By Bernard Wainaina
I get to enjoy my Work/travel mode in the course of my work as an agribusiness consultant.
There is this Thenge Njeru waterfall.
It’s in Runyejes, in Embu.
To get here you use murram roads that slither up hills.
If you step off the road, you will plunge deep into shockingly beautiful greenery and clear rivers.
The folk who live here only have to stare at the green hills to get Vitamin A.
Quite often this area gets misty and drizzly.
The roads here are mostly deserted and once in a while, a bodaboda(taxi) motorbike will zoom past but most of the time you are alone.
And so it’s on one of these roads that I was driving up,headed to meet a client and my contact who is well versed with the history of these waterfalls – and of some 3km tunnel that
the Mau Mau used to walk through while evading the British Army – that I realized my front wheel was getting flat.
I pulled over to change it.
The car – a SUV – is one of those with the spare wheels strapped behind it.
Only this one was locked by a padlock.
So I’m standing at the rear of this car, calling the car hire guy to ask where the darn
key is when I hear movement behind me.
Behind me two ninjas are stepping out of the mist.
OK,I’m being dramatic, they sort of step out of the thicket.
Ninjas in their mid-twenties. Locals.
One has a weeding hoe slung over his right shoulder. (Imagine how that statement
would sound like if I were writing about Westlands in downtown Nairobi by
Now, two things; this is not my neck of woods and I’m a siting duck standing there in the middle of some small road.
I could get robbed, killed and my body rolled down the valleys where I’d end up in the rivers below for the fish to feed off me.
I have been mugged before, in 1998,in South B.
It was midnight and I was walking to Wheels
Bar in the shopping centre to meet my pals for a drink.
In 1998 Wheels was the place to be.
It was dark, smoky and smelled of a cattle dip.
And we loved it.
About 200 meters from the shopping center, a chap had stepped in front of me, another had kicked the inside of my knees from behind effectively getting me down on my knees, a rough hand had then grabbed my throat
choking me and hands had plunged through my pockets relieving me of the little I had (their were no cell phones back then, OK, there were but mere mortals like me couldn’t afford them…they belonged to ministers and
I was left on my knees, shocked,dazed and with a burning throat.
My throat eventually recovered, faster than my ego.
When you get mugged your self-esteem suffers more than your physical injuries.
There is something perversely dark with another man putting you in a position of helplessness.
So no, I wasn’t ready to get jumped in Runyenjes, and certainly not with a man with a hoe on his shoulder.
I quickly pocketed the phone when these two chaps walked towards me.
I had valuables on me; a decent Nikon
professional camera on the passenger seat, a MacBook in a bag on the back seat and some decent amount of money for the trip. Plus, the phone was a Blackberry Bold 9700
that a marketer friend had handed me to use and review before the launch.
It’s safe to assume it was the only Blackberry Bold in the whole of Central Kenya(just kidding to make this whole story a bit more interesting!).
If they robbed me, I was going to lose everything I had done for the past three days;
pictures, notes, including all my valuables in the laptop.
There is something Andy Garcia said in a movie I once watched: anyone who wants to assail you will always be as nervous as you are and quite often what they need is a reason from you not to go through with it and that reason is confidence.
“Men smell fear on other men,” he said in
that dark way he talks.
So I walked towards them, forcing them to slow down, and I extended my hand in handshake.
Mr. Hoe was forced to transfer the hoe to his
left hand to shake my hand (see what I did there? A trick to disarm a right-handed thug!).
As we stood there exchanging pleasantry, my phone started ringing. Now BlackBerry is a phone – as they say –designed for humans but inspired by nature (what a coincidence I was deep in nature) and so has these
ringtones inspired by nature.
I had my ringtone on Jungle Drums, which is the sound of small tribe in a forest in Mali beating drums and dancing around a fire half naked before they sacrifice a goat to the gods of thunder.
And so you can imagine how odd it was when the car hire chap started calling me back.
So there I was having a conversation with these chaps when drums start beating from my pants.
Of course I don’t want to remove the phone lest I give them ideas, and they are looking at my
pants like “aren’t you going to feed that small African tribe in your pocket? ” and I’m standing there acting like they are the only ones hearing things.
In short, I wasn’t mugged; in fact, they helped me change the tyres.
Here is the problem.
When you live in the city for too long, you become cynical.
You lose faith in humanity.
You forget the basics of human nature.
You forget that the world is full of good people.
That people will ignore drums in your pocket.
Some truth: most of us love our jobs but not all of us respect our jobs.
You’d imagine that loving your job would automatically make you respect it.
Take me for instance, I love writing but most time I slack and forget to dot my i’s, I write weak sentences because the deadline is here.
I disrespect the art.
You’d expect me to knot tightly my sentences that no editor would dare even touch it.
Then there is this shop in Kutus Town.
You’ve never heard of Kutus? Come on! Google it!
Anyway, as I passed through this town one rainy morning I saw this hardware shop by the side of the road.
I don’t know why it reminded me of Sanford
There was a chap in the shop.
He had a workman’s apron,like Julius Malema in a parliament session,all bright red.
I found that even cooler.
Since I was in a hurry to get to Embu, I made a mental note to make that small detour and visit the shop on my way to Nairobi the next day.
And I did.
The shop belongs to Ben Njoroge.
He calls it Bentabs Ltd.
In short, Ben fixes anything broken.
I told him I thought his shop was a scream and that him wearing his apron showed a dedication and pride in what he did.
He laughed, flattered.
Ben(no relation to this writer) works with his hands.
They are thick and greasy.
Hands that say, I take care of business. I fix things.
In his shop is a framed picture of his family; two girls, the eldest is 19.
“They admire what I do, most teenagers
would be embarrassed if their father did something like this,” he says with a smile, “ but they aren’t, they know that I love this and that I love them, so they love this.”
Words that you don’t expect in Kutus,a neck of woods in Kenya.
How can you not learn something from Ben?
On my way to visit this huge Mugumo tree in Aberdare National Park, this tree that the Mau Mau used as a post office, I ran into this grumpy wrinkly jumbo.
You aren’t allowed inside the park without an armed KWS ranger because you could do something foolish – like try pet the head of a Buffalo – and end up dead.
So they send you in with some armed chaps.
I had two; one called Mary and the other called Taruz.
Mary rode shotgun.
Taruz sat at the back but I could smell him; he smelled of hide, something that walks the
forest with other animals.
And when I say he smelled of hide I mean it as a compliment because he smelled like a
warrior, not like some woos who wears Hugo Boss and is scared of lizards.
Whilst Taruz said very little, Mary couldn’t stop
chattering; talking about game and whatnot, stuff that would greatly entertain an Othello, not me.
But I acted interested, urging her on with “aaah” “really!?”
“You are lying Mary!” “No way!” “Come on!” “You are so fearless!” “Hey, can I touch your gun?”
As she regaled me with a tale about some tourists who mistook a crocodile for a log of wood and sat on it, we suddenly stumbled on this jumbo(African Elephant) hanging out by the roadside, a toothpick(chewing a big twig) sticking out the side his mouth,where his tusk had been broken,probably by poachers).
A thug jumbo.
Something about that jumbo that showed me that he had a troubled childhood, that he never really knew his father. He was clearly having a bad day.
He was having a bad day because someone had broken one of his tusks.
Maybe he owed some other jumbo money
and the guy had sent goons to collect and ended up breaking his tusk, who knows.
He stood at the side of the road, breathing hard; breathing like those guys in broken
suits who work at KICC and who are forced to use the staircase to the 12floor because the lifts are down.
Then suddenly for the first time, Taruz spoke up: “Stop!” he howled from the back and I stood on the brakes.
The car went silent as we watched the thug jumbo watch us.
We stood there regarding each other for a while, waiting to see who would blink first.
I knew things were tricky when Mary stopped talking and held her gun tightly.
“What do you think he’s thinking?” I whispered.
My question went unanswered for a while before finally Taruz hissed from the back, “ I’m not thinking!”
What Taruz really said was, “ Don’t do anything erratic and he will leave us alone.”
I chuckled and wondered what erratic thing he thought I would do at that moment;walk over and inspect his broken tusk?
Walk over and offer it some peanuts, maybe?
“Are they roasted or fried?” Jumbo would ask.
Jumbo;“No, thanks. Trying to lose weight here.”
Me;“New year resolution?”
Jumbo;“Yes.” Thug Jumbo would say, “Can’t you tell I’m slimmer?”
Me;“Yes, you are. You lean lean thing. ”
Oh no, I wasn’t about to get erratic, not before a pissed off Jumbo!
If you want to know how pissed off he was,
it’s like going to the ATM on your way to a hot date only to find out that find out that HR had sent the wrong salary instructions to the bank and so now you have to wait until next week Tuesday to access your salary.
That’s the kind of day Jumbo was having.
Someone had broken his tusk and when he was in the process of looking for that guy, he runs into three fools in a car, one of them an Agri-journalist, and you know how wild animals hate journalists because they are always getting
their facts wrong.
Plus they are always giving wild animals nicknames; like call elephants “jumbo”.
All this while Taruz hadn’t stirred from the backseat and that gave me some level of confidence, I was in good hands.
If Taruz was cool about the scenario then
everything must be cool.
But when the jumbo slowly started towards us and Taruz leaned over my right ear and said firmly, “ Reverse…slowly,” I knew we were in
– and wait for this old primary school expression – hot soup.
I reversed slowly, gently. “He is looking for a path to get back into the thicket,” Taruz assured me as Jumbo followed us slowly.
But when we passed two entrances that jumbo should have used and he didn’t, I knew he
was going to sit on the bonnet of the car then ask us casually, “ Looking for anything in particular in my neck of woods, fellas?”
And when the jumbo got onto the road and started walking towards us more steadily, I knew for sure, we weren’t leaving that park alive.
I was terrified!
That jumbo was huge and menacing and in no mood to negotiate with anyone. Much less an Agri- journalist.
I knew from Mary that Taruz was more experienced than her because while she spent the day at the KWS office,pushing paper and occasionally taking busload of students into the park for a tour, Taruz was a security ranger, spending days in the park, hunting down
poachers, herding of trouble making buffalos etc.
He had a thick skin…the elephant, I mean.
I was now reversing at 10km/hr (faster than a Toyota Vitz on Mombasa road) and the damned Jumbo was bearing down on us.
It became obvious that the jumbo’s
temperament was unique when Mary looked behind at Taruz and asked, “ Tufanye nini sasa?”(What to do now?)
Taruz impatiently tapped me on the shoulder, “Smamisha gari!”(Stop the car!) and before
the car was fully stationary he was out, cocking his gun as the jumbo, now walking faster, now salivating at the mouth, bore down on us.
Suddenly the silence of the park was split by the shot of his gun going off.
A monkey screamed somewhere (that monkey wasn’t me, I promise) and the jumbo sort of
jumped startled and I hoped to God, Taruz had put a lead between his eyes. I expected him to stagger and flop by the roadside, tits up.
Instead he ran into the bush.
I was horrified! “That thing was the size of a house,” I scold Taruz, “How could you miss?”
“We don’t shoot to kill Jumbo’s;we are not poachers,but Rangers. We shoot to scare them back to the bushes where they are safe from human interference”.
Powerful words in defence of African Elephant.
“The African Story as told by Africans”.©African News Digest®
“The African Story as told by Africans”.©African News Digest®