Kenya redux I: reading Disgrace & reuniting with ruminants & the collective anima'L
12.05.2011. en route from Rome to Nairobi
flying over the Mediterranean. just flew over Sicily where we were just a few weeks ago. been reading Disgrace by J.M Coetzee. i was expecting it to be a light mindless read & it starts out as such—an English professor in South Africa has a sort of mid-life crisis & has an affair with one of his students. [spoiler alert... skip ahead if you haven't read it & want to]. it escalates into a nightmare situation—first her boyfriend starts tormenting & badgering him & then her father comes into the picture & eventually the professor is forced to resign. «resignation» is the word that not only characterizes his leaving his academic post, but also his general way of dealing with the situation. i was fairly bored with the book up to this point, but there was something intriguing about this resignation, not a bitter throwing in of the towel, not even an avoidance of shame, but a philosophically grounded one in which he accepts his fate without a fight. & this fatalistic compliance goes far beyond his petty professorship [which he seems bored with]—it's fatalism as a way of coping with the legacy guilt of being white & South African [or at least symbolic thereof]. in the telling of a story to his daughter [whose house he flees to] he speaks of a dog: «... a male. Whenever there was a bitch in the vicinity it would get excited and unmanageable, and with Pavlovian regularity the owners would beat it. This went on until the poor dog didn't know what to do. At the smell of a bitch it would chase around the garden with its ears flat and its tail between its legs, whining, trying to hide.» not that he likened himself to this dog, but this was an indignity he didn't want to face. «No animal will accept the justice of being punished for following it's instincts» he says.
now we just crossed over the shores of North Africa, not sure where, it's all one big desert, but i imagine war-torn Libya. not sure what's to fight about there besides oil as from above ground it looks like a vast expanse of sand. here's what it looks like out the window:
it's been 2 years since i've set foot in Africa, though j has been back a few times since we lived here. in my final [resignation] post from Mali/Kenya i talked mostly about what i wouldn't miss. but time away definitely makes the heart grow fonder, makes you realize what you do miss. just the friendly disposition of the Kenyan Airways flight attendants & drinking a Tusker is makes me excited to return. now we're over Sudan i think & i'm finished with Disgrace. it's definitely a page-turner, mainstream for sure, but Coetzee at times reminds me of a South African Delillo. after the professor resigns he goes to stay with his daughter & a rather brutal home invasion occurs. this is grist for the mill in South Africa. Per Coetzee:
he's speaking of South Africa of course, but Nairobi, our destination, is not a far cry these days. we'd heard quite a few horror stories while we were living here & from what we've heard since it's even worse now. one more quote from Disgrace [as i transition back to thinking about language & animals as opposed to storytelling & the dangers of Africa] & i'll shut up:
landed in Nairobi. exiting the baggage claim there's always a sea of driver's holding up placards with people's names. we picked ours out because the sign said: «Luca Brazzi Sleeps with Fishes.» not only that, the car we were picked up in was our old Platz [that we sold to Leadbelly when we left].
weird to be a passenger in our old car & also back on the other side of the road. felt good to be back in Kenya—Kenyans are some of the nicest people you'll find in the world. anyone that's followed this blog for some time knows who Leadbelly & Logo are, our old friends from Nairobi, who we since seem to cross paths all over the place. & speaking of Coetzee's Disgrace, not only did they live through a similar violent home invasion here in Nairobi while we were living here [involving a half dozen men with machetes trying to hack their way into their house while they were home] but they also had a farm in Zimbabwe that was forcibly taken away from them by Mugabe's thugs—hence why i call her Leadbelly. L&L live about an hour north of Nairobi on a big farm that can pretty much sustain them. almost everything we eat is from their farm, so we're being spoiled.
the first morning we woke up early to the roosters & i walked around the farm with Logo looking at all their new crops [artichokes, asparagus, eggplant, tomato, onions, peppers, raspberries, rye [for homemade bread], soybean, etc.] & animals [goats, sheep, geese, rabbits, a few types of chickens & ducks, etc.]. & 4 dogs & 3 gray parrots & 2 fish & all sorts of other creatures. then i went & watched them milk the goats. had an amazing breakfast [Yogoat—goat milk yogurt—with all sorts of fruit & always the best coffee since Logo is the man when it comes to coffee]. went for a run, if you could call it that—first day is mostly acclimatizing to the altitude [7500+ feet] & killer hills. now just chilling out with all the cool animals.
the others came back early then we packed a twin-cab truck with furniture & art & food [highclass hillbillies] & drove to Rumuruti, further north from Nairobi. drove through fertile highlands, pine forests with grassy meadows with grazing goats & small farms. hugged the escarpment over the Rift valley, but instead of going down into it [see also my Hell's Gate or Lake Baringo dispatches] we continued up along the rim [new territory for j & i] at some point crossing the equator back into the northern hemisphere.
stopped in Nyahururu [the day before Olympic marathon champ Sammy Wanjiru sadly jumped from a balcony to his death in the same town] & got a sack of potatoes & some supplies & roasted corns. then through Rumuruti which is the last town before we left the tarmac for a dirt road into the bush. by this time it was dark. we saw a pair of jackals & some zebra & elephants. L&L's house is really cool, but not finished yet, so like camping in style in the shell of chic lodge. no electricity, but we had kerosene lanterns hanging from the high ceiling. cooked up a feast on the grill. fortunately we had mosquito nets as the second we laid our heads on our pillows we were inundated with mozzies & you have to worry about malaria here unlike Nairobi.
woke up in the middle of the night & was dreading getting up to pee for fear of getting swarmed by mosquitoes [could hear hundreds of them outside the net] but fortunately they are not so aggressive if you are quick. all sorts of interesting & strange sounds in the night. woke up again at sunrise & the first thing i saw when i looked out the window was a yellow weaver flying into the window. birds going crazy for the bugs hovering near the glass in the morning light. starlings & gliders & weavers. it's always interesting arriving someplace you've never been at night & then seeing it first in the light waking up.
while L&L had been away someone broke a window & stole some shit, typical, fortunately they didn't take much of value, though they did take the coffee they had stored there, so we were all going through major withdrawl. cooked eggs & homefries for breakfast then hung out helping L&L around the house, decorating, hanging art, giving our 2 cents as to architecture [still a work in progress]. my contribution was this acacia arrangement.
went for a run, saw a vervet monkey & Samburus herding goats, but thankfully no carnivores. when i got back there was some elephants on the next ridge over from the house. they were all looking at us trying to decide whether to go down to the «luger» [Swahili or Samburu for stream] between us & them & eventually they decided we weren't a threat. unbelievable. we watched from about a football field away as they drank & wallowed & sprayed mud on their backs. there was a dozen or so in the luger & another herd up above, as if they were waiting their turn, in holding pattern formation.
then we went inside the house & the elephant herds merged & came back even closer, right in the backyard. we drank a bottle of wine & watched the 23 elephants from their window.
then we went for a drive down to this papyrus marsh along a bigger river. we were in Samburu territory & there were little villages here & there, Samburu's milling about herding their animals. then across the road into Mpala Ranch, saw all sorts of impala, giraffe, zebra, eland, egyptian geese, ostrich [heaviest bird that cannot fly], kori bustard [heaviest bird that can fly], etc.... but no honey badger, which has become my obsessive quest [after Randall's crazy nastyass take], or for that matter no cats or carnivores even. but keep in mind we are not in a game park or a zoo. this is reality.
then we came back & had dinner & some spontaneous guests arrived, white Kenyan or old British characters. i asked about honey badgers & after a collective sigh of disgust/dread at the word [like why would anybody want to see one], their neighbor Barney told us this funny story about how he heard his dogs barking one night & went out to check, buck naked & only holding a candle & this «obscene & vile creature» as i think he called it, came at him snarling & snapping it's teeth & he dropped the candle & jumped in the back of a pickup truck at which point the honey badger circled the truck for two hours until his dogs got their courage back to chase it away.
again woke up to a bird hitting the glass over & over only this time it was on the inside, the bird, a female weaver, managed to find her way in but couldn't get out. i half-caught/scooted the poor panting bird in my hands & guided her through the window. this morning we had coffee [from sympathetic neighbors] which makes the difference in the world, watching the sunrise over the Savannah, Mt. Kenya in the distance [all we needed was a stereo to play Toto]. chilled out watching & listening to the birds.
after breakfast j & i went to Barney's farm to check out his operation. he's hardcore. besides the crops he grows [mainly some sort of wild geranium used for medicinal purposes] he's got all these other things going on. he's pretty much said fuck you to the Kenyan government & gets most of his electricity from cowshit—biogas. he just rigged up a series of troughs that the cowshit gets pushed through with lids that trap the methane & he uses it to generate his electricity [supplemented with a diesel generator & he also picks these golden berries that grow wild that evidently can be used for biofuel]. the slurry that comes out he dumps right on his crops [keeping in mind that when i say «he dumps» this really means «he causes to happen» in Kenyan English, which is to say he tells someone to do it]. he has all sorts of composting systems, including these stacked oil drums he uses to funnel air [see below]—the piped drums along the ground he cuts holes into & puts the compost over it to aerate, so you don't need to turn your compost. most of the crops he grows are for medicinal purposes, companies in Europe & the States contract him to grow various specialty herbs. & he has experimental plots going to try all sorts of exotic plants—some bean from Ecuador that can be used for biofuel, or some plant [i never remember the names of all these things] that some U.S. company wants him to grow that is similar to a herbal prozac. & then there's the goats & cows & donkeys, but they were all off grazing. & of course he has his own gardens for his own food—it's all very DIY but of course as is typical of Kenya it's the cheap [black] labor force that makes it happen. he even has his own school on the grounds that he consulted j on planning the kids meals. quite an operation, out here in the middle of Kenya.
drove back the long way, through Sosian & Mpala ranch & Laikipia. the Laikipia reserve is probably the least known of Kenya's parks, overlooked because of the Mara or Tsavo, but it has an abundance of animals rivaling those. it has half of Kenya's black rhinos, though we didn't see any this drive. saw the usual assortment of giraffe, ostrich, impala, etc. Laikipia also has 70% of the population of Grevy's zebras, which is a rare zebra with thin stripes. we saw a few of these but i didn't get a good picture of them. only had a point & shoot with us, j left the good camera with the telephoto back in Rome. but lord knows we got enough safari pics, this time we just wanted to enjoy it all, without being distracted by taking photos [though i did have my video with me obviously]. got back on the tarmac & had lunch at an airstrip at the base of Mt. Kenya & then looped back towards Nairobi on Thika road.
now back in Tigoni for the week, chilling on the farm. running on backroads & thru tea plantations, milking goats, talking to parrots, reading [on to The First Word by Christine Kenneally]. my casalingo duties have carried over here, so while the others are all at work down in the city, i scope out the garden & pantry & figure out what to cook. yesterday made a green papaya salad & thai green beans with beef & basil. today i have eggplant & big green peppers & tomatoes & goat cheese to work with...