By Bernard Wainaina
I’m typing this from my laptop and cynically casting a cursory look at the battery strength.
Going on a leisure travel alone is like sending yourself a saucy sms.
Or “liking” your own picture of Facebook.
Or looking at yourself in the mirror and muttering with a wink, “they don’t make them like this anymore.”
It’s desperate and vain.
But two weeks ago, I found myself in Maasai Mara Game reserve at 6:30Pm, alone.
This was a tour of duty.
I facilitated a workshop for Game Hotels around Maasai Mara and Serengeti Game reserves striding across Kenya/Tanzania border on Best Waste Management Practices.
Let me back up a bit.
In my line of business, I spend a lot of time in hotel rooms.
I’m lucky that I spend most of that time in high-
end hotel rooms where the management leaves a chocolate bar on your pillow together with a personalised note welcoming you to their fine establishment.
Since I’m always writing travel reviews about those establishments as a side hobby along with my Agribusiness Consultancy, I’m always treated slightly better than a paying client.
I get more smiles, even if they are more artificial.
I get free spa treatment if I ask.
I’m often called by the manager who wants to find out if “you are having a good time and
if you need anything that would make your stay more comfortable.”
I once told one in jest, “Yes, actually, can I have
one blonde Russian dancer and a petite south east Asian with a gap in her front teeth… and some red wine. Thank you. ”
There was a shocked silence on the line before I
added; “It’s a joke.”
An uncomfortable laughter followed from his end.
I never make tea in the room, or wear their bath robes.
I never use their closet because I never unpack.
My room is often shabby, which I suspect mirrors the state of my mind.
Unless otherwise, I never use the air cons, breath that cold for too long and feel your lungs calcify.
I normally like to strip down to my boxer and hang out in the room that way.
If there are peanuts in the mini bar, I will have them.
I avoid chocolates, even the complimentary ones.
They remind me that I should have brought along some female company,just to nib at the chocolate bar.
I love hotels that have a huge bowl of fruits in the room; it makes me feel like I’m in Game
When you stay in numerous hotel rooms they
all start looking the same.
They blend into a murmur of walls and windows.
I find hotel rooms vacant and sad.
And too prim.
That changed a fortnight ago when I had a vehicle breakdown in Lake Magadi,in the heart of Kajiado County.
Kajiado and Narok County are Maasai people heartlands.
A Lady friend of mine who works in Botswana and i have been talking on email since beginning of year.
She kept “threatening” that she would come down to do an excursion on the Maasai near Lake Magadi, just at the border of Tanzania.
Would I be able to accompany her down?
Yeah, I said knowing full well that she wouldn’t come down.
It’s about a long distance relationship that we have.
The details would take me a long while to explain,and why should I feel obliged to explain such private details about my social and love life in such a public post?
She was to come in June.
Then she said she would come in July.
Last email I got was three weeks ago, saying she will be coming in this August Month.
So a number calls me at 2pm and says in some
funny accent, “Hey, is this Ben?”
It’s Sunday, so I’m thinking it can’t be someone from Barclays Bank peddling personal loans.
But I love the voice that comes through.
I say yes, this is her.
“Hey, this is Daisy!”
So I’m like, who?
She knows I’m teasing her.
” I’m in Nairobi!” She says excitedly. “Where can I pick you up we go
down to the “Maasai place”? She asks.
“Now?” I say incredulously. Shee says yes.
I say, I can’t.
I mean, I can’t just get up and leave man.
I mean, I have things to do tomorrow.
And the next day.
She says look, you promised.
I hate it when a woman says that.
So I balk and wink at my colleague who looks
at me and says, “ Magadi? Now? You got to be kiddin’ me!”
I tell the car-hire guy with the queer name to pick me up from home; meanwhile I throw in a few clothes in a hold all, and I’m off.
I forget my toothbrush and my boxers.
Daisy shows up with some chic that she introduces as the photographer, but whom at some point during the trip down here, I see her touch on the thigh.
I don’t know.
Maybe it’s a Botswana thing to touch your photographer on the thigh.
Maybe photographers in Botswana take
better pictures when you touch them on the thigh.
Who am I to judge, I’m just Kenyan.
I will have nothing to do with a Botswana beauty when Daisy is here…
To cut the long story short.
The Land cruiser we are using stalls, a fan belt problem.
The Maasai village we are to stay in is another couple of hours away.
The driver–a sheepish chap, with a crooked hat – announces that we have to find a place to camp somewhere before they bring us another car from Nairobi.
Some Maasais offer to house us for a fee.
Yes, nothing is for free.
For 2k we will get a small manyatta, and a meal.
I want to ask why they shouldn’t throw in a Maasai dance as well now that we are here, but the fellows didn’t seem to be the kind
who took jokes.
Our house stinks.
We are offered two thin mattresses which, going by the smell, I suspect were formerly owned by a He-goat.
At night we shall all sleep with our clothes on, sleeping next to each other in a file.
My Daisy slept next to the photographer who, she placed – strategically – at the end of our line,very far from me.
At night they will talk in hushed whispers, in the strangest tongue ever, Setswana I assume,talking about me.
She will giggle a few times.
So will our driver,in moral support.
At the end of the room, a fire made from
cow dung will smolder the whole night, emitting heat and some smoke.
I will doze off and dream of stir fry chicken.
But for now young Maasai women giggle around us.
I try not to look at their perky breasts which are all out (I swear) and are pointing at us brusquely.
Then there are the naked children who mill around us.
They touch the photographer’s equipment, not her thighs, like Daisy did.
Supper is boiled maize and some milk. No meat. No vegetables.
We sit around some fire where the main mzee(Old Man)
of the boma and some of his sons chat us up in shaky English,mixed with Swahili,and Kikuyu,my mother-tongue.
Here is a true tri-linguist!
Behind us, darkness stretches into nothingness.
Behind us lives the untamed wild.
The night is still, so still it feels like time has stopped, like the earth has held its breath.
Chic photographer tells the Maasai elder about their culture and asks him questions.
He is a seasoned interrogator too, I can tell.
I’m impressed by the kind of penetrating questions he asks the chic.
I enjoy listening to how he lures information
out of the chic.
Daisy giggles with the children who are later forced to go sleep.
She then sets up her imposing camera on a tripod behind us and every so often, the stillness of the night is interrupted by the whirring sound of her lens.
Then, click: a picture of us seated under God’s heaven is immortalized, because that’s how small you feel in the open night of Maasailand.
You feel like you are seated under God’s feet.
You feel like you are seated at the feet of your father.
I like it here.
I like it like this.
I like the hopeless state we are in.
I like the fact that these Maasais could just – for
the fun of it – decide to rob us and send us out into the night to get mauled by lions.
I like the taste of smoke at the back of my throat.
I like the sound of mouths ripping into their maize cobs and the monotonous chewing.
We sound like feeding bovines.
I like knowing that life has been stripped down to its bare essentials; milk, maize,silence, the night and a hope for sunlight tomorrow.
At some point I will want to shower because I can never get any sleep if I don’t shower.
Some little girl will be asked to put my water in the reed bathroom which is at the edge of the boma, in deep darkness.
The Maasai elder will ask if one of the small boys can stand outside the bathroom for me to feel secure.
I will say no.
I will say I’m fine.
But I’m not, I’m terrified that I might step on a
snake, or a lion might pounce on my back.
I’m terrified like a female dog in the face of a leopard.
But no way, I’m going to let some Maasai kid be my security, no matter how many
lions he has killed.
No way will I disgrace myself like that.
I will take my chances with the lion.
Bring it on,Old man lion!
I want to write more, but I can’t.
OK, I’m lying; I don’t want to write more.
I want to stay here forever.
I want to wake up tomorrow and smell a new day.
Do you know how a new day smells like? It smells like all the Maasai goats in this compound.
It smells like the mooing of cows.
Of the hoofs rumbling out of the kraal.
Of little Maasai herds boys whistling under
their breaths as they herd the cows out.
A new day smells like the sensual perfume of the chic photographer watching me brush my teeth
with a piece of a twig chewed at the end and saying, “that’s the coolest thing I have ever seen, can I take a picture?” and me posing goofily with a twig sticking from the corner of my mouth.
Like I do this all the damn time.
Like this is how I roll.
I like it here.
I really do.
“The African Story as told by Africans”.©African News Digest®