Out of Africa (but not out of stories)


‘How could I resist sharing these tidbits with you?’

‘Jambo’, everybody! And other forms of greeting. It’s considered less-than-cool to photograph people in Kenya and Tanzania, at least not without their permission. (I’m totally on board with this; I only mention it to explain my lack of people-in-the-scenery shots.) But it is the ‘done thing’ to say ‘jambo’ to everyone you meet. It’s Swahili for ‘hello’, and it’s pronounced sort of like ‘jumbo’, so the first time someone said it to me, I was rather taken aback. But then I got into the swing of things, and was ‘jambo’-ing like crazy.

Little kids in school uniforms got a real kick out of this. They’d wave gaily at us as we passed by in our safari-mobile, shouting back ‘how are you?’. (At least they didn’t shout ‘shikamo’, which is the greeting used when meeting an elder.) Such waving and smiling! I’ve never felt so much like a Clinton County Fair Queen in my life.

The Dude, about to saddle up in the safari-mobile, with its top popped and ready for action

The Dude, about to saddle up in the safari-mobile, top popped and ready for action (the safari-mobile’s, not The Dude’s)

Giant Termite Hills. Cactus fencing. Oh, and Fever Trees. When we weren’t waving cheerful ‘jambos’ to cute children, we were marveling at the amazing natural features of the countryside. Like, there were these huge sandy towers. Which turned out to be termite hills. Urk.

No. That's not the Kenyan equivalent of a plastic flamingo lawn ornament. That's a termite hill

No. That’s not the Kenyan equivalent of a plastic flamingo lawn ornament. That, my friends, is a termite hill

These puppies were so big that we actually saw an elephant using one kind of like a step-stool to get at some tasty greenery. Hmmm. Isn’t it chimpanzees who know how to use tools?

Look closely at that termite hill next to the tree. That's an elephant standing on top

Look closely at that termite hill next to the tree. That’s an elephant standing on top

Oh. And remember my last post, Zebra Crossing? Where I mention all the animals that wander, willy-nilly, across roads whenever and wherever? Well, some enterprising Kenyans in the Lake Baringo district have a solution for that. It works (sort of) for goats.

Check out that organic barbed wire. It sure worked to keep that human in line

Check out that organic barbed wire. It sure worked to keep that human in line

Now for the Fever Trees. These are actually innocent yellow acacias. But our Intrepid Guide Terry explained that the early settlers, almost literally dying of thirst after whacking their way through brambles for hours, would come upon a nice cool stream (surrounded almost invariably by yellow acacias), camp there, and come down with malaria. Bless their nineteenth-century hearts, they didn’t know about the mosquito/malaria connection, so they blamed the trees.

The Dude bravely enters a Fever Tree Zone

The Dude, having faithfully taken his malarone, bravely enters a Fever Tree Zone

The Kenyan TV listings. What’s on tonight? Here’s another fun fact from Terry, our guide, who has lived in Kenya for forty years (on purpose). Apparently, if you want to watch TV in Kenya, you get a dish antenna. If you don’t, you’re stuck with exactly three programs in English: ‘Little House on the Prairie’ (aired twice a week), ‘Dallas’ (also shown twice), and what he calls ‘American wrestling’ (blessedly only aired once weekly). It didn’t help our cred much when we told Terry that an ‘American wrestler’, Jesse Ventura, actually became governor of one of the United States.

‘Fifty Shades of Helen’. Speaking of entertainment, I took along my fresh new copy of my friend Helen’s new book, ‘What was Mine’. I happened to finish the book while we were staying in a nice-but-rather-religously-uptight ‘retreat’ in the Kakamega Forest. This place decided to take in ‘civilians’ rather recently, we were told, ‘religious retreaters’ being a not-very-profitable target audience.

It was a nice place, but with a lot of restrictions, including serving no alcohol. (We were allowed to stow our own beer in their fridge, but could not be seen drinking it — the horror! —  in any public area.) Not only did I get great pleasure sipping said beer while reading a book written by someone I Actually Know and Admire, I got even more pleasure gleefully slipping the finished book onto the shelf in the retreat’s library. It’s still there, I assume, right between the New Testament in Swahili and the biography of Billy Graham.

A few last looks. That picture at the top of this post was taken at the Equator. If you look carefully, you can not only make out a nice ‘jambo’ on the sign, but you can see The Dude taking a photo of one of our fellow safari-ers to send to her Folks Back Home. Does that make it a selfie of someone else’s selfie?

Wayne says bye-bye to Mt. Kenya

Wayne doesn’t even try to get a selfie with Mt. Kenya

We also got a last look at a leopard. This guy (or gal?) was just sort of sitting there in the road. Maybe she thought she was a goat

We also got a last look at a leopard. This cat was just sort of sitting there in the road. Maybe she thought she was a goat

While you were away. Meanwhile, what was happening back home? Not only did New York City get royally dumped-on with snow, but Wombat had to go to the cat hospital (she’s fine now, just fine), and our apartment building caught on fire (it’s fine now; well, sort of fine).

We had heard about the snow. But The (very wise) Child carefully kept the other bits of news from us, knowing that a) we could do absolutely nothing from the other side of the world, and b) that we would be worried sick. She just pulled up her socks and dealt with things.

However, she does have a job (thank the god-who-watches-over-parents) and did have to arrange to get time off. She told us she called her manager and said she had to work from home because ‘her cat is sick, her apartment’s on fire, and her parents are in Africa’.

Hard to argue with that.

New York City. February 2016

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10 thoughts on “Out of Africa (but not out of stories)

  1. So glad you are back, Alice. Amazing stories. Glad the cat is ok and the apartment is ok. Interesting fencing – prickly pear is a sure barrier to anything that moves as I well know. And we have acacia trees as well. Big thorns. Welcome back, writer friend. xoxo

  2. Nancy Vines

    Hey, you could write at book! Here’s the title: Clueless in Africa.
    LOL. More great stories, Alice. Thank you. xo

  3. Cathy

    What else could have possibly happened? I hope the cat is OK, the smoke damage isn’t too bad and it sounds like you and Wayne are having the trip of a life time! Bon chance, as they say in France.

    • Well, I guess there actually are a few more things that could have happened: earthquake, volcanic eruption. Cat is fine now; a bit embarrassed by having had to wear the ‘cone of shame’. Fire was in basement, so we were relatively unscathed up here on 6. I must say it was nicer being in Africa, totally clueless! xoxoxo

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