Friday, 27 June 2014

The South Rift Valley, Bomet, Narok, Masai Mara, more.. and Naivasha (5)

The farm was moderately large with a mixed crop of maize, sorghum and beans. It surprised me that I found what I was seeing and hearing so deeply intriguing, as Bernard showed me around and explained how things worked. There was also some dairy farming going on and we had started out at the paddock where the cows were ambling around, sometimes making that reassuring mooing sound that cows make. I thought it very interesting to hear about the milking of the cows and how and what the cows are fed. I even helped with that morning's feeding.

The cows were of the Friesan breed, a foreign breed of cattle originating from the Netherlands with a black and white coat. They were huge, all seven of the adults were female and there were a few calves too. The zero grazing system being employed meant that the cows were permanently confined in the paddock. It was explained to me how these were prime cattle for milk production and how they differed from the local breeds such as the Buran breed, which we had seen several of on our journey to the homestead and indeed, which I had observed grazing in the fields all along the route from Nairobi the day before.

It was fascinating to see how knowledgeable Bernard was as he talked about the soil, the rains and the harvest of the maize that was due in a few weeks. And as I listened, I wondered how it would be if I was living in this peaceful environment, having the same concerns and worries that Bernard was expressing, and how I would enjoy this so very much. 

At breakfast I had my first taste of mursik, that sour fermented milk beverage of the Kalenjin people, which I had read somewhere is rumoured to be a secret weapon of Kenya's world beating athletes most of who are of Kalenjin extraction. Then we set out to explore the surrounding area and the town of Kaboson.

There was the constant reminder that we were in an area that was full of wildlife. There were the calls and cries of all manner of creatures to be heard and it was not unreasonable that I would find this unsettling. After all the Masai Mara reserve was only a few kilometres from this empty road that Bernard and I were now slowly walking down, surrounded on all sides by farms and bush, walking side by side, speaking in low tones, absorbed in each other; me excitedly telling him of what a wonderful experience it was for me being here, he assuring me in his quiet measured way of speaking that he was more delighted than I was. And of course him seeing that I was uneasy, reassuring me that we were safe from any kind of attack by a wild animal, which he said would prefer to avoid humans altogether and remain within the confines of the game reserve.

The Mara River flows down this way past Kaboson and onward to the nature reserve that bears its name. It is the bridge across the river that welcomes you to Kaboson. We walked towards the river and saw that there were a few people at the riverbank, children frolicking at the water's edge, local women chattering while doing laundry. Bernard said that occasionally hippos would stray from the Mara just a short distance up this river, and that there had been confrontations, even recently, between humans and hippos in which people had been killed.

There is no fence on the Masai Mara in this area and I never really got an explanation when I asked why. But I will assume that the fact that the bordering land is settled and cultivated by humans itself serves as a barrier to the animals within the nature reserve. I had heard of electric fencing in some areas and was pleased that no such fence existed here. We were not in the reserve, but from our position close to the top of the hill, which at Bernard's urging I had struggled to climb, we were rewarded with such a magnificent view of the Masai Mara that words alone are insufficient to describe it.

I learned that the Masai Mara is the same game reserve that is known as the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. The reserve straddles the border of both countries and is even more extensive in Tanzania than it is in Kenya. But the animals of course know of no international borders and wander to and fro across the border as they please. We were at a hillside location outside the reserve overlooking the Olare Orok Conservancy. We could see the tourists who were lounging in one of the camps. There was a herd of about ten giraffe and several wildebeest, gazelle and zebra. The sight was utterly stunning.

Far in the distance close to the horizon, we could just about make out elephants in a fairly large herd. And there had been baboons too, a large troop had scurried across the path in front of us as we made our way to this spot. Bernard said he liked coming here whenever he wanted to be by himself and it felt special to be alone with him here. There was not much to be said, we just sat there close together and stared at the beautiful scene that was before our eyes.

The tourists were foreign, Europeans, Americans, Canadians perhaps, there had been several of those (a Canadian tourist party) on my flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi. They were taking flights in hot air balloons over the savannah to observe the animals and the landscape. It was beautiful to see and I envied them a little, but I still couldn't help thinking how superior to theirs my experience of Kenya was. They had come to Kenya to see wildlife and would be making little or no contact with the people who live here and whose land it is. I, on the other hand, was experiencing Kenya in the way that an ordinary Kenyan would experience it. I was eating local Kenyan meals, spending my nights in a Kenyan home and not in some artificial shelter in the bush created exclusively for tourists. Mine, I thought, was the more authentic Kenyan experience. And I was with Bernard, surely nothing could beat that.

It must have been several hours that we sat there enjoying each other's company, but time has a way of flying by when you're enjoying yourself. We were quite a distance from home, a few kilometres at least. But we strolled all the way back, walking slowly, not only because I'd said I was a bit tired, but, I suspect, because we also wanted to prolong the journey for as long as possible. We loved being alone together. We loved it enough for us to decide that the following day we would leave Kaboson and the family behind and travel to Naivasha, where we could be truly alone. And that is what we did.

To be continued

Ankole cattle
Buran cattle have survived in Africa for more than a thousand years

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The South Rift Valley, Bomet, Narok, Masai Mara, more.. and Naivasha (4)

The sun rising from behind the hill in the distance still shrouded in grey in the dull light of the dawn was the view that greeted me early the following morning when I partly pulled open the curtains of the window in the room at the guest house. Bernard's slow, long steady breaths from under the covers in the bed that we had shared indicated that he was still fast asleep, curled up in the foetal position. Neither of us had had much sleep the night before - there had been so many things to be said to each other, to be done together; so many things to laugh at and be joyful about; things to express sadness about that the entire night had been barely enough to get through all of it. So not wanting to disturb him, I pulled the curtains close and stepped out on to the balcony gently shutting the door behind me.

Birdsong together with the fresh, still, cool, highland morning air came as an absolute delight. From my vantage point on the upper floor of the building we were in, the views were stunning. I caught a glimpse of the Nyangores River glistening in the early morning light, tumbling across the rocky terrain as it made its way towards the Mara River of which the Nyangores is a tributary. The Mara is the major river in the region hence the famous Masai Mara Reserve. I had read somewhere that "mara" is the Maasai word for "spotted" or "mottled", a reference to the patchy covering of trees and shrubs that cover the landscape.

I was in the Rift Valley and Bernard was only a few feet away. The feeling was one of sheer contentment and I couldn't help thinking how far away from the frustrations of job searching in London all of this seemed. If heaven exists, I thought, it must feel something like this. It was a moment in time that will remain with me for a long time.

Breakfast at the guest house was full-English. Toast, bacon, sausage, eggs, baked beans, cereal, coffee, tea, the works. It was the second time I was seated across a table from Bernard over a meal, but this time, unlike the excited chatter over our late lunch the previous afternoon, we sat and ate in silent contemplation, staring at each other as we did so.

Perhaps he too was like me, marvelling at just how fortunate we were to be physically present with each other on this day, given that our association had begun when we were each located on different continents, separated by seas and deserts, by forests and mountains and plains and by thousands and thousands of miles. It was at this moment that I realised just how special this was; as if everything that had happened in my life prior to this time was in preparation for this very special relationship. This was the person whom I had yearned to be with. It was as if I had arrived at last at the place that I had always wanted to be. I was sure of this in a way that I had never known before.

The journey from Bomet to Kaboson was done by each of us riding pillion on two separate motorcycle taxis known locally as boda boda, my rucksack strapped to Bernard's back as we rode along. The riders manoeuvred the motorbikes down this dirt road that meandered through brushland, farmland, villages composed of traditional homesteads made up of those uniquely beautiful Kalenjin huts, more brushland, up and down and around hills, with a hint of the odour of donkey dung always faintly present in the background. And then there were the cattle, everywhere. Cattle, I was told are a very important aspect of the lives of the Kalenjin people, the native people of this place. Every man, including Bernard, owns cattle.

As we climbed off the motorbikes upon our arrival at the family homestead, there was a sense of homecoming that I found hard to explain, even though I was quite certain that no person born in Nigeria, as I was, had ever set  foot in this place that I was arriving at for the first time. The surroundings were unfamiliar, the language was one that I did not know, but I felt at home nonetheless. Perhaps it was because I had been born and raised in Africa myself, (even if not in a rural setting such as this), but I was easily able to identify with everything that I saw. It was unfamiliar, but it was not strange. I must admit also that the fact that it was Bernard's home made it that much easier.

As is typical anywhere in Africa, I was warmly greeted  by those whom we met. I was welcomed and treated with the great respect that is customarilly accorded to visiting strangers. I too am African and the showing of respect and consideration for others, which is customary among Africans, came naturally to me also. I was pleased to see that all those decades of living in Europe had not robbed me of, nor eroded that respectful nature, which is intrinsic to all who have been raised in Africa and in an African setting. True, I did not know their language, but they themselves were aware of this, acknowledged it, and spoke only in English whenever they spoke to me or addressed me.

It was easy to fall into the welcoming embrace of these gentle people and enjoy their warm hospitality. I felt almost as if I was one of them, a new member of their family. And in a sense, even though they did not know the full extent of it, I was indeed one of them.

We were in one of the several scattered homesteads that surround the small town of Kaboson. We had driven straight to the homestead so I had not seen Kaboson itself. Tomorrow, Bernard said, he would show me around his farm (he insisted on calling it a shamba) and we would go and see Kaboson. And of course the Masai Mara  too. The evening  meal was ugali and vegetables with roasted goat meat.

Bernard and I settled in for the evening, his room illuminated only by the solar powered lamp standing on a small table in the corner. Outside, the evening air had become quite cool, but in here it was warm. And it was very cosy. And it was peaceful. And then we slept. And in his room I felt truly at home.

To be continued 

Tea crop
Nyangores River

Kalenjin hut

Author's note: Although some of the photos in this section are not mine, they are in fact a true depiction of the scenes that I have attempted to describe and are indeed photos of the very same places that I was describing. I experienced some difficulty in keeping my phone/camera well charged while I was in that area, and was unable to take as many photos of my own as I would have wished to do. My sincere apologies to those whose photos these are. I did not know how to go about seeking permission to use the photos. But I've only used them to help me tell my story.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The South Rift Valley, Bomet, Narok, Masai Mara, more.. and Naivasha (3)

An hour after leaving Narok we descended a hillside as the road wound its way steeply down into a broad valley. Down below in the valley ahead of us was the sprawl that was Bomet. I knew this because a few minutes previously, the young man seated next to me had in response to my query informed me that we didn't have much further to go. Approaching Bomet, we pulled up at a police checkpoint where a stern faced policeman clutching his rifle paced down the side of the vehicle peering through the windows, strangely staring down towards the feet of the passengers, probably searching with his eyes for some contraband that may be concealed underneath a seat. But this didn't interest me as much as the conversation that was taking place up front between the driver still seated in his cab and a policewoman who, also armed, had sidled up to him. I observed the driver hand to her for inspection a small bundle of documents which I presumed to contain his driving licence and other official documents for this commercial vehicle.

The policewoman shuffled through the documents, seeming to closely scrutinise one or two of the papers. Then a currency note suddenly slipped out from the bundle and dropped to the ground. It was clear to me that the driver had placed some money among the documents, to be discreetly extracted by whichever police officer it was who asked to inspect them. This policewoman seeing that her treasure had dropped, moved her foot gently to step on the currency note, moving her leg as little as possible. A fairly strong breeze was blowing so I understood why she would have been determined to keep the money firmly pinned down with her foot until we had driven off.

Seeing this, I chuckled involuntarily and I saw that some of the other passengers too had noticed what had happened, given that the man seated behind me had gone very quiet. He had since the commencement of this journey been shouting ceaselessly into his phone in a language that I thought was Kisii, but now with stretched neck, he too was silently peering through his window to see what this policewoman would do next. And then, as if to get us out of the way, the policewoman quickly handed the papers back to the driver and with a wave of her hand signalled that we were free to go.

So we drove on further into this valley, surrounded on all sides by hills splendidly covered with neat farm terraces that made for some breathtakingly beautiful scenery. I was somewhat annoyed that by this time the power of the battery on my smartphone, which had so far doubled faithfully as a camera, was so low that recording these lovely scenes in pictures was not possible.

Shortly afterwards, finally, we entered into the quaint little town of Bomet, the capital and largest town of Bomet County. This seemed a smaller town than Narok, but it exuded an aura that accords with its importance as an administrative capital. Just a few hundred metres down the one main road in the town and the bus turned left into the crowded bus station. We had arrived at last, this was where I would be getting off the bus before it continued on its journey to Litein and then onwards to Kericho. And Bernard would be here somewhere close by, awaiting my arrival.

Except that he wasn't.

It was only after a nervous 30 minute wait seated on a bench outside a cobbler's stall by the dusty roadside that I spotted Bernard in the distance approaching. He had seen me before I saw him, I could tell this from his intent stare in my direction. The battery on my phone was now completely flat and it had been impossible for me to inform him of my arrival and of my location. In truth, he had arrived at the bus station even before I did, but he had been waiting at the opposite end of the bus station from the end at which I was seated. He had been waiting at the exit, while I was seated by the entrance across the bus station from where he was.

Its not fair that the world does not permit people like us to run towards each other and jump into each others arms in public and in full view of everyone, because this is what my overwrought mind wished for. What happened though, was different. Bernard and I were meeting for the first time, but it felt more like meeting a long-lost old friend. The handshake was firm, the smiles were warm, the glint in the eyes was exciting and told of many exciting experiences ahead to be shared. But first things first.

I had omitted to make a certain payment at the hotel in Nairobi before I left and had received notification of this by text message during the journey. I was to make this payment by M-Pesa, the mobile-phone based money transfer service pioneered in Kenya with which I was unfamiliar. It fell to Bernard to put me through my paces, so the first thing we did together was to cross the road and enter into the Bomet branch of the Agricultural Finance Corporation, the government credit institution in Kenya that provides credit solely for the purpose of developing agriculture. They are also a M-Pesa agent. Having successfully carried out the transfer, there was the opportunity for me to have what turned out to be a very informative chat with the official who had attended to me. In our conversation he gave me some real insight into the work that they do financing local small-scale farmers. It was a predominantly agricultural community, he explained, and I left  his office with a greater understanding of the scenes that I had observed on my journey here.

When this was all sorted out it remained for Bernard and me to find a place to retire for the remainder of the day. The plan was for us to spend the next several hours exclusively in each others company, attempting as much as we could to make up for all that time that had not had together, which we felt that we ought to have had. Tomorrow, we would relocate to his home in Kaboson, a small community off the main road about  43 kilometres from Bomet, close to the Masai Mara Nature Reserve. So we checked into a guest house in town, but found to my mild annoyance that on arriving at the room that we had been allocated, the cleaning lady was still in the process of preparing the room. Proceedings, therefore, were to be postponed until later, so we put down my rucksack and set out to find lunch..

Saruni Camp Masai Mara

(To be continued)