Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Zebra, Makes a Body Strong

Our 6:30am game drive for two hours...this is supposed to be a vacation right? Aren't vacations about sleeping in? Well, the animals are not going to wait for you to plan your day, so you catch them when they clock in for the day. Drive, drive, drive. Two female lions roaming the plains, when one starts strutting propelling into a full run. We could see small things moving around the grasses, but could not tell what they were. Joseph said they were mongoose. Then the lion pounced and you could hear an shriek. The last utterance from that mongoose making some snake rejoice.

A short distance away, there was an area with more vans than a used car lot, but half of the tourists are not staring in the direction that we are. We are staring at the two female lions sprawled on the ground under bushes, one obviously nursing, but no cubs in sight. Joseph pulls up the van when room allows. Now we know what the others were engrossed in; another lionness polishing off her breakfast, the remains of a zebra. As National Geographic as this was, I still felt for the zebra. Do other zebras miss him? Will he or she be missed. Gosh, Fred was such a great zebra; too bad about the lion incident. Oh, well, more grazing room for me. Someone pass me that greener grass over there.

The rest of the day was our own, but Joseph had offered to drive us to the Masai village for a 'cultural' experience. Ron said he wanted to go, so we arranged a time that allowed us a couple of hours of relaxation first. Even sitting in a van for hours can be exhausting as ridiculous as it may sound. As we were sitting on our balcony reading, Ron read in the tour book that the Masai village experience was 1,000 shillings per person, but you could bargain them down. Joseph had quoted 2,000 each. Just as we were debated whether or not we should go, Ron ensued "It is a once in a life-time experience" and then continued reading from the book that this was a touristy thing to do and we would not get much culture there. What to do, what to do? We voted 2-0 to go anyway.

We were greeted by "Ben", a new Masai warrior had just earned his promotion by returning from the wilds after a year of living off of the land, but with a group of other young warrior-hope-to-bes. Ben had excellent English. It seems he was schooled at a boarding school from grades 1-8, but the money ran out due to the drought, so was not able to continue. He told us there is no free education in Kenya, not even primary schools, so every parent has to pay for their child's education.

Their huts are made of tree branches with mud and cow dung and it is the women's job to build them. There is a 'room' for calves, one for goats, while the parents sleep on one side of a room separated from the children's area by the cooking area. All rooms combined do not make it 150 square feet. The children's sleeping area is for up to 5 kids, both boys and girls. We did not think to ask about toileting. Now that Ben is eighteen and finished his warrior training, he is living in a bachelor hut with 9 other young men, but they all still return home to mama for all of their meals. He said they move every 5 years, because termites infest the wood in the huts. To keep the environment clean, they burn down the entire village and move to an entirely new area.

We were only a couple of a handful of tourists visiting. We watched the dancing by the women, the dancing by the men, and their famous jumping up and down. The one who jumps the highest according to the chief is able to take a wife without paying the dowry of ten cows. All others pay in beef. Each man can have up to 10 wives if he has the 10 cows for each dowry, but the problem is that there are only two families in this village, so incest is rampant.

The reason they all wear red is because lions are afraid of red, so when they are tending their cows or sheep, they can scare away lions with their red clothes, which are imported from Nairobi. When we were ready to leave, Ben tried getting us to buy a beaded necklace with a lion's tooth on it. It supposedly was from the lion he had to kill for his warrior trials. Had it been me, I would have wanted every tooth as a memento of my stupidity, I mean bravery. Lions are endangered here. We went round and round refusing as politely as we could, when he pulled out his bargaining skills telling me that going back and forth was the way to make a deal. I explained a hard lesson to him. In order to successfully bargain, there has to be supply and demand. He had the supply; I did not have the demand. It seemed that I had to be really blunt by saying, you have something to sell, but I have no desire to own it at any price, therefore, there is no leeway for negotiations.

A different tactic was to show us the "elementary school" they were building, but had to stop due to lack of funds. We negotiated a donation of 1,000 shillings, half of what he wanted for the tooth, but with no cash other than the 4,000 we already paid, we could not do it. He rode back to the lodge to collect. He had to walk back and it was fifteen miles if it was a mile, just for the 1,000 shillings, so it must have been really important to him. It was not until later that I wondered what happens to the school house when the village is moved and burned to the ground.

Relaxation was the order of the day for the rest of it. We read, napped, relaxed, packed for leaving tomorrow. I had just finished a tremendous book called The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. Our mode of operations is to bring books with us that we will enjoy reading, but are not attached to, so they can be left behind lightening up the luggage. I had left an Elizabeth George book in our first hotel in Nairobi. When the young porter came for our luggage, he spotted it, calling it to our attention. When we said we were leaving it, we both have read it, he beamed and said he would love to have it. That is the secondary joy of a book. Back to the point. The Gargoyle is a book my office-mate gave me. I thought it would be a tosser for sure, but no. This is a keeper for sure. I will use parts of it for my creative writing course. It is Davidson's first book. Sincerely, I hope he did not burn himself out with this one. His storytelling is imaginative, realistic, yet all through the book, you keep telling yourself this could not happen, but what if... 
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