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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Day 6, 7 July 2010: Encounters with the natives [20100801|00:15]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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There’s many a difference quickly found
between the different races,
but the only essential differential
is living in different places.
Yet such is the pride of prideful man
from Austrians to Australians,
that wherever he is, he regards as his,
and the natives there, as aliens.

Oh, I’ll be friends if you’ll be friends,
the foreigner tells the native,
and we’ll work together for our common ends
like a preposition and a dative.
If our common ends seem mostly mine,
why not, you ignorant foreigner?
And the native replies contrariwise,
and hence, my dears, the coroner.

--from “Goody for your side and for our side too” by Ogden Nash


This was the morning where we tested out Tarn’s shower. It’s a two-bucket contraption (one for hot water, one for cold) with taps to regulate the flow and a proper shower head. It’s also only vaguely enclosed, so it’s very much an outdoor affair. I volunteered to be guinea pig. It turned out to be fantastic, having a hot shower in the open air. I luxuriated in being dust-free for the first time in 48 hours.

Monkey scrub good!


Monkey like to be clean.


Tarn had to work in the morning, so we lounged and ate lunch (beans and cheese on toast) without him. On his return, we hopped in the truck for the afternoon’s adventure. He’d arranged for us to visit two Maasai bomas.

The first boma was home to about fifty occupants. The young man, Daniel, who greeted us spoke very good English, as well as Maasai and Swahili. He kept his eyes down while shaking our hands, except for Tarn’s. The rest of the people came out of their houses or got up from the shade where they were resting to look at us. Children and baby goats peered around doorways. Their mud-and-acacia dwellings were open to the plains, since this boma didn’t have many problems with lions. The large mucky central enclosure, made of tightly bound thorny dead acacias, held the cattle at night. Additional bundles of branches leaned near the entrances, ready to block the openings once the cattle were herded into it. A smaller, sweeter-smelling enclosure held the sheep. We entered that one and stood in it, since it was drier and less pungent than the cow enclosure. As we shyly inspected the spot where hyaenas had wriggled through the thorny wall and carried off a couple of lambs a few days previously, an awful din arose at the enclosure entrance.

We emerged hurriedly and confronted a group of eight irate adult sheep. I don’t think you needed to speak sheep to know that they were saying, “We didn’t invite you into our home. Get out, strangers!” We beat a hasty retreat.

Daniel led us to his mother’s house. It was cool and dark inside, with a tiny wooden stool at the front entrance. A chicken and her brood pecked in a corner of the foyer. We stepped through a very low door into the pitch-black hallway leading to the main living area. Leather beds surrounded a cooking fire in the middle. In the only other room, we could hear a baby goat bleating and see the glossy haunches of two calves. (The most valuable and vulnerable asets are kept indoors until large enough to fend for themselves.) We gathered awkwardly, heads bent, just next to the hallway. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we could make out a number of display shelves integrated into the opposite wall. Small holes in the wall provided illumination for them. In the weak light, we could make out prized pieces of cookware, utensils and a large calabash (dried gourd) for the cow’s blood-and-milk mixture that functions as a staple of the Maasai diet. Daniel’s mother passed the calabash around, encouraging us with gestures to sniff the strong, sour smell inside.

We turned and exited slowly, Daniel’s mother trailing us, clutching a plastic bag. Outside, we gathered in a circle around her while she pulled out bracelets, necklaces and other ornaments. We quickly realized that Liz & I were meant to try these on and perhaps buy them. With Daniel and Tarn acting as interpreters, we opt for bracelets and key rings. The transaction completed to mama’s satisfaction, we filed back towards Tarn’s jeep. We thanked everyone. This time, Daniel looked us in the eye and smiled as he shook our hands. I’m not sure what had pleased him. Perhaps it was our purchase of mama’s beaded wares, or perhaps it was our obvious discomfort with our intrusion into his home. I took only two quick photographs as we left.

Mud house


Sun-dried gourds


The next stop was an abandoned boma. Two Maasai boys were staying there temporarily while their cattle grazed in the area, but the original occupants did not intend to return. The boys speedily popped back to the boma when they saw the truck approach, grinning and shaking our hands and obligingly unlocking the huts they were using.

This boma had a double enclosure - the inner for the livestock, as in the previous boma and the outer for the huts. The enclosures differed from the previous boma, having been made from living acacia. The houses occupied by the two Maasai boys had corrugated tin roofs. While the mud-and-branch roofs kept the houses cool and fresh, the tin roofs turned them into smelly ovens. Presumably they’re more waterproof during the rainy season, which is why they’re favoured. I was much more comfortable taking photos here.

Entering the outer thicket


Abandoned mud hut


Roof detail


Tin-roofed huts


Tarn drove us to a forgotten corner of the conservancy with only overgrown ranger tracks. Our off-roading became rather extreme in places. We didn’t see any new animals, but we ran across the largest herd of wildebeest and zebra that we’ve seen up close in daylight hours. They included a large number of pregnant females and young, and they were surprisingly placid. Four giraffes zoomed past. We surprised a warthog, which galloped away from us with astonishing speed.

We found a spot on a ridge for our sundowners. A group of rock hyrax regarded us warily from a distance, but we were otherwise undisturbed. Tarn and I went to inspect a network of warrens to see if he could identify the occupants. Duncan chucked a stone at his legs, causing us both to jump. This was apparently hilarious, if you’re a stupid boy.

Guinea fowl


Zebra, zebra everywhere


Giraffe zooming across our path


Oh daaahling, not before I’ve done my mascara, please


Last sunset






On the drive home, we happened across several bushbabies. Their huge eyes glowed red, appearing and disappearing as they scampered up and down the trees. One pinged across the ground and off of trees, escaping from the glare of the headlights. Even without being able to see them clearly, we could tell that they were adorable.

We settled into the chairs by the camp fire. A few minute later, Chef David greeted us with a cheese board. This was followed by spaghetti bolognese, which sounds quite ordinary but after a long day bumping over roads in a battered truck, tastes divine. The noodles were perfectly done, the beef delicately spiced and the vegetables firm. Worn out by anthropological observation and fresh air, I retired after a single vodka and coke.

On returning to the tent, I shone my torch on the doorstep to see an unexpected visitor. It was a young baboon spider. Including its thick legs, it spans my hand. The colour of old shoe leather, it had the texture of a dried palm leaf, shiny and ridged. The joins of its legs gleamed bright white. Its greyish-white mouth parts were heavily furred. It was beautiful, but I didn’t wants its company in the tent, so after calling the others to have a look, Tarn gently shooed him away. I could see the shape of Bos standing by watchfully with his spear for some time after until I fell asleep.
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Comments:
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2010-08-01 18:51 (UTC)
They were glorious. Enough to make me consider doing a second PhD in entomology to have an excuse to live out there.
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From: pbristow
2010-08-01 03:00 (UTC)
That Ogden Nash quote is wonderful! Never seen it before.

The practical details about the shower and the rooves and stuff, and even things like the mysteries of who makes eye-contact with whom and when, take me back to my West Africa trip, 20 years ago. I remember visiting a community just outside the town we were staying in for a few days, having been advised that I, as a male, should not speak to any of the women under any circumstances, while the girl I was paired up with for the afternoon should take care of all the "vo belafi"s ("How are you?", or more literally, "How is it?". Apologies for dodgy transliteration!). It was very strange to stand at the side of a conversation, forbidden to speak, and wondering... "So, am I allowed to look at her at all? Acknowledge her in any way? Should be gazing superiorly off into the distance, or something, while these mere female persons chat, or should I be showing keen interest in what my 'wife' is managing to learn about this lady's family?". This was when I realised that two minute crash-courses in cultural etiquette really aren't worth the paper you couldn't find quickly enough to jot them down on. =:o?
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2010-08-01 18:55 (UTC)
I think we became resigned to feeling generally awkward when interacting with Kenyans pretty quickly. Accepting that you're probably doing something wrong unintentionally gives you the courage to just get on with your blundering. :-P
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[User Picture]From: cosmiccircus
2010-08-01 06:36 (UTC)
Your posts are never big enough for me :P
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2010-08-01 18:52 (UTC)
I figure a lot of people just go, "Words words, too many words. Ooh, pictures!" :-P
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[User Picture]From: painted_dreams
2010-08-01 06:57 (UTC)
Oh wow those are incredible photos. I would love to be that close to the animals but in the safety of a car of course.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2010-08-01 18:52 (UTC)
Yes, it's good to appear to be the same size as or larger than the animals. Also, faster!
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