunately, Kenya did not have a social welfare system so the only support for the poor was an extended family, begging, or crime. Nearly every street corner and many public doorways had people begging for alms. Many were single mothers with infant children, some were old, and some were crippled. On our first journey from the bus depot to the Hilton Hotel, we had emptied our pockets of change within the first half hour. We soon realized that if we continued at this rate we would quickly exhaust our resources and not even make a dent in the problem. I am not proud of it, but we learned quickly to not see the beggars. I don’t think that we learned to ignore them so much as we learned how not to see them. Had we given to every beggar we saw, we would have given all of our money away and would have had to return home. When we went into town we would allocate a small amount of money to give to the beggars. We gave until the money was gone and then we stopped seeing them for the rest of the day. This ability to ignore poverty troubles me. I have spoken to others about this. Some rationalize their lack of charity by blaming the beggars (they were begging because they were too lazy to work), others would dehumanize them (they were not like us and we should help our own first), still others (including us) rationalized that the problem was so large that we could make no real difference anyway. What is most disconcerting is that these are the same mechanisms that people use to ignore injustices and atrocities of all kinds. If I could learn to not see the poverty in Kenya, what else could I learn to not see?

Meeting a Beggar

My strongest memory of the campsite was an encounter at the bonfire one night. I was sitting by the fire when someone seemed to slide in beside me. In the flickering of the firelight, I could not at first make out what I was seeing. The new arrival turned out to be a professional beggar. He sat, in the lotus position, atop a large wheeled dolly on which he pushed himself around with a couple of sticks. I don’t know where he came from or how he got there but I somehow think that he was a friend of the guard and had come to share the marijuana and alcohol that made the rounds of the fire each night. I could gradually make out that his legs were deformed and permanently held that position. He was open and friendly, and we began talking. Eventually I asked what had happened to his legs. As we sat in the dying firelight, he told me, quite matter of factly, that when he was a very young boy his parents and the village headman had smashed his knees with a log and allowed them to set in that position. I was stunned. He seemed puzzled by my reaction and explained that his parents knew that he would inherit no land, that he would receive no education, and that he had few prospects other than begging. His deformity allowed him to be a very good beggar he said. Why should he be bitter, he had learned English, he was married and was raising two children who would graduate fifth form (high school). He was, he said, very lucky and was thankful that his parents had had the courage to make such a decision. His children would not have to beg. They would be healthy, educated, and have opportunities that he had never dreamed. I have not forgotten that man. His quiet dignity, his commitment to family, and his belief in the better future of his children was profoundly moving. I suspect that he was more comfortable with himself than I would be for another twenty five years. I suspect that he felt more sense of accomplishment than I feel yet. I am surprised, as I write this today, that having spent the evening talking to this man, I am still able to ignore beggars on a street. Memory of the beggar still comes to me every so often. One of the worst arguments that I can remember having with my father was about what he  called welfare bums taking his hard earned money to spend on booze and drugs. I was a small el liberal and believed that no one would voluntarily live on that little money. The argument escalated and I suddenly remembered that quiet dignified man. I lost my temper and said that to my knowledge no Canadian child had ever had its legs crippled by it’s parents so that it could beg effectively and that if this was the only accomplishment of the Canadian welfare system it was more than enough. If that was not enough for him then I could not understand his lack of compassion. Despite its truth, I regretted the statement and fortunately the rancour passed.

Lake Naivasha

We learned about Lake Naivasha at the bonfire one night. It was said to be a lovely island game preserve, to be easily accessible by bus, and to have camping facilities where we could walk among the wild animals with no fear of predators. We took the bus back into Nairobi and caught another north for Naivasha. Our route took us out Uhuru Highway past the City Park. Not much further on, we saw antelope and zebra grazing beside the road. This is when the reality of our being in Africa really set in. Until this point we had experienced a new culture and met some interesting people, but it was not the Africa we had expected. This was. We left the bus just outside the town of Naivasha. I don’t remember how we found it, but after a long walk and repeatedly asking directions, we ended up at the Lake Naivasha Marina Club where the manager said that we could camp beside the clubhouse. The setting was magnificent. We had lush green grass beneath our tent and feet, tall shade trees, and a wonderful view of the lake.

Evening Harmony

We had been warned not to sit on the grass because putzi fly larvae would burrow through our clothes and into our skin, so we sat on the floor of the tent and tending diner on our small one burner stove. As we cooked, a marvellous three part harmony, the lead singing a phrase and two voices responding in rhythmic harmony drifted on the still air. We did not understand the lyrics but the sound was as soothing as the cool evening air and seemed to fade into the distance with the fading light. Through the trees we could see three young women dressed in brightly printed Kanga cloths, gracefully balancing loads of laundry on their heads as they swayed in time to the song on their return home.

The Island

The next morning an old man in an even older wooden boat dropped us off on the island and promised to return in the evening to pick us up. The island was safe they said, no predators, no snakes, and no crocodiles. The savannah covered island was large enough to keep us happily exploring for the day. It had a fairly large population of ungulates and birds and we spent a wonderful day in the company of waterbuck, antelope, gazelles, and a variety of birds. The acacia trees shaded us from the heat of the sun, and the fragrant grass, too dry for putzi flies, provided both seating and table for lunch. The boat returned just before sunset and got us back in time for dinner at the clubhouse.

Dinner

We were the only customers, and the manager and his wife joined us at our table. They were open, friendly, and helpful. The conversation turned to travel and we commented on how helpful and friendly everyone had been since our arrival. We had not experienced any of the anti-white sentiment we had been told to expect. No, they said, it was probably because we were Canadian and not English. The English were not nice. They were racist and intolerant. Being Indian, our hosts could collapse on the street in London and no one would help. It was different here, why here even they – the wife pointed disdainfully to the African bus boy – understood the concept of courtesy. She did not see the irony. We held our tongues but did not dine at the club again. The next day we returned to Nairobi.
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
The smiles and pointing fingers led us past the Central Mosque. The camp was a great place to meet people and to get survival tips and travel ideas. The city market provided most everything we needed, except gas for the stove and film for the camera. Fragrant frangipani and bouganvillea surrounded the campground. View of the Marina Club from the lake. An African fIsh Eagle rests in front of papyrus. A large waterbuck kept watch over our picnic.
 

Welcome to Africa

The Flight In

It was the summer of 1972, and we were on a student charter out of Copenhagen. We had been in transit for about 72 hours and had just had a large shot of gamma globulin in the left buttock. Each time we allowed our weight on it, we discovered why the health service had recommended a 5-day wait between the shot and travelling. I was over tired and unable to sleep. Looking out the window, the curvature of the earth was just visible against the stars. An aura of violet, then indigo appeared above the curve, then a faint yellow, followed by deep orange tinged the indigo. A rim of red grew to show a yellow centred corona, and the Greek islands emerged from the darkness as the indigo sky and stars faded. The corona flared suddenly white, temporarily blinding me, as the sun emerged from below the horizon. Despite my fatigue and the pain in my buttock, I felt a sense of anticipation which grew as we crossed the Mediterranean and I could identify the coast of Egypt. As we flew over the Sahara, clouds appeared and cast shadows  like groves of trees on the barren desert. The harshness of the desert softened, and as we flew further south grasses, shrubs, and eventually trees appeared. By the time we began our descent into Nairobi, the earth was mantled in the soft gold and taupe of the dry- season savannah. We had graduated university a year earlier and had spent the intervening time working and saving the twenty-five hundred dollars that we estimated  as our combined cost for a three and one half month trip to Europe and Africa. We had just finished seven weeks of camping through England, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece. We were now heading into Africa. Europe had been interesting but relatively uneventful. Africa awaited. We were young, idealistic, politically naive, and profoundly ignorant of Africa. We were about to land in a region of newly emerged nations, conflicting political ideologies, and growing racial tension, and we knew nothing of it. Being young and Canadian, we were politically preoccupied by North American politics and the Vietnam war. If we thought of it at all, we thought of East Africa as an idyllic, picturesque land of thatch roofed huts and big game safaris. We had heard of the Mau Mau uprising in the nineteen fifties but with the exception of a little anti European sentiment, we believed that this had all been resolved with independence.

Arrival

The old Nairobi airport felt more like an armory or aircraft hanger than an airport, but the customs officials were friendly and efficient. Our passports were stamped “Republic of Kenya – Immigration Office 14 Jul 1972 – Nairobi Airport”, and we were soon standing in the east African sun, packs on our backs. We were travelling on a very limited budget, and rather than take the airport bus or taxi into town, we walked about a kilometre out to the main road to catch the much cheaper local bus into Nairobi. The brightly coloured bus standing by the road made finding the bustop easy. About 15 people stood around the bus and inside we could see three uniformed men, who we took to be employees of the bus company. The sign on the front of the bus said Nairobi, but questions about the bus’s departure time were met only with polite smiles and shrugs from the people waiting. Knowing that schooling was in English, I had not expected a language problem. What I did not realize was how few adults had been to school. I took off my pack and boarded the bus to ask about departure time. Three pairs of bloodshot, inebriated, unfocussed eyes turned to stare at me. Neither the driver nor the conductor spoke but the luggage handler managed a “Bus broke, you go off.” accompanied by an emphatic and unambiguous gesture. The combination of his gestures and overpowering halitosis provided all the encouragement I needed to leave. The other would be passengers seemed to be expecting some form of transport, and so hot, tired, thirsty, and confused, we waited. About an hour later, two Peugeot station wagons arrived. Somehow we got a total of 17 people with their luggage into the two cars and sped off to Nairobi. The road was dirt, pot holed, and narrow, but the Peugeot’s made at least 90 km an hour and left billowing clouds of dust to mark our passage. Some time later we arrived at the Nairobi central bus depot, hot, dusty, and tired.

Nairobi

It was after noon, the sun was high and hot and reflected off corrugated tin roofed sheds. Hard packed earth was strewn with litter, decaying vegetables, and sugar cane chaff. A sea of black faces surrounded us. People moved back and forth like water currents moving with the rise and fall of waves entering a small inlet. Baskets and bundles carried on heads floated above the sea like flotsam on the current. This sea of people was noisy. It chatted, laughed, and shouted. On closer observation, the currents had purpose and could be identified by the number and size of the bundles being carried. Large bundles and full baskets moving one way, empty baskets the other. For the first time in my life, I was a highly visible minority. Our white faces, outlandish dress, and backpacks made it hard to blend in. Our lack of Swahili and our ignorance of the city made it impossible to ask or to  know which current to join.

Finding Our Way

We intended to camp at the Nairobi City Park and asked repeatedly, “Nairobi City Park?” Each time we would get and uncomprehending look, a friendly smile and a pointed direction. We would walk for a while in the indicated direction and then ask again to repeat the process. We were completely lost. As we moved the crowds and the smells changed from those of produce, livestock, and garbage to the smells of exhaust mingled with the smell of restaurant food and cologne or perfume. The crowds would thin and thicken and clothing styles changed from tattered and old to business suits and stylish dresses as we walked.   Where We Belonged? After what seemed like a very long time walking, we arrived at the Hilton Hotel just in time to see an airport bus arrive with passengers from a later flight. Clearly, white people who could not speak the language must be looking for other white people, and where better to find them than the Hilton Hotel and so our frequent queries had brought us here. The walk from the bus depot to the hotel should have been about 600 metres, but our circuitous route ended up being about 1.5 kilometres. We had saved about three dollars but still had no idea where the park was. Finally, following the advice of a young Kenyan speaking impeccable English, we asked the concierge of the hotel how to find the park. He gave us the number of the bus to catch and showed us where to wait for it.

First Bus Ride

The bus was large, it had an open, standing only, area at the back, and it was full. We managed to squeeze ourselves and our packs into the back of the bus and we were off. When the conductor finally worked his way through the crowd to reach us,  we asked again, “Nairobi City Park?” and got another friendly smile before he worked his way back up to the front of the bus. We noticed fewer and fewer buildings and more open space. We grew increasingly concerned that we had boarded the wrong bus and were headed for Uganda. Each time we would ask, “Nairobi City Park?” we would get the same friendly smiles but that was all. Suddenly the bus erupted, people shouted, stamped their feet, and pointed. The bus stopped in the middle of the road and off in the distance we could see a multi-coloured assemblage of backpacker’s tents and converted vans. As we descended from the bus and it pulled away, a small forest of arms waved goodbye from the windows.

City Park

We had made it! We were not exactly within walking distance of downtown Nairobi but there was a grassy place to pitch the tent, shade trees, a water tap, pit toilets, and the price, at twenty five cents a night, was right. That night, as every night, the campsite attendant/guard helped build a bonfire and sat with the campers as we passed coffee and other things around the fire. I don’t remember much of that first night. After  eighty-six hours of napping while sitting up, sleeping on the floor of a train station, sitting on gama globulin injected butts, finding our way on foot tothe Hilton Hotel, and a final bus ride, we were pretty much out of it. The nightly fire was a great place to meet fellow travellers, to swap stories, to get tips on travel destinations,  routes, and methods, how to change currency on the black market, and on how to meet the daily necessities of life. We learned that to shower, we could go back to the Hilton Hotel where they opened their swimming pool, and more importantly, their pool showers to the public on weekends. We would generally carpool for trips into Nairobi. The public market was a great place to shop. It sold everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to clothing and souvenirs. Bouganvillea and frangipani scented the evening air. They  grew with Acacia as a hedge marking the perimeter of the campsite and along the road. The campsite’s night watchman/guard was a short, stocky, tough looking but friendly fellow. Despite his genial character, he carried a mean looking rhinoceros hide whip to deal with any trouble that might arise. A friendly and very helpful American couple were travelling with a three- year-old daughter. We were a bit surprised to find that she was still breast-feeding but apparently it made traveling a lot easier. We baby-sat the little girl one night. She slept with us in our tent and I remember a wet, very smelly diaper rubbing my face as she roamed the tent in the middle of the night. 

Apocryphal Story?

One day we were asked if we wanted a lift into town. The people asking were going to visit a friend in hospital. Their friend had been on Safari and had asked three young Masai if he could take their picture. They agreed, but it would cost three shillings. After taking several pictures he handed over three shillings. “No,” he was told, “not three shillings, three shillings each.” He handed over six more shillings. “No,” he was told, “three shillings each person, each picture.” He became irate and refused to pay. The story went that the Masai smashed his camera and lanced his side with a spear. It may be that the story was apocryphal, passed on to us by someone who believed the story and embellished it by claiming to be visiting the man speared when they offered us a ride into town. Whatever the truth, the story stayed with me and I was reluctant to take pictures of people for the rest of the trip.

Street Beggars

During our visits to Nairobi, we became accustomed to beggars. Unfortunately, Kenya did not have a social welfare system so the only support for the poor was an extended family, begging, or crime. Nearly every street corner and many public doorways had people begging for alms. Many were single mothers with infant children, some were old, and some were crippled. On our first journey from the bus depot to the Hilton Hotel, we had emptied our pockets of change within the first half hour. We soon realized that if we continued at this rate we would quickly exhaust our resources and not even make a dent in the problem. I am not proud of it, but we learned quickly to not see the beggars. I don’t think that we learned to ignore them so much as we learned how not to see them. Had we given to every beggar we saw, we would have given all of our money away and would have had to return home. When we went into town we would allocate a small amount of money to give to the beggars. We gave until the money was gone and then we stopped seeing them for the rest of the day. This ability to ignore poverty troubles me. I have spoken to others about this. Some rationalize their lack of charity by blaming the beggars (they were begging because they were too lazy to work), others would dehumanize them (they were not like us and we should help our own first), still others (including us) rationalized that the problem was so large that we could make no real difference anyway. What is most disconcerting is that these are the same mechanisms that people use to ignore injustices and atrocities of all kinds. If I could learn to not see the poverty in Kenya, what else could I learn to not see?

Meeting a Beggar

My strongest memory of the campsite was an encounter at the bonfire one night. I was sitting by the fire when someone seemed to slide in beside me. In the flickering of the firelight, I could not at first make out what I was seeing. The new arrival turned out to be a professional beggar. He sat, in the lotus position, atop a large wheeled dolly on which he pushed himself around with a couple of sticks. I don’t know where he came from or how he got there but I somehow think that he was a friend of the guard and had come to share the marijuana and alcohol that made the rounds of the fire each night. I could gradually make out that his legs were deformed and permanently held that position. He was open and friendly, and we began talking. Eventually I asked what had happened to his legs. As we sat in the dying firelight, he told me, quite matter of factly, that when he was a very young boy his parents and the village headman had smashed his knees with a log and allowed them to set in that position. I was stunned. He seemed puzzled by my reaction and explained that his parents knew that he would inherit no land, that he would receive no education, and that he had few prospects other than begging. His deformity allowed him to be a very good beggar he said. Why should he be bitter, he had learned English, he was married and was raising two children who would graduate fifth form (high school). He was, he said, very lucky and was thankful that his parents had had the courage to make such a decision. His children would not have to beg. They would be healthy, educated, and have opportunities that he had never dreamed. I have not forgotten that man. His quiet dignity, his commitment to family, and his belief in the better future of his children was profoundly moving. I suspect that he was more comfortable with himself than I would be for another twenty five years. I suspect that he felt more sense of accomplishment than I feel yet. I am surprised, as I write this today, that having spent the evening talking to this man, I am still able to ignore beggars on a street. Memory of the beggar still comes to me every so often. One of the worst arguments that I can remember having with my father was about what he  called welfare bums taking his hard earned money to spend on booze and drugs. I was a small el liberal and believed that no one would voluntarily live on that little money. The argument escalated and I suddenly remembered that quiet dignified man. I lost my temper and said that to my knowledge no Canadian child had ever had its legs crippled by it’s parents so that it could beg effectively and that if this was the only accomplishment of the Canadian welfare system it was more than enough. If that was not enough for him then I could not understand his lack of compassion. Despite its truth, I regretted the statement and fortunately the rancour passed.

Lake Naivasha

We learned about Lake Naivasha at the bonfire one night. It was said to be a lovely island game preserve, to be easily accessible by bus, and to have camping facilities where we could walk among the wild animals with no fear of predators. We took the bus back into Nairobi and caught another north for Naivasha. Our route took us out Uhuru Highway past the City Park. Not much further on, we saw antelope and zebra grazing beside the road. This is when the reality of our being in Africa really set in. Until this point we had experienced a new culture and met some interesting people, but it was not the Africa we had expected. This was. We left the bus just outside the town of Naivasha. I don’t remember how we found it, but after a long walk and repeatedly asking directions, we ended up at the Lake Naivasha Marina Club where the manager said that we could camp beside the clubhouse. The setting was magnificent. We had lush green grass beneath our tent and feet, tall shade trees, and a wonderful view of the lake.

Evening Harmony

We had been warned not to sit on the grass because putzi fly larvae would burrow through our clothes and into our skin, so we sat on the floor of the tent and tending diner on our small one burner stove. As we cooked, a marvellous three part harmony, the lead singing a phrase and two voices responding in rhythmic harmony drifted on the still air. We did not understand the lyrics but the sound was as soothing as the cool evening air and seemed to fade into the distance with the fading light. Through the trees we could see three young women dressed in brightly printed Kanga cloths, gracefully balancing loads of laundry on their heads as they swayed in time to the song on their return home.

The Island

The next morning an old man in an even older wooden boat dropped us off on the island and promised to return in the evening to pick us up. The island was safe they said, no predators, no snakes, and no crocodiles. The savannah covered island was large enough to keep us happily exploring for the day. It had a fairly large population of ungulates and birds and we spent a wonderful day in the company of waterbuck, antelope, gazelles, and a variety of birds. The acacia trees shaded us from the heat of the sun, and the fragrant grass, too dry for putzi flies, provided both seating and table for lunch. The boat returned just before sunset and got us back in time for dinner at the clubhouse.

Dinner

We were the only customers, and the manager and his wife joined us at our table. They were open, friendly, and helpful. The conversation turned to travel and we commented on how helpful and friendly everyone had been since our arrival. We had not experienced any of the anti-white sentiment we had been told to expect. No, they said, it was probably because we were Canadian and not English. The English were not nice. They were racist and intolerant. Being Indian, our hosts could collapse on the street in London and no one would help. It was different here, why here even they – the wife pointed disdainfully to the African bus boy – understood the concept of courtesy. She did not see the irony. We held our tongues but did not dine at the club again. The next day we returned to Nairobi.
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
The Nairobi city park. Nairobi city market. Bouganvillia and frangipani bordered the campground. The Lake Naivasha Marina Club from the lake. African fish eagle, rests in front of papyrus. A one horned waterbuck kept watch over our picnic. Our wanderings took us past the Nairobi Mosque.