Wednesday, July 30, 2014


There were things I liked about our drives between national parks/reserves as much as I liked the parks and reserves themselves. On the game drives we could appreciate the natural world, but on our drives between places, we really got to appreciate the human world. Such was the case on our long drive from Lake Nakuru to the Mara Serena Lodge in the Maasai Mara National Reserve.
Some things are the same all over the world:
Cute kitty at our first bathroom/shopping stop.
And some things are NOT the same:
On our first bathroom/shopping stop, we encountered our first African squat toilet (but not our last). Note the lack of a sink, paper, etc. Suddenly I understood why almost all African women wear dresses.

However, it was also at this same bathroom stop/gift shop that an especially astute member of our party discovered The Big Five Wood Carving:

Remember "The Big Five"? The term refers to the five African game animals most difficult to hunt on foot: the elephant, the lion, the Cape buffalo, the leopard, and the rhino. Coincidentally, there are five attorneys in my husband's firm, and all five of them stood in front of this carving reflecting on how remarkably appropriate it would be as an art piece in their office lobby. After some consultation with each other and the wives and much haggling over price, the deal was done, papers were signed, and a quick shipment was promised.

It takes courage to face one of The Big Five in the wild, but it also took a lot of courage for The Other Big Five to lay out a significant amount of money in a small tourist shop located on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere in Kenya and believe that the goods would be delivered.

It took about a month, but the very heavy seven-foot-tall carving arrived intact and was installed next to the receptionist's desk.
The Big Five--or perhaps The Big Ten?
I hear that it is quite a conversation piece. Clients seem to either love it or think it is the ugliest lobby kitsch of all time (mostly the former, I would hope). No matter what anyone thinks, it's a great memory of a thrilling journey to the other side of the world and a fitting symbol of five strong, sometimes bullheaded, always adventurous men who have forged an enduring friendship.

After that, anything else in this post is anti-climatic, but I will press onward anyway. I apologize for the quality of my photos as many were taken through the window of our moving vehicle.

Africa is a land of many contrasts. These satellite dishes (at least that's what I think they are) look like they are designed to receive signals from another galaxy:
Contrast that with this mini-mall just down the road:
. . . or recess at this local school:
. . . or the transporting of goods via saddlebags on donkeys:
Could it be? Nutella International House? Almost, but not quite.
The business district of a small village made me think of Dorothy's words, "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."
Small herds of animals were everywhere. Most of the population must raise or grow a good part of their food:
This photo is particularly out of focus, but it is the best I have of the numerous men we saw wearing the typical Maasai red plaid wrap and always carrying a stick. Note the thin legs and lean body, typical of the Maasai. Also note the trash--a tragic blemish on an otherwise beautiful landscape.
Roadside fruit and vegetable stands were everywhere. If you make a purchase and need a bag, I guess you can just go grab one from the bushes.
Gas stations are more or less the same everywhere:
Even the snacks are similar:
Some of the roads are actually paved, such as this one going through a larger town:

Car washes are needed everywhere, but especially in a land of dirt roads. However, this is not your typical car wash, at least by American standards:
I'm definitely not used to seeing donkeys at my local car wash:
Or a donkey crossing the street in front of my bank:
M-pesa (see the sign above) is a mobile phone-based money transfer system, and outlets like this were everywhere, from Nairobi to the most remote, tiniest village we drove through.
MobiKash (again, see sign above) is also a mobile financial platform. The Kenyans seem to be way ahead of us Americans in the realm of telephone banking.
Who would have expected the mobile network to be so extensive in Kenyan suburbia?
The next pictures are random snapshots of small town and rural life in central Kenya:
We drove across the Great Rift Valley, which is part of a ridge system that stretches from Ethiopia to Tanzania. In places it is 35 miles wide, and while it is about 5500 feet above sea level, it gets deeper every year. A rift valley forms where the earth's crust is spreading apart due to tectonic activity, and it usually has a flat floor. With its rich soil, the Great Rift Valley is the breadbasket of Kenya, a good place to farm wheat and corn.
Herding cows by motorcycle. Why not?
Share the road:
A sign for our lodge points to the right fork in the road.
Children in their beautiful red uniforms on their way to school :

As we drove through this fascinating landscape, we saw only Africans (except for other tourists in other safari vehicles). However, fifty years ago Kenya was just beginning to throw off the colonialism that had taken the lands away from the native peoples and relegated them to subservient status. The novel reviewed below is set during the 1950s Mau Mau Rebellion against colonialism.


Romeo and Juliet, meet the Joads of Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath.

Weep Not, Child by Ngugi Wa Thiong'o tells the story of Njoroge, a young Kikuyu boy who befriends Mwihaki, a girl whose father hates Njoroge's father. The two fathers end up in opposing groups in the Mau Mau rebellion of 1951-1960, a period during which native Africans rose up against white colonists, but in factions rather than as a united front. (A very good summary of the rebellion can be found on the BBC News website.)

A few years later when Njoroge, who has been allowed the privilege of an education, is in high school, he also meets and becomes friends with the son of the white District Officer given the responsibility to repress the Mau Mau rebellion. Ultimately, Njoroge's father and brothers and the fathers of his two friends destroy each other's families, also destroying Njoroge's hope for a better future.

Published in 1964, Weep Not, Child was the first novel written in English to be published by an East African writer. While this was Thiong'o's first novel, he went on to write many more about his native country. He is now a professor of Comparative Literature and English at the University of California, Irvine, just an hour away from where I live. I plan to read more of his beautiful writing.


  1. Love the observations along the road - the common (which is not so common to us) which seems so extraordinary.

  2. So which "big five" animal represents Bob?

    Are the cows as skinny as they look?
    Sadly, that garbage-strewn landscape is the way I think of Africa.

  3. Chris, he gets asked that all the time, but he refuses to assume an "identity." If you match them in the same order as the names of the firm, however, he'd be the Cape buffalo. And yes, the cows really are skinny--no feed lots, only tough, native grasses.

  4. I think it was Dave who told me about all the mobile banking and how mobile phones are changing the "landscape" in India. I would assume Africa would be the same. Interesting to see all the trash--actually such a sad commentary on how a Western export (trash bags) has done such harm. Good news (mobile) Bad news (trash). When I see our exports reflected in a local economy it points out the relative value of such import.

    Great story about the Big Five/Big Five. Certainly a memory! (And amazed it arrived)

  5. This tour starts in Nairobi and end up in Nairobi
    .Lake Nakuru express tour is
    a full day trip to the Great rift Valley escarpment, 160kms from Nairobi. Lunch is taken before an afternoon game
    drive. On return journey there is stop at Lake Naivasha where bird watchers will delight in the fantastic array of
    bird life among the acacia trees