Back into the Bush
Afterwards I hobbled, 'ooooh'ed and 'aaaaah'ed back to his house and was shown a very comfortable room. Alex drives a '74 yellow Beetle which looks great for its age. He lives in a wee cottage in the forest, surrounded by peace, quiet, an excellent parrot in the next door neighbour's garden and some chickens. The adrenaline (shock?) was still making me quiver a wee bit some hours later!
Looking at the bike the next day saw just how lucky we had been. Just as I'd been turning right, the pick-up glanced along the pannier on the right hand side, smashed into the right pot-rack, smashing the spark-plug cover, which was then held together only by the rubber band around the bottom, and bending some cooling fins. I'd also cracked the windscreen thing in two and the pannier wouldn't hold water anymore. Looking at his trajectory it must have missed my leg by just a few millimetres. Had I been turned just a fraction more it would have been much, much worse.
Alex took me to the Jungle Junction, a repair shop for overlanders run by a gentle Bavarian (NOT German) giant called Christoph. He used to work for BMW which means he knows what to do but doesn't need to follow any books. He has a great sense of humour and we joked about what had happened and how he'd mend it all. I had immediate confidence in him. Sometimes you just know you're going to get great service. He saw things I'd got used to over the years. He wouldn't tolerate those imperfections. I'd be getting a new bike from him and no arguments! But I'd have to wait a wee while on some parts arriving from Mo back in Scotland.
This gave me some time to spare and I felt bad about having only just met Alex and then straightaway emburdening him with my infirmities! Namelok had said she could do with some things from the city and I felt I could sit in a car and push a clutch pedal and wince away quietly to myself for a day or two. Also it would be St Andrews Day and, with no ceilidhs to attend and my dancing days on hold, I thought it might be a laugh to blether more about Scotland with someone who knew it so well.
Alex's secretary/assistant, Maureen was on the case immediately, phoning hire companies and getting prices for 4WDs. I mentioned to her that our school secretary back in Fife was called Maureen and that she was also fantastically efficient in all things. Our school wouldn't work too well without our Maureen and Alex confessed cheerfully that his photographic business would fare similarly without his!
A wee adventure loomed for me, thanks to the kindness of these two, and I even got to put the shiny armour on again!
I tied my wee Saltire to the roofrack and left the next morning in a white SWB Mitsubishi Pajero. The rental guys told me it had once been used in the 'Big Cat Diaries' so you might see it on the telly (Reg; KAM 203M). It wasn't very quick but it had some power. Eventually I worked out how the radio worked just as I got to Isiolo. It was already darkening as the asphalt ran out. Whereas the bike was a nightmare, the Pajero at least shouldn't fall over. However, there were now four wheels to hit all the bumps and the noise was incredible. I thought I'd been saving fuel in 2WD but switched to 4WD so that there were now four lights in the cab illuminated to show four wheels driving. What a difference!! Now I had front wheels pulling as well as steering.
In the darkness a huge moving shape loomed. At first, because of its low flanks, I thought it was a bear, (do they have bears in Africa?) but as I eased closer I could see it was a huge hyena, running into the bush away from the car! I had no idea they were so big. I'd heard they were the biggest danger in these parts but always imagined them to be yappy wee fox-like things ganging up to take much larger prey. No way I'd be stopping for any natural calls then!
I almost missed Sere-Olipi in the dark but knew by the distance from Isiolo roughly where it would be. A huge plate of food was presented by Lucy, the headmaster's wife. But I'd interrupted a meeting with the benefactress (name withheld!) of the whole project and her minion (name also withheld). I had to sit for a while in the strange situation of listening to things angrily being 'totally unacceptable' and then hearing 'but we'll talk about it at the meeting in the morning'. Then she went on to some other 'totally unacceptable' thing that would be best discussed tomorrow . . . It was 9pm! The lady didn't seem very happy either with herself or much else, and I was obviously some sort of unnecessary intrusion.
Namelok was too tired to celebrate much and went off to her bed. I settled down in the manyatta with Thomas and his pal and had a glass or two of wine before stretching out into my sleeping bag. That was St Andrews Night.
Next morning after breakfast over the charcoal stove, Namelok took me off and sorted out my knee. Like the perfect mum she indulged all my gasping and face-making as she carefully removed the giant plaster from the leg. Then she sprayed some antiseptic concoction on the wound and made me hobble about for the rest of the day with a cut-out plastic bottle over it. This was to protect it from flies and give it some air! The awkward contraption looked daft and was a real pain to keep in place, but I'm sure it helped a lot and that I have this to thank for its speedy recovery.
During the remainder of the day I had lunch with Paul, the Deputy Head of a Primary School to which he walked 37km (23miles) each Sunday, returning, on foot, to his family on Fridays. He was happy to have just begun his school holidays and was relaxing. He told me a lot about Samburu culture and the trouble they had with the government, the NGO's, the Borani and the road.
He and Thomas had tried to come to the UK the year before, to do some fundraising, but had been refused entry because they had no property in Kenya. "I have cattle, goats, a wife and two beautiful children. I don't have a bank account or a mortgage. That's what they thought would make me return to Kenya." A bank account and a mortgage. Not the wife and kids then? What have we come to? The British Authorities would not issue a visa since they have decided that impoverished Kenyans will abandon their families and disappear into the UK system. They were afraid he would become an 'asylum seeker' or an 'illegal immigrant'. This, despite letters of introduction from supporting UK citizens. Such, it seems, is the power of the Daily Mail and the Sun! It struck me that there is no way a Kenyan could pass through borders like I seem able to. Freedom? For some.
That evening we were to go to a Lodge. This would be a long drive needing 4WD. The lady 'in charge' had a shiny new 4WD and thought we should all go in that. But Namelok decided that she could do with a break and I was only too happy to take the wee Pajero. We did well until we got stuck. (Don't you always?) "Is it in 4WD?" the demanding lady demanded. "Yes." But I couldn't explain why the front wheels weren't turning either. I wasn't bothered, but I think Namelok could have done without our being towed out of the wee burn we'd got stuck in, especially since, just as we'd went in, she'd seen a better route. We got over this fairly quickly though, but I could see there was an entirely unnecessarily abrasive nature in this lady driving the other truck. As soon as we were out the lady turned two discs on the front wheels and announced "NOW you're in 4WD!" But why hadn't she done this before going to all the trouble of towing us out!!? I know, to get some superiority! She was clearly very insecure within herself that she needed to demonstrate such magnificent superiority over a complete stranger like me. But I didn't bother to take it personally because I wasn't alone. She badgered everyone!
The only 4WDs I'd had any experience of were Land Rovers, and they don't have these wee discs! Why have four lights in the cab then? Was I really just experiencing the placebo effect the night before? Anyway, Namelok knew about the wee discs too so we would have got out in the end even without the help of 'the lady'! So there! :-)
The Lodge was incredible! Huge, covered, open air with enormous beds and dining area. It must have been built for game hunters or watchers. We chatted while the Samburu warriors made our tea. Not really my thing but . . . It was decided that the benefactress lady and her American minion would get the two enormous double bedrooms and the rest of us (about 6 in all) would flop around the central dining area. Luckily she went to her bed before tea so we others sat and blethered into the small hours before collapsing into the wee beds the Warriors had made up for themselves and us. All a bit too Colonial for me, but we got on well enough with the Samburu, who seemed distinctly wary of the Lady!!
She was doing her best to help, there's no doubt, but getting a nomadic people to settle around a school surely cannot preserve their culture and heritage. Paul had told me that the Samburu stay put for seven months anyway, and only move for five. So it occurred to me that there's really no reason why the whole world should follow the termly Western model of school. Why couldn't they work for the seven months they were still and then have a big nomadic five month holiday? Isn't this 'context'? As we were always trained to consider?
The Samburu also have some 'funny' (different) ideas about women and their place in society. These don't easily agree with our ideas and can lead to some awkwardness for them when having to deal with overbearing white Western females. Thomas and I talked about this for hours and on how the Kenyans would probably need to sort themselves out eventually and not wait for anyone else to turn them into good consumers. But they maybe need a bit of guidance for now. The question is in which direction? I think (but what do I know!?) we could maybe try cancelling all the African debt and then (Red Cross/Crescent and natural disasters aside) take all the well-meaning NGOs out for a bit and then let the Africans have a proper go at fixing things their way. We didn't fully agree on everything but I had my eyes more widely opened and learned lots from our blethering. It was enlightening listening to Thomas' aspirations for his people.
We drove back the next morning entirely without incident, successfully using Namelok's alternative route at the place we'd got stuck the night before.
Having said my final goodbyes, I drove back alone from Samburu to Nairobi next morning. A small family of bright red elephants (a new species!?) ambled their way across my path. With no camera, I fumbled for the mobile phone which took pictures. I fumbled so long I almost missed them with my eyes, a great big bull, three cows, a smaller teenager and the perfectly cute baby one! All red from rolling in the nearby mud. I moved slowly closer (in the rattly wee diesel Pajero!) to them after they'd gone back into the bush. The teenager had waited to see what I was up to but the enormous others had vanished. I went for the phone, but when I looked back up, there was nothing! Amazing how something so big and red can disappear so completely into all that green!
No amazement that, when I checked later, I had a perfectly blurred image of my finger where I'd hoped there might be red elephants! When the red fades, would they be pink elephants?