August 1993 Tanzania East Africa
The plane was due to land at Kilimanjaro airport 4pm local time. Marie ‘Ocean’ McKenzie was so nervous her knuckles were white as she gripped tightly onto the arms of her seat.She had never been afraid of flying but this flight was much more than a journey to a new country; it was taking her to a new life.She knew she was smiling too widely at everyone who glanced her way and had probably bored half of them to death already, nattering inanely about her destination.
This was an enterprise that she’d been planning for months now and finally it was here, but as with all new opportunities, she found herself inexplicably full of doubts which manifested themselves not only in a nervous excitement at the adventure that lay ahead but conversely an uneasy dread in the pit of her stomach. What if she’d made a terrible mistake?
She closed her eyes tightly and thought back to the previous March when she’d first come to the realisation that she needed to get out of her comfort zone. At the time she’d been in the final stage of a three year nursing degree and had already decided to continue her studies once she’d graduated, to see if she could get qualified as a District Nurse.She had loved every aspect of the course and had never had any doubts about nursing being her true vocation so it had been a bit of a shock when she’d realised just how restless she was beginning to feel.It was quite out of the blue.
At first she had put it down to nerves about her upcoming finals though she’d sailed through those confidently but instead of feeling elated as she’d expected she had found herself still edgy and overcome with a despondency that she couldn’t shake off. Even that didn’t alarm her unduly at first because it had been a demanding three years and she put it down to the fact her body needed to learn to relax again and all that was required was to have some fun before starting the next stage of her life.
However as the deadline to accept her place had got closer, the uncertainty had grown out of all proportion until eventually she realised the previous joy of continuing had vanished, leaving her feeling dismayed about the career choice she had made. Finally she had come to the conclusion that she just needed to escape for awhile, from the ritualistic routine of studying, or else go mad.
Marie sighed as she remembered now how crazy it had sounded then, even to her own ears and that’s just what most of her friends had told her.
“Why stop now Ocean when you’re so close to completion. One more year and you’ll be on your way to being a fully trained District Nurse.”
Pat had told her straight.
“Get it finished Ocean and then you can go anywhere you want to in the world. The opportunities could be endless and you’ll be able to pick and choose where you want to work”.
She had listened patiently to them all, grateful for their genuine concern at her state of mind, but though she’d nodded and smiled their way, she knew deep within her that she couldn’t be persuaded otherwise and was determined that the time for something different was now. The question was though; what did she want to do?
All she knew for sure was that the prospect of another year of study and further exams no longer filled her with excitement. She wasn’t in the right frame of mind.Her gut feeling was that a different experience would revitalise her and help to get a unique perspective of life away from the corridors of an English hospital.
Studying to be a nurse had been a lifelong ambition. It had not only taught her about caring for the sick but had given her practical tuition in dealing with all types of illnesses and conditions, yet even so, she had had to acknowledge, sometimes she found it all so faceless.Everything was always such a rush and there was never enough time to get to know her patients better.She knew she had a lot to learn but she’d come to the conclusion that to gain confidence you needed to be let loose occasionally and allowed to fly alone.How could you ever learn anything if all you ever did was what was considered safe?
It had been so hard trying to make people understand and she’d agonised for weeks trying to analyse her own thoughts.
Originally she’d decided on qualifying as a District nurse simply because she wanted to work in the community, which appealed to her greatly. However surely there were other opportunities that would give her further practical experience and even improve her chances of becoming a better nurse ultimately?
Following the University path was the safest option … and the torment she had suffered trying to convince herself of that returned to fill her soul for a moment … but she hadn’t been able to shake off the notion that somehow, it was a huge mistake.
What she really wanted to do was get out in the world and gain some first-hand experience in situations where she could really make a difference, where even possibly there would be the danger of potential failure, but which ultimately could increase her confidence and hopefully equip her mentally for any nursing crisis that life might throw her way.
She had been plagued for weeks by indecision and knew everyone was despairing of her.
Then fate had stepped in to save her. She had found out, through her University, about a scheme called Medical Work Abroad that had, for the first time in ages, actually excited her and she’d decided that she must find out more.She had made an appointment to visit their head office in Manchester.
The Project Advisor had been called Moira and she’d been extremely helpful but also an incredible source of information. Marie had been relieved to find herself relaxing, whilst listening intently to all she’d had to say.She had been positive regarding Marie’s interest in working abroad and had been able to answer her questions, which was amazing, given she hadn’t really known herself what she wanted to know.
So, Marie had let Moira do most of the talking, at first obviously explaining the organisation’s setup but also she’d told her that they had an experienced and knowledgeable team in the UK as well as in all the Overseas’ destinations so the trip would be efficiently organised.
It had been a fascinating conversation and Moira has been very confident that they could match up Marie’s interests with a placement abroad.
That had just been the beginning. Even now Marie could feel her heart hammering loudly in her chest as she remembered Moira telling her about what they had to offer.
There had been opportunities for placements in Africa, Asia or South America, for someone with her nursing skills and she had added that with their help Marie would be able to choose a place from any of these areas, in the locations where Medical Work Abroad had centres. Also she could decide which clinical placement she wanted to do.
Her decision had been relatively simple once she had been given all the options. She had wanted to go to Africa, despite the terrible poverty in some areas. Like most of the populations perhaps, she had never forgotten watching on TV the tragedy unfold of the starving families in Ethiopia during the run up to the Live Aid concert, and the images still haunted her.
Moira had gone through some of the testimonials of students who’d already been on placement there and they had been both positive and fresh. Marie had been mesmerised by it all.However, though clearly there were many places in the world that required volunteers, her first choice had remained Africa and this is what she had told Moira.
Marie smiled shrewdly as that thought lingered. Moira had made little response to her growing eagerness, merely confirming that there were indeed places available in Africa and stating she would get her team working on it immediately if Marie was serious about the project but she wondered now just how many raw recruits Moira talked with and if they were all as zealous as she had been that day.
Moira had said there were two locations to choose from within Africa, either Ghana on the West coast or Tanzania on the East. She couldn’t remember now why she’d chosen Tanzania but when Moira had told her the name of the town, she remembered repeating it out loud and finding that she liked the sound of it.
She had never heard of Arusha but since then had read everything she could about the place and discovered that the town and surrounding area seemed to hold many mysteries and this had added to her growing excitement at the prospect of going there.
Moira had continued, saying that if she was serious about going to Arusha, there would also be the opportunity of having a split placement and Moira had gone on to explain this further.
She could accept a placement in the Regional hospital in town or in one of the local District hospitals but either way, she could split her placement further by working in a primary healthcare clinic as well. This would mean her travelling to a rural village to spend some time working in the local dispensary there, delivering primary healthcare to the community and living with a local Masaai family.If she chose to do this then also included in the placement would be the chance to spend afternoons with a guide, learning about Maasai culture, which as Moira emphasised, was very popular with the electives.
It had sounded wonderful and it was at this point that Marie had felt the first flutter of excitement growing within her. She had told Moira immediately that she preferred to work in the Regional hospital but would love the opportunity to work in one of the rural villages too.
That day, everything had seemed to fall into place as she recognised that this was just what she had been looking for. It seemed the perfect opportunity, not only to gain more experience but also to give something back to a community, even if it was only for a few weeks.In a place like Arusha she would get the chance to meet people from a different culture but also put her nursing skills to good use, in an area that had limited resources and was probably in need of extra hands.
Moira had spent ages giving her more facts, telling her the Regional hospital was called Mount Meru which served about twenty of the smaller District hospitals scattered around the region. It was the largest Government healthcare institution there and Medical Work Abroad offered placements for every type of medical personnel from all over the world, including nursing but also others such as midwifery, dentistry, physiotherapy and of course doctoring.The list had been extensive.
Marie discussed her options with Moira and a plan was produced which included working in Accident and Emergency, Paediatrics and Obstetrics.
That day she had read through her contract of what she’d agreed and had signed the document immediately, without any regret. She hadn’t needed any time to think about it.
Marie opened her eyes and smiled, the faraway look in them still dreamy as she remembered leaving the building and jumping into the air in exhilaration. It had been the answer to her prayers and she’d been overwhelmed with relief at finding this organisation which was offering her a chance of a lifetime.Everything since then had happened so fast that she’d barely had time to worry.
At last she came back to the present and once again looked around. So, here she was at last, on a plane almost at the end of one journey but at the beginning of another.As if on cue the tannoy crackled, making her jump.The air hostesses asked all passengers to put on their seatbelts as the plane was beginning its descent to Kilimanjaro airport and Marie obeyed before closing her eyes again trying to concentrate and temper her nerves.
She contemplated that of course everything she’d been told that day had sounded idyllic but she didn’t believe she was so naive. The opportunity to make a difference was in her own hands but at least she was actually getting the chance to try, even though she had no doubt there would be some hard work ahead.She had been given all the facts but in front of her lay the challenge and she had to make sure that she rose to it.
Marie kept her eyes closed as the plane continued its descent, all the while thinking about everything that she had read about the district of Arusha, and its connection to Medical Work Abroad’s work there.
Arusha town where the hospital she’d be working in was located and where she would be living in a house organised by MWA. Arusha … which she’d discovered had a surprising history with extraordinary places of interest to visit as well as an ancient local culture.She had butterflies and pinched her nose trying to alleviate the popping in her ears.
She tried to concentrate on her destination and this time contemplated the dormant volcano Meru and the information she had pored over regarding its history. Some of what she’d discovered had been captivating and conversely again she felt her excitement mounting.
She giggled suddenly thinking about her ‘mounting excitement regarding Mount Meru’ and realised that even to her own ears she seemed to be bordering on delirium. She really must calm down but her laughter somehow relieved her nerves.
Within five minutes the plane had landed. There was the usual G force rush as they touched down, which pushed her back into her seat but she felt the brakes applied and eventually the plane came to a standstill.As everyone got up and prepared to get off, she gathered up her own hand luggage and taking a deep breath followed the crowd down the steps, into Tanzania and another life.
It was cooler outside than she’d expected but given that the sun was no longer at its highest, it was probably only to be expected. She was glad of her jeans and thick cardigan though.The group was escorted off the aircraft and taken straight to the Arrival halls.Here everyone had to be processed through Tanzanian immigration before eventually finding themselves in the baggage reclaims area.It was really very straightforward but she was relieved to get her case.
Finally she moved out of Arrivals and walked straight into the Greeting area. Now she really did have to stop daydreaming and recall who was supposed to be meeting her.If she’d remembered accurately he was called Joe and he was training to be a doctor.
It was noisy and chaotic in the Greeting area, and there were lots of people milling around so she put her hand to her forehead and squinted at the sea of faces in front of her. Suddenly she saw a card held high.
On it in bold, red letters was a name – OCEAN MCKENZIE. She looked at it barely registering this was meant for her but then the sheer audacity of it made her laugh out loud as she saw at both beginning and end were huge question marks in the same vivid red and an equally vibrant blue dolphin underneath.
Well, she thought, now she really had arrived! She weaved her way through the crowd until she came face to face with the tall man with floppy brown hair, holding the card and looking down at her quizzically.
“Hi, you must be Joe Dickens?”
“And you must be Ocean McKenzie?” He sounded just as uncertain.
“Yes that really is me I’m afraid, strange name, strange woman. I’ll tell you the story another time, that’s if you’re interested?”
“Looking forward to it Ocean McKenzie” and they both laughed as his comment broke the ice. She liked him instantly and decided she was going to enjoy his company.
They shook hands formally as an afterthought.
“I think I was told that you’re training to be a doctor Joe.”
“That’s right. I’ve been here two weeks now, working in surgery at the Hospital.It was a bit of a culture shock at first as it’s very different to England and there have been a few, shall we say, challenging days but the organisation has been fantastic.I’ve got my own placement supervisor who oversees everything that I do.I can’t speak highly enough about everyone I’ve encountered so far.
Anyway Ocean, come on, we must dash….”
He’d taken her arm and turned quickly to move away from the crowds but then paused and turned around to look at her again.
“… You know, it does feel odd calling you that. Is it really your name?”
She pursed her lips and looked at him ruefully for a second. How could she explain, especially to this virtual stranger?It was an indulgence really.Her parents were well used to her by now.Her work colleagues had treated it like a huge joke at first but everyone had come around eventually over the years.Some people didn’t even know her as anything else.
“It really is a very boring story Joe …”
She looked directly at him and he waited patiently for what she might say.
She paused trying to choose her words carefully.
“I know it may sound crazy but if I tell you my proper name now then that’s how you’ll remember me and really I’d rather you remember me as Ocean McKenzie.”
She shrugged her shoulders, trying again.
“Look, it’s nothing sinister really but I’ve just had this fascination with the sea since I was a little girl. As a child, my parents were always losing me on the beach.We tended to be at the coast lots because my Grandparents lived close by and I would spend all my time wading, swimming, climbing and crying pathetically when we had to leave the beach.I must have been a nightmare.If I wasn’t running on the sand, I’d be playing at the water’s edge, waiting for the tide to turn and then chasing the waves … there’s something magical and powerful about the sea you know Joe and its enormous strength has always fascinated me.”
She was on a run now and continued without pause.
“It’s the source of all that is good for our souls, it cures all ills, its power is supreme and I’ve always been drawn to it like a magnet, because when I’m close to its reach I know my own strengths and weaknesses and it inspires me to be more than I am!”
She stopped all of a sudden, out of breath and bashfully looked across at him. He was staring at her and she wasn’t sure whether it was panic or embarrassment in his eyes.
It was impossible to put into words, especially to someone she hardly knew, but she continued impulsively.
“Listen, here’s part of a poem.” and she closed her eyes and spoke out loud.
’And there I stood upon the shore,
And never in my life before,
Had I felt the power of the sea,
And wind as it blew over me.
My skin was tingling with the spray,
I couldn’t move just had to stay,
To feel the power and intensity,
As I felt its strength pour into me ……’
She stopped at that point and peeped out to see Joe still looking, but he was also strangely silent and she couldn’t read his thoughts. More sheepish now she decided maybe it was better to change the subject completely so took a deep breath.
“Look I’m embarrassing. I know it… really, I do.The fact is Joe, I’m obsessed with the sea!I think I’m best leaving it at that for now?Anyway, what I really want to know from you Mister, is more about what I’m to expect from this Medical Work Abroad experience?Come on give.”
His face which had been so solemn changed suddenly and he grinned wickedly and she saw him relax a little, before cheekily raising an eyebrow.
“Cures all ills you say. You sound like a nurse already my dear!Ocean, you’re going to love every minute here.I’ve been working in the hospital every weekday since I arrived and it’s all such interesting stuff but what has been especially fantastic is the positive attitude of all the staff who work there.They’ve been, without exception, so incredibly supportive.”
He paused a minute, thinking carefully now about his own words, before continuing more seriously.
“Sometimes though Ocean, despite the personal rewards of healing people, it can be really hard here, simply because of the many problems that you’ll never find in England and the best advice I can offer now is try not to dwell on them too much, nor get involved in the politics of some of the situations that you’ll face.”
She was listening seriously now and when he stopped, she gestured for him to continue curious to find out what more he had to say.
“It is difficult to put into words, except to say that, though occasionally I’ve witnessed some quite grim observations on the general medical wards, I’ve never been left alone to deal with them because continually you get masses of support. Ever since I arrived, I’ve been made to feel like one of the team so regardless of the difficulties I’ve sometimes had to face, I make sure to keep my own attitude positive.So far I really have no regrets because every minute has been a valuable and worthwhile experience.”
Marie remained solemn, thinking about his words, and then was brought back to the present when he nudged her in the ribs and she turned back to look at him again. He was smiling teasingly this time.
“Besides, I’ve also learnt an incredible amount from my patients too … I find that if I greet them with a warm smile and a ‘habari za asabuhi’ and finish with a ‘karibu sana’ it breaks the ice very nicely”.
This broke her sombre mood and she grinned widely in response.
“Joe! I’ve been desperately trying to get to grips with the language… but obviously not well enough! Tell me what they mean?”
“He said it more slowly this time, ha-ba-ri za asa-bu-hi – Good morning.”
She repeated it slowly at first, and then dared to say it a little faster and then he said it again too, which she repeated once more and then he repeated it again, until they were laughing at their own silliness.
“Habari za asabuhi Ocean McKenzie!”
“Habari za asabuhi Joe Dickens!”
“And the other one? What was that?” she asked, once they’d stopped laughing and recovered their breath.
“Kari-bu sa-na – you are welcome”
They went through the ritual again and by this time they were outside the terminal.
“We’ll make a native out of you yet Ocean!” He grinned.
“Wouldn’t I be the lucky one if it was that easy Joe. I rather do think my learning curve is going to be much longer than learning a few phrases, especially after what you just said about the hardships, but I am so very grateful to you, really.Thank you. You’ve really made this nurse feel very welcome”.
He suddenly looked at his watch and grabbed her hand hastily.
“Come on Ocean, we really must hurry now and get back to the shuttle.I told them I wouldn’t be very long and they’ve got a schedule to keep.They’re probably wondering where we are already.”
They broke into a run until they got to what Marie would have described as a mini bus. Joe had called it a shuttle and she decided she must get into the habit of acting like a local and doing the same.
Joe was right however about them being late. He’d obviously known what time it was meant to leave and she felt a little bit guilty as it was perhaps her fault for holding him up with her incessant chatter and endless questions.A Riverside representative was pacing when they arrived but he greeted them civilly enough, checking her documents immediately and then once they’d boarded the shuttle set off straight away.
Once settled, Joe explained to her that MWA had had to make a private request to get her transferred from the airport and them both then taken to Arusha. The shuttle apparently travelled daily from Moshi to Arusha calling in Kilimanjaro Airport only if there was someone to pick up.It seemed she was the only one to arrive on this flight though someone else had already arrived earlier that morning.
As they drove towards the exit of the airport she looked out of the window and took in the view. There was a large sign above the exit which said Bon Voyage and she waved to it before turning to grin at Joe again.The journey turned out to be very interesting and as they travelled she pumped Joe with further questions.He had something to say about everything they passed.
They drove north for a time before turning left onto what Joe said was the Arusha-Moshi highway and then they travelled westbound. Joe said that the road went directly into Arusha.After crossing the villages of Usa River and Tengeru, they passed a bridge where a signboard on the left directed the traveller towards the Moivaro Coffee Plantation Lodge.
Marie already knew that this area had a good reputation for growing coffee but what she found amazing was how much greener the land was than what she had first imagined.
From what she’d read she knew that the Great Rift Valley was a fault in the earth’s crust and it cut through the middle of Tanzania North to South, though she guessed that the road they were travelling on now was probably further east of it. She also knew that this was the reason there were so many volcanoes in the area as they ran along the fracture connecting to the fault.However, for some strange reason she had expected that this would make the land darker and somehow more dramatic and the actual reality was a lovely surprise.
It appeared that the town of Arusha, located at the Southern foot of Mount Meru, was more sufficiently watered than some of the surrounding districts and therefore it was one of the most densely populated areas of the region.
The sights on the road to the Arusha were fascinating. There were cows tied to trees, small villages and huts about every mile, women carrying heavy loads on their heads, children playing in the ditches and herding their livestock and so much more.If she hadn’t known it before, she knew now that she was no longer in England.She’d gone out looking for a different experience, and here it was, laid wide open in front of her like a book and avidly she drunk it all in.
As well as giving her a running commentary throughout the journey Joe also talked more about his work in the hospital.
“In my role I’m encouraged to examine patients and from these examinations I’ve been able to gain significant experience with conditions that aren’t so frequently seen in the UK, particularly malaria and TB.”
Marie nodded encouraging him to say more.
“One of the most undeniable aspects of being here is, because I’m actively encouraged to help, I’m learning new skills all the time. In many ways it had given me more confidence in myself and my abilities, which I hope I can expand on once I embarked on a career in England.”
“You know Joe, you sound like an old hand already! It’s obvious that you’ve found the whole experience rewarding, regardless of the difficulties you’ve come across and I’m really encouraged by that.I’ve longed to come of course, but I’ve been so worried that the challenge might be too big and instead of increasing my confidence it could dent it.It’s one thing to dream about something isn’t it, but quite another to make it happen.This was an impulsive move on my part but I’m beginning at last to feel a little more relaxed about the whole experience.”
“Do you think we’ll get to work together?” She continued. “I mean, I just wondered if they separate electives on the placements.”
“I don’t think they do anything like that deliberately”, he said at last and then elaborated.
“Sometimes, it’s just coincidence I suppose and also it depends on the ratio of staff that they have here at any one time, and how they complement each other. I’m scheduled to continue working at the hospital for at least one if not two weeks more so who knows though I expect to be in the anaesthetics area next.Remember though Ocean, that working in the hospital is only a small part of the whole experience.You’ll also get the opportunity to work in other places you know, like the Maasai village, that’s if you’ve put in for it?”
She nodded that she had and he confirmed that he had too.
“Well in the village we’ll be learning more about healthcare amongst the community itself and our base will be in the dispensary. I’m told that life in the village is even more primitive than it is in the town as the tribes don’t always consider getting help from the authorities and have to be encouraged to do so.You could be helping with anything there from treatment of malaria to child vaccinations, which it’s said the tribes have been dealing with themselves for decades anyway.”
“I know it isn’t likely to be easy Joe but I am glad that I said yes to the opportunity back in Manchester. To have gone home without the experience simply because I was nervous about the challenge, well I’d have been disappointed in myself.”
“I agree with you totally Ocean. However long I stay here and whatever else I do with my life, I shall try to get back to Tanzania again one day and maybe be a bit more useful than I am now.Even though I’ve only been here a fortnight, it’s already a country that will forever have a place in my memory and in my heart.”
“Joe, that’s lovely.” She exclaimed.
He grinned bashfully but remained quiet now, turning to look out of the window.
Marie turned her own head away and looked out too. Truly she was touched by what he’d said and it endeared him to her immensely.Also she realised that, despite the fact she’d only just arrived, and not even done a day’s work yet, already her own heart was reaching out to this country and its people and she found herself eager to get started.
There was something about this place that mattered already and that she wanted to embrace. Joe had described it ideally in many ways but after only two weeks working here it was obvious that he was relishing every moment.Conversely he had talked positively and steered clear of specific problems that he’d have had to deal with but his attitude was optimistic and that was refreshing in a world that so often only seemed to look at the negative side and make excuses for failure.
He’d barely said anything about the physical hard work of the job or the emotional response you were bound to have when dealing with a population who were so cash poor and largely ignored by the rest of the world. She pursed her lips and her eyes hardened.
‘Ocean stop it!’
She chastised herself silently. Despite what Joe had said just minutes ago, already she was agitating about stuff she didn’t know anything about yet.She really should stay detached from the politics as he’d advised and just get on with the job.Taking in a deep breath she turned her head, the serious look still on her face, to see him still looking out of the window but he turned to look at her when he felt her gaze on him and smiled cheekily before winking and she smiled back genuinely, tapping him playfully before she turned to look at the view again.
From the inner security of the shuttle her life back in England seemed to be slowly disappearing from her memory but just at the moment she wasn’t sad about that at all.
A period of comfortable silence developed between them for awhile. The journey took about half an hour.As they’d talked she hadn’t noticed the passing of time but the fears she had had earlier seemed for now to have gone.She still felt a little anxious about what would be expected of her but Joe’s words had calmed her spirit a little and she knew that she should just try to concentrate on settling in and learning the routine.
“So Ocean Mckenzie, this is Arusha.”
Marie jumped from her thoughts and took a proper look at the town they were just entering, remembering again what she had read about Arusha, and this filled her mind as they arrived at the outskirts.
She whispered under her breath.
“Perched beneath the snow capped peak of Mount Meru, Arusha is one of Tanzania’s most popular destinations. Its main draw is undoubtedly the Ngorongoro crater, an immense volcanic caldera formed around 3 million years ago, which is home to a huge concentration of wildlife.”*
Well, the crater was nowhere to be seen from this vantage point she thought, but she could certainly see the snow capped peak of Mount Meru now to the North of the town and indeed it did look impressive though Joe had told her it was nothing compared to its parent Mount Kilimanjaro which was further North East.
Though still on the outskirts, the distance from the Old Moshi Road to the actual House wasn’t that far given it was located on the east side of town and they had travelled East to West to get here from the airport.
She went into her bag and pulled out the reference book that she had brought with her and had been reading avidly for months. Here in front of her the content came alive.She would have to go and look at this volcano more closely she thought as she looked up at Meru. She’d read that ‘its summit was 14,000 feet above sea level and it was dormant’ but she knew very little more than that.”
The relative coolness, even on the shuttle, still surprised her as she had expected Africa to be hot and sticky even though she’d read that this area ‘was cooled by breezes from the ice-packs of Kilimanjaro’*. The reality was so much different though.Looking up at Meru she could see more clearly now that its peak appeared white but she didn’t know if this was just her imagination or whether it really was snow.She thought of something else all of a sudden and had to ask the question.
“Joe, do we pass by the Arusha Hotel?”
She had been quiet for several minutes and he had left her to her own thoughts, but now Joe smiled sidelong at her, thinking he had never met such a curious creature.
“Questions, Questions, Questions, Ocean McKenzie!”
He did have an answer for her in any case.
“Not today I’m afraid. It’s further west from this point, but we can visit it together if you like?I don’t mind taking you.It’s on the corner of Uhuru Road which is closer to the centre of town and right opposite the Clocktower.Anyway why the Arusha?”
She laughed, “This is probably the tourist in me but I’ve been reading up everything to do with Arusha town and I think that the Arusha Hotel has got a bit of a reputation you know.”
“Really! A hotel with a reputation that I know nothing about Ocean.Tell me more.”
“No be serious Joe. It does seem though that this hotel was one definitive place that actually put Arusha on the map early in the century.It might even be older than the hospital.”
She made a mental note to check this out.
“According to what I’ve read, there seems to be some mystery about it all. There could have been at least two hotels in the town with the name Arusha over a period of time but what is unquestionable is that safaris for the rich and famous seemed to have been organised from the hotel in the early part of the century when it seems they began to become more popular with Europeans.
Also there’s an indication that more than one famous face might have stayed at that hotel, some actually participating in the safaris. Hemmingway wrote his book, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, after he came here with a party to go on safari.Arusha seems to have been a quite significant town in its time!”
It had all come gushing out and Joe hadn’t had any opportunity to respond until suddenly she paused to take air and then looking across at him she studied his face and grinned apologetically.
“Sorry Joe, borrrrring. I do go on a bit sometimes don’t I.I would really love to see this hotel now though before I return to England”.
He nodded at her and smiled reassuringly, saying they would definitely do it and as her eyebrows rose in question, he continued.
“Yes I mean it, really. We’ll get our glad rags on one night Kipenzi and pay a call, and you’re right…” then he patted her hand just as if she was a little old lady who he was indulging … “I do believe it has been in existence for an awful long time and I think too, they still run safaris.Perhaps we can try one of those as well!”
“Kipenzi! Who’s that?”
“That’s you dear one!”
Marie covered her mouth with a hand and stifled a laugh, quite incapable for a minute to make a response though she had to confess, she did like his sense of fun.
“Also Miss McKenzie, I might just impress you further now as I do recall that there’s a bar at the hotel called the Hatari Tavern, in remembrance of a film shot on location in the Arusha region, which starred John Wayne sometime during the 60’s I think. Perhaps we can check that out too?”
“The hell we will!” she spluttered the words out and this time they both laughed noisily and had to cover their mouths with their hands as they were beginning to get noticed by the other passengers, who turned around to see what could possibly be so funny.
He grinned across at her once he’d calmed down.
“Ocean, you do have the ability to bring out the worst in me I think, but I believe I am going to enjoy your company very much.”
Marie grinned warmly and knew the feeling was reciprocated. However before she could respond the shuttle began to slow its speed and they both glanced out of the window again before Marie pressed her nose to it in an effort to get a better view.
The driver of the shuttle swung right but still he didn’t pick up speed. Instead he negotiated a left hand turn before swiftly driving through a large open gate on the right hand side of the road and coming to a sudden halt.It seemed they had arrived at the House.
Marie stared in amazement at the extremely large mansion in front of her, which it seemed would be her home for the next few weeks. It was a multi-storey complex with a flat roof, seemingly square in design and painted completely white.Joe had already told her that at its busiest it housed up to 32 students but she hadn’t asked any more questions feeling sure he would be glad to get some peace from her incessant chatter.
However, given the driver was waiting keenly for them to get off so he could continue his journey, she quickly stood up, gathering her rucksack and case before they moved to the front and alighted. The shuttle reversed immediately, out through the gates and she waved a little forlornly before turning back round to find herself confronted by an immensely tall, black man.He dwarfed both she and Joe but had on his face the biggest grin that she had ever seen on anyone.Joe made the introductions.
“Ocean McKenzie, let me introduce you to Samuel.”
She gave him her hand and smiled a little uncertainly. She had been told by Moira that Samuel had a bit of a reputation amongst the electives in the House as he was renowned for his role as Programme Manager.He was wearing a shell suit complete with colour co-ordinated cap and his eyes danced mischievously.
He nodded a welcome at her as he shook her hand firmly, before then taking hold of Joe’s and clasping it strongly in two hands.
“Welcome back my friend”. Then he turned to Marie again.
“So you’re the mysterious Ocean McKenzie? We’ve all been wondering about you” and he turned to his audience of waiting students and grinned expansively at them.
“With a name like Ocean we all wondered what to expect!”
She laughed along with them but her cheeks burned hotly and she felt unusually fazed, though immediately he took her arm and placed it on his before steering her towards the waiting electives and introducing each one of them to her in turn. This gave her chance to recover her fortitude and as she smiled and shook the hand of the last elective, deliberately she turned back to look at Samuel, putting her hands on her hips and holding the moment as she looked steadily at him, her eyes dancing with fire.
She turned to the waiting group, pausing the moment to ensure she had their attention, before catching his gaze again and responding, at last, to his earlier comment.
“I always say Samuel, there’s nothing quite like a little mystery in life.”
He laughed merrily, the sound rippling thunderously around the courtyard. It was infectious and the band of medics still waiting joined in.Once there was calm once more, he bowed briefly, his eyes still sparkling, before picking up her case and shepherding her assertively up the stairs in front of him and in through the doorway of the house, with the rest of the party, including Joe, following on behind.
As she walked upwards, Marie had the chance to look around at the complex, noting the leafy residential suburb the house was in. She also noticed now a man standing by the big gate and it crossed her mind he was probably the security guard.
Gazing upwards then, she realised that this House also gave her an even more impressive view of Mount Meru than that which she’d had from the shuttle, as it appeared to nestle right under its very eye. She couldn’t believe that she would be waking up to that view every morning.
She was ushered into the kitchen and after being introduced to the Cook and then promptly bear hugged, once the laughter had stopped, she was offered a glass of freshly squeezed fruit juice before being shown around and given an induction on how things worked in the House.
Samuel told her that each of the bedrooms were named after a safari park and that she would be sleeping in Ngorongoro, which slept four in two bunks. As he showed her the room, she dropped her bags onto the floor and gave it a quick inspection whilst he waited.
Mosquito nets were already set up and she had been given her own security deposit box. He told her that there was 24 hour security at the gate so she should have no fears about intruders though still she was given a briefing on safety within the House and outside in the grounds.
He continued, saying that the occupants of Ngorongoro shared a bathroom with Serengeti, which apparently was another room across the corridor but she had expected this. Moira in Manchester had been very thorough in informing her how the House was set up.
Once again though she was glad she’d done some reading of her own on the local Regions and their Districts, of Ngorongoro, Serengeti, Arusha, Karatu, Monduli, and Arumeru. At least she had some background knowledge of their existence and their importance as tourist areas.
Samuel probed her on how much more she knew about the region and the town
“It wasn’t as easy as I expected Samuel. There was lots of information about tourist holidays available in the area but much less about areas of interest in the local towns and villages.What I do know of course is that a relatively short distance away from here is the Northern Safari Circuit which encompasses the great wildlife parks of Serengeti, Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro.”
“Don’t forget that Arusha has a National Park too Ocean.”
“Yes of course. I was just thinking of the larger parks that’s all.”
“You’re right obviously.Most people remember the Serengeti because of the famous migration that takes place there every year.At this time of year however, the great herds of wildebeest are usually to be found in the North of the Maasai Mara region of Kenya, rather than the Serengeti Park but I’ll give you more information about that later.However there are still plenty of other sights of interest to be discovered, including Arusha National Park and like you said, Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro.”
“Safaris have been a way of life here for a very long time, haven’t they Samuel?”
“Yes I’d say so, especially since a man called Kenyon Painter came here on safari and liked it so much that he became a regular visitor. Anyway perhaps that’s also a story for another day Ocean.However, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see a huge variety of animals in the parks from wildebeest, big cats, elephants, rhinos, giraffes to a multitude of other … perhaps less dramatic creatures too.
I can organise a safari trip for you through one of the local tour operators we use. Anyway ask me again of course but really I think now I really should get you settled in first and then perhaps we ought to discuss your induction at the hospital?”
She grinned in agreement but then, as if he hadn’t said a word, she proceeded to ask him something else
“I just have a couple more questions now though Samuel – please?”
He looked at her quizzically but she continued swiftly.
“How much do you know about the history of the Arusha Hotel? Did John Wayne really stay there?Can you tell me more about the Olduvai Gorge?Is it true there were once some important archaeological excavations done there and something significant found?”
Samuel sighed, and folded his arms, as he stood quietly studying her. At last he spoke.
“You really do have a passion for this don’t you….”
He looked at her dejected face and smiled benignly.
“…Look, I can give you information on both the hotel and the Gorge but like I’ve already told you … for now, perhaps it would be more useful to get you settled in here, at our House. So, are we in agreement with that do you think?”
He stood stubbornly in front of her, silently waiting for a response.
She nodded before sighing and raising her eyebrows.
“I’m sorry. I’m already getting a reputation for asking questions about everything and anything.I think I’ve quite worn Joe out!It’s just that I’ve done all this research about this place and now suddenly I want to know the lot for real.”
Samuel suddenly laughed as her obvious excitement was infectious.
“Listen I don’t mind really. For now though I’ll just say this; an ancient skull, originally considered to be the oldest Homo Sapien in the world, was found in the Gorge by a couple calling themselves Leakey ….”
He held up his hand to quieten her as he could see the next question on her lips.
“Now Ocean, that’s it for now …”
He put his finger to his lips to demonstrate she should remain quiet a minute more. “… but I promise, I will tell you the full story another day, just as it was told to me.Is that a deal?”
She grinned ruefully at him and then made to zip her mouth – shut, determined not to ask another thing that day, unless it was something more about the domestic arrangements of the House!
Afterwards they went downstairs again and next Samuel took her to a huge living room which he described as the Heart of the House.
“Whenever you have any free time Ocean, come here into this room and feel its beat. Also, perhaps, especially for you, there is much here to keep you occupied, including our very own library over there.”
She noticed the amused look on his face and turned to glance across in the direction of his finger. Stacked on several massive shelves, that ran right along one side of the room, were dozens and dozens of books and her lips mouthed her astonishment.Looking back at him and then again at the books, his message was plain; here was her opportunity to find out for herself as much as she wanted to know about the whole region, by doing some serious reading of her own.
She nodded her head in acknowledgement of his unspoken meaning and then walked across to the shelves, discovering that some of the books were practically new, whilst others were clearly much older. She turned to face him enquiringly.
“Many of the newer books have been left behind by past electives Ocean but the older ones are genuinely as old as they seem and you’ll probably discover a lot about the past from them.
The students spend a lot of time in this room. Come back any time you wish, chill out on the balcony if you want to and gaze upon the Majestic Meru to drink in its splendour.The view is spectacular and I never tire of seeing it.It’s a great place to unwind.”
As she scanned the room she knew there was plenty to occupy her here and like Samuel had said, sitting inside or out, looking up at the fabulous view above them, she was assured of a relaxing time after she had finished work. Whether she would find the time for such an indulgence, however, was still to be decided but it was an easy room to love.
At last he took her back into the kitchen, which was clearly well stocked with food of such colour and variety that it overwhelmed her. Another student, who had joined them in the living room spoke, telling her that Della delivered incredible culinary masterpieces.
“You know what, I think I’m just about ready for one of those culinary masterpieces now”, and realised indeed, she was famished.
“We’ll feed you soon Ocean McKenzie. You’ll never starve here.”
The rest of the tour passed in a whirl. Samuel took her throughout the rest of the House, including round the back where there was a small bungalow which also housed electives.She reflected on her time spent in the nurses’ apartments for the last three years; studying, working and socialising with all the other medical staff and felt relief that she would still have company around her.The idea of having to cope in some faceless apartment without the buzz of human actively to entertain her didn’t appeal at all.
Once all the introductions and sightseeing were complete, Samuel left her back in the kitchen and Della made her something light to eat which she gulped down ravenously, with promises from Della that she was preparing something more substantial for everyone later and they could all eat together.
Afterwards she went back to her room, where she started unpacking, hanging clothes and placing possessions on the various surfaces of pieces of furniture. She smiled as she found her old alarm clock with the two squat bells on top of the round, purple face and patted it affectionately.She had always been useless at getting up early and despite being in a strange bed, hadn’t wanted to chance being without it.
She sat down on the bottom bunk and weariness suddenly overwhelmed her as she flopped backwards, drawing her knees up and staring up at the underside of the upper bunk. As her eyes blinked with fatigue she smiled, thinking about Samuel telling her that this bed belonged to Susie, who was also a nurse.Susie was apparently at the Serengeti, even now on one of the very safaris they had been discussing earlier.
Her mind raced with everything that she had seen and been told today but it was what Samuel had said about the Gorge which had captured her imagination. Everyone spoke about the historical importance of the Safaris and indeed how the area still relied on the tourist trade they created, but if she recalled correctly, those people, the Leakeys as Samuel had called them, and their discoveries had also, for a span of time, made this place equally as famous.
She knew virtually nothing about archaeology but found herself impatient now to know more, especially about the ancient skull that had been found in the Gorge. She racked her brain desperately trying to recall what she had read and if anything had been said about the Leakeys but then with sudden exasperation sat up and rubbed her eyes.She recognised the fatigue that was threatening to engulf her.
What she most needed was half an hour’s rest and she should for now take Samuel’s advice and try to forget everything else except getting settled in the House.
It was over an hour later when Marie woke but she felt wonderfully refreshed and quickly washed and changed before going back downstairs. She was delighted to find that the House seemed full of lively people, who’d obviously been out earlier but had now returned to eat.She joined them and a friendly face introduced her to Joanna, who’d also arrived earlier that day.Joe waved and winked at her from across the noisy table as everyone was in high spirits.
Afterwards everyone scurried into the living room where she discovered that Saturday evenings appeared to be the regular assembly time for everyone living there, to discuss the day’s activities with each other.
She and Joe of course were already friends but she found that everyone else made her feel welcome too and it didn’t take very long before she felt like she had always known them.
That first night however was special. Everyone had a story to tell and being one of two new girls the focus of attention was on them.As she later came to recognise, they seemed more intent on remembering the fun in situations from throughout the week but it also became evident that it was an emotional release from the more underlying serious issues found when dealing with sick people in a country that didn’t have a National Health Service.
Work was scarcely spoken about as it seemed that each of the electives wanted to concentrate on the activities they had taken part in away from the Hospital instead and convince both girls that these were most definitely what they should try out whilst they were here. It was altogether interesting and a lot of fun.
Jacky, a midwife, had been on an excursion to a local orphanage that week, Lily had visited a plantation where she had made some locally grown coffee and Peter had climbed to the top of a waterfall at Marangu as well as drinking Kilimanjaro beer at a brewery. One man, Ned, a Dentistry elective, said he had been to Serengeti and seen a lion eat a zebra.
Marie screwed up her face in distaste at that and everyone burst into laughter. Ned continued, his eyes lighting up with mischief as he recognised gleefully she’d already taken the bait.
“Hi Ocean, I’ve got a great zebra joke that you’ll just love”.
“I’m sure I won’t but clearly Ned I can see your life won’t be complete until you’ve shared it. Please continue.”
He grinned wickedly but ignored her tone.
“What did the lion say to his cubs when he taught them to hunt?”
Marie paused politely as she knew the routine but impatiently he delivered the punch line swiftly with a flourish.
“Don’t go over the road till you see the zebra crossing!”
She groaned out loud and put her face in her hands as the laughter rippled around her. When she looked up Ned winked indicating he had plenty more where that came from and she playfully threw a cushion, which he caught deftly and pretended to rip apart with his teeth.Once the laughter had subsided the chatter resumed.
Marie was particularly interested in going to Zanzibar, not only to haggle at the market she already knew was there but with its apparently golden sandy beaches and crystal clear waters it seemed a ‘must do’ excursion for someone calling themselves ‘Ocean’. Kath had already been and regaled the wonder of it all.
“There’s a complete contrast you know Ocean, with staying in a simple wooden hut, overlooking the white beach and swimming in the warm sea and then enjoying a drink and good food in one of the nearby restaurants in the evening.”
Ocean smiled her agreement.
“You have to go Ocean, it’s absolutely beautiful.”
“I’ll add it to my list Kath. I’m hoping to visit a Masaai village, to work of course, but hopefully find out more about their herbal remedies which I’ve heard are legendary.Also I’m fascinated with Mount Meru and if I get the opportunity I’d love to climb and explore that too.”
Jessica’s hand went up.
“You won’t be allowed up without a guide Ocean and they usually encourage you to spend at least a few days up there to get acclimatised to the altitude.”
“I’m particularly fascinated in the fact it’s a volcano? I wonder when it last erupted.”
Everyone laughed again when Joe replied, “a long time ago?”
“Comic!” said Marie
A quiet man called John then sobered up the proceedings. He had been reading quietly in the corner when suddenly he spoke out loud.
“The people at the foot of Meru, in a village called Ng’iresi, are actually Wa-arusha and are family of the Masaai but gradually have shifted from pastoralism to agriculture. The village perfectly shows the transition from traditional to modern African life.”
The response wasn’t immediate as a slight hush fell on the room, then without warning and in unison they all rowdily roared ‘Oooooooh’ with great gusto. John blushed red at the reaction.It seemed to Marie that John was rather serious minded but it was obvious that he’d already done some intense study into local tribe history.Against the flow of the conversation she asked him a question.
“Tell me some more about the other tribes that live here John.”
His face showed his surprise that someone had actually showed an interest in the subject but enthusiastically he replied.
“It’s fascinating really Ocean. The largest group living here were once the Maa-speaking and they were agricultural people.They used to dominate the western part of Arusha.However, in the 19th century they migrated to the mountain itself and pushed the second largest group, called the Meru, over onto its eastern slope.The Meru spoke a dialect of Chagga and probably originally migrated from Kilimanjaro around the 17th century.They have settled now in some of the villages and small roadside towns around Arusha, whilst the villagers themselves are situated on former estates and usually tend to be multi-ethnic.
He hesitated suddenly aware that some members of the group had lost interest and were beginning to murmur amongst themselves.
“Go on John. Take no notice!Come on gang, let’s hear him out.”
The room fell silent again and he continued shyly.
“Arusha and Meru relations, even to this day are characterised by occasional rivalry and given their origins, I find it quite surprising how mild relations actually are between them … though … though ….it is believed that each tribe has assimilated traditions from the other, but there are many that will tell you that the reason for this is because of the policies of national integration associated with President Julius Nyerere, who appears to have neutralised the potential for ethnic conflict by developing an ethos of national identity ….”
His voice faded, fully aware now that everyone really was listening to him and that he was indeed the centre of attention which he found quite disconcerting.
“Thank you John. Really, that has given me a huge insight into the background of the local people I’m going to be dealing with here.”
He grinned at her and then bent his head again to read his book once more.
Marie realised what an effort it had been for him, speaking in front of the others and it was quite obvious from the reaction of the audience that no-one had ever really paid that much attention to him before. However, the buzz of light conversation soon started again.
Marie listened avidly taking in everything that was spoken about. It seemed everyone in the room had some knowledge or another about the area and it didn’t seem to matter how many questions that she asked, she was assured that there was someone there who could answer her.
Jessica told her more about her tour of Mount Meru and what she said about the early part of the trail as she had passed through lush rainforests of fig trees and then her first sight of colubus monkeys high in the canopy, sounded idyllic and Marie was fascinated by her description. Jessica continued.
“I really regret now not doing the full five day tour because I only got to climb up half way but at least I got to view the cloud forest on our final afternoon which gave me the opportunity to see the striking vistas of Kilimanjaro in the distance and the volcanic chain all along the edge of the Rift Valley. It was amazing….”
“...Oh and Ocean you really must go and see Momella Lodge too. We passed close by and it looked really interesting. Apparently, John Wayne once stayed there! He starred in some film, way back, called Hatari, which was set here in this very town and there has been talk about changing Momella’s name to reflect this. I wish I’d known about that before we set off but we just ran out of time.”
Marie glanced across at Joe and he winked at her. She smiled secretly her heart racing at the reference to Hatari.She hoped he wouldn’t forget their date to go the Arusha Hotel as she was already looking forward to it.However, here was yet another place she would love to find time to visit.
Finally she held up a hand as she turned her head to giggle at Joanna.
“I don’t know about you Joanna, but I’m worn out! I’m only here for a few weeks and I already had a list as long as my arm of the places I wanted to visit and now …you’ve all given me even more to think about.”
She started counting with her fingers, “Visit a Masaai village, visit a Wa-arusha village, visit Zanzibar, climb Mount Meru, visit Momella Lodge or Hatari whichever it’s called, plus of course there’s the safaris and the must do sighting of a lion eating a zebra …”
At this she looked sideways at Ned, pausing as she raised an eyebrow cheekily.
“…and of course a visit to the Olduvai Gorge. Then there are the breweries, orphanages and coffee plantations!My Lord, the list is endless.”
There was a ripple of laughter throughout the room and then the chatter became more general about what they had all done that day.
Marie’s quietly reflected on everything that she’d been told and she hoped fervently that she would get the time to experience some of the quite fascinating opportunities that had been spoken about during the evening.
She became sombre for a moment because she had quite forgotten the main objective of her visit, which of course was her nursing work and gaining experience through her dealings with patients who lived here. She knew she needed to keep focused on these things but couldn’t deny that the prospect of discovering more about this charming region and its people also filled her with excitement.
Eventually Samuel asked for silence and he told them that it was time to continue with their Kiswahili lessons which everyone knew it was expected they join in with. Marie felt relieved that Joe had started her off with at least two phrases and as she looked across at him he pulled a face at her and she chuckled at his expression.
Much later once the lessons were finished and people sat in small groups generally chatting, some people began to leave and Marie wasn’t far behind them. With the farewells and good nights ringing in her ears she went up to bed with Emma and Joanna who were sharing with her and though sorry the evening had ended, once in bed she found she couldn’t keep her eyes open anymore and it wasn’t long before she had dropped off into a sound sleep.
Mount Meru Hospital
The following day was Sunday and a free day for most but after a breakfast of fresh fruit, doughnuts and pancakes Samuel took a group out into Arusha and she and Joanna were shown how to catch the crazy vans that everyone called daladalas. The vans seated perhaps 20 to 30 people inside and Marie thought it was one of the most chaotic journeys she had every made but the journey was only short and they soon arrived at their destination.
They dropped off at the hospital first where the girls already knew they would start work the following morning and she got her first proper glimpse of it.
Although it was only 8 O’clock in the morning it was already busy. She knew that it was the only Government hospital in Arusha and care wasn’t free in Tanzania, as patients weren’t covered by any medical insurance yet the area was crowded and people were milling around with many sitting randomly wherever they could; on the grass, on the pavement and on the steps of the building despite the early hour.
She had researched its history and discovered that it had originally been built as a military hospital by the Germans, for treatment of casualties in the First World War, but apparently in the 1920’s it had become and remained the Regional hospital. As she surveyed it now she observed that it wasn’t one large building at all but a scattering of smaller ones, many with bright colourful red roofs which she thoughtlooked more Mediterranean than African.
It seemed obvious however that no major renovation had been done on the exterior for a long time and even though she had been told to expect the buildings to no longer be in the best of condition, their actual poor state structurally was more of a shock to her than she had anticipated and she realised that she hadn’t fully prepared herself for it at all. The place looked a little desolate and she felt sad suddenly.
However, gulping down her indignation, she decided to remain quiet, even though her initial thought was to discuss it with Joanna immediately. Thinking back to her conversation with Joe on the shuttle yesterday, it was perhaps best not to share her concern just yet.She and Joanna were comrades on this adventure, both new girls starting work together tomorrow and she really didn’t want to spoil the moment by appearing negative, especially as they had only just arrived.
Besides, she had no experience at all about the care of the patients which was infinitely more important, nor had she even seen the interior yet.
She looked across at Joanna who was smiling back nervously and then they grasped hands, before bidding farewell to Samuel and the others who they’d arranged to meet later, and walking on into the building together to find reception.
It was relatively straight forward and they were taken to meet the Director of the hospital immediately, who shook their hands and warmly welcomed them both. He was a tall dark skinned man with a thick head of hair that was greying at the sides but his smile was warm as he greeted them.First of all he took them to the general ward, introducing them to the nursing staff on duty and giving them some time there to look around and ask questions.
Afterwards he took them on a longer tour around the whole hospital itself. Marie was particularly interested in a placard on the administrative building which confirmed the age of the hospital building itself.
It stated that it was “bequest by one Alfred de Rothschild and laid by one Lady Rees on 11th November 1926”. This confirmed that there must have been some expansion since it had first been used as a military hospital during the war and she pondered on what it must have been like back then, when it was newly built and presumably considered modern for its day.
Next the Director took them back to his office to discuss their working pattern whilst they were employed there. A Project Supervisor would be assigned to them and it was expected they start early but would only work to 2pm and then the afternoon would be theirs to do with what they wanted.Once all the paperwork was finalised and he had talked at length about how the hospital was organised, he asked them if they had any questions.Both girls did.Marie was tempted to ask more about the history of the hospital but changed her mind.‘Plenty of time for that’, she thought and focused instead of what she needed to know.
Finally he stood and shook their hands, welcoming them officially and saying he looked forward to seeing them both the following day, 7am sharp! The girls thanked him before finding the exit and going to find Samuel as arranged earlier.It didn’t take long as he must have known how long it would take and he gestured to them all to follow him as he said they would do a walking tour of Arusha, for their benefit, first of all.
Marie was keen to have a look at the Masaai market and pestered Samuel to go there first. He smiled widely as was his way but took them there directly. It was fascinating and whilst wandering around she got her first chance to do a bit of haggling as the market traders sold lots of local products such as jewellery, bags, scarves and beaded goods.Impulsively she picked up a pair of earrings with a beautiful black stone that reminded her of Whitby jet.
She wondered if the gem originated from the cold dark larva of either of the volcanoes but no-one in the group knew for sure though the market traders smelling a sale, tried to convince them this was the case. In the end she bought them anyway, hoping the next time she was here she could perhaps try out a little Kiswahili and maybe discover more about their origins.
After that they were taken for their first proper Tanzanian meal. Samuel made them wash their hands under a tap outside the café before they stepped into the interior and looked around for a table.After finding one they sat and hungrily, checked out the menu, which included Kilimanjaro nachos, causing some amusement between the girls especially.Samuel recommended the chicken served with ugali, which he explained was a type of maize flour, and beans.
Whilst they waited for their meal to arrive Samuel gave them information on how to change their money and use the banks but the food wasn’t long in coming and they tucked in enthusiastically, eating everything with their fingers.
After an interesting morning they eventually arrived back at the House where they relaxed throughout the afternoon. By the time the evening meal was over and the living room was once again filled with electives, everyone clamoured round, wanting to know how it had gone at the hospital.
However Marie left early to get ready for bed. It had been such a wonderful day, yet exhaustion seemed to have descended on her without warning, leaving her feeling queasy and quite out of sorts.
“Are you okay Ocean?”
Joanna put her arm round Marie’s shoulder and the concern showed in her eyes.
“I’m fine really Joanna, just whacked. I think everything’s catching up with me.It’s probably the change of diet, climate, new routine … you know … though actually missy, you seem to be thriving on it!”
Joanna grinned widely and hugged her before turning back to the crowd.
Monday dawned and both she and Joanna were up early but Marie had had a fitful night’s sleep and walked around groggily, trying to get herself into some sort of order. She had thought sleep would revive her but this clearly didn’t seem to be the case.
She felt positively sick and though she expected to be apprehensive, she was mildly irritated that her stomach seemed to be so unsettled and her head felt like it would explode. What if she was coming down with something?Joanna tried to console her but she waved her away, embarrassed that she felt so nauseous.
Eventually she was ready and had even managed a little breakfast with Della’s prompting; hoping something in her stomach would settle her nerves a little. Della had hovered over her like a mother hen as she’d munched the toast, chewing slowly and carefully until it was swallowed.
The girls went out together to catch the daladala and Marie was relieved to have Joanna’s company to the hospital as it had spurred her on and throughout the journey they chatted excitedly. However, once they arrived Marie’s mood turned sombre again and she had to admit to Joanna that she still felt queasy.
“Joanna, I honestly don’t know what the matter is. Working in this hospital is all I’ve thought about for months now, and I can’t believe what I’m going to say next but do you think I can have a minute alone out here?I need to pull myself together and can do it better on my own.I’m so sorry really.I’m not usually this feeble!!”
“Of course I don’t mind Ocean. You worry too much you know. We’ve got a big day ahead of us and it really is unprecedented in our lives.Look I’ll go ahead and you catch me up once you’re ready.”
Joanna leant across and hugged her, patting her on the back affectionately and Marie though thankful, in turn knew her misery to be complete as she watched Joanna cross the road and walk unhesitatingly into the hospital. Her eyes filled with absurd tears and she brushed them away angrily with the back of her hand.
“What the hell is the matter with me? This is ridiculous!”
She couldn’t put into words what she was actually feeling. It was fear, yet she knew she wasn’t afraid.This day had been planned for so long and now here she hanging around outside the hospital on her own, feeling sick. Thinking about that, the nausea she’d had earlier returned more forcibly and for one awful moment she thought she was going to faint, as a hot flush surged upwards through her entire body, leaving her skin feeling cold and clammy.She shivered and clung tightly onto a rail at her side, closing her eyes and bending her head low, trying to take deep breaths and stem the dizziness.
Opening them at last she stood straight again and continued to take deep breaths as she glanced around trying to adjust her sight. People were already waiting to get into the hospital just like they had been the previous day.There were people limping, either on sticks or being supported by friends, there were children being carried, there was a potential patient on a stretcher, being carried by four friends, one on each corner, as someone else tended to a rug on the lap of a man in a wheelchair.Others were just sitting patiently on the ground outside the building.
“This is what you came for Ocean so what on earth are you doing, hesitating out here, instead of being in there!”
The conversations that she’d had with the others in the house, about all the opportunities available, had been such fun to discuss, but here in front of this run down hospital, which provided such a vital service to local people, was her proper reason for being here. Why was she faltering?
With sudden determination she stood straighter, taking great gulps of air and with every intention of setting off to catch Joanna up.
However as she continued gazing at the picture of the hospital, the strangest feeling came over her. Out of the blue, colours danced in front of her eyes as the image of the building began to shimmer in a haze, dazzling her senses.She blinked rapidly but still the mirage remained.The edges of the building became blurred and for a fleeting second the thought crossed her mind that perhaps she was dreaming and this image of the hospital wasn’t real at all.
Perhaps she was still asleep in the house dreaming the moment and any minute now the hospital would disappear before her very eyes as she came to consciousness.
Yet that thought vanished instantly as in one terrifying moment the world itself seemed to tip, so violently that she thought she’d lose her balance and tumble to the ground. Desperately she gripped more firmly onto the rail with both hands this time and shut her eyes tight again, concentrating hard on trying to stop herself from falling.
Then suddenly it was over. The world returned to normal.
She hesitated in opening her eyes immediately but knew that whatever it was that had affected her, it was gone. She stood straight again and opened her eyes, blinking fast as the daylight penetrated her vision.The hospital in front of her looked normal.It was just the same jumble of buildings with the patients mingling inside and out, waiting to be seen.
Suddenly she was furious with herself and shook her head in exasperated anger.
“What the hell are you doing Marie; bloody hell, get a grip girl and GET YOUR BUTT MOVING.”
Letting go of the rail easily now she set off walking; striding purposefully across the road and then sprinting, such was her urgency now to catch Joanna up. As she yanked the door open, she paused for a second, taking in a steadying breath and then fixed a determined smile on her face as well as a whispered Habari za Asabuhi under her breath, before walking confidently into the hospital to start her first day’s work.
Inside she saw the Director immediately as she strode towards the reception. He was clearly waiting for her and she nearly lost her nerve but as she greeted him cheerily she tried to look contrite, apologising for being late.
He nodded his head in acknowledgement but said nothing, instead turning and walking swiftly away from her towards the end of the hospital where the wards were located. She kept one pace behind glancing around as she walked but Joanna was no-where to be seen.As if he read her mind, the Director turned.
“Your friend will be working on a different ward to you today.”
His statement didn’t need a response but in any case she smiled broadly and thanked him again. Once they arrived at the ward, he introduced her to one of the nurses she recognised from the previous day.As he turned to leave, still agitating with herself, she felt compelled to speak to him once more.
“I won’t let you down again I promise. Working in this hospital means the world to me but I think I just got overwrought with nerves this morning but I’m so looking forward to starting work now and thank you so much for offering me this opportunity …. ”
Her words faded. The Director had turned back round to face her though his face remained passive as he clasped his hands behind his back and listened.His stance was stern yet she was sure there was a tiny gleam of amusement in his eyes, though his face betrayed nothing.Finally he nodded his head politely and then he turned again and was gone.
Marie blew out her breath and turned back round, to find the nurse waiting there quietly and thankfully her smile was warm.
“So you are ready to start work now?”
Marie nodded eagerly.
“My name is Jasmine and I am your Project Supervisor, please follow me.”
She took hold of Marie’s arm and led her through the ward, giving another brief tour to remind her of where everything was kept.
“This week you are assigned to this ward but it is likely you will spend some time in other areas too, including Accident and Emergency, depending on what the needs are. Do you understand?”
Jasmine smiled before showing her to a small room at the end, so she could change into the uniform she had been given.
When she was ready she found still Jasmine waiting for her. Her English was excellent but she wasted no further time with pleasantries as they were clearly busy.She asked Marie if she would clean a wound on the face of a patient and Marie nodded keenly, eager to get started.
She was taken over to meet an elderly man, who was waiting patiently on a bench in the corridor. The nurse directed them both to a small cubicle off the ward and then giving Marie some instruction on what needed to be done, left her saying she would return shortly.
The first problem came immediately because Marie couldn’t find anything to clean the wound with. She smiled reassuringly at her first patient desperate not to appear incompetent and searched for some gauze and a bowl but there was none to be found in the cubicle.Finally she went next door where she found another member of staff who supplied her with just what she needed.
She was to discover the same problem throughout the day and it didn’t help that she felt so completely overwhelmed with the sheer number of people that she had to deal with. Never in all her life had she felt so flustered and it was hard trying to stay calm but she kept thinking about Joe’s advice, keeping the smile fixed to her face, hoping she didn’t look too fierce.
However, what did become apparent was that everyone was quite clearly impeccable at making do and watching their professional skill of constantly adapting to the lack of those resources was humbling and helped keep her mind focussed.
Additionally, though she found herself struggling with the range of languages spoken, nobody else seemed to notice and she had nothing but constant encouragement off staff all day. At first she had to rely on them completely, to translate some particular needs and get specific patient background information.
Nevertheless, throughout that week Marie learnt very quickly that there were many ways of communicating other than verbally and though at first it was a little nerve-racking she made sure to keep thorough notes of everyone she dealt with, ensuring to follow up and check that there were no problems associated with their wounds, especially if they had come through surgery.
Joe’s assessment of the staff however was completely accurate because the team ethics of the people she worked with were brilliant and she was made to feel like she belonged and was one of their own straight away.
She had to admit though, she was glad to return to the House after work that first day and there was certainly plenty to talk about that evening. She and Joanna compared notes but also there was much to share with the other electives about their first day at work too and it soothed her spirit a little.
Out of the blue Joanna surprised her when she asked her how she was feeling.
“Oh Joanna, I’m so sorry about this morning. I have no idea what happened to me really.I’ve never felt like that before.”
“Then stop worrying Ocean. I was fine honestly and as long as you’re okay now then just put it behind you?It really has been a long day and we’ve had so much to learn …” and Marie had to agree.
The pattern was set though and she and Joanna travelled together every day that week and were joined by others from the House, also working at the hospital in a range of roles, and reliant on the daladala to get them there.
On her second day she met Ned in the afternoon, walking down the corridor towards her. At first she smiled, genuinely pleased to see a familiar face, but then she saw the mischief in his eyes and prepared herself, knowing instinctively what was coming next.
Hey there Ocean, are you ready for another joke?”
“Do I really have a choice Ned? You know I think it’s the thought that I might miss one of your jokes that gets me up in a morning!”
Totally ignoring her facetious tone he continued.
“Why is it Ocean, you never see zebras at Victoria Station?”
She obeyed the rules and replied, “I don’t know Ned. Why is it that you never see zebras at Victoria Station?”
”Because it’s a ‘mane-lion’ station!”
Stifling the laugh rising at the back of her throat, Marie slapped him sternly across the top of his shoulder as he passed her, saying severely, “They’re obviously not working you hard enough Mr Dentist.”
He grinned widely at her and then using his hands, pretended to claw her before walking on and into the theatre.
The encounter cheered her up immensely. She had arrived that morning determined to make a better start than the previous day and to rise above some of the frustrations she had encountered but still she’d found herself silently fretting over some issues.Just an hour ago she had had the most difficult of moments.Clearly she hadn’t been as prepared as she had hoped she might be.Especially she hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be dealing with how people reacted to their pain.
She’d been asked to help out in Accident and Emergency and a teenage boy had been admitted mid-morning with a broken leg, which quite clearly needed setting. He had been carried into the waiting room on a stretcher by a group of friends and family and they had remained there uncomplaining waiting their turn, including the patient on the floor.Marie had been amazed as he must have been suffering agonisingly.
She had gone over to the group, initially to see if there was anything she could do to ease the boy’s pain, and expected distress on his face and yet as he had turned his head to look at her, he had smiled widely in gratitude for her attention. It had been unbelievable.
Returning to check with reception when he would be seen, she’d been told it would be at least another half hour and had felt vexed but knew she could do no more. At last it had been his turn and as she’d rushed over to see if there was anything she could do to help, she had been too late as he was already pulling himself into the waiting wheelchair.The pain was evident on his face, yet despite that he had smiled again at her before being wheeled off to surgery.
As she’d watched him go she’d turned to his friends, a troubled look on her face, but they had told her cheerily that he had felt no pain during his wait because he had lain so quietly, as if that made it alright.
It was obvious that these people had a completely different expectation of the staff, which was in total contrast to what Marie was used to back home. If the same thing had happened there, the patient would have been brought into hospital by ambulance and taken straight into surgery.
Until now she had never had a proper frame of reference to equate to but here in this hospital, on another continent, it was all so different.
On Thursday after work she walked with Joe to the daladala and he pointed out the library.
“Oh Joe, come in with me now.”
Dragging hold of his arm she pulled him in the general direction and he dragged his feet a little, pulling a face at her.
“I know. I’m exhausted too but I won’t stay long – promise!Besides it was you who recommended I should check it out.”
He pursed his lips and then grinned good-naturedly before sprinting forward quickly and she happily gave chase. Once inside she looked around in delight.She enjoyed the experience so much that it became a habit to call in after work occasionally and spend several hours there.
There were books on all ailments and she read everything avidly. She came to learn that infections not common in England became that much easier to deal with, not only because she got first-hand experience of the symptoms through watching the staff expertly deal with them but also because she became more confident as each day passed, through reading up on the ailments and being able to assist more efficiently.
However, despite her growing confidence, that week some issues still continued to exasperate her. It was a bone of contention that there weren’t enough supplies available, that previously she had taken so much for granted, such as gauze, suturing forceps or scissors.Despite her best intentions, on Friday morning she got agitated and found it impossible to keep her mouth shut.
One of the nurses working with her came to her rescue and discussed the situation calmly with her.
“Ocean … this is a poor country and it isn’t likely some rich man will come and be ready to donate his fortune to help us. Nor can we expect a Government funded scheme to aid us with more resources.This community has to deal with what it has in the best and most efficient way possible, for the good of the patients, who are of course our reason for being here.”
Marie had felt contrite especially as it was impossible to argue her pragmatism so she’d simply smiled, sheepishly, nodding her head at her sensible attitude and apologising for getting so agitated.
Nevertheless, later that day she found herself once again discussing the shortage of staff with some fellow nurses from the House. At first the conversation was light as they sipped their coffee and brightly chatted but then out of the blue she’d been unable to stop her outburst.
“How on earth do these people manage when there just aren’t enough of them to deal with all the patients? Something really should be said.”
Joanna and Kath glanced at each other before Joanna lent across and put her hand on top of Marie’s, catching her eye solemnly.
“Ocean, listen. You’ve got to stop beating yourself up about this.Our very presence in this hospital, helping and contributing to the patients’ care, is a gift to these people because it means that they have more staff to deal with all the cases than they would have had under normal circumstances.This is the point of us being here.We can’t do any more.I agree with your sentiments but you have to let it go.”
Marie was initially ruffled by Joanna’s mild rebuke, despite knowing she was right but she had had to fight her indignation. At last she’d nodded a little forlornly.
“I know Joanna; of course you’re right … it’s just that … oh I don’t know … my emotions just seem to be ruling my head at the moment. The situation is so unfair … but I can’t deny the sense of what you say … thank you.I do seem to be saying that an awful lot this week don’t I!”
She gripped Joanna’s hand, smiling ruefully, before attempting to smile more cheerily.
“I’m just so glad this first week is over. Next week I promise, I’m turning over a new leaf!I’m in danger of letting all this get in the way of my work here I think and that won’t achieve anything.Realistically I do have the energy for a battle you now but I just don’t have the power to fix the situation, do I?”
Joanna gripped her hand tighter.
“Then let it go Ocean and just concentrate on the care of your patients because I do know you will make a difference to the lives of people here and that’s what really counts isn’t it?”
Marie nodded her head and then her mood changed instantly.
“Listen, I’ve seen Ned and he’s caught me out with one of his jokes again, which of course he thinks is hilarious, but I have the stirring of an idea. So … What do you think of my cunning plan.…”
That afternoon, as the end of her first working week approached, Marie reflected on everything she’d done. She knew it had been rewarding on so many levels despite her several outbursts of outrage.
Later as she left the hospital, she saw the Director standing at the exit with his hands clasped behind his back and almost stopped to speak with him but some instinct stopped her. She would be mortified if after all the advice she’d been given this week, she let slip her frustration at the injustice of some patients’ circumstances.
Instead she swept on by, waving and saying, “See you Monday.”
He smiled and she had to smother a giggle when he replied, “Yes, bright and early hopefully.”
Marie interpreted his comment as teasing rather than cautionary, especially as his eyes most definitely twinkled but still she blushed hotly as she left the building and bounded off to find her friends, hopefully waiting for her at the daladala station.
She blew out a long breath relieved once more she hadn’t spoken out. Joe’s face popped into her mind again.Both he and Joanna in their own way had been her saviours this week.Maybe, just maybe, she might at last have started the process of learning and acquiring the skill needed to help transform the lives of her patients in some small way, rather than just being a moaning minnie?
How quickly she had forgotten her original promise not to get too emotionally involved. Idly chatting on the shuttle with Joe had been easy, assuring herself that she would stay detached from the politics of the situation, yet here she’d been, just one week into her placement, agitating about a multitude of issues that really were nothing to do with her at all, except that she had had to learn to be that much more organised and proactive to potential problems.
It had been a far more difficult experience than she could ever have imagined.
So the weekend arrived at last and she felt relieved that her first week was now behind her.
This being her second Saturday in Arusha, she made an effort to relax a little around the House, checking through some of the books in the living room and sitting on the veranda where from time to time she glanced upwards looking at Meru. It really was massive and dwarfed everything around it.
It was also nice to catch up with other people and find out how their week had gone.
Arrangements were made during the day that a group of them would visit the town centre that night. This was going to be her first evening visit to Arusha and as the day wore on she found herself looking more and more forward to it.They all got ready and set off about 6pm.
She was determined to enjoy the evening and forget all about her anxieties. Almost immediately she discovered that Arusha seemed to cater for a whole range of people, including locals, ex-pats and volunteers and it turned out the town had a very lively nightlife.
It was decided that they’d go for something to eat first and the consensus was that it had to be Indian. Marie has never tasted such combinations of flavour that set her mouth on fire.It wasn’t like any meal she had ever had before but was wonderful.Afterwards, they moved on and Joe suggested they visit the old German fort in the centre as he’d heard it had a remarkable history.
Remarkable wasn’t the word Marie would have used once they got there, as its history turned out to be much darker than she had assumed but at last she did learn, first-hand, something factual about Arusha’s past.
Today the building was a cultural centre staffed by locals, who worked in the hospitality industry but it seemed that when the Germans had originally arrived in East Africa at the end of the nineteenth century and colonised large swathes of the area, to re-enforce their possession of the land and strengthen their position, they had started the construction of what the locals now called a Boma. This was where the group were now standing and what had first been referred to by Joe as ‘the old German fort’.
Inside, an elderly gentleman sat on a large comfortable chair and he told them a tale that seemed so exaggerated that at first Marie couldn’t quite believe it.
He told them that the Germans had forced the Maasai in Arusha to build the fort and went on to speak of ‘the colonists’ many brutalities against the Maasai people’; including riding around on their backs and egging them on with whips as if they were beasts.
Marie put her hand over her mouth realising she’d spoken out loud but with the usual manner that she was fast becoming accustomed to, the man just shrugged his shoulders.
However, there was a testimony which had been written by one of the Maasai tribesmen, who’d actually been there when it happened. This was available to look at by all visitors.
The tribesman had recorded in his memoirs the growing resentment of the natives against the Germans and in particular their habit of riding them, as if they were animals.
“He was particularly enraged by an unusually heavy cargo; passing the river with his charge set heavily across his back his patience snapped. He tossed his ‘master’ into the water.”
Fearing the consequences, many Maasai went into hiding in the bush, until a Maasai chief was sent to find them. The chief explained to the mutinous group that he was acting as a mediator and that if the group returned to work all would be forgiven.The runaways marched back into the new town in a column of about 400 men and as they strode down Boma Road, the entire troop was gunned down in the street - one of history’s many warnings never to trust a ‘safe conduct’. It is said that the ‘mediator’ was promptly promoted.The blood-stained fort was completed in 1900 and became a barracks for 150 Nubian soldiers, later being made the regional government offices until 1934 when it was turned into the Arusha Museum of Natural History.”*
Marie read the facts of the story with increasing revulsion. She desperately wanted to dismiss it completely as fabrication, but truthfully there was no denying the evidence, which was all a matter of record now and she ardently hoped that Arusha was a much less brutal place for the Maasai today, whilst acknowledging wryly, how harsh an environment it still was for them to live.
The local man continued and she turned back to hear him better.
He told them that the Germans had remained in East Africa until the end of the First World War. Then, in 1920, the League of Nations had granted a mandate to the United Kingdom to administrate the area and the colony had been renamed Tanganyika Territory.This remained the status quo until 1964 when it united with Zanzibar and was renamed again becoming the United Republic of Tanzania, this time with its own President, one Julius Nyerere, who had been elected in 1961.
Marie realised that this tied in with what she had found out about the hospital given she now knew it had been expanded in November 1926 so it seemed it had been under British administration at that time. Also immediately she recognised the President’s name because it was the same man which John had mentioned on her first evening in the House last weekend.
Despite being upset by aspects of what he had said she was gratified to learn more about the area’s past. At last he finished speaking and they thanked him before they then wandered around awhile longer, looking at some of the exhibits before eventually it was suggested they should leave and move on into the centre of town.Everyone was a little sombre by now but they all agreed they needed to lighten the mood.
It was Kath who said that they needed some fun and they went in search of entertainment in the centre where there were a multitude of bars to choose from.
Whilst at one bar, unfortunately Marie got angry at an incident which she was embarrassed about afterwards but she reflected that probably the long week, where she had had to keep her emotions so tightly checked, hadn’t helped the situation.
She had gone to fetch some more drinks when someone behind put their arms around her waist and thinking it was someone from the House, she turned and grabbed their face playfully, only to find that the man she had hold of, was a complete stranger.
She let go immediately and tried to wriggle free, smiling at first, but he laughed and held her harder and then she lost her temper.
“Get your paws off me moron NOW!” and when he still didn’t comply, she brought her foot down hard and stamped viciously.
That did the trick, though she wasn’t sure if it was more out of surprise than because he was really hurt. In any case, he let go immediately before someone came over and spoke to him and it was obvious that he had been told to apologise, which he did, and then he disappeared, like a mist, into the crowd.She turned to the man who had come to her rescue as she adjusted her clothing and hair and feeling obviously flustered and also rather self-conscious the only thing she could think to say was “Cheers bro”.
Her saviour grinned widely and winked before nodding his head in acknowledgement and then he too disappeared.
She turned and saw Joe, who must have witnessed the whole scene, sidle up to her along the counter, his eyes wide with amusement. He repeated; “Cheers Bro?” and the tension went out of her as she laughed at his raised eyebrow and the question on his lips.
“Despite your lessons, I forgot what’ thank you’ was but hopefully he knew that I was grateful!”
“Remind me never to contemplate angering you with something you just might take offence to!”
They both burst into laughter and then collected and paid for the drinks before going back in search of their friends.
Thankfully the rest of the night went without incident.
On Monday, she started her second week and it was just as busy as the first. However, she’d enjoyed a relaxing day on Sunday and as the week progressed she reflected how much more enjoyable it was and she felt decidedly less tense and more in control.
She had many mixed experiences whilst working on the Children’s ward.
The surprise here was that she simply hadn’t expected to see two, and sometimes three, children sharing the same bed with their mothers on the ward and though it made her feel a little sad she was also unexpectedly protective towards them all. They did have some fun with the children though but it was hard work to keep some semblance of order on the ward.However, the staff took it all in their stride as usual and so did she.
Also, what she hadn’t anticipated was the fact families of the patients were responsible for finding their own food to eat and weren’t served by hospital staff. Marie reflected what a continual culture shock it really was as everything was so different to the healthcare that she had experienced in England, from patient expectation to supplies, from the environment and now the eating arrangements.
There was a lighter moment on Wednesday.
The day hadn’t started that well because a young boy had been brought in with quite a bad injury to his side from elephant tusks, which was distressing enough in itself though she knew that this was an experience she would never have had back home.
After he’d had surgery she monitored him throughout the day between her other duties and after several hours he began to recover well enough to grin up at her and start talking. He turned out to be a proper little chatterbox and though she wasn’t able to understand much of what he said, on impulse she decided to practice some Kiswahili on him.She had been doing additional study on her own and been delighted to find some words that apparently meant ‘cool’, thinking perhaps he might be impressed with her efforts.
As he talked to her, whilst she tended his wound, she kept looking up to smile, repeating “Shwari” whenever he paused for breath. Eventually however, he seemed to fall silent and when she realised he was no longer speaking she glanced up to make sure he was still okay.She was surprised to find him staring at her with the widest of eyes.She couldn’t think of anything that she’d said that would make him look so astonished.
She grinned at him reassuringly and then returned to bathing his wound.
Abruptly the chattering started again and absently she continued repeating Shwari under her breath as she bathed the stitches in his side. Suddenly he giggled, before laughing so loudly he made her jump, especially when he began to roll from side to side on the bed.As he did so she scolded him sternly and berated him for wriggling about too much as he was in danger of opening up the wound and starting the bleeding again.
Once she’d finished her ministrations she looked up to make sure he was still okay and found one of the regular nurses, who had been watching from the opposite side of the bed, looking at her incredulously. She considered that perhaps she wasn’t saying the word properly, so wrinkling her brow and thinking hard again, instead this time she said “Nzuri Kabisa”.
At this the pair of them, like conspirators with their own secret, burst into raucous laughter which she found quite disconcerting and blushing like mad she finished off and took the bowl away to sterilise it.
Marie turned at the sink and noticed that the regular nurse had made the boy comfortable and seemed to be speaking gravely to him, shaking her finger in the process and then she came over to Marie, putting her hands affectionately across her shoulder, and clearly able to speak much better English than Marie could speak Kiswahili, she explained it all.
Marie listened to what she had to say and then found herself laughing too.
“The cheeky little monkey!”
At first it seemed the boy was just generally chattering, apparently about how he had got injured in the first place, but then he’d quickly realised that she hadn’t really understood what he was saying despite her response, so he had started saying silly things, like, ‘you have the greenest eyes in all the world’ and ‘will you go out with me tonight’ and of course her reply of ‘cool’ had completely enthralled him and mischievously he’d continued teasing her to prolong his entertainment.
At least she thought, she had taken his mind of the injury.
Her attempts to speak and understand the language certainly provided entertainment for staff and patient that day but she guessed she wasn’t the first nor would she be the last and it was one of the happier memories of the week.
As she left the ward later, she met Ned again and immediately put her hand up to him in admonition saying, “No!” and waving a finger in his face as his intent was clear.
However his excitement was too great. He looked like the cat that got the cream and quite clearly was unable to keep it to himself.Totally ignoring her warning signals he declared that given he was a Dentist that it was his duty to tell this joke, and in fact would be a discourtesy not to.
Marie gave in realising that it was hopeless but her mind was already working on her idea.
“This really is so funny Ocean and you’ll think it a hoot, honestly!”
“Frankly I’m sure that I won’t but all right, let’s have it.”
“How can you get a set of teeth put in for free?”
She pursed her lips trying to be clever and see if she could get the punch-line first but it was no good. She wasn’t smart enough for all that.She shrugged at him.
“I don’t know Ned. How can you get a set of teeth put in for free?”
”By smacking a lion!”
There was a momentary pause whilst he waited for the reaction and she was rather pleased with herself because she kept a completely straight face, painful though it was, whilst she appeared to consider her response to him. Eventually she spoke.
“You call that a joke. Ned - I’m actually disappointed you know, and being a Dentist I really did think that you could have done better than that.”
She knew she’d wounded him as he looked crestfallen. Then with a flourish she came back at him.
“Well Mr Dentist this joke thing must be catching because I’ve got a great one for you now.”
He looked wary all of a sudden. “You have a joke … go on then Ocean, I’m listening.”
“Why did the lion and zebra go swimming?”
She had had to admit he played his part beautifully and with a wide grin responded expansively, saying, “I don’t know Ocean, why did the lion and the zebra go swimming?”
“Because they both loved the Ocean!!”
Marie relished every second as she waited, arms folded, surveying his face for the reaction. The silence seemed to hang between them for an age, until at last he answered.
“My God Ocean, that was truly awful.”
“I knooooooow, so, if you don’t want any more of my terrible jokes, then stop telling yours!” and with that she wagged her finger at him again in further warning.
He looked glum for a second but then recovered magnificently before cheekily winking at her, saying he would think about it and then with a wave and a ‘ciao’, he continued on down the corridor and through the doors of the Dentistry clinic.
Marie’s eyes followed him and he knew it, and she couldn’t keep her face straight any longer, especially when he started doing his funny walk. Ned, you really are a clown, she thought.Nothing kept him low for long and she knew despite what she’d said there would be another day and he wouldn’t be able to resist.
She wiped her eyes which were wet with tears, and thought that if it wasn’t mischievous patients she had to deal with then it was childish dentists!
She turned around and walked in the opposite direction, but her spirits were completely lifted. How lucky she was, not only to have such good friends but also because, though working in the hospital had sometimes proved maddening, this was rapidly being compensated by how personal her experience with patients was becoming.
However, as it turned out, the best part of the week was still to come.
She was asked to help out in Obstetrics and was introduced to Tigisi first thing Thursday morning. The young mum-to-be was overdue by one week and brought into hospital to be monitored. It had been decided that if she hadn’t started in labour by early afternoon then inducement would be considered.
Marie was appointed to make sure there were no added complications and though nervous, took her responsibility very seriously. Though she and the young woman barely knew each other they soon formed a bond and Marie felt quite strongly that Tigisi trusted her implicitly and for her part was determined not to let the young woman down.
Thankfully Tigisi’s waters broke about Noon. Marie had already established that the baby was in the correct birthing position but given her midwifery training was limited, she took no chances and monitored the labour continuously.Once the cervix was near complete dilation, she called for a doctor and asked for a second opinion.He agreed with her assessment and decided to stay.Within two hours they had delivered Tigisi of her baby.It was a poignant moment and Marie, once the child had been born and pronounced healthy, hadn’t been able to stop her tears from falling.
It was such a personal experience. She had never before been given the chance to look after an expectant mum from arrival, throughout the birth and then, as became obvious, afterwards to continue the care.
The infant was a boy and after his arrival Marie devoted herself to them both.
She watched as the doctor encouraged the mother fed her baby straight away to induce the afterbirth to come away neatly. Once this was achieved, Marie began to clean her before swaddling the child who had fallen asleep and the Doctor then left, smiling and nodding his approval at her technique.It was then left to Marie to make sure that both mother and child continued to thrive. She relished every second knowing that it was a wonderful opportunity and something to be cherished.
She stayed with Tigisi for the rest of that day and into Friday, monitoring how she fed her baby making sure that the baby was suckling properly. They practiced changing his nappy and then throughout their time together she watched to make sure that the baby’s good health continued.Marie dedicated herself to the task and though again language was a barrier, it was quite apparent that what was required was a sense of trust between them both and gestures of smiling encouragement and physical interaction on good practices were enough.
Though clearly Tigisi knew well enough how to feed her son, the technique of making sure that he was getting adequate nourishment and that the new mum felt confident in handling, bathing and changing him, and just as importantly making sure to see to her own needs too, was paramount. It wasn’t difficult and thankfully by the end of Friday both mother and child were ready to go home.
As she waved them off, she was filled with relief that there had been no complications. Tigisi may never remember the encounter but Marie would never forget it as this was the first time she had ever been privileged enough to give such dedicated care to a new mum and her baby.Perhaps this was a moment where she really had made the difference.
She was late leaving but as she sauntered nonchalantly towards the exit, she contemplated her experiences that week. Certainly there had been many challenges yet despite the continuing sadness about the poverty that existed, she felt invigorated.This was exactly what she’d been looking for when she had first set off on this adventure.
She knew for certain now that she had made the right decision to come to this country and yet she could so easily have missed the whole experience simply because of her own fear of the unknown.
She looked up and saw the Director, yet again standing by the exit and her brow furrowed in puzzlement; ‘Did this man always linger there on a Friday’?
Nonetheless she turned her head and smiled cordially, ready to bid him farewell but he spoke first.
“Dr Okunai has spoken highly of your dedication this past two days.”
Momentarily she was shocked into silence but then finding her tongue at last, replied.
“You mean with Tigisi?”
He nodded, as if surprised by her incomprehension, but remained silent; it appeared he was waiting for her response.
Initially, Marie stuttered over her words but then found her confidence and with complete seriousness she answered.
“Director … it was a privilege and I’m so grateful to have been given the opportunity to help.”
“Good … good, though I think perhaps you have found working at our hospital … shall we say … more difficult than you first anticipated?”
Shaken at his insight, she merely nodded and a silence seemed to grow between them but at last she took a deep breath and nodding once more, as if to give her courage, she replied.
“I did Director but there was a lot to get used to. However, I have made good friends here who I value highly and they have helped enormously … and can I tell you now; your staff are impeccable at making do ….”
Marie cursed inwardly and blushed at her careless phraseology and started again.
“… your staff are totally professional and their team ethics are second to none!”
The Director pursed his lips at the spiky tone in her voice. She wouldn’t have guessed but he was immensely amused, though he kept his face solemn and nodded his head, raising his eyebrows slightly before answering.
“Indeed they are Miss McKenzie but it does help enormously as well to have students aiding them, who recognise the value of … making do professionally …. Thank you for all your efforts.”
Marie had kept her vexed gaze on his face as he’d spoken and when he’d finished, couldn’t quite work out whether or not he was mocking her. However, though ruffled she did concede that he had paid her a compliment, so making one last effort, she smiled dazzlingly at him and swept past to make her escape.
Thank goodness it was the weekend.
The following day she volunteered to meet some new arrivals at the airport. It was her first time of course but she still remembered fondly Joe coming to meet her and how much it had helped overcome her nerves.It was a strange feeling arriving back at the airport on the shuttle and walking into the arrivals hall again, this time carrying a big placard of her own under her arm stating the names of the two new arrivals – DAVID STONE and STEPHEN DALTON.
They were easy to pick out as came through cautiously together and she grinned as she held aloft the sign. As they came over she introduced herself and found herself having virtually the same conversation with them as Joe had had with her.She spoke about the hospital and the village experience as well as giving them a running commentary on the landscape as they travelled back on the shuttle.
Stephen was a doctor and was interested in finding out more about what to expect if he went to work in the village but she had to admit to him that though she definitely intended going and how everyone had told her how satisfying it was, she hadn’t yet been.
“I’ll introduce you to Joe when we get back to the House and you can ask him about it. He’s going next week and is likely to have much more information about his trip and what’s expected of him.”
David was a dentist. She smiled to herself wondering whether he would turn out to be a clown like Ned and couldn’t resist asking if he knew any jokes!He looked puzzled at first but she just smiled secretly and said that he must seek Ned out and ask him about it.
“Remember, David, tell him that Ocean sent you and that you have come specifically to help him improve his technique.”
She chuckled then thinking about Ned’s reaction.
The Arusha Hotel
Given it was Marie’s third Saturday in Arusha and Joe’s fifth they had decided it was time to visit ‘The Arusha Hotel’ that evening.
She had been excited about it all day. There was a lot to consider and her head was full of black and white photographic images from the 1930’s, of a one storey hotel called, ‘The New Arusha’, which had a veranda on the front and seemed to be completely surrounded by trees.It all seemed rather romantic and she was impatient to get there and see how it had changed.
Some of the photos she’d scrutinised had showed jeeps parked in front of the hotel and she’d read that this had apparently been the preferred way to travel on Safari. Also on some of the prints, quite clearly outside the hotel, had been a sign which it seemed had had some notoriety, stating:
“This spot is exactly the half way between The Cape and Cairo and the exact centre of Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika”
She was keen to find out whether or not this still existed.
What was more intriguing though was the possibility that there might have been an earlier hotel, built at the end of the nineteenth century, called simply ‘The Arusha’, like its modern counterpart. It was plausible that a hotel calling itself ‘The New Arusha’ could have replaced an earlier version but, was anything left now of either building?
Of course, as she’d only recently learnt, the end of the nineteenth century was also the period that the Germans had colonised East Africa, including Arusha town, building the Boma at its centre. This would mean that the earlier hotel would have been built around the same time, making it even older than the hospital itself.
All she knew for sure was that the earlier hotel had been owned by a Jewish couple called Bloom. Its description hadn’t been too complimentary, stating it was, “nothing more than a ‘glorified hut’* but it did beg the question; had the Blooms been German too?If so did any of their descendants still live in the area, especially given the devastating clash of Jewish and German cultures during the middle part of the twentieth century.
She had diligently tried to discover as much as she could about the history of the town since her arrival, including its German past, but now felt compelled to find out more about this fascinating hotel and how it fitted into the story of Arusha.
She met Joe in the living room and they went out together about 6.00. Though she was eager to get there, Joe in his usual way calmed her, with his relaxed pace and idle chatter as they strolled along Themi Road.
At last they reached Sokoine Road and Joe indicated they were close. Marie gripped Joe’s hand tightly for a minute and closed her eyes as she pictured the hotel from the original photos in her head.She felt Joe put his hands over her eyes and then he led her the last few paces before stopping.Slowly she opened her eyes, blinking fast to get her focus and looking up she saw a modern hotel in front of her, looking nothing like the one built in the 20’s!
It was set on the traffic circle in the centre of town and situated in large wooded grounds which seemed to run all the way down towards the Themi River. Most definitely this wasn’t a one storey, flat roofed building with a veranda in front but a large, multi-storey building in cream, with red A-framed roofs running across the top, featuring steeply-angled sides on the roofline.
She grinned at Joe delightedly and grabbing his hand skipped swiftly towards the entrance path which ran right up to its front door. Marie slowed her speed as they got closer, letting go of Joe as she timidly glanced through the foyer into the hotel’s interior.Taking a deep breath she strode through the door boldly, coming to a standstill as she viewed thoroughly, the surroundings before her.
It had a definite Edwardian feel about it, despite the fact that it had obviously been designed later than that period. The foyer itself was decorated in a multitude of brown and beige and was entirely different, she thought, to the bright and vivid colours that most Africans liked to surround themselves with.
There was a sign on the wall boasting over 50 rooms with luxury accommodation, two restaurants and an atmospheric bar.
She continued walking forward as she glanced around and as she did so noticed a man on reception look up enquiringly. Impulsively she felt compelled to go over and speak with him but hesitated fleetingly, feeling suddenly self-conscious.
He saw her hesitation and smiled at her encouragingly and she approached again, more confidently this time as she smiled back widely at him. She turned, suddenly remembering Joe, and was surprised to see him still languishing by the entrance and she cajoled him forward with her hand wondering why he looked so uncomfortable.
She spoke to the smiling man.
“Hello there. Good evening.My name is Ocean McKenzie.My friend Joe …” and she pointed towards Joe beckoning him more urgently … “and I… well we’d so like to look around your hotel if that’s possible, and of course use your facilities.Would that be okay?”
“Of course Miss Ocean and I don’t mean to cause you any offence you understand but though you are most welcome to browse any part of this hotel, please avoid the bedroom area, as of course they are strictly out of bounds except for resident guests.”
How could she take offence at his words? He had the loveliest of smiles.
“What is your name Sir?”
“My name, Miss Ocean, is Ali, and I’m here at your disposal.”
Then he nodded his head formally but the smile remained on his lips as he continued.
“Do you have any questions?”
She grinned expansively at him before answering.
“Well, yes lots actually, but first of all, please, you don’t have to call me Miss Ocean. I understand of course that you’re working and wouldn’t want to embarrass you, but Miss McKenzie would be fine, or just Ocean, that’s if you’re allowed?”
Joe had joined her at last and Ali didn’t answer immediately, putting his hand across the counter and shaking his firmly, and Joe in return smiled, stating just his name, which Ali acknowledged with a nod. Turning back to Marie he answered her question.
“No, no really, Miss Ocean is quite appropriate; I treat all our guests similarly. Now, do you have any questions?”
“Ali … I have more questions than there are stars in the sky …”
She tittered as she finished the sentence, hoping they would find the remark amusing but as her eyes darted between their faces looking for a reaction, it was noticeable that they were both impassive except for Joe’s eyes, which positively bored into hers, as he raised his eyebrows questioningly. She was acutely conscious now of them both watching and waiting for her to continue.
The silence drew out before she gulped and then spoke again, flustered and a little embarrassed.
“You know Ali, my mind’s gone completely blank but never mind. Actually we were hoping to go and eat in the Hatari Tavern, weren’t we Joe, and especially to explore the hotel itself, simply because I’m particularly interested in it and its history.”
Ali recovered instantly and responded, smiling to her query.
“You’re welcome to do that and it does indeed have an interesting history Miss Ocean. The hotel was originally built in 1926 by a man called Kenyon Painter who came to the region on safari but since those days there have been many changes.Please do have a lovely evening in our wonderful surroundings and perhaps, once you’re finished, if you remember your questions, please come back and see me.”
Marie’s eyebrows lifted in surprise when he said ‘Kenyon Painter’, remembering that Samuel had mentioned him when they’d been talking about safaris. She was just about to say so when her attention was distracted by an elegantly dressed, elderly gentleman, who came into view and hovered just behind Ali, obviously waiting for the conversation to finish.Marie was intrigued as the family likeness was too much of a coincidence.Ever curious she just had to ask.
“Will you introduce us?” She gestured with her hand.
Ali looked behind him and smiled, putting his hand affectionately on the gentleman’s shoulder.
“May I introduce my father, also called Ali. He too used to work at the hotel but generally now just helps out when required.The hotel management are very kind and allow him in to meet old friends here but he doesn’t like to take advantage and tries to help wherever there is a need.He’s worked here for over 40 years and has recently retired at the age of sixty.”
Marie lent over the counter offering her hand in greeting, expecting him to shake it, but Ali Senior instead took it gently in his own hand and kissed the top of it, just as if she were a princess. Marie actually felt herself blush but loved him immediately.She had completely forgotten Joe until his hand came across the counter too and Ali Senior shook it firmly.
Impulsively she said, “I think now that we are all friends and I’ve decided that I shall call you Ali Number One and Ali Number Two!”
She grinned cheekily hoping they would laugh at her joke but the pair remained strangely mute, their smiles seemingly frozen on their faces. For several seconds they continued looking at her steadily and she began to feel rather disconcerted, wondering if she had overdone it and perhaps offended them.In the end she felt compelled to speak again.
“Anyway, thank you so much for your help; it’s been so nice meeting you both. Ali One, you have a son to be proud of.”
That did cause a reaction as a glance passed between them, as if her words reminded them of a secret of their own but as they turned to look at her again their smile was warm. Marie, however, decided that perhaps now was the time to leave, so giving them a playful wave she turned around, linking arms with Joe as she did so, and left the reception area, giving more attention to the hotel surroundings and scrutinising the décor.
However, once clear of reception, Joe shook her arm away, obviously irritated.
“Ocean, you are quite unfathomable at times. Ali One and Ali Two?If I live to be a hundred, I don’t think I’d have dared say that to complete strangers!And what happened to all the questions you were so desperate to know the answer to?”
“Oh Joe, don’t be mad with me. You know how impetuous I can be sometimes and I don’t think they were offended by what I said.I liked them a lot Joe and it just seemed the right thing to say at the time … but you are of course right; I do have questions; I guess I was just trying to be more … more restrained I suppose, especially after that comment about the stars!Oh God, I really don’t know what made me say that.Besides now I’ve broken the ice … and I do feel more confident about going back and trying again ….”
Head still bent, it was clear Joe was still exasperated as he shook his head in frustration but when at last he glanced across at her again and saw an exaggerated grin on her face and her teeth gleaming at him, his lip turned upwards and she saw the twinkle in his eyes appear again. Suddenly he couldn’t help the bellow of laughter which escaped his mouth and he flicked her arm playfully as she blew out a sigh of relief and linked arms with him again, dragging him forward so they could begin to look around the place properly.
Marie thought the hotel elegant. At first glance it could be considered old fashioned she supposed with its wooden reception area and deep, comfortable chairs but she loved their stylish design.It seemed to have kept something of the past even though the outside was now so modern.
On the wall she saw a notice displayed saying that new renovation plans were being discussed and she frowned, hoping they wouldn’t spoil its old world charm too much.
The hotel reception counter had been richly decorated with ornate woodwork presented in a curved circle and throughout the foyer there were large stone pillars holding up the high ceiling. There were deep comfortable chairs and settees scattered around and lamps on antique tables in convenient places close by.She didn’t think all the furniture matched as some were upholstered and others made of hearty leather but it all appeared to be from the same period and quite eclectic in design.
She remembered all of a sudden the one question she really did want to ask, which was about the Blooms and berated herself for not remembering. She felt quite sure that this was something Ali would have known though on reflection perhaps interrogating him too much at their first meeting might have been considered ill-mannered.
She and Joe continued their tour and she looked across at the large external windows with curtains sweeping to the floor. Everything looked clean and bright.At the back, outside, was a huge swimming pool with a wonderful lush and tropical garden and patio area, which they also walked around in the evening sun and she grinned at Joe in excitement.
At last they found the Hatari Tavern where they found a seat and looked through the drinks menu. Marie decided to order one of the special cocktails but Joe instead chose cognac.The waiter brought them over to their table on a small try and left them a food menu to study.
Marie pored over the dishes available and absently took a large gulp of the vodka, white rum and honey with just a splash of lime, gasping as the potent liquid burnt the back of her throat. Joe laughed at the sudden glaze in her eyes as she tried to stop an outburst of coughing.
At last she managed to speak; hoarsely as her voice was still affected by the strength of the alcohol in the glass.
“Joe there’s a great variety of fish on order.Listen to this.It says here that ‘it’s caught and flown down fresh each day by airplane from Lake Victoria’*.Doesn’t that sound divine?”
“Only a woman calling herself Ocean could romanticise about fish!”
“Oh don’t be so tetchy Joe. Anyway what are you having then?”
“I think I’ll just try one of their light snacks. I guess I shouldn’t have raided the fridge before we set off out.It’s Della’s fault.”
“You’ve eaten already!”
He grinned sheepishly at her and nodded.
Once the waiter had taken their order Marie looked around the room in delight. She took a smaller sip of the potent cocktail and made up her mind; she would book herself into this hotel before she left, just for one night.The thought of doing so warmed her even more than the drink.
The food wasn’t long in arriving and as it was placed in front of them Marie took a fork full of her fish and proclaimed it delicious.
As they ate Marie continued looking around, pointing out to Joe some of the pictures hanging on the wall.
“Don’t let’s leave without checking them out Joe. You were right I think about this bar existing to remind people about Hatari.”
Joe nodded and grinned.
“You doubted me Ocean? Tut tut.”
Marie hooted in derision and they continued chatting amiably. Afterward they ordered coffee, declining the home made deserts that the waiter tried to tempt them with.After paying the bill they sat awhile longer and enjoyed the relaxed ambiance of the room.
At last they had to move but not before Marie stopped to inspect more closely some of the photos and pictures on the wall. These showed in quite close detail some of the actors in what now seemed to be the familiar named film Hatari.She recognised John Wayne immediately but there were other pictures of actors that she barely knew including Hardy Krueger and Red Buttons.
Some of the pictures were taken outside a Lodge and as she peered at it, she was sure this must be Momella, which Jessica had spoken about. It was too much of a coincidence not to be.She would have to investigate further as well she decided, or perhaps even something else to ask Ali?
She wanted to see everything and Joe good naturedly indulged her. They walked around every part of the hotel.She was especially interested in the emporium of locally made crafts for sale though found they were a little more expensive than those she had already seen in the town on the market but that was to be expected she supposed.However, she browsed through everything to see if there was anything strikingly different.
They stopped in front of the Swala Gem Traders and she gazed in admiration at the tanzanite gemstones on display in the window.
After dragging Joe into the shop she spoke to a girl there and asked about the tanzanite.
“Yes madam. This is a local semi-precious stone that comes from a district called Mbuguni-Mererani.”
“Is that near here?”
“Yes madam. It is a mining area in the South.It is the only place in the world where the purple-bluish precious stone can be mined.Many young Arusha and Meru men journey to Mererani to seek their fortunes there.”
She knew that this girl was expecting her to buy something and though she scrutinised everything they had on show, trying to find something in her price range was impossible. Eventually smiling evasively at the assistant but thanking her for her time, she said that she needed to think about it and they left empty handed, promising to return another day.
“Wasn’t it interesting to find out that it’s been a family concern for so long Joe.”
“Yes and how proud was that assistant announcing very grandly that ‘Mr. Saul senior was the first geologist to discover the tanzanite deposits in 1967’ …”
Marie laughed, finishing his sentence, “… and it was he who’d introduced tanzanite to Tiffany’s in New York, no less!”
They both laughed now but Marie found herself yearning for one of the beautiful gems though she knew she would have to think seriously about the cost.
Suddenly something else caught her eye and she jumped forward.
“Oh Joe look at that!”
She almost skipped to take a better look. There was a photograph on the wall that she pounced on delightedly, scrutinising every little detail but there was no doubt, it was an image that confirmed, at last, that there had been a sign outside the hotel at some stage, stating that,
“this spot is exactly half way between The Cape and Cairo and the exact centre of Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika”.
“All I need to do now Joe is find out whether the sign is still displayed somewhere, but though they tried there seemed no indication of it and at last Joe managed to drag her away. In a rush of affection she linked arms with him and kissed his cheek.
“Thank you so much for coming with me Joe. I know that it has probably all been rather dull for you”.
He grinned sheepishly, “I’ve enjoyed it really Ocean, and I’ve learnt some things as well. Anyway, I promised that I’d bring you, and … well you know this was our last opportunity as I’m moving on tomorrow.”
She nodded at him.
“Yes I know. You’re off to Engaruka tomorrow.You could have gone today but I put you off nagging about coming here this evening.That’s another reason I’m grateful.I will miss you Joe but I’ll be busy enough myself at the hospital next week, though I have to confess I’m going to find the Director and ask about it too.I’m not sure what he’ll say but I’m conscious that suddenly time is passing so quickly and your contract finishes before mine.Oh Joe you won’t leave the House without saying goodbye will you?”
“Of course not Ocean McKenzie, what sort of friend do you think I am!”
“A very generous friend Joe. It has been a lovely evening, really, though there were some things I didn’t get to find out but that was my own fault.Anyway, now I’ve been once, I’ll definitely be coming back and then I’ll see if Ali Two can answer my questions”.
He shook his head in mock exasperation as she named the Head Receptionist.
They walked back to the House in in an a relaxed silence and though they went into the living room to see their friends and tell them a little about what they’d done, Joe didn’t stay long because he had an early start the following day. It was left to Marie to give them a more comprehensive story about their visit to the Arusha Hotel.
Nevertheless, early next morning there was a small group of electives there to wave him off and though she missed Joe’s company, she didn’t stay sad for long as knew they would have much to catch up on when he returned.
Though he hadn’t been sure whether or not he’d spend one week or two in the village, Marie had already made up her mind to ask the Director whether it could be arranged for her to travel the following Saturday. She hoped Joe would still be there and that finally they’d get the chance to work together before he returned to the house.
The following week actually flew by. She spent her time working between the Children’s ward and Accident and Emergency.
She was feeling altogether more settled about the routine and though still exhausted at the end of each day, she felt a great sense of satisfaction realising that she was no longer Ocean McKenzie, student nurse. She had learnt so much here and made such good friends and this was now beginning to have a relaxing effect on her.
She sought out the Director early in the week and he approved her request to go to the village the following Saturday. After informing Samuel, he made all the arrangements.
On Thursday of that week there was the usual much anticipated BBQ night on the terrace though that night there were goat kebabs on the menu! Marie pulled a face declining to try them, despite many of the others doing so, saying they were quite delicious.Somehow though she couldn’t force herself to even do that and chose an alternative from the plentiful food on offer.
There was an opportunity to visit the orphanage on Friday and she volunteered to go. The Director made the arrangements co-ordinating with Samuel as they had links set up with the House and a group of them went in the afternoon.
Marie was amazed as had never met such happy children. They loved the usual things like colouring and playing games and all the electives joined in with the activities.The children were loving and playful even though some had such unhappy stories according to the staff.They came home with a bag full of Japatis, which had been cooked for them whilst they were there but there were far too many to eat so they brought the remainder home to share at the House.
That evening once they’d had their evening meal and talked about the day’s activities, Marie decided to ask Samuel once more about the Leakeys. She found him in the living room and asked the question again.
He shook his head and waved his hands, whilst gazing wildly at her, opening his eyes wide, as if her request was quite unreasonable.
“I think you possess the memory of an elephant, Ocean McKenzie!”
Marie feigned shock, pouting at him and he laughed, loudly in genuine amusement.
“Not an elephant then … but perhaps a more ancient creature … something like a Woolly Mammoth possibly!”
At this she put her hands on her hips and her eyes began to glint. He knew she was preparing for a sharp retort but before she could open her mouth he lifted his hands in submission and nodded indulgently.
“Okay … OK you win … “ and he grinned at her expansively before pointing his finger to the large settee which she moved to swiftly and sat down, waiting primly with her hands on her lap.
Suddenly he clapped his hands and asked for quiet.
“Listen everyone. Ocean McKenzie has shown some interest in the history of this part of Africa so I’m going to tell her a story and if you too want a little history then please join us now.
Several of the electives looked up and smiled before coming over in small groups. Some sat on the floor and others joined Marie on the settee, before Samuel at last sat at the end facing the group.
“So are you all ready.” He said. “Then I will begin.”
He grinned broadly and Marie watched as he pulled a serious face, behaving in a very sinister way, looking all around and lowering his voice as if what he was about to say was some massive secret.
She grabbed his shoulder and shook him playfully.
“Samuel! Behave yourself.Get on with it.”
… and so he told the story.
This Story starts at the legendary Oldupai Gorge, which, as some of you already know, is a 31 mile strip that lies between the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti plains. It has often been described as the ‘Cradle of Mankind’.Archaeological excavations have shown that millions of years ago it was abundantly inhabited by many species of animal, including Woolly Mammoth … a sabre toothed big cat … a horned giant giraffe … and various predecessors of the game found today.Also, of course, early man.
In places the Gorge rises up to 197 feet and layers of sediment deposited in an ancient lake can be clearly seen and it is here that remains of life can be found.
Louis Leakey was born near Nairobi in Kenya and his parents were missionaries. He grew up with children from the Kikuyu tribe.However he was sent to school in England and became a qualified Anthropologist.After leaving he got a job here in our own Tanzania, as an African expert on an archaeological mission.
He had long held the view that early man developed in Africa and he studied the Oldupai Gorge and analysed the site. He concluded that it was the home of the oldest Homo Sapien in Africa and probably anywhere else in the world.Leakey married a lady called Mary and they had one son called Richard.Although Leakey discovered many fossils and Stone Age hand tools in the Gorge, it took him many years to prove his theories and he had to constantly argue with other professionals who tried to contradict his claims.
However his wife turned out to be the star of the family as it was she, in 1959, who found their first significant fossil; a robust skull with huge teeth called Zinjanthropus and they were later given a large amount of funding, which allowed them to greatly increase the scope of their excavations at Oldupai.
It is now widely acknowledged that they had almost single-handedly traced East Africa’s prehistory from the Miocene to the Early Stone Age.
He finished with a flourish before standing up and bowing low to his audience, who were completely silent for several seconds, until at last they all stood up and applauded loudly.
“Is that for real?” asked Ned.
“Fantastic.” Said Jessica. “I even believed that bit about sabre toothed big cats and the horned giant giraffe”, at which point she jumped up and started performing the sand man dance, moving her neck like an Egyptian as it went first one way and then the other, her hands gesturing like meercats backwards and forwards.
Everyone was laughing now, even Marie, but she had to admit that Samuel had told the story beautifully. Not just saying the words, but talking with feeling about the subject.She looked at him with admiration.However, it seemed obvious that some of the audience thought it was just a tale, but something about the story captured her imagination.She would put money on the probability that the Leakeys really had found something significant.
Until she’d started reading about Tanzania she’d had no idea about the influence it had had in the past on the lives of the world today. Arusha was a small East African town of seemingly little significance, yet it held so many secrets and wonders for the visitor.She was determined to try and find out more about the Leakeys and a visit to the Olduvai Gorge was now well and truly on her list of things to do.
She stood up from the settee and gave Samuel a hug.
“You liked my story Ocean?”
“I loved your story Samuel and I believed every word of it and you know what, if I can pull it off, I’m going to visit that Gorge and have a look around myself. You called it Oldupai though.Is that its proper name?”
“It is Ocean. I believe a Westerner once misheard it and now everyone, except the tribes, uses Olduvai.Do you think though, that you’ll find a horned giant giraffe?”
“Stop it. I can’t make my mind up whether you made that bit up or not?”
She raised an eyebrow waiting for him to confess he had but he remained silent, looking into her eyes steadily. Finally he shrugged his shoulders and his tone was strangely subdued.
“I think that you will find many surprises there Ocean. Many before you have already done so and who knows how much more is yet to be discovered, just waiting for the next Leakey to arrive?”
Ordinarily she would have laughed but his sombre mood supressed her mirth, especially as for the briefest of moments a disconcerting shiver swept through her entire body, which seemed ridiculous considering the temperature.
She grinned at him and nodded but then changed the subject, talking about her trip to the village instead. He made no comment regarding her lack of response.
She wasn’t late to bed but once tucked up, sleep eluded her as she thought not only about seeing Joe again but also the Leakeys, who continued to intrigue her. She simply must visit the Gorge and find out if she could get more information on the relevance of what it was they had discovered there.
Samuel had called the Gorge the ‘Cradle of Mankind’ and that had captured her imagination. What other surprises could the area hold she thought as she finally dropped off to sleep.
James, her driver and guide came to the house to pick her up at 6am. Three dedicated electives came to wave her off, as well as Samuel and once she had eaten she wasted no time, alighting the daladala and waving at the small party until the vehicle turned the corner before making herself comfortable in one of the seats.
They travelled throughout the morning to Engaruka. The journey took about seven hours but the stunning scenery as they drove made the time race by, despite the chaos on the bus which was filled to capacity and the fact it was stifling hot didn’t make it any easier.
When James had first arrived and she had thrown her bag into the shuttle she had thought naively that it would just be the two of them but apparently his contract with Medical Work Abroad was just a small part of his load, because there was a continuous stream of people who needed transporting to and from the village and he provided a service for everyone.
The village was North West of Mount Meru and at a much higher altitude than Arusha so of course as they travelled, she got a better view of the top of the mountain. Marie had packed some warm clothes and chuckled to herself as she’d done so, thinking what an awfully British thing it was to do.When she had told the others in living room the previous evening they had agreed and Ned, joking as usual, had asked her if she was expecting snow!She’d argued that perhaps it just might and that had caused further hilarity.
Looking up at the spectacular sight of the western side of the dormant volcano, which was to their right as they travelled, she knew she really would have to find a guide to take her to the top before she finally left Tanzania, so she could explore and find out if it too had any secrets of its own. Everywhere she had visited so far had opened up and revealed something new.However on this trip, the location of the village to its west gave her a much better view of its proud magnificence and for now that would have to do.
It was an exhausting journey but eventually they arrived and she was delighted to find Joe there, waiting to meet her and they hugged warmly.
“How did you know that I would be here today Joe? I was going to surprise you.”
“Let’s just say I can read your mind Ocean. You were so excited about it last weekend that I knew you’d at least try to get it organised.In any case really, I am sorry Kipenzi, but I think I’m going to be a bitter disappointment to you.I’ve going back today on this shuttle.That’s why I have my bag with me, though likely, it’s probable you haven’t even noticed.”
Marie suddenly felt deflated. She looked on the ground at his packed bag and knew she was more than disappointed and didn’t know what to say next.Joe seeing immediately her misery quickly tried to explain the situation.
“There’s been a bit of a mix up that’s all, simply because we’ve actually had more doctors here this week than expected and though I’ve been busy, I really don’t think there’s any need for me to stay another week … besides I think I need some time off.”
He looked down at her face still dejected and tried again.
“Don’t be too sad Ocean, I really am sorry to disappoint you. Look, let me introduce you to Joseph.He’s your contact here at the village and he can be relied on entirely.If you have any worries or problems he’ll deal with them all and also he’ll introduce you to the villagers and give you a tour around the whole village.”
He gestured brightly to a young man standing patiently behind them. Marie turned her head and glanced at him.He had a huge grin on his face and she made an effort to smile, not wanting to appear rude and as an afterthought stepped forward to shake his hand before then he made himself scarce, instinctively recognising that these young people might want some time together before Joe left.
They had about an hour and during that time Joe did most of the talking, trying to impart to her some detail of what he’d been doing throughout the week and trying to steer clear on the subject of his imminent departure. However, at last it was time for him to leave and he saw how very quiet she still was.He squeezed her hand reassuringly and then hugged her close fleetingly before he quickly got on the daladala.
“Look, I promise we’ll catch up when you return …”
As the shuttle started to move away he leant out and shouted through the door.
“Just try and enjoy it Ocean!”
He put his thumb in the air as he grinned widely at her. She nodded trying to keep the smile pinned on her face and waved in return but felt numb, still stunned that he wouldn’t be here as she’d expected.
She continued to watch the little bus make its way down the bumpy track even when it was only a dot on the horizon. How she wished that he’d fought a little harder to stay in the village.Besides she had come this week especially, not just so they could work together but perhaps relax a little as well.
She was suddenly hit by a wave of pure loneliness that quite simply she hadn’t anticipated and for a second she thought she would burst into tears. Running her hands through her hair she realised just how nervous she was feeling.James, the guide had told her that he would pick her up the following weekend if she wanted to go back, even though she hadn’t really made up her mind then.Joe leaving had changed everything.
Then just as quickly her mood changed again and she angrily brushed away the dampness forming on her cheeks and stamped her foot!
“For goodness sake Ocean you’ve got to stop this persistent melancholy. You’ve been looking forward to this adventure all week and now, just look at the state of you!”
She had spoken out loud even though she stood alone and in disgust she turned her back swiftly on the fast disappearing daladala and then paused, caught up in her contrary thoughts.
When she had first started at the hospital in Meru she had quickly discovered what limited resources she would be working with, compared to England. In this village it was bound to be similar, only perhaps with less human support, but it would just mean she would have to take her responsibilities a little more seriously, that was all.
The biggest challenge she had here in the village was its remote location … and the tribes themselves had been doing it for centuries! She really must grow up.She hadn’t even started work in the village yet and here she was in tears and standing with a gloomy attitude because her friend had left.
She reflected ruefully how much more excited she had become at the prospect of working with Joe than actually working in the village itself. It hadn’t been like this when she had first signed her contract.Working in the village as well as the hospital had meant everything to her.How could she have forgotten her huge appetite for this adventure?
She berated herself for getting so attached to him, shaking her head to rid of it of his memory. Standing straighter she looked around and saw Joseph immediately, waiting patiently for her.
She had the opportunity of a lifetime in front of her and she owed it to herself and the people of this village to make sure she did a good job. She must put aside completely her decision of whether to go or stay next Saturday and forget her despondency.
So far the worst part of the experience had been the journey here travelling in such a hot and crammed space full of children literally being sick around her!
She grinned widely at Joseph, picking up her bag and waving at him before walking forward swiftly to greet him properly this time.
“Oh Joseph. I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting.Come on you can show me around if you don’t mind.”
He smiled shyly, putting her at her ease straight away by starting the conversation, telling her how he would take her to meet the people from the dispensary later but first he would take her to the hut which would be her home whilst she remained here.
Marie nodded enthusiastically. “Lovely.Thank you.”
However, once they arrived she gulped nervously, an involuntary reaction of dismay overwhelming her as she gazed at the dwelling in alarm, but 30 minutes later, settled in a chair with a cup of tea in her hands, her nerves were calmed and she knew that everything would be fine.
Joseph had initially introduced her to a woman called Waridi, who had been waiting outside the hut for them. She’d smiled shyly at Marie and had directed her through the door.Nothing could have prepared Marie for the neatness of her new home.
Waridi had given her a brief tour around the tiny space within the house and it really was what had been described to her back in Arusha; a cow dung hut.At the House they had tried to prepare her for the experience but she had refused to think too much about it then, telling herself that she would deal with it when she confronted it.
She smiled as she continued drinking deeply of the hot liquid wrapped in her hands. Well she’d confronted it now and it hadn’t been as dreadful as she had expected.
Waridi had primarily taken her to her bedroom. It had all the trappings of luxury, including a bed which was made of sticks and though she had seen it had a mattress; it was obvious that other creatures, including spiders had already made themselves very comfortable in it too.
She had kept the smile on her face and nodded at her hostess in appreciation but then noticed that on top of the bed was something Waridi had called a shukas. She’d gone over and fingered the softness of it, marvelling at its beauty with genuine pleasure.Glancing up at Waridi her eyebrows raised with a question in her eyes her hostess had merely nodded her head graciously.
“Thank you. It is beautiful.”
Dropping her bag by the side of the bed the tour had continued. The dining room had been the largest space and in the middle of the room was a large table surrounded by rugs and comfortable chairs.Outside she had been shown the toilet though it was tiny.Again she had smiled at Waridi nodding her head politely as she had swung her arm in an arc, softly mouthing English words to describe what she was being shown.
Joseph had translated some of what she was being told, grinning cheekily as he told her that it would be a half hour walk to fetch fresh water and she should be prepared to encounter bats! Marie had said nothing merely taking a large breath of air and blowing it out slowly.Joseph she’d decided was a tease but that moment had not been the time to confront him.
She realized she was still a little dazed by this new venture and comprehended that until this moment she had never experienced living with so little of anything that she’d become so accustomed to during her short life. It seemed unlikely, just yet, that she could even consider having a bath whilst she was here.Coming from England to Africa had been a culture shock for her but this was even more basic.
She contemplated this as she relaxed in the dining room. What did the tribe members honestly think about the steady flow of medical electives coming to live and work among them, staying a week here and two weeks there and then just disappearing forever?
Did any of the electives ever make a real difference to the villagers’ life she wondered? Truly, she hoped they did, but she felt instinctively that to the tribe it didn’t really matter.They were a resourceful people and had already survived for centuries and would continue to do so even if the volunteer medics stopped coming completely, because this was their life, as it always had been.It was a sobering thought.
After about an hour Joseph told her he would now take her to the dispensary to be introduced to the staff there. After saying farewell to Waridi, they walked through the village.It seemed common knowledge now that a new nurse had arrived from town and as they walked she smiled widely and waved at what appeared to be a small crowd.Surely this must be how the Queen felt when she did her walkabouts.It was quite surreal.
Once there she was introduced to the doctors that Joe had spoken about as well as one other elective called Lamisha, who’d worked in Surgical at Meru. It seemed she knew Joe too.There were also some African nurses who worked at the dispensary on a part time basis.
Marie stayed a few hours, observing them as they worked and finding out what supplies they had and didn’t have. Lamisha gave her a brief induction and Marie recognised that the resources were even more limited than in the hospital but it was extremely interesting.The dispensary was set up like a Doctor’s surgery and Marie asked questions of Lamisha as she followed her round.Finally Lamisha stopped and turned to face Marie.
“Did anyone give you guidance on what is expected of you here Ocean?”
“Yes Lamisha. The Director at Meru spoke to me about my role here.”
“Good but if you do think of anything else then please ask. I have every confidence in your capabilities.The Director would not have sent you if he didn’t think you able enough.”
She smiled broadly at that thinking, ’That Director is a dark horse. Perhaps his bark really was worse than his bite’.
When the dispensary closed they went to eat and Martin Davenport, who was one of the senior Doctors, walked with her and told her a little of Engaruka’s history which was fascinating and just a little surprising.
“Engaruka has such an interesting story Ocean, though even now there are still so many mysteries to it too. Has anyone told you about the farming community that came here sometime in the fifteenth century?”
Marie shook her head and Martin continued.
“They built a village area, on the foot slopes of the Rift Valley escarpment, which eventually housed several thousand people and whilst there, went on to develop an intricate irrigation and cultivation system that channelled water directly from the Crater Highlands rift escarpment, through a stone-block canal all the way back to stone lined cultivation terraces here in Engaruka.* It was an incredible feat which increased the fertility of the plots and promoted growing enormously.Even today the site still poses so many questions, including the identity of the founders and how they developed such an ingenious farming system.Even more puzzling is why they abandoned it.”
“It must be close by then Martin”
“Yes, it’s just a little further up, above the village. I’ve been several times and it’s really quite fascinating.It’s a ruin now of course though you can still spot some remnants of houses and graves but the remains of the irrigation system can still be seen perfectly.Although built without cement almost 500 years ago, more has remained of the agricultural settlement than from the stone houses built by the Germans early in the century.”
“The Germans got up as far as this then?”
“Yes my dear. The Germans colonised most of East Africa.”
“I wonder if the people of Engaruka fared better than the tribes in Arusha at their hands.”
“You’ve been to the cultural centre then and read some of the testimonies?”
“Yes. It upset me a little I must say.”
Martin patted her hand and then diplomatically steered her back to the story of the ruins.
“The first explorer to record their existence was Dr. Gustav Fischer* who passed by this way in the late nineteenth century and it’s said that he compared them to the tumbled down walls of ancient castles. Even the Leakeys came here and investigated the site in 1935 though apparently they were disappointed by the lack of burial sites ….”
“I’ve heard of the Leakeys!” said Marie interrupting in her excitement.
“Yes they were rather infamous around these parts for a time. I think they preferred bodies though to buildings or irrigation systems.They discovered something quite significant at the Olduvai Gorge I believe.”
“Yes, I know, something called ‘Zinjanthropus’ though I have to admit I don’t know much about it yet. I know that the Gorge is called the ‘Cradle of Mankind’ which seems to imply it was the birthplace of the human race.What do you think Martin?”
Marie was beginning to enjoy herself now.
“I think that’s very logical Ocean.” And they both laughed before Marie continued.
“Samuel, our Programme Manager at the House, told me a story about the Leakeys and I fully intend visiting the Gorge whilst I’m here to try and uncover the mystery of their finds.”
“Well done you. This whole region is full of surprises don’t you think?It isn’t anything like you expect.Regarding the ruins though, I have to say, I’m particularly interested in finding more out about them whilst I’m here.Archaeological studies are on-going of course but given that I’m working in the village fairly frequently I have the perfect opportunity to visit any time I like.”
Marie smiled at him, agreeing before he continued.
“The Maasai are actually beginning to herd their cattle throughout the rift region, given that we have almost eradicated instances of the tse tse fly which were so prevalent in the region just a few short years ago and the cattle get the benefit of good grazing on the terraces. However, the Maasai will also conduct tours of the site too if you ask them*.
Marie nodded she just might do that and they talked some more before there was a shout that the food was almost prepared.
They turned towards the tables but Martin paused, clearly with something else to say.
“I tell you what Ocean, how about you and I going to see the ruined city together before you go back into town, that is if you really are interested? I could give you a running commentary of what I’ve discovered so far?”
“That would be lovely Martin. Thanks.I accept your invitation.”And she really meant it.
“We’ll talk again then and arrange something for later this week.”
However, they were compelled then to turn their attention to the food and went over to see what barbecued meats were on offer. The villagers were also putting the finishing touches to the preparation of a starter, of medicinal soup, but everything smelt wonderful and they started to tuck in.
Afterwards there followed something called ‘tsoto’ which was apparently traditional Maasai singing and dancing and Marie thought she had never before seen anything so joyous to behold.
Eventually, though she’d had a lovely time, Marie felt a weariness settling on her and made her excuses to go back to the hut. As she undressed she yawned sleepily, in no doubt she would be asleep in minutes, despite the strange surroundings and as she snuggled into the shukas trying to get comfortable, that’s exactly what she did.
Hours later though she was woken abruptly by an unearthly howling and sat up bolt straight, her head still drowsy but her body alert. The room was quiet and empty of anything except the bed and a wooden chest of drawers.The entrance with its makeshift door was motionless but through the drapes at the window she could see the moon shining, bathing the village in reflected light very serenely and taking in several long, deep breaths she laid back down, pulling the shuka up to her chin and closing her eyes once more.
However, twice more she was woken in the same way and each time she found it that much harder to fall back asleep again. Eventually she found herself tossing and turning, desperately trying to will herself back to sleep.
Finally she gave up and flopped onto her back, running her hands though her hair and peering up at the ceiling. Wide awake now, she began listening to the actual sounds of the wild outside and as she lay in the darkness, she was conscious of every single echoed noise, even though these were sporadic.In the silence between, the camp seemed devoid of any sound at all.She felt like she must be the only living soul in the village or even the planet itself.
It was quite fanciful but even so she shivered, though it wasn’t cold. A feeling of foreboding spread through her entire body, filling her with dread and making her tremble, her skin suddenly crawling with goose bumps.
“You’re letting your imagination run riot Marie!”
She said the words out loud before turning onto her side, plumping up the pillow and slamming her head onto it hard. Trying to distract herself, she focused on her afternoon conversation with Martin, when they’d been speaking about the irrigation system above the village.
She could barely believe that the Leakeys had been to the old ruins above, to investigate some of the burial sites there. What a coincidence given she’d only discovered their existence so recently.She must try to remember and tell Samuel what she’d learnt, when she returned.
She realised too that visiting the abandoned city itself had quite captured her imagination. How strange that even now no-one knew for sure just what had happened there and why the founders had left so suddenly.
Eventually she drifted off but her dreams were fitful. She felt fraught with concerns and dreamt such strange happenings.Initially she saw people entering the hut and she felt herself begin to count them, just as if they were sheep.They filed in quietly at first but as more and more arrived, eventually the hut became full to capacity and heaved with bodies.She began to feel stifled by their presence and felt like screaming out loud for them to leave but then suddenly, the villagers vanished and were replaced by goats.
She didn’t know how she knew but it seemed they’d broken loose from the compound in the village and at first her mind was amused by them as they were so cute but then the dream took on a darker turn and the meek goats, gently bleating, turned into ferocious wild animals that invaded her room with menace in their eyes, and it seemed they were intent on mauling her.
It was at that point she woke, sitting up immediately, startled by the terrible images still so alive in her head. She could feel her heart beating loudly in her chest and as she looked out through the window she saw the light of dawn rising at last and sighed, resting back against the pillow as she rubbed her weary eyes and then wafted the shuka on the bed, up and down, to cool her hot body from the over-excited nightmare.
Her mind contemplated that it was Sunday and today was her first working day at the dispensary. Checking the clock as well as listening to the sound of the villagers already rising and starting their daily routines, she decided to rise as well, dressing immediately and trying to concentrate on what she would need at work that day.She wondered if there would be water to wash in and also to clean her teeth.The water if nothing else should revive her.
Contemplating these thoughts and still feeling groggy, Waridi walked through the door entrance with her baby on her hip, and in her jittery state, made her jump.
Marie wasn’t sure what to say but in the end merely smiled at the woman before saying, ‘Iraga tesereiani’ as she had practiced, which she had been told back at the House was a morning greeting.
Waridi smiled and nodded but didn’t speak. She went back into the large room and Marie followed where her hostess proceeded to make some tea, flushing the pot on the floor.Marie stayed silent and merely watched patiently.She wasn’t used to being waited on but remembered advice given that this was the role of the hostess and she didn’t want to appear disrespectful.
Once the tea was made she graciously accepted it and sat down in one of the chairs smiling her thanks and sipping it, grateful for the hot liquid which both revived and soothed her as she drank.
Although this hut was going to be her home for the duration of her visit she knew from the chatter back at the House that she would be sharing it with the host family. However, it was surprisingly empty just now but even as she thought this, members of the family started to make an appearance until eventually the hut was quite full and for one brief moment she was reminded again of her nightmare.
The men sat on the floor, smoking and were keen to talk to her about their village. Their limited English was a little hard to understand so she listened keenly but some of what they said was equally as interesting as what Martin had told her the previous evening about the founders of the city.
Simel the Head of the household wanted to tell her about the history of the village. He was also particularly keen to speak about the development of the irrigation system, which of course Martin had already discussed with her but she felt some relief now that he had, as knowing a little more about it than she had known yesterday meant she was able to contribute more to the conversation.What made it more interesting though was that Simel told it from the perspective of one of the tribe rather than a visitor to the village like Martin was.
From the people’s point of view the irrigation system increased the fertility of the land and though the original community had abandoned the settlement, they had left their cultivation system in place and it had continued to make the land fertile. This was good for everyone, including the village, its people and their cattle which they herded around the area to graze.
The irrigation had also made their village famous because now tourists came to visit the archaeological site and the Maasai were very proud to conduct them to the ruins and tell them the story of the founders.
He went on to tell her about other farms in the area whose crops had benefited from the irritation methods used. His pride shone out when he told her that Engaruka was one of the few places where Maasai were practicing irrigation methods and that they were becoming so famous that other tribes were coming into the area for the farming as the ground was so fertile.
Above the ruined city, narrow footpaths wound up into the Rift Valley escarpment and guided by Maasai warriors, people were able to climb to the top and look out on the wonderful view of the ruined city and the surrounding Maasai plains.
Further North of Engaruka rose the great green mountain of Kerimasi which was of volcanic origin and from its peak you could look out over the impressive views of the sacred rainbow* volcano of Ol Doinyo Lengai, as well as Lake Natron, the Ngorongoro highlands and the mountains of Kerumbeine and Gelai.
Marie listened intently to everything Simel had to say and when he’d finished speaking, felt like clapping but instead she told him that he and his family lived in a very special place and were right to be proud. She almost asked there and then if one of the family members could actually give her a tour of the ruins, but bit her lip to prevent herself from saying it, at least until she had spoken to Martin again.The last thing she wanted to do was cause offence to her host family by asking them to take her and then having to say that she had already arranged to go with someone else.
When it was time for her to leave for the dispensary, Joseph appeared, giving a greeting to each of the members of the family before beckoning her and they set off walking. Again all along the route there were many children from the village who came out of their houses to wave and greet her, which was delightful.
At last they arrived at the dispensary and Joseph took her through the entrance and she walked in to greet the staff that she’d met the day before. This comprised of Martin of course though it seemed both of the other doctors had gone out to check up on patients who had returned to their homes.
Lamisha was also there, as well as the other three local nurses, all of whom could speak a little English though one could only speak Kiswahili and Maa. Having shaken their hands warmly in greeting she was shown where to put her bag and then it was straight down to work.
Her first patient was a Maasai man who had a deep wound between his toes. She had already been told by Lamisha that the men here were taught not to show pain.She had no anaesthetic and it was really quite difficult not only to dig away at the pus and clean out the inflammatory mess, but then to look up and apologise, only to see him smiling at her, just as if she’d just given him a bar of chocolate!
During the day she was required to do some Practice Nurse tasks, including adult and child vaccinations. It seemed however that those for birth control were slightly controversial amongst the Maasai.Also she dealt with wound dressings, malaria treatment and dispensing of medication. One nurse was undertaking diagnosis and prescribing in the same role as a Nurse Practitioner in the UK would have done which Marie found was a good opportunity to compare techniques*.
By the end of the day she quickly realised the extent of the problem of limited resources, including the staff, many of whom only worked part-time but it had less effect on her than it had done previously. Unexpectedly she thought again of Joe, wishing he had stayed.Whether it was one Doctor or more, always there was someone who could have benefited by another pair of hands.
She couldn’t stop herself from wondering too whether he’d set off on his Safari yet and if he would be back when she returned? So much of the work she had carried out she wanted to discuss with him but it seemed they were destined never to get a minute together to do it.Always it seemed she was one step behind Joe!
The day passed quickly and at 2pm she set off back to the hut. She was tired but helped Waridi with the children and some chores and later that evening, after she had eaten with the family, relaxed in the hut listening to the many tales that were told about the area.She slept more soundly that night and next morning felt refreshed.
Later at work, half way through the morning, there was a commotion when two new doctors arrived in a taxi. It seemed there was an emergency at Meru hospital and Martin’s services were required.He got ready immediately, throwing a few things into his bag before leaving, travelling back to Arusha in the waiting taxi.Marie watched him dash passed but he paused, turning to come back and speak with her.
“Ocean. I really am sorry but I might not get back for a few days so it may be difficult to organise a visit together to Engaruka’s ruins this week, like we’d hoped.It’s a real shame but if you do get another opportunity to go, please take it.You won’t regret the experience.”
She smiled sadly before wishing him well and then he squeezed her hand and was gone. She was disappointed because he was a lovely man and she knew she’d have enjoyed his company as he was so enthusiastic about the ruins.
However, she brightened suddenly when she thought back to what Simel had said about the tours. He might be able to organise something and though she would miss Martin’s company, she would rather see the ruins without him than miss the opportunity altogether.Her mind raced on with how best to deal with it.Already she had a busy week organised.
She worked hard throughout the day and even limited her lunch break but as soon as her shift was over she didn’t linger and ran through the village in search of Simel. He wasn’t hard to find and breathlessly she asked him the question.
She could see straight away he had some concerns, thinking she wanted to go immediately but she reassured him saying she knew it would be impossible to do today but explaining too that she couldn’t consider taking a full day off either. He pondered a moment before finally telling her that if she could finish work early the following day then he would organise for his son Sankei to take her.She nodded at him thanking him for his consideration and dashed back to the dispensary and asked about finishing earlier, explaining to them the opportunity she had been offered.
There wasn’t a problem and it was agreed that she could finish at 1pm. She was grateful, knowing that they would be short staffed but determined she would start work earlier to try and make the time up.
That night she set the alarm for 5.30 and was out of the hut and running even as she munched on the bread that Waridi had offered her. That Tuesday was busy but the time flew by.Once it neared 1 0’Clock she kept a close eye on the clock and when she’d completed what she was doing, said her byes and left swiftly.She had already discussed with Simel and Sankei the time of her return and they were waiting for her outside the hut.
After a brief conversation with them both she went inside to get ready. She dressed in loose clothes, putting her scarf around her neck, her hat on her head and pulled on walking boots.Then she made sure to fill her water bottle and put the sunscreen and sunglasses into her bag before going out to find Sankei once more.
As she departed Waridi offered her a chunk of local bread wrapped in a cloth to take with her on the trip and Marie smiled her gratitude.
Simel told her that Sankei would take her to the ruined city and perhaps a little way above it, but given it would be the hottest part of the day then he wouldn’t be able to take her further upwards and beyond. She understood, grateful they were even offering her a tour at such short notice.
She waved bye to them both and they set off. The track they followed was a little unclear as it wound its way through the extended village, past huts and people’s backyards.
However as they walked steadily upwards, Marie was struck by the number of fast flowing streams now visible, which ran from the foot of the escarpment above her. It gave the village such a pleasant green look which previously she hadn’t noticed.Sankei told her that when he gave visitors a guide of the ruined city he usually tried to take them to a selection of farms where various crops were grown and explanations would be given about current farming and irrigation methods in the area, but his father had told him that instead he should take her directly to the ruined city and then above to look out over the plains.She nodded her head telling him she understood.
As they walked it was clear that few people came this way and they continued upwards, through the scrubland and from time to time she looked back, across at the wonderful view already beginning to emerge of the Rift Valley corridor.
They arrived at last at the ruins and from Martin’s description; somehow she had expected them to be much bigger than they actually were. Also it was quite bizarre to see grazing cattle in amongst the stone walls and she wondered whether or not their presence could ever impact on the ruins.It occurred to her that if the ruins were properly conserved then maybe the local people could ask for an entrance fee from visitors, which might go towards the village development and improve the lives of the tribes.
She pondered this. She could see the potential immediately but it seemed to her that this historical site was clearly becoming overrun.Quite simply the land was being claimed back by the earth and something drastic would have to be done soon to make sure it was preserved in its entirety or be lost to the world forever.Money again, or lack of it, was clearly the issue.
The people who lived here eked out a living from the land and there certainly wasn’t enough left over to devote to preserving, or restoration of, something that could be spectacular for the local economy and the world at large. Of course they did their tours and gave some commentary to visitors but it needed protecting as it could so easily soon be buried under the continual movement of the land.This thought troubled her a little.
Sankei spoke and she turned to look at where he was pointing, to the clear evidence now of the irrigated terraces and cultivated fields which were above them. He told her that the geologists and scientists who visited the area to study the ruins had often debated on why the people had left and there were various theories.
One was that years ago the river had changed its course, leaving the irrigation system useless. He had listened to many of their discussions on this subject but the real puzzle was that if this was the reason then why were there no similar stone ruins anywhere else?Marie agreed and stared around, wondering how different the place must have been when 5000 people had lived here*.It was quite inconceivable but truly in its time this place had seen the rise and fall of a mini empire.
It was already hot and she dampened her scarf and used it to cover her mouth before wrapping it under her hat and around her head as she followed Sankei. They scrambled around the hot rocks for another hour.She was intrigued by the strange walls that looked so much like the dry stone walls which ran around fields back home in England. Sankei pointed up the slope again and she saw that the ruins continued all the way up the Great Rift Escarpment and on to Mount Empakaai.He said that geologists had told him they were still searching to see just how far they went and it gave a grand impression of just how large the city must have been.
Marie was particularly fascinated by one of the graves that Sankei showed her. She bent down, trying to seek out an inscription which might give some understanding of the people who were buried there. All she could make out were pecked lines and marks* which meant nothing to her at all.She stood and brushed the dirt off her hands looking thoughtfully down at the grave.’Strange to think that this plot contained possible remains of someone who’d lived here.If they were alive today they would easily give answers to the questions that geologists and archaeologists alike were still searching for’.
It seemed that the Leakey’s hadn’t been interested enough in finding out, more interested perhaps in the origin of earlier humans rather than people who had lived a mere 500 years ago.
They fully investigated everything, including the remnant house walls from the German colonial times, the irrigation canals themselves and the ‘orpul’ where Sankei said the Maasai slaughtered their cows before eating them. Once they had scoured the area they retreated for awhile into some shade and ate the bread that Waridi had given them as well as some fruit that Sankei had brought. Remarkably, the ruined city abounded with colourful birds and butterflies and as she watched them darting about wondered how they survived at all.
Then they set off again but this time they left the ruined city to climb up even higher, along more narrow and precarious footpaths that wound up the Rift Valley escarpment. Guided by Sankei at last they reached the top.During the walk he had pointed out more of the wildlife, including further colourful birds and he showed her trees and plants that were used by the Maasai for making food and medicines.This was a particular passion of hers and she asked him many questions.
Eventually they stopped and she turned around and looked back down the escarpment at where they’d walked. In front of her the view was glorious; not only of the ruined city below but also the whole surrounding Maasai plains and though Simel had described it well, in reality the picture was breathtaking.She sat down, hunching her knees up to her chin and wrapping her arms around them, savouring the moment as she drunk in the image of landscape in front of her.
However, at last Sankei spoke. He told her it was time to return and she knew her disappointment was written on her face but she nodded and stood up, brushing herself down to rid herself of the dust of the day.She had been well aware that this trip would be brief but now with their departure imminent, and having got this far, she longed to continue travelling upwards and further North to see better the green mountain of Kerimasi that Simel had described to her
She knew too that not only did the climb from its foot to the summit take at least three to four hours to ascend but the journey there would be impossible to do in what was left of the day.
To dispel her discontent Sankei proceeded to describe to her what she would find if they had had the time to go. She would be able to see more of their cattle grazing in the pastures on the slopes.There would be birds of prey circling over the entire area and from the very top of the volcano, there would be more impressive views beyond of the sacred rainbow* volcano Ol Donyo Lengai, further North.
Marie closed her eyes and visualised it, reflecting that this was just what his father had told her when she’d first arrived. She also contemplated that twice now this volcano had been referred to as ‘sacred rainbow*’ and there had to be a story behind that.She understood now why the Masaai should call it sacred because it had been referred to as The Mountain of God where sacrifices were made to the Almighty, but why rainbow?
Sankei was obviously eager to start the descent so she let the thought go but this was something else she would need to ask them later.
They walked briskly down the escarpment and she realized unexpectedly how keen Sankei was to ensure they got back to the village before it went dark. He was right of course.The thought of the sun setting whilst they were still on the slopes was daunting and there would be no light to guide their way, making it dangerous.
However despite their speed he stopped briefly to point out to her the market area located in the shade of an Africa tulip tree and a huge mkuyu tree.
They arrived back at the hut at last and she was exhausted but also exhilarated too. That evening she talked with Simel again not only thanking him for allowing Sankei to take her but also to ask more about the ruined city, Kerimasi and Ol Donyo Lengai too.From what she understood of why it was referred to as the rainbow volcano, it appeared to possess a magic that enabled it to change colour.It was most captivating but though she tried to imagine a mountain with multi-coloured slopes, it was hard to actually picture just exactly what it would look like, except the thought ‘rock candy mountain’ appeared like a bubble in her mind and she pouted in amusement.
Later that night she went to bed and slept soundly and none of the sounds that had disturbed her that first night woke her at all.
At the dispensary the following day she discussed what she had seen at the ruins and broached the subject of using local plants in medicine. She was keen to expand her knowledge on this subject and hoped she would come to understand more about how the Masaai people mixed modern and traditional medicine.Though she knew that it was often thought of as controversial she couldn’t condone the practice.Though knowledge and science had advanced, it was logical that most modern medicine was derived originally from what nature had provided humankind with.
That evening after working all day she was taken on a very special visit to see the spiritual leader or the Olaiboni as he was apparently called. She said virtually nothing throughout her time there but watched and listened avidly to all that was said and done.Most of what she heard was in Maa and some was in Kiswahili but there were people around her who translated the words.However on the matter of traditional medicine, she felt Olaiboni was the fount of all wisdom regarding homeopathic practices.
His role it seemed was many, including officiating and directing ceremonies, providing advice to the elders and helping them with naming successive age groups, but he was also there to heal people, physically and mentally and this was what Marie wanted to find out more about.
Already she had heard it said that Tanzanian Olaibonis were the best healers anywhere. The Elder, who had invited her to see his Olaiboni, told a story which could confirm this opinion.It seemed that the Maasai, long before anyone else, had been inoculating against the small pox virus by making scratches on a person’s forearm, on which was smeared a small amount of pus from a dying patient.This was a well tried cure used by healers, well before vaccinations were ever introduced.Marie nodded her head as the story was told and it confirmed her already firm conviction that these resourceful people had been using the natural reserves of the area and curing ailments long before many other cultures.
Marie had discussed the role of the spiritual leader earlier that day with Nalutuesha, one of the nurses at the dispensary. She had told Marie that he was considered by many to be a bridge between man and God.The very act of healing was considered a religious act and going through the healing process was often an attempt to appeal to God, as it was believed that only God Himself could inflict sickness and therefore only He could provide a cure.The belief was that illness was not derived by chance occurrences, but through spiritual or social imbalance in the world, and God had been generous enough to give his healing power to the medicine man, but they were expected to practice the healing freely.
It had been a fascinating conversation and so this meeting with the Olaiboni was a special moment for her. He didn’t disappoint and though she didn’t understand everything, it was clear he had a presence that was truly holy and was revered by all those present.
On Thursday morning, Joseph asked if she wanted to walk around the neighbourhood with him after work, where he would show her the hidden merits of the forest saying that although he could not heal because he hadn’t been blessed with God’s secrets, all members of the tribe were taught to know which plants were used in the healing process.
“Oh Joseph, that would be wonderful really. Thank you.”
He smiled shyly and a time was agreed.
He was waiting for her outside when she finished work and they set off immediately.
It wasn’t long before they came upon an Acacia whistling tree and he showed her the green fruits which were used as appetite enhancers. He made her laugh when he went on to say that they could also be used either as whistles in the wind but also as toothpicks and then went on to demonstrate this.
For awhile they tried to play a tune together and she tried to teach him Frère Jacques but was hopeless so instead hummed the tune and before long Joseph could play it perfectly. She clapped his performance once he’d finished and he bowed low smiling his delight.
Next they found a Lobai bush with thin green leaves and Joseph in his halting English told her that this could be boiled and though she wasn’t sure at first that she had heard correctly, she thought that he said it treated syphilis! She let it go but wrote LOBAI in her diary to remind her to check it out again later.Also the Ilbibi flower with orange blossom whose leaves, when crushed and soaked in water for 15 minutes, would reduce liver pain once the patient had drunk the mixture.
There was a special type of twig, off one particular bush that Joseph insisted she put between her teeth. It was the strangest of feelings but in her mouth it didn’t really feel like wood at all.It was soft to bite and smooth but tough too because though she bit down hard on it as he instructed, it didn’t break.He said that it was often used by mothers in childbirth when the pain got particularly bad.She put it in her bag as this was particularly interesting to her as well as making a note of its name and leaf shape.
They toured the village for over an hour and she scribbled down everything she learnt. Though probably unlikely she would ever get the chance to practice the medicine, she wanted to keep a record realising that perhaps she may never get the opportunity again to follow around someone as knowledgeable as Joseph.Besides it would be a reminder of her African adventure and the practical wisdom of the people she had met.
Joseph was eager to move on and now he pointed out the Ilmisi which was a twig that you chewed when you had toothache and finally, he told her about the roots of the Mtulele with Leleshua which when boiled in water enhanced a man’s sexual capability. He paused at this point and she looked across at him her brow furrowing wondering why he was smiling so wickedly.
She thought again about what he’d just said and with a jolt realised his meaning. Besides the grin across his face really left no doubt that she hadn’t misheard him.These were words he understood very well and which he knew might cause a reaction in her.She blushed for a split second as she came to understand this, before responding to him archly.
“Well Joseph, it seems that I should bow to your superior knowledge on its properties, as clearly you’re an expert in its usage!”
Now it was his turn to react and though he tried not to look indignant, he failed miserably. She giggled at his expression and then next second, they were both laughing and without a fuss he changed the subject immediately.However, she rather felt that that evening he would be sharing the joke with the men of the village, though quite how she would come out of that story, she had no idea.
Back in the village later Joseph offered to show her how the Maasai danced, sang and jumped. He told her that his people believed that they had descended from heaven and that if they jumped really high, then they might be able to fly back there. The doubt showed clearly on her face that she couldn’t possibly begin to attempt his moves but given the music was already playing and a watching audience was encouraging them both, there could be no escape for her.
He gestured her to copy his movements but when she tried she knew she just looked plain awkward. Finally she decided to bite the bullet and closing her eyes, paused for a split second, nodding her head for a few heartbeats and found the beat of the rhythm before starting to do her own dance.
She didn’t need to open her eyes to know that every pair of eyes was upon her but she blocked them from her mind and kept her eyes shut until at last she heard the slow handclaps start and knew that they were clapping for her and laughed out loud in delight, still keeping her dance movements going.
When she opened her eyes at last, all around her everyone was dancing to the beat and Marie had never felt so carefree in all her life.
In the hut later that night she sat in the dark, smoky atmosphere, drinking her tea, completely relaxed. A small fire burnt in the middle of the shallow room and it was tranquil.Waridi, sat weaving a piece of cloth not far away, her baby in a sling on her side as usual.
Marie studied them both. It seemed to her that baby was always with the mother and didn’t have its own bedtime which correlated with the mothers who’d stayed with their children on the ward at Meru hospital.Marie made a mental note to remember this as it was useful knowledge especially when you were dealing with young mothers from the tribes.
There were bowls and tin cups scattered over the floor and an elderly man sat close by with a root hanging from his mouth and she listened patiently whilst he explained to her which rooms people lived in. Marie nodded politely, smiling in response from time to time, even though now she was already familiar with the living arrangements of the family but she felt at peace and there was no reason to tell him this.
She closed her eyes in the darkness, listening to the quiet tone of the man speaking and just occasionally hearing the grasshoppers outside clicking in a steady rhythm. Given she could see so little her other senses became more acute and she heard his words much clearer, talking softly as he sat cross legged in front of the fire.
Eventually of course the evening came to an end and at last she got up from her chair, wishing them all goodnight and feeling completely stress-free as she made her way back to her room.
On Friday getting ready for work she reflected on the five days she had spent in the village dispensary so far, aware that each day had been so different. The doctors and nurses had been just as helpful as in Meru despite them being so short staffed
The villagers it seemed had fully booked up the surgery for weeks as they knew exactly when a student was due. During the week they had arrived and just wanted to hear what she had to say about their condition or discuss their symptoms.Sometimes the patients were incredibly ill, but others were just worried about something or another and wanted an opinion.Some came simply just to meet her.She tried to tell them that she was only a nurse and not a doctor but it didn’t matter to them.
She sat down on her bed impulsively, affectionately stroking the shuka she’d been given and thought back over some of the conversations she’d had with staff about Masaai tribes living in Kenya and Tanzania.
Nalutuesha had taught her much, especially about the spiritual leader who was considered to be a bridge between man and God but also now she knew that he officiated at ceremonies too and helped the Elders with naming successive age groups. It seemed the Elders had a special role as well because they were leaders of their village.Every village was divided into age groups, every group had an Elder and the future leaders were usually chosen from the young ones so they were marked from an early age.
She had been told that Masaai men reached a very old age thanks to a special diet. At first she hadn’t been able to get anyone to disclose just what exactly this diet consisted of other than the main ingredients were blood and meat.She had tried very hard to keep a straight face when they’d added that this must beat most entries in the Guinness Book of Records because how on earth they would know about such things continually remained a mystery to her.It had been a wonderful week really.
Joseph came for her as usual and they walked from her hut to the dispensary. This was one part of village life that Marie had grown to look forward to and inevitably it always took longer to get to the dispensary because of the delay.Ritualistically now they stopped at each hut and gave out sweets to the waiting children.Sometimes she was surrounded by about 20 children wanting to hold her hand and touch her, but she knew they were just after the sweets in her pocket.She’d been warned about this so had come prepared.
As they walked that morning she relished it even more considering that perhaps this might be her last morning walk to work. She was seriously thinking about going back to the House the following day.It made her a little sad thinking about it and to lift her spirits she turned to Joseph and asked his opinion about the longevity of the Maasai man and what he thought might be the cause.She knew he would have an opinion and she wanted him to take her mind off her morose feelings.
Joseph was as eager as ever to impart his knowledge and confirmed that what most certainly prolonged a Masaai man’s life was the warm cows’ blood that he drank during his lifetime which was so good for his body.
As soon as he said it she had to laugh at the most serious expression on his face as he spoke but as he continued to look at her solemnly she wrinkled up her nose, indicating her distaste at what he’d said. However, seconds later she suddenly looked thoughtful and Joseph noticed immediately and asked what she was thinking about.
“Well … I was just a bit sceptical perhaps Joseph about the benefits of drinking warm cow’s blood but I have to confess to remembering that I’ve eaten black pudding myself, which is something that people in my country fry and then eat with their big breakfast.”
He looked puzzled so she explained that black pudding was in fact pig’s blood but that it was processed in such a way that it solidified and then it was sliced and fried in fat before being eaten.
Joseph expression was one of delight. He clapped his hands loudly and whooped and she couldn’t stop herself from laughing again.
“You see Ocean, truthfully I am right. However, I must insist that the blood from the cow is far superior to that of a pig but it just proves my point.”
He was so animated that she could see immediately that she had whetted his appetite and he pestered her then to tell him more about the diet of British people.
She pondered a minute and then went on to tell him about Scottish haggis.
“Ocean I must know more about this haggis.”
The look on his face made her giggle further.
“Joseph I’m not an expert and can only tell you what I’ve been told. This is something native to Scotland and I’m not from there but … my understanding is that haggis is made either from sheep’s stomach or ox secum.It’s apparently scalded and turned inside out and then soaked overnight in cold salted water.Also I think you need heart and lungs of one lamb with further trimmings of beef or lamb!”
She watched his face and thought she saw growing admiration in his eyes and surprise too as she had spoken, especially given that she had been so doubtful at being told that warm cow’s blood could possibly prolong the life of a Masaai.
She really had captured his attention now and he insisted she tell him more, pestering her with questions which became more difficult to answer as she didn’t actually know enough about the subject to discuss it in depth.
“Joseph, all I can say is that I went to Aberdeen for the weekend with some of my fellow nurses and we were told by a Scottish waitress there how it was made and some of the ingredients that are used.”
She remembered clearly that day because nobody had had the nerve to actually eat haggis but when they had been offered Haggis pudding with their Scottish breakfast, en masse they had agreed to try it because it had seemed rather gentler than the real thing and wasn’t dissimilar to black pudding. It had all been bravado of course as all they really wanted to do was go back to England and say to everyone that they had tried Haggis despite what they’d had being more like sliced sausage!
However, he listened intently to her story though she was quite sure he didn’t understood what she said about wanting to boast to their English friends. She tried to explain it better.
“It was just a ‘bit of light adventure’ Joseph, for English girls in a foreign environment who wanted to show off to their friends when they got home.”
However, after a thoughtful pause of his own, it seemed then he had something else he wanted to share.
“Well Ocean, I have to tell you, not only do the Masaai drink warm cow’s blood but sometimes they will mix it with milk and cow urine, which together makes a shake drink called Mursik, which I can assure you decreases the cholesterol levels in the body beautifully.”
She looked at him in shocked disbelief, putting her hand over her mouth in astonishment but then couldn’t maintain it and laughed delightedly, deciding that this conversation was becoming far too competitive and perhaps it was time to change the subject completely. She simply couldn’t compete with that.He seemed content in any case as clearly he thought he’d won the argument.
She had come to a decision that day as would go back to the House Saturday, the following day. She had told them at the dispensary and they had said their farewells.It wasn’t because she hadn’t enjoyed her time in Engaruka because she had loved it but she realised suddenly she had become so homesick.
Despite her earlier misgivings about Joe, she couldn’t deny that she desperately wanted to make sure to catch him before he finally left the House and Arusha altogether.
Also she felt it really was time for her to go and see the Serengeti National Park herself. She had already looked up the different types of safaris that you could book onto but wanted to speak with Samuel as he was the expert.Then there were some other villages closer to Arusha, like Ng’iresi that she thought she might like to visit, as well as hopefully a visit up Mount Meru, perhaps even Momella Lodge too, not forgetting of course the Olduvai Gorge.
She suddenly felt she was running out of time. She had been in Tanzania now for four weeks and her initial contract had only been for six.
As she sat outside the hut later that evening drinking her tea as usual and contemplating her decision to return to town the following day, some girls milking goats and cows crowded round her.
She had been lazily watching them and they had noticed and come up to her, encouraging her to join in with them. She laughed and shook her head but they had insisted and in the end she couldn’t think of any reason really for saying no.
She suddenly took more interest in the techniques that they were using, trying desperately to work out what it was that made you good at this, apart from practice. One of the girls was so quick at it that Marie watched her in admiration as she saw her empty a goat’s udder in about 60 seconds.
Then it was her turn. By this time other people had come to watch and Marie looked around, knowing that this was going to be a disaster for her but probably amusing for them.She managed a teaspoon in about five minutes and had to endure the poor creature’s bleats and felt sure that she was hurting her.However, the girl forced her to continue and by the end of half an hour, truly, though she would never be as good as her teacher, she did find that her little pail was fuller than she could ever have imagined.
It caused some amusement amongst the girls anyway but eventually they let her go back to her tea and the peace and quiet of being merely the audience rather than the star turn. Unconsciously her thoughts wandered back to the BBQ at the house last week.How glad was she now that she hadn’t had the goat kebabs.Some of the other electives had told her that she might be invited to the sacrifice of a goat whilst at the village, but thankfully she had been spared this, and she was not intent on reminding anyone about it!
Her mind was made up now and she knew it was time to head back tomorrow. Meanwhile her time with these survivors in the African wilderness had been a revelation that she would never forget.Even small moments like milking a goat.All those worries she had had seemed minute now.She could so easily have missed all this including the medical knowledge that she’d gained from these people.
The following morning she packed her stuff ready but really there wasn’t any hurry as the daladala wouldn’t be there until Midday.
The girls who had been milking the goats the previous evening came to find her again. She didn’t want to go anywhere far, but they insisted she went with them and pulled her by the hands pointing to a hut only about 500 metres away.She couldn’t refuse and once there sat on the seat that was obviously meant for her.All the girls sat at her feet on a mat and the older girl brought out a basket which was full of beads and before her very eyes she watched them start to make absolutely beautiful bracelets and necklaces.She couldn’t resist.
She put her hands into the basket and clawed up a handful into her lap, holding them up and marvelling at their beauty. The older girl grabbed her hand and put a cord into it and showed her how it should be done.After an hour there was a small pile of bracelets and necklaces on the floor at her feet.Marie realised that she didn’t know any of the girls’ names so impulsively asked them to introduce themselves.
The oldest girl acted as spokeswoman, standing up and telling her that she was called Isina. Then she pointed to the other three and introduced them as Liloe, Malazo and Naramal.They all knew her name but their pronunciation of it made her smile as it sounded so much more exotic when spoken by them.
She called Isina forward and stood up, giving her a big hug.
“Ashi Isina. You have made my day very special and I am very happy, though sad to be leaving you all today.”
The other three girls jumped up when they saw the hug and came crowding round to get a cuddle too and Marie had all four of them clinging to her waist saying Ngoje, Ngoje. She didn’t know what they meant but as she looked up, one of the local men, looking at the picture of them huddled together, called across and said two words; ‘Queen today’.
Marie smiled at him with genuine tears in her eyes now.
What a wonderful ending to the week. She made sure to pick up one of her own bracelets and necklaces but was torn suddenly as she saw the girls looking at her, pleading with their eyes that she might choose something made by them.As she looked down into their upturned faces she knew she couldn’t disappoint any of them.
Making up her mind she put her own bracelet back and picked up four others making sure that each one belonged to a different girl. Every one of them was different as if reflecting the different personalities of each of them but the joy on all the faces was the same, simply because she had chosen to take one of their own with her.
After that they danced for her and forced her up to join in, but with many of the villagers watching again she put more effort into her movements though afterwards wondered if they would discuss her dancing technique once she had left. She decided she didn’t care as she’d had such fun anyway.
James came at 1pm and as she got on the daladala she turned and waved to them all and her tears fell freely. There was Simel and Waridi by his side with her baby as usual.Sankei stood behind them.The girls Isina, Liloe, Malazo and Naramal ran with the daladala as it travelled slowly out of the village and she continued to wave furiously until they were all no more than dots on the horizon.
The journey back was very subdued despite the continual noise around her which now she barely noticed. However, as they at last arrived at Arusha, she cheered up.She had some catching up to do with Joe and she had her own stories to tell everyone else in the House.
However, she was to be disappointed about Joe as he wasn’t there. It seemed that when he’d arrived home from the village the previous Saturday, the following day he had joined a group doing a five-day safari circuit of the Serengeti National Park.He had returned to the house on Thursday afternoon, but then this morning had set off to Zanzibar.The news quite took the edge off her return.She was more than disappointed, she was crushed.
“Julie, did he say when he would be back?”
“Sorry Ocean I really don’t know for sure. He and Patsy only made up their minds yesterday morning.I think it was her idea actually.She’s been talking about it all week and I think that he was the one she persuaded to go with her in the end.You know Joe, always amiable.”
Patsy! She might have known.She swung between dejection and irritation but was unsettled about her reaction.She felt so let down and yet it wasn’t as if she and Joe had ever had anything serious going on between them but she had to grudgingly admit that if she had been the one who’d been here, she would have been pestering him to go with her.A trip to Zanzibar with Joe, giving them time to relax together would have been perfect.
She sighed knowing she was being unfair. They were friends but she had no hold on him.Besides though they’d been quite close throughout their time in Arusha, really she had no idea if he was even committed to anyone else back in England.It wasn’t something they’d ever discussed.
That evening it was her turn to be centre stage and it brightened her mood. She told them all about her experiences in Engaruka but then everyone had done something different that week so it was very entertaining with all the stories that had to be told.
The bed in her room that night was bliss. As she dozed just before sleep she thought over her conversation with Samuel that evening.She had asked him if he could organise a trip to Serengeti for her the following week, but only for about three days.He told her that already there were some others who’d asked him the same thing and he was working on it.
She had contemplated going to Zanzibar after Joe but decided against it. She would go on Safari instead.Maybe afterwards she would go to Zanzibar or even some of the other places she’d considered.She sat up suddenly.What about stopping in the Arusha Hotel tomorrow night!She’d forgotten about that completely.What a perfect ending that would be to her week in the village before she spent another few days in the wild!
With this thought in her mind she fell soundly asleep.
The next day, Sunday, she spoke to Samuel as soon as she could, asking whether he’d yet been able to organise the trip to the Serengeti. Not unexpectedly he already had a list of recommended operators and he promised to let her know for sure later that day.
“I think I can organise for you to go tomorrow Ocean if you get yourself organised today. Helen, Pete and Emma want to go too.Are you okay with that?”
“Thanks Samuel that’s fine but do you think we can we make it Tuesday instead?” Then she added, “As long as it’s convenient to everyone else of course.”
“Discuss it with them today Ocean and let me know soon because I need to confirm everything with the safari company. Okay?”
“Of course. I’ll go and find them now.”
She actually found them together in the living room discussing the safari and asked them what they thought about leaving Tuesday rather than Monday.
“Listen people, Samuel said we can go tomorrow if we get ourselves organised today but I thought if we went Tuesday instead, we can all go into Arusha tomorrow morning and get some essential supplies and a good night’s sleep before we set off? Really I could do with another day here in Arusha in any case, rather than rushing around trying to prepare for tomorrow. Has anyone any objections?”
“That’s fine with me Ocean”, said Emma. “I’m leaving on Saturday anyway and there are a few things I want to do today too … as long as we’re back for Friday latest?”
No one else had any objections and it was agreed that they would meet up the following morning to get the supplies and Marie said she would speak with Samuel to confirm that they would do the Safari Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and be back for Friday morning.
Afterwards she went straight out, walking to the Arusha Hotel to make sure they had availability for a room that night. There was no sign of Ali but it didn’t matter really.In any case she booked the room and then set off back to the House.On her way she met Helen.Marie told her of her plans and Helen seemed genuinely surprised but remained silent on the subject.
Marie guessed that not many of the electives booked themselves into a local hotel for the night, especially if they weren’t sharing with anyone. It probably did seem a little odd but she made no comment either, just smiling in response.
Back at the House later she found Samuel and he confirmed that everything was set for Tuesday. They were booked with Pete’s Safaris and their guide would be Thomas.He would come to the house around 6 am.He had already told the others.
She went in search of them and found Emma and Pete in the living room. Helen it seemed had already told them about her plans for that evening.Pete was the one who asked the question?
“To be honest Pete I’m not sure I can give you a rational answer, except it’s such an interesting place and appears to hold so many secrets from the past. Joe and I went one evening, to eat and have a look around, and I absolutely loved it.We met the Head Receptionist … Manager or whatever they’re called around here, and though we’re strangers he was the sweetest of men; engaging and kind … a true gentleman and also I was introduced to his father, who’s such a darling too, very elegant, and apparently he worked there for over 40 years.I have so many more questions I want to ask about the hotel and this will give me the perfect opportunity to get some answers and also relax and be pampered a little.”
They listened quietly but remained quiet as she finished. She couldn’t read in their faces what they were really thinking and spoke again, almost to herself.
“There really isn’t any logical reason to go back I suppose, except I just want to.”
Pete suddenly grinned widely at her before looking across at Emma and winking.
“Ocean McKenzie, you truly are a jessie! How on earth are you going to manage a few days, when we’re on our wild and savage safari adventure together, in the middle of the uncivilised grasslands of Tanzania with all those vicious lions trying to eat the poor old zebras!”
“Now Peter, there’s no need to be so rude. I’ll manage very well, thank you very much.I’m not as soft as I look.Anyway, I thought I was escaping from Ned’s jokes for a little while by going on this safari.Has he paid you to keep tormenting me?”
There was a stand-off for a few seconds as they taunted each other but the girls intervened and finally they all fell about laughing and then settled down, talking more seriously at last about their trip.
That evening she packed her holdall and said her byes to everyone, saying she would meet her three travelling companions in Arusha the following morning at 9am. They agreed to meet outside the general store which was conveniently next door to the hotel.Then she left and walked to the Arusha Hotel, strolling through the foyer and sighing in contentment, before walking over to Reception.
Ali Two was on duty and she was genuinely pleased to see him.
“Miss Ocean, how nice to see you again. I see you’re booked into Room 10.This is on the ground floor.Would you like someone to take your bags now and show you the way?”
“No really I can manage thank you Ali Two. I’m so pleased to see you again though.Is your father well?”
He smiled briefly at her greeting of him and then nodded more subdued.
“He is indeed. He will be here shortly.He is rather … preoccupied currently.It is a private matter but one that is important to him.”
His tone had changed and it was obvious that whatever was happening with his father did not please him.
Marie was intrigued. Ali definitely looked distracted.What could be so troubling that he would have such a tense look on his face?She couldn’t believe that the old gentleman might be in such bother that it caused his son to look so concerned.”
“He’s not in any trouble is he?”
She didn’t mean to pry but she knew that something was amiss. It wasn’t so much what Ali had said but his whole posture screamed his irritation.
Ali’s answer was curt.
“No, no nothing like that Miss Ocean. My father is, as usual, just getting himself agitated and involved in affairs that are none of his concern.Please don’t give it another minute’s consideration.”
Impulsively now she reached across the counter that separated them and placed her hand on his briefly before withdrawing it and he looked up at her questioningly.
“Ali, please. I don’t mean to meddle and I know that we’re virtual strangers but I’ve already made up my mind that you’re an honourable man but you have obviously some concerns about your father.If you don’t want to talk about it, then it’s your prerogative but if you just need to share this concern with someone, please let it be me.I can be very discreet.There’s a saying in my country; a trouble shared is a trouble halved?”
She said nothing more and merely waited. He seemed to make his mind up swiftly and called over his shoulder to a junior member of staff, gesturing him to cover his place on reception.Still he didn’t speak merely signalling her to take one of the foyer chairs before sitting opposite her.She remained silent and waited for him to speak first.
When at last he did address her, he looked around before speaking and she was then even more intrigued.
“You are a very kind lady Miss Ocean. I have no real concern about my father as I said but he is getting himself angry about something when in fact there is nothing at all that he can do to fix the situation anyway.Have you heard of Rwanda?”
Of course she had and she remembered watching the news on the TV at home which stated there were problems between two tribes in that country. She felt guilty that she really hadn’t paid much attention to it at the time.
“Of course I have Ali. I know there’s been talk about a possible civil war.I’m sorry but I haven’t really taken that much notice.It was a news headline and all I remember truly is that there has been some aggravation there.”
He responded a little sadly, perhaps disappointed, but expecting such a response.
“Then I will explain a little more Miss Ocean. In Arusha on the 4th August something called the Arusha Accords was agreed.Do you know what the Accords are?”
She shook her head and he continued.
“The Arusha Accords are a set of five protocols signed here in our very own town by the government of Rwanda and the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front and they should end a three year Civil War. Talks began originally in July 1992 and lasted until June of this year.The Hutu government, led by Juvenal Habyarimana, implemented the Arusha Accords which resulted in a cease fire between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes.This was done because of international pressure put on him and his government given that the Hutu thought that the Tutsi intended to enslave them, which they believe must be resisted at all costs.So far the Tutsi rebels have displaced large numbers of Hutu in the north but also there are periodic localised Hutu killings of the Tutsi in the south.”*
Marie had remained completely silent whilst he spoke hanging onto his every word. All she had really wanted to know was why this situation could cause Ali to be so worried about his father but the gravity in his voice somehow left her unnerved.He saw the concern in her face but continued.
“My father is very angry at the moment. Here is a serious crisis developing and though there are lots of people talking about how bad the situation is, all they currently do is talk and he thinks more progressive action is required.He believes that if this situation continues then there will be further bloodshed between the tribes in Rwanda and many, many more innocent lives will be lost.”
“And you Ali. What do you think?Is he right?Should he not be angry if he thinks more could be done to stop a potential massacre?”
“I think Miss Ocean that all men have enough intelligence to know what should be done, but all men also know that common sense in these situations is irrelevant. Men are men, and regardless of what is sensible, they will fight.It is, as it always has been.”
His words were profound and Marie though stunned was deeply touched that he had shared his thoughts with her. He was a wise man indeed but in those minutes he had gone up in her estimation, not just because of his concern for his father who had been drawn into the debate but also because she believed the true wisdom of his words about such senseless wars amongst common people.
Unexpectedly she felt emotional and tears pricked the back of her eyes. She picked up her bag and searched for the hanky she thought was there so she could blow her nose, but couldn’t find it.Ali saw her struggling and went into his own pocket, leaning over and passing her his own.Her eyeswere still blurred as she took it off him but she nodded her head in thanks.She dabbed the moisture around her eyes and was just about to blow her nose when she stopped as she saw the handkerchief more clearly and with some surprise looked across at Ali her eyes wide with confusion.
It was obvious that something was puzzling her but she seemed unable to put whatever it was into words.
At last Ali spoke trying to prompt her into voicing what the matter was.
“Is something amiss Miss Ocean?”
“I’m not sure Ali. Well, yes I am sure but … well … this is rather embarrassing actually … Ali why have you got one of my hankies?”
She continued to gaze at him for a minute unable to say anything more but then formed her words and spoke again.
“Ali, this is my hanky. Look it has an O in the corner.I’d recognise it anywhere.Where did you get this?”
His face now showed his own puzzlement.
“This hanky can’t be yours Miss Ocean. It is one that we have had in our family for a long time.It is a gift from the past.”
“I don’t understand Ali.”
She picked up her bag and fumbled around but frustratingly couldn’t find what she was looking for.
“I’m sorry I can’t find it, but I do have a handkerchief identical to this one here.”
“Miss Ocean, sixty years ago the handkerchief that you now have in your hand was given to my grandfather by a lady staying in this hotel. The birth of his first born child was imminent.The lady discovered this and the story my grandfather passed down to us was that she went into her bag and pulled out that handkerchief telling him “your ‘Number One’ son must have this as a gift from me ….”
He chuckled then, arching his fingers in front of his face as if he pondered on something amusing before he continued.
“My grandfather was of course rather shocked at first because though he knew his child was soon to be born, the lady seemed convinced that it would be a boy, which of course it was; my dear father no less. The hanky is rarely used as such but occasionally ‘needs must’.It isn’t valuable and I see no point in it going dusty in a frame, so I carry it around in my pocket in case of emergencies, as my father did before me and his father too.The story of the lovely, kind lady has been passed down to us both but it is just a story of course as neither my father nor myself know anything more about her, not even her name.”
Marie listened to his story and once he had finished just didn’t know what to say. Clearly the handkerchief was his as no-one could fabricate such a tall story.They sat now in complete silence and bewilderment.For his part, Ali was as baffled about her possessing one that was identical, as clearly she was about him owning his.
He was the first to break the silence.
“Perhaps it is just a coincidence Miss Ocean. It is of course a lady’s handkerchief and like I said rarely used.There is nothing exceptional about it apart from the O stitched in the corner but its value to me is that it was a special gift, given to our family by a perfect stranger and this has always had a particular personal meaning to us all.”
He shrugged but then chuckled before sharing with her his evident amusement.
“Well, don’t you think it fitting that the first born child, my esteemed father, should be referred to as Number One son and should he not be in possession of a handkerchief with an ‘O’ stitched into the corner Miss Ocean?”
And then he laughed with gusto. She raised her eyebrows in amusement.It was the first time she had ever seen him so genuinely animated.
However, still mystified, she simply couldn’t come to any conclusion. He had to be correct of course and it must just be a massive coincidence.She sincerely believed it really had been given to his grandfather sixty years ago so decisively she made to give it him back, saying she couldn’t possibly take something that was of such personal significance.
However, he refused and lent forward, clasping her hand and the handkerchief tightly in both his own, ensuring he had her full attention.
“Miss Ocean I trust you to keep it safe. In any case, you obviously didn’t realise when you named us One and Two what profound words you were speaking.Once we had got over the shock of you speaking them, both my father and myself were altogether so amused.You see, all his life, my father was called ‘Number One’ by his parents!”
Marie was completely staggered and quite beyond speech. Ali continued.
“You Miss Ocean have been immensely kind to me. Give me the handkerchief back before you leave Arusha of course.Wash it if necessary but I really do think that someone calling themselves Ocean, who has such obvious foresight, should have claim to it too. I trust you with it Miss Ocean, and indeed I believe you are destined to possess it yourself, even if it is only temporarily.”
Once he’d finished speaking he lent back into his chair and waited patiently as he kept his steady gaze on her face.
Marie looked down at the handkerchief in her hands and puzzled at how anyone would have the imagination to give a hanky with an ‘O’ on it to a perfect stranger whose first son was about to be born. Especially if that baby’s name had no connection to the letter O except that he was the first born.
At last she looked up at his kindly face and reached across, squeezing his hand affectionately.
“I will keep it Ali. Thank you.I remain puzzled about it but it doesn’t really matter does it.However, I am honoured to possess it.You are a good son Ali Two and next time I see your father I shall tell him so … again … and I will also tell him that perhaps sometimes he should listen to his son’s words of wisdom.I will keep your hanky for now but you shall have it back before I leave.It’s obviously been well looked after as the embroidery on it is still so fresh.”
With that she put it in her bag and then grinning across at him she sniffed loudly, as couldn’t, just yet, quite bring herself to use it.
He continued to gaze at her fondly for a few seconds more, nodding his head in thanks at her kind words before out of the blue changed the subject.
“Have you seen Joe lately Miss Ocean?”
“Oh him!” She waved her hand in impatience, all sentiment gone from her in an instant.
“I don’t want to talk about Joe Dickens, thank you very much Ali. I’m quite vexed with him I’m afraid.”
“Oh dear. I am sorry.Nothing serious I hope?”
Marie sighed ruefully before answering.
“No not really. I had some plans that’s all but it seems he had plans of his own that didn’t include me.We’ll sort it out.No, no it’s nothing for you to get concerned about at all.”
“I’m reassured. There are enough troubles in the world as it is; quarrels amongst good friends are such a waste.”
Given their earlier conversation, she smiled at him and couldn’t disagree.
“Of course you are correct and I promise; I will make things right with him as soon as he returns … with his companion!”
Ali’s eyebrows rose ever so slightly as the last three words were spat out but his face remained unchanged but at last smiled warmly, nodding his head in satisfaction and then without warning stood, calling over to the Junior manning the reception. His demeanour changed in a second and he assertively commanded him to take Miss Ocean’s bag to Room 10 promptly.Marie rose too and waited, hesitating at the transformation in him but as the Junior came over and picked up her bag she followed him timidly, smiling briefly again at Ali before following the Junior through to the back of the hotel and down the corridor to her room.
Once he’d left she looked around the room happily. The twin bedded room was delightful.She skipped over to the window and looked out at the tropical garden at the back grinning gleefully at the view before turning her attention back to the room.It was basic but clean and as she threw herself onto the bed found it was supremely comfortable.For a few minutes more she relaxed before getting up and going for a bath, soaking luxuriously before changing into fresh clothes and setting off to eat in Hatari’s.
As she considered the menu, she deliberated on whether to have the fish again, but decided instead to attempt one of the light snacks that Joe had tried last time they were here. Ali Two passed through the restaurant twice and each time she glanced across at him, smiling shyly and thinking how much she really liked the man.She hoped his father was calmer now and hopefully Ali would be less worried.
She hadn’t known anything about the Arusha Accords and the fact that it had happened right here just before she’d arrived in Africa was a revelation. Arusha continued to be so full of surprises.There was always something new to uncover.It seemed as if it was the beating heart, with pathways leading to many portals, throughout the shifting sands of time.She smiled as the thought went through her conscious mind, shaking her head at her own poetic turn of phrase, considering perhaps that Pete was right and she really was just a big softie.
The waiter came at last to take her order and she remembered his face from the last time she was here. Tentatively she said, “William?”He smiled to acknowledge that it was.
It didn’t take long for the food to arrive and as he placed it on the table she looked up smiling and impulsively asked him how long Mr Ali Junior had worked at the hotel, but disappointingly William didn’t know.
“Mr Ali Junior has been here so long that it’s quite impossible to know for sure!”
She laughed at that. However, later, after she had finished eating, and when he came to collect her plate, he surprised her by winking and then furtively looking around, before telling her that he had found out the information that she wanted to know.
Marie blushed and quite suddenly felt flustered, feeling like an undercover agent who’d asked him to spy on her behalf. However, he had the information and it seemed nothing could stop him from gleefully parting with it.
He told her that Mr Ali Junior had been working at the hotel since he was 15 years of age and now he was 33, so of course he had been at the Hotel for 18 years! However …and Marie was mortified when he stopped talking to look around one more time before continuing … given his father and grandfather had also worked at the hotel, he had been a presence here for so much longer.
He said this with such a flourish that Marie found it quite disconcerting, but she couldn’t be cross with him as she had asked the original question. She just hoped that Ali himself never found out that ‘Miss Ocean’ had been asking personal questions about him because she didn’t know how she would explain.
She gave William a larger tip than she intended, and stopped herself just in time from tapping the side of her nose. However he grinned rather wickedly at her, she thought, and then embarrassingly, tapped his own nose instead!She didn’t know where to look.
Later, on her way out of the Hatari she stopped to look again at the photo of the Lodge, which continued to intrigue her. A different waiter passed by and she asked him its name. It was the one with the actors standing beside it.He confirmed he knew it as Momella Lodge and that it was located in the Arusha National Park.She thanked him and made a mental note to try and remember to ask Samuel about it tomorrow.She had quite forgotten that she was going to do so.
The evening was lovely and she spent her time revisiting the various exhibits they had displayed throughout the hotel, scrutinising them more thoroughly. Some displayed pictures of the earlier New Arusha hotel, with some potted bits of information about its beginnings in 1926.
It confirmed what Ali Two had said about it being built by the man called Kenyon Painter and there was some more information on his safari trips and of course Samuel had also mentioned his connection to the area when she had first arrived.
There was an old register book on display showing its first signature on the 10th October 1935 and its last on the 29th March 1944. Given this hotel looked so different from the descriptions of both the others from the past it was quite obvious now that it was a completely new build but it couldn’t have happened until after the Second World War.
Further photos went on to confirm this. They were taken in 1953 when the New Arusha Hotel was apparently rebuilt by African Tours and Hotels Ltd and renamed again as simply the Arusha.The news review stated that this was ’viewed with relief by some people but sadness by others, as it would now ‘no longer be possible to sit on the veranda and watch the world go by’*.
She closed her eyes and visualised it thinking how romantic it sounded.
There was another picture showing its renovation again, just last year but the changes seemed less obvious because of course she was now viewing those changes herself. She looked at everything including general notices dotted around, absorbing the detail of all the pictures and reading the captions.
In her room later that evening, as she sat on the bed, she wrote down in her journal some of the items she thought she might need the following day and added notes too about what she had learnt regarding the hotel and what more she still wanted further information on, like asking Samuel about Momella Lodge.
Once she had finished she got ready for bed and at last tucked herself under the covers before dropping off the sleep almost immediately, though her dreams were punctuated with vivid images of John Wayne meeting Ali Two in the Hatari bar before deciding they would both go off together to Rwanda to fix the problems between the two tribes!
Next day wonderfully refreshed she went to breakfast and afterwards checked out. She didn’t see Ali but somehow knew they were destined to meet again.Besides she had his hanky to return.
The others were already waiting for her when she arrived and they all went into the store together. It was an amazing shop.Marie had never seen anywhere so completely full of what could only be described as ‘stuff’.Every corner was filled and there wasn’t a bit of space spare to stock anything more.They came away with an array of groceries, some which they had personally chosen and others that they’d been told were absolutely essential though Marie had her doubts.
Their stock included toilet paper and tissues, handy wipes, lip balm and eye drops, torch, sun cream, a hat with a brim, earplugs, warm long sleeved pyjamas and binoculars. She already had her own camera and batteries as had the others.
Between them they also bought some drugs to treat minor digestive upsets and insect repellent, just in case. Pete bought a penknife and was teased by the girls for choosing such a masculine token of perceived strength.He argued that it was useful for all sorts of things.
“Like trying to stab the mosquitoes Pete!” chipped Marie.“What a trophy they would be to bring back with us though of course it might help when you need to rescue me from the nasty lions!”
Everyone laughed, including, Pete but then he moved in menacingly and roared at Marie, though disdainfully she yawned at him clearly implying how tiresome he was.
Finally they bought a clothes line but no-one could say why. They had all heard the story back at the House as it seemed it was a tradition that one always had to travel on safari!”
When they returned back there later they went to their own rooms to finish packing. It had been agreed that each should have something in their rucksack that they would share and Marie had taken the first aid kit, even though they’d discussed that there might be one in the jeep.However, jokingly it was decided that given they all had medical blood running through their veins, they wanted to be prepared, just in case.
Finally she was done and the last thing in her bag were her sunglasses.
Having double checked everything, finally she packed some hankies including the one that Ali Two had given her. Since she had returned she had found her own and comparing them knew that truly they were identical.She could have picked any one of them and given it back to Ali and he wouldn’t have known the difference.It really was a riddle.However, she had decided to let it go for now.She didn’t have the answer and had enough to think about.
Marie made her way back to the living room because she wanted to find a book she’d previously flicked through but not really found relevant at the time. It took awhile to locate but after scouring all the shelves she found it at last, along with another book called African Game Trails written by Teddy Roosevelt and took them both to look at as she made herself comfortable on the settee.
The first one was old and described the big safaris of the past. There were some amazing photos, and many of them made her laugh; the men in their boots, their long socks, safari shorts and jackets, not to mention the rather fetching safari hat!
Suddenly she put her hand up to her mouth and gasped softly. There he was; Kenyon Painter, standing with Teddy Roosevelt.The very Kenyon who’d built the New Arusha hotel and come to Tanzania so long ago on safari.She knew now how much he’d invested into building many of the other structures in Arusha too!
Excitedly, she read the text avidly. It stated that the photograph had actually been shot on a Serengeti safari though these men weren’t in the comic safari gear she’d previously looked at, but instead they wore what looked like ordinary shirts, trousers and cowboy hats.Also they sat on horses not jeeps though Samuel had told her that jeeps were also used back then and the pictures taken in front of the early Arusha hotel confirmed this.
The article went on to say that, “adjacent to the hotel was John Mulholland’s store, which dealt in everything from rhino horn and ivory tusks to trophies of every sort, along with the best groceries in town. He also sold rifles, pistols, liquor, vegetables and tinned goods, tents, bedding, mosquito nets, pots and pans, saddles and tack”*.
“I wonder if this is the same store that we went in today?”
She said it out loud.
It was quite obvious that the store had sold everything that might be required for the modern safari but she was fairly sure that the groceries needed on a 1910 safari would have been a much larger order than had been the case today but back then people had largely been more self-sufficient. Safaris now were still big business for the locals and tourists but in the past only the rich could have afforded to go on them.
Interestingly, though she hadn’t thought that much about it until now, they would have come here to shoot the animals, whereas now she knew that the only shooting done was with a camera.
She was captivated by this man Kenyon though. Unfortunately there wasn’t too much more information on his personal life as in the main it was about exploits on safari.What interested Marie most was why he had chosen Arusha to spend his money on?She would love to find out more about the man himself.
Using her finger she continued reading the text and then found a paragraph which stated Kenyon had brought his new wife Maud on Safari in 1910 and ‘purchased much of Roosevelt’s outfit as he no longer wanted it, having just returned from the Sudan’. It appeared that Kenyon and Roosevelt had been good friends.What he purchased from Teddy included ‘a leather writing case fitted with glass shades, candles and a pair of his massive knee-high safari boots which tipped the scales at a staggering four pounds eleven ounces each’*.
The book confirmed the hotel he’d built as the New Arusha though after visiting yesterday she was certain now that his hotel had been pulled down and rebuilt.
Suddenly she snapped the book shut. She should move as still had lots to do.However, she would look at these books again when she returned.It would be interesting to compare her experience with theirs.
Going in search of Samuel, she found him in the kitchen and whilst making herself a sandwich, asked him more about the safari the following day.
“Samuel. Who did you say we’re going with?”
“The company is called Pete’s Safaris and we use them frequently because they are very reasonably priced. Also more importantly the staff are experienced and knowledgeable.You will like Thomas, who isn’t just your driver but also your guide.”
“Will we be travelling by jeep?”
“No, not a jeep exactly. This company have a range of vehicles and you’re booked onto one of their package trips, which includes the driver and a four wheel drive vehicle that has a top which pops open and locks into place.It’s the size of a very small minibus.This means of course that you will be able to stand and see the animals you encounter much more clearly than would have been possible if you’d only been able to look at them through the glass of the windows.
These trips are meant to be fun Ocean but also exciting and there is nothing more exciting than being stood in a vehicle that is going at speed, following a herd of running animals. You need to be able to look around you in a circle of 360 degrees just like the old hunters of the past did, needing to keep the animals in their sight at all times.Are you excited Ocean?”
“Oh yes Samuel, I am. I’m so glad though that you said it will be fun as that’s just what I need at the moment.I’d seriously considered organising the trip myself you know and I’ve read up on all the different types of safari you can book onto, including self-drive, but I’m so glad now that you persuaded me otherwise.All the responsibility has been taken away from me and that’s just what I needed I think.Thank you.”
Samuel had In fact actively discouraged her from considering the other options for this her first opportunity to do safari. He had and told her that some people really did try and ‘go it alone’ but they just didn’t realise how tricky it could be.
“Doing it alone Ocean is okay if you understand what the pitfalls can be. What most people don’t understand is that the roads in the Park are not exactly easy to follow.There are no signs other than for the biggest attractions such as the Hippo Pond.There are no good maps to follow as the place is a relative wilderness and it is so easy to travel around in circles for most of the day and get completely lost on the Plain.
The guides know the roads and the animals and can anticipate where they are and where they will be next so you can be in front of them and view them as they arrive. Also if you were in a vehicle and it broke down it could be dangerous.I know guides who have completed their journey with a flat tyre, simply because to get out and try and fix it in the wild would be considered too perilous.
You will be well looked after Ocean. Thomas knows how it all works.You will get to the Serengeti Park from the Eastern access point by going through the Naabi Hill Gate and they are very strict about entry times.If your entry time says 2pm then you won’t get in before then.You have to wait and it’s the same on the return journey. Going with a guide like Thomas means that he can organise it properly and save you lots of time and effort.”
Marie nodded at the wisdom of his words.
“I know and for beginners like me it’s all very reassuring. We’ve already discussed what we want to do and decided that we prefer to camp wherever possible, but we will be guided by Thomas.Did I tell you I’ve suggested visiting the Oldupai Gorge?Don’t laugh Mister … and make no mistake; if I do find that horned giant giraffe then I’ll come back and give you all the gory details!”
Samuel’s laugh bellowed out, filling the room and Marie winked at him cheekily before smiling her thanks and leaving the kitchen to go find the others.
The day flew by and though that evening the buzz of conversation was on a multiple of topics including stories from the hospital from those who’d been working that day, at last Marie retired early. As she made her way to bed, she pondered on her trip the following day.
Already she knew that the Serengeti National Park was the biggest of all the parks in Tanzania and stretched from Arusha all the way over to Lake Victoria in the North and then across the border into Kenya. Also they’d all been told that they were too late now to see the herds’ famous migration, which had long since moved on from the Eastern side and were even now making their way round the Northern Safari Circuit in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya, in search of grazing and water, followed as usual of course by the predators.
It was the dry season in the East now and game was sparse but it was intended that they travel across to the Seronera Valley, which was apparently a wide open grassy plain, patched together within a network of rivers, where they could still see a region rich in wildlife.
Samuel had advised taking lightweight, breathable garments with good walking shoes as sometimes … and she smiled as she thought of him wagging his finger at them as he spoke … they might need to do a bit of serious walking and the roads were not tarmaced. He had also suggested a hat, scarf and light shirts with sleeves to cover their head and shoulders.He had been pleased they all had binoculars and a camera was essential as they would see some wonderful sights.
As she settled to sleep that Monday night, with everything now prepared, she could feel her heart beating loudly in her chest at the prospect of the forthcoming adventure. Pete, Emma and Helen were good company and as she drowsily felt sleep coming to claim her, she had no worries at all as she fell easily into a sound sleep.
Thomas arrived at 8am on the dot and they piled noisily into the vehicle as they chatted excitedly. There were a handful of dedicated early risers waiting to wave them off too but vehicle didn’t hang around.
As the vehicle moved away they stood and waved, though Marie’s instinct was to do something rather vulgar when Ned started with his Lion routine but she resisted and instead just pulled a hideous face, sticking out her tongue.
Marie’s last glimpse of the House was it silhouetted in the early morning sun, dwarfed by the backdrop of the massive volcano behind it.
She blinked extravagantly wanting to capture the picture in her head like a camera shot and hoping that when she returned next time she would find her friend Joe had returned. They had much so catch up on and she still felt some guilt that she’d been so vexed with him, despite the fact he had no knowledge about it at all.
At last she sat down on one of the seats. Their itinerary, given they only had three full days, was to drive West along the A104 Arusha/Moshi road until they got to the B144 which would take them North, past Lake Manyara, Karatu and Ngorongoto after which they would divert towards the Crater and the Oldupai Gorge.
Given the wildebeests would now be in the far North, the group had had to discuss exactly what they did want to do in the time they had available.
Marie had said she wanted to go to the Gorge and if possible see Mary Leakey’s famous fossil, and Pete and Helen wanted to visit the Olduvai Camp, as they wanted to meet some tribes in a traditional setting and both of them had heard good reports about this camp which was tucked away from other well known and busier ones. Emma had said she was happy to go along with everything as long as she got the chance to actually see some animals and be able to say she’d actually been on safari!
Thomas smiled as they continued discussing all this but kept silent. He had everything organised and had already spoken to Samuel who knew pretty well what the group wanted to do.
It would have taken a little over two hours to get to the Gorge if they’d gone there directly but they didn’t. Instead Thomas drove west out of Arusha but then turned south which brought them in to the Lake Manyara National Park itself.On arrival, he drove through slowly, giving them time to get out their binoculars and scan the area for animals.He didn’t intend staying long but had decided that a drive through the park would add a bit of interest to the journey as they had a long way to go and it gave them their first opportunity to see some animals.
Although there were few about, they actually had a rather exciting escapade when an elephant from the herd, broke away and started to chase their vehicle. Thomas said there were some calves and it was likely protecting them.
They all stood up in the vehicle, holding onto their hats and peered through the open top of the roof, holding on tight because it was so very bumpy, intensified by the speed at which Thomas sped away.
However, despite that, rather surprisingly they all managed to take some photos and afterwards laughed at their apparent great escape from the huge beast chasing them. They all agreed; now it really felt like they were on safari.
“I’ll have to remember to tell Ned about the chase but let’s say it was a lion not an elephant!” shouted Marie, above the roar of the engine.
“I thought you were trying to get away from his macabre sense of humour?” quizzed Pete.
Marie nodded her face turning serious.
“Yes of course you’re right. I’m probably setting myself up there aren’t I?If I was sharp enough I’d think up something amusing about elephants but you know Ned.He’d think of it like a competition and fire those jokes back at me instead.”
They chatted on awhile longer but then settled down once more to look at the scenery. They were travelling North again now and eventually passed through the rain shadow of the Ngorongoro highlands with its short grass and treeless plains, surrounded by abundant small dicots but then, surprisingly the scenery changed once more and Acacia woodlands appeared from nowhere and appeared to stretch on forever.It was a strange experience, as appeared artificial to behold yet quite beautiful and conversely, completely alive.
As Thomas continued driving they could see there was more activity on the road now as other Land Cruisers travelled with them. Occasionally they had brief glimpses of what Thomas said were some of the rarer animals, including leopards, and they were all delighted to get a fleeting sighting of the back of a beautiful black rhino mum and her calf as they lumbered away.Other animals roamed nonchalantly around them throughout the journey, including further elephants but also, to Marie’s dismay, rather unnervingly, both lions and zebras.However, the lions seemed content for now to sleep within their pride and Marie blew out a silent breath of relief.
They drove on through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, up into the high mountain forest which extended right to the lip of the Ngorongoro Crater. Here a dirt road continued onto the main entrance which was rough and bumpy.As they rose higher Thomas drove through red thorn acacias and strangler figs and among the branches of the dense green canopy they heard the mass singing of the multitude of birds searching for food in the partial gloom.
At last the forest receded giving a breathtaking view of the crater’s vertiginous void. Before them were grasslands, swamps, lakes and rivers.There were woodlands, mountains and an array of wildlife as far as the eye could see.
As they descended Lake Magadi was centre stage with Seneto Springs to the left, Gorigor swamp to the right and the Terai Forest in the foreground. It was an awesome sight.When they actually reached the lip of the crater itself they stopped for fifteen minutes to stretch their legs and take some pictures, before they would continue onto the Gorge itself, about 45 minutes away.
Marie lent over the lip to look down. Below her was a vast crater and she was amazed to see what a huge wilderness it really was.She could just about recognise large herds of animals which she thought must be buffalo, roaming at the bottom but they seemed so tiny from this high vantage point.She felt like Zeus himself looking down at the world from the dizzy heights of Olympus.
She was surprised that the whole area wasn’t flooded as she’d read that craters like this often were. This was apparently the case with the Ngurdoto Crater in the Arusha National Park.However as she squinted, she could just about make out that there was in fact a lake in the centre.
She asked Thomas about it.
“Many water sources drain into that salt lake in the centre Ocean, including the Munge stream through the Olmoti crater in the north, the Lerai stream draining the humid forests to the south, and of course the Lerai forest on the crater floor itself but as far as I know it has never been flooded.
The crater bed is about 100 square miles wide. The crater rim in the North was defined by the Great Rift Valley wall and that prevented animal migration in that direction.”
It was spectacular and Marie continued looking on in awe.
On the leeward of the Ngorongoro highlands an active volcano protruded in the far distance and Thomas confirmed that this was Ol Doinyo Lengai.
So at last here was the sacred rainbow mountain that Simel in Engaruka had described. Marie could just about get her bearings now because he had described it as north of the village, far beyond the ruins.From the point she now stood, the sacred mountain was west of her, so that must mean Engaruka was too but further south.
She contemplated whether to ask Thomas if he knew why it was called a rainbow mountain but then he called to them and they had to leave immediately and all piled back into the vehicle as it set off on the road again.
It was 12 Noon when they arrived at the Gorge. Thomas explained it was 30 miles long and lay in the rain shadow of the Ngonongoro highlands but was the driest part of the region.He also said that millions of years ago the site was that of a large lake, the shores of which were covered with successive deposits of volcanic ash.About 500,000 years ago seismic activity in the area had diverted a nearby stream, which had then begun to cut down into the sediments revealing the seven main layers in the walls of the Gorge.
‘Another diverted river’ thought Marie thinking back to the theory of why the founders of the abandoned ruins of Engaruka might have left, though clearly the time span between the two events was far too great for them to be connected. However, it proved how much the land had constantly been changing and evolving for tens of thousands of years.
One thing everyone agreed on was how ancient it was but then of course, if it really was the ‘Cradle of Mankind’ it would have to be. The rocks where they entered the area were completely bleached by the sunand rose above, dwarfing them like stone monuments but then beyond them, as far as the eye could see there was rolling land, where green vegetation had managed to find a secure hold onto the parched ground, stubbornly refusing to die.
Further within the Gorge she noticed there were multitudes of orange hills and each looked like a portion had crumbled away through the centuries leaving ridges that looked now more like steps, but through each rock ridge you could almost see a different era in time that each successive generation would have recognized as their own terrain.Thomas confirmed this by saying that each layer would at one time have been solid ground.
Thomas parked the vehicle and the group found some shade, putting a blanket on the ground to eat their picnic lunch, which had been prepared at the House in Arusha before they’d left. They all ate heartily as were famished.
Afterwards they had time to look around for awhile. The Gorge where the Leakeys had made their original finds was apparently fenced off.Thomas said it was too difficult to get the vehicle down to that spot as the road was poor but they could walk and there was a plaque marking the spot.Marie really wanted to go but no-one else seemed interested and wanted instead to go onto the museum.However, she’d made up her mind and told the others she’d meet them inside in a little while.
It didn’t take long to get down and once there she found the huge monument itself, with a plaque in front of it. She read the inscription saying it out loud softly.
’the skull of Australopithecus Boisei (Zinjanthropus) was found here by M.D.Leakey July 17th, 1959’.
She stayed looking and reread the inscription – Australopithecus. This had to be an ancient species Samuel had referred to and she realised she knew nothing about it.As she glanced around she noticed just how little there was to give the visitor any feeling of what it must have been like to live in this place.It was impossible to even imagine anything so seemingly crazy.There was no electricity, no ruins, no trees – nothing!It was an empty wasteland.
It was a little disappointing, given that the story Samuel had told had seemed so much more exciting. However, it was at least an acknowledgement of Mary’s famous discovery and she could now say she’d seen the place.She looked around again at the bleached ground, wondering again about the people who’d once lived here and how they had managed to survive in such a hostile terrain.
From nowhere suddenly a chill blew and she shivered. Despite the heat disconcertingly, a slow whispering breeze started to blow over her.Unexpectedly she was unsettled and her limbs, now covered in goose bumps, became still as stone as she listened to a sudden sound in her head become louder, turning into an inane chatter, as if she was being haunted by a multitude of people.
Closing her eyes the babble became more defined but still she couldn’t decipher what was being said. Next, without warning, she had the strangest sensation that her body was being drawn downwards, into the depths of the ground itself. Though fearful at such a prospect she didn’t feel compelled to try and escape.
Her senses were assailed by the smell of a campfire and within her mind she could make out now the forms of people, below her, whom it seemed all wanted her attention and her head was full of them as they came closer. They were all black except one whose white body set him apart. Joy surged within her soul at his appearance.Curious at her reaction she tried to move her feet, to get nearer but it was if they had turned into magnets, rooting her to the spot and preventing her from advancing … though still she felt herself being drawn downwards steadily into their world.
Then suddenly it was finished. They were gone and their presence evaporated.Their withdrawal left her with a sense of loss so great it took her breath away for a second.Absurdly now she was reluctant to move at all because for that fleeting moment she had felt herself as one with the ghosts and she didn’t want to leave.
Taking a steadying gulp of air, however, she opened her eyes before slowly turning around, lifting one foot up and putting it firmly on the ground in front of her, then letting the other follow. Afterwards it was effortless and she kept on walking.
However, as she neared the top of the slope, she turned back round, looking down on the area from above, drinking in the vision of the circle where the monument stood. Her face looked troubled but then abruptly she turned again and continued walking upwards.
She acknowledged though that as she climbed the feeling of loss, she’d had earlier, grew weaker. It was utterly bizarre and quite incomprehensible.She wondered if maybe the sun had simply gone to her head.
At the top she stopped once more, putting her hands on her hips and getting her breath back but though less intense, a memory of the sadness remained. She tried to analyse what had happened to her but there was no answer.
She wondered whether to tell the others when she found them but decided against it, though thinking of them filled her with a certain resolve and she moved again, more quickly now, and headed straight for the museum, leaving it all behind.
It was easy enough to find and though small, more interesting than she’d expected. She avoided the tour guides, as it seemed that they only wanted to talk about the obvious regarding the Leakeys’ find, and she thought Samuel’s story so much more interesting.She decided to simply wander and see if she might get a different perspective, within the museum; something tangible and which would ignite her imagination a little more.
After finding the group she joined them and they wandered around together checking out some of the main exhibits, including the skull of Australopithecus*. They asked her about the monument.She smiled brightly and told them there wasn’t much there apart from that but she was glad to have seen it.Fleetingly she nearly told them of her experience then but didn’t.For some unfathomable reason she didn’t want to discuss it.Thinking about it now, it seemed fanciful and distant so she kept her thoughts to herself.
The museum was moderately engaging but it seemed to Marie again, just like the ruins at Engaruka, that money needed to be spent on it. People were fascinated by history and here they were, in what had been described as the ‘Cradle of Mankind’ but the locals, though they tried their best, needed someone who had a passion about the actual subject and was actually willing to inject some cash into it, to promote and create an area of fascination.Not only that but if more tourists came here it would boost the economy and improve the villagers’ lives.
One of the displays however did capture her imagination. It was a cast of what was described as the famous Laetoli footprints which had apparently been found nearby by one of the Leakeys’ team members, who’d fallen accidentally when someone had been fooling around and tossed elephant dung at him!
“Lovely.” thought Marie.
She continued reading the caption. It said that the man had found himself face down on the ground and staring at footprints, fossilised in a layer of hardened volcanic mud which no-one had previously noticed.Later excavation had revealed it as an astonishing find.
It seemed that one set of prints was made by a larger, heavier creature and the other by a smaller, lighter one but both were very similar and showed that the two were walking in step, side by side. Also it appeared that a third individual, much smaller than the first two was following behind, stepping in the footprints left by the larger individuals.She closed her eyes smiling as she imagined a couple walking as their child followed on behind.
She could relate to that; two people in love, walking hand in hand on a beach, somewhere in the world, and their child walking behind trying to catch them up but jumping into their footsteps in play. Those footsteps could similarly be preserved today and then found four million years later!
“It has to be a family doesn’t it.”
She looked around at the others with the question.
Pete grinned and then contradicted her.
“Impossible Ocean, simply couldn’t be so.”
“Peter! The displays definitely say that not only are the footprints clearly made by fully bipedal creatures but also that they are almost indistinguishable from modern human footprints, despite them being formed millions of years earlier than the earliest known fossilised human footprints!”
“Ocean, humans haven’t been on the planet that long. You’re getting too sentimental about it.”
Still she wouldn’t let it go.
“Well I think it was a family and I don’t care what the scientists say?” argued Marie.
The group could see the steely determination to win the debate in her eyes and knew they’d never change her mind, but Emma tried.
“Ocean, it says here …” and she cited, “Some scientists argue that there is no evidence of human culture from that time period and in fact the fossilised hominid skeletons that have been found, which include skulls, were clearly not human.”
However, Marie continued to oppose this view.
“These scientists have no soul Emma!! Whether or not they were humans is irrelevant.This was clearly a family and as families have always done, they have walked and played and this is all the evidence that’s required.I don’t care whether these scientists believe that ‘they hadn’t significant development of the brain to support language abilities …’, these footprints are made by ancestors of the human race, who’ve formed a relationship and are interacting with each other and these scientists clearly haven’t recognised that!”
They watched the fire in her eyes as she spoke but when she stopped, out of breath, they laughed loudly at her self-righteous indignation, knowing instinctively that there was no way she was ever going to reach an agreement with anything they said and diplomatically it was decided that probably it was time for them to leave.
Pete took her by the arm, steering her by the elbow, but couldn’t resist a last shot.
“Come on little Miss Angry, I think we’d better leave now, before they cart you away for causing a storm!”
Marie’s initial reaction was to pull away from him angrily, but looking up into his eyes, full of affectionate amusement, and then similarly at the girls, she couldn’t maintain her rage any longer and relaxed, chuckling along with them. He was right.It was definitely time to leave.This whole place though had acutely affected her and she wasn’t sure why.
As they went through the exit there was a donation box and they all put something in. Also outside they bought some beads from some local Maasai who were selling crafts.Marie put hers round her neck, thinking affectionately again about the ones she and the girls from Engaruka had made, which were tucked away safely in her rucksack.She made herself a promise though, that she must come back here to this wonderful womb of humanity.Despite her continued sadness about the poverty of the displays and her peculiar encounter at the monument, she did feel uplifted about her experiences here.
The story of the Laetoli footprints had raised her spirits somehow though she knew instinctively that she should try harder not to get so emotional. If only there was more she could practically do to focus the attention of the world on this special place.The area needed saving but largely it was forgotten by humankind.
They took some photos of the locals and then gave them a tip as Thomas had recommended. There was no denying that they looked fabulous in their colourful clothes and beads and were as usual smiling and obliging which was something that they all agreed on, was typical of these lovely people.
Thomas was waiting for them at the vehicle and they all climbed aboard before he set off along the road once more. Marie was quiet as she sat for awhile thinking about her experience at the monument.She couldn’t understand why she felt as though she’d left something important behind and why on earth it should even bother her so much.She spun around as they left the Gorge vicinity, suddenly desperate to get one more glimpse of it and stayed watching, her nose up against the glass, until it was out of sight completely and at last turned her attention back to her friends who were clearly joyful at continuing on their journey before sighing and trying to rid herself of her dark thoughts.
After they left the Gorge they went south once more and joined back up with the B144 but instead of going west towards the Serengeti Park, they crossed over the road and went further south along what seemed like a dirt track to nowhere. It had been arranged that this evening they would stop overnight at the Olduvai Camp.Thomas had made all the arrangements.
Tomorrow morning their entry permit through the Naabi Gate was scheduled for 8am. From the camp it would take about an hour to get there so they would have to set off early but once they arrived at camp today they would have the rest of the day to relax.
By the time they arrived it was 3pm. The journey along the track had been quite uneventful so when Thomas stopped suddenly and pointed, they all looked in the direction of his finger and were stunned by what they saw.The camp site itself stood out from the flat plains and looked just like an island in the middle of a lake, except it wasn’t water that they would have to pass through to get to it, but completely flat grasslands, so different from the Ngorongoro area that they had been in earlier.
Thomas turned around and spoke to them.
“This is a very simple camp, hosted by Maasai and virtually unknown to most people. Here you will meet up with your hosts on equal terms and find the interaction completely natural.They will make you welcome and I think you will enjoy the experience very much.”
They all nodded at him, smiling their thanks before he grinned widely and then turned, putting the car into gear and setting off again across the flat plain.
One thing that Marie was getting quite used to was that, no matter where she went in this country, even it seemed to the remotest safari camp, the culture of performing culinary miracles was ever prevalent. When they arrived they were greeted immediately with fresh cakes and tea.
After the introductions, they were then taken into the dining room, which was set out with tables and chairs, but the view from the open window was amazing as all that could be seen were miles and miles of open plain as far as the eye could see. Marie thought how easy it was to imagine the tide sweeping in to surround the island and trapping them in for the night.
Their journey here, through the flat plains, to the raised land in the middle, had reminded Marie a little of the journey Highland cattle must make when they crossed to their winter pasture in Scotland. They would have to cross as quickly as they could, through the muddy exposed ground of the water logged sea bed, to get to the rich grazing of the island in the middle before the tide flowed back once again surrounding the island.The only difference here was that it was dry and warm with the gentle breeze cooling them through the open window and the sea was a long way away.
After finishing their cool drinks they were shown around. First of all they were taken to their accommodation.The girls were put together in one hut and Pete taken to another, next door, where he was to share with some other boys already arrived.
The girls delighted in their room. The harsh interior of the hut had been concealed completely by flowing, material drapes and straw thatch giving the effect of a huge Arab tent, the canvas of the walls drawn in deliberate lines neatly, creating different sections and making it cosier.The end of the hut had no wall as such and was just an opening, which looked out onto a small patio area, with chairs in front to sit and view the plains.However a net curtain covered the whole length, giving them privacy and allowing them to look out on the wilderness continuously.
Having dropped their bags onto the floor they had a moment of quiet reflection, peering outside as they waited for Pete to return. Suddenly Helen squealed and pointed.
Marie and Emma followed her finger and there on the edge of the camp were a pair of giraffes nonchalantly wandering along the rim, totally disinterested in what was going on within, and the girls frantically looked for their cameras and then started taking photos.
After they’d calmed down they investigated the room further. There were three single beds at different angles along the canvas of the walls, each giving a great view through the window and they delighted in the small dressing table placed strategically in a corner as well as a sink and mirror beautifully decorated in another section.By the side of each bed was a small table, with room underneath to put magazines and on top they had their own lamp.
The floor was covered in woven rounds of carpet in vivid colours which matched the drapes hanging throughout the whole room, softening it and making it homely and comfortable.
At last Pete returned and they continued the tour including climbing up, away from the dwellings where from the top they had a full 360 degree view as they each turned fully round, scanning the whole area for what seemed like miles and miles of plain and scrubland, which just occasionally was partitioned by rolling hills, yet beyond clearly the land continued as far as the eye could see.
Marie remembered her conversation with Samuel about how easy it would be to get lost in the vastness of the region and could see clearly now he wasn’t exaggerating.
Looking downwards they could see the huts dotted on the rim of the island oasis and they looked so much smaller than they did once inside.
Afterwards they were taken back in to the dining room and offered freshly made coffee where they got the opportunity to speak with some members of the tribe before eventually going back to their rooms to rest and change out of their dusty clothes from the scorching journey they had taken. They all agreed it had been a long day.
After a couple of hours they were called to eat and went back to the dining room. It was a surprise as it was set out so beautifully.They were served a three course dinner, including wine and by the time they had finished, they were all completely relaxed.Not only did they get time for some proper conversation with the other visitors to the camp but also they got further opportunity to speak with a group of Maasai and discuss with them their life in this oasis which they called home.
Eventually the daylight started to fade and one of the tribesmen beckoned them all outside. At first people didn’t understand what he wanted from them but still he gestured to them and they followed obediently, setting off walking it seemed to the very top of the camp again.
The peacefulness was complete and the view still spectacular despite its isolation. The small group waited patiently until at last they saw the reason for returning.The sun, which just minutes earlier, had still been yellow, turned orange and then became red before it sank as if in slow motion in the vastness of the African skyline.The rich glow of the sunset was stunning but then suddenly it disappeared, as if dropping off the edge of the world and then the whole sky went black, just as if the lights themselves had been switched off and there was a murmuring from the group of alarm.
However, within seconds it lightened again as hundreds of stars winked at them brightly from the immediate night sky and there was a gasp of pleasure from the crowd as they looked on in awe at the dazzling image above them.
At that moment Marie knew that she really was somewhere magical.
Some people wanted to stay awhile longer and just gaze at the spectacle so sat down and quietly surveyed the world in wonder as it appeared to spin around them. It was quite disorientating as the view in all directions and from all angles was identical, in that the whole night sky now was filled with the bright stars, moving in the same direction, as the earth continued spinning slowly round.
Eventually it got cool and the party made its way sleepily back down to the dining room again. There was further opportunity to talk about what they’d seen and a huge pot of tea was made and sipped continually by the collection of visitors.Then conversation moved onto where each group had been and what they’d seen.It was a lovely end to the day but eventually little by little they all left for bed, thanking their hosts for the hospitality until at last the room was empty.
The night was uneventful though it took the girls ages to drop off to sleep because, despite their tiredness, they wanted to continue chattering about the day’s events. However eventually they all fell silent.
Marie woke once and in the darkness smiled to herself as she snuggled up in the bed contentedly. She could hear the noises of the animals as they roamed outside and yet it was pitch black, with the exception of the stars that still twinkled at her through the net curtain.She couldn’t resist and got out of bed and went over to the window to peer out of the netting.
As such there was nothing to see but still she watched. The noise of the animals was clear so they must be somewhere close but there was nothing of the noise of the world that she was more used to; of traffic, of alarms and sirens, of people simply walking back from the pub.It was quite disconcerting and she shivered a moment contemplating living like this all the time.
“Ocean you really are in the middle of nowhere.”
She’d spoken out loud but then giggled at the stupidity of her words, because quite clearly she was.
Engaruka had so far been the quietest place she had ever stayed in but here on these plains it was infinitely more isolated. Out here in the wilderness, there was more land than people to populate it.The land was dominant and much too harsh for most humans to survive now, yet the Maasai and other tribes too, did just that.It was astounding.
She stayed for five more minutes ruminating before at last returned to her bed and was asleep in seconds.
Next morning they were up early as Thomas had requested. As he’d told them; animals get up early, and there was no time to lose!They packed the Land Cruiser fully prepared for their next stop which was the Naabi Hill Gate and Serengeti Park but before leaving they were served a light breakfast and given a picnic lunch to take with them.As they thanked their hosts it was obvious everyone felt a little sad to be leaving so soon and it was with some reluctance they got back into their vehicle, before Thomas, wasting no time set off with a jolt, leaving the camp behind and travelling at speed along the dirt track once more.
Everyone stood up in the vehicle, looking back and waving until at last the island oasis was nothing more than a dot on the horizon but the whole group agreed that visiting the Olduvai camp had been a satisfying and worthwhile trip and one they would always remember.
They picked up the B144 again and drove north towards Naabi Hill Gate. The scenery continued to fascinate though they saw few animals along the way but there were all types of rock formation protruding out of the plains which gave them the opportunity to get out their binoculars and search for hidden wildlife.Thomas drove swiftly however as he wanted to be at the Gate for 7.20 am ready for their entry at 8 am.
They arrived well on time and got out to stretch their legs whilst Thomas saw to the formalities of checking in. There wasn’t actually very much to see around the Gate itself but Marie and the others wandered around using the restroom facilities and checking out some of the native stalls displaying their wares.There were lots of stone tables both in the sun and the shade and they decided to sit and relax, knowing it would be another long day.
They became aware of the multitude of vibrantly coloured birds flying around them, attracted by the crumbs of the visitors eating there. There were blue and green and purple iridescent starlings of every sort with red chests and bibs edged in white.There were weaver birds swooping in to try their luck on the feast of crumbs being dropped and even some scurrying mice trying to get their share.
After fifteen minutes Marie made a suggestion.
“Shall we walk to the top of the hill? It’s bound to be a fantastic view.”
Everyone nodded in agreement and they set off, passing the convenience store advertising snacks for sale but no-one needed anything and they walked on by.
The route was easy to find as they just followed the queue of people walking in the same direction. At the top they found the vantage point which was crowded with visitors.It was a great view though they all agreed that the one the previous evening would take some beating.As far as the eye could see you could see vast open plains, punctuated occasionally by Kopjes which was a word Thomas had used, saying it originated from the old Dutch translation.
These were apparently the result of past volcanic activity and provided a microhabitat for non-plains wildlife. All along the plain they could be seen clearly in pockets of surrounding isolation and they gave depth to the flat savannah.
Also below them, on the lower slopes of the rocky outcrop, they could see a tent camp which was busy with people arriving and leaving the Naabi Hill Gate area. From here it was interesting to watch the busy activity.Marie glanced around and noticed some small, colourful Agama lizards sprinting across the rocks and pointed them out to the others.In contrast as they squinted against the sun in the distance they could just make out huge lions resting in the shade.
She smiled as she thought of Ned again. However, the picture of them resting quietly in the shade really was quite beautiful and she said as much.
Pete couldn’t resist.
“Probably well fed Ocean, though we’ll see how beautiful they look when they’re ready for their lunch!”
She pulled a face at him but didn’t rise to the bait.
Personally she was content with seeing the landscape from afar. Thomas had already told them that though this time of the year the animals were much further apart and often harder to see in the east, when you did catch sight of them it had more power to affect you.The others were already eager to get the chance of seeing them close up, including the cheetah, lions, rhino and wild dog, which was what Thomas had said were more common at this time of year.
Also they all hoped to spontaneously meet with some nomad tribes making journeys across the plains.
As they strolled back, Marie pondered what she’d read regarding the history of the Maasai since she’d been here, and especially since she’d worked amongst them. What she now knew was that they believed that in this wilderness, they were at their ancestral home.For generations they had been grazing their cattle on what they called the ‘Siringitu’.
Although previously known as fierce warriors, they had lived alongside the wild animals with an aversion to eating game and birds, subsisting exclusively on their cattle. Their strength and reputation had kept the newly arrived Europeans early in the century from exploiting the animals and resources in the region and this was why there was still such an abundance of wildlife today.
They reminded her of native Indians of North America because they lived as one with the land. The Maasai herded their cattle constantly, moving them on after they had had their fill of grazing, so that the land would have time to recover. Instead of competing, they shared the plains with the thousands of animals that migrated here and so it had been throughout the centuries.It was harder currently only because they were so confined to a fraction of their former land, which had gradually been bought by the big and profitable safari companies.
It was Helen who had told her about the Maasai’s word for Serengeti being Siringitu and it apparently translated to, ‘the place where the land moves on forever’. Having seen some spectacular views whilst she’d been travelling, she knew now what that meant, as there seemed to be no end to it at all.
As they gradually came back to the gate area they became surrounded once more by the many trees growing there and of course the few buildings scattered around too but what still astounded her was the isolation of it all. How could anyone survive in such wild and inhospitable terrain, especially at night when there was nothing to guide you in any direction?What must it be like to live in such seclusion with so few people around you?She wasn’t sure she could cope with it for any length of time.Just how would you entertain yourself?She was sure it would make her desperate.
Walking back to meet Thomas at the rendezvous time, they queued to refill their drink bottles along with all the other visitors hanging around the area before getting back into their vehicle to drive through Naabi Hill Gate, as scheduled, and continued on towards the Western part of the Serengeti to enjoy the next stage of their safari.
Their destination was a permanent camp called Dunia which Thomas said was located between the Ndutu and Seronera territories, within Central Serengeti and in the Seronera River Valley. Thomas had chosen this camp because it was on the periphery of the busy area and so quieter than other camps.
Though the Great Migration had long since passed through at the beginning of the year, the secluded setting in the Moru Kopjes was apparently a retreat of tranquillity in one of the most scenic parts of the Serengeti. Marie had been expecting it to be like the Ngorongoro Crater, with wildlife everywhere you looked but in reality it was like the vast prairies where you could drive for ages and see very little except for the many varieties of big cats and of course if you were lucky the black rhino.
At last they passed along the Seronera river and Thomas as always was knowledgeable about everything. He told them that it created a constant water source for the forest region allowing good cover for the elusive leopard and providing them with a perfect viewpoint to overlook their territories.Pete was the first to sight one and the cameras quickly came out.Marie got out the binoculars desperate to find a rhino as this was the perfect place to view the animal evidently.However she was unlucky, though she too saw more leopards at what she thought was one of the more surreal rock formations that they passed.
Eventually they arrived at the camp. It was tucked in amongst some trees and quite hidden from the crowds.Although not a mobile camp it was designed like a mobile.Seven sleeping tents were set up but the clear view over the Seronera Park was incredible and more green than where they’d come from.They got down from their vehicle, glad to stretch their legs and were shown immediately to the tent which would be their home for the next two nights.
They weren’t due to set off back to Arusha until early Friday morning and their entry time to get out of Naabi Hill Gate was 10am so everyone was looking forward to two days of pure safari.
They were welcomed by a team of staff who gave them a tour of the facilities including the tents they’d be sleeping in, which were really rather luxurious given they also had flush toilets, large bathrooms and a private veranda overlooking the Moru Kopjes. Then they were invited to eat in the central tented mess.
Once they had finished their meal they unpacked. Thomas however was keen to take them out immediately so they got themselves ready, dressing in their loose shirt and trousers, boots and making sure to pack the medication they’d bought at the store in Arusha into their rucksacks.Thomas cautioned them to be thorough.
“We will not be coming back until the early part of the afternoon, when we shall eat and relax for a short while. Check to make sure you have everything you need because if you forget anything you will have to manage without it until you return.”
At last they were ready and were out for four hours. The Land Cruiser handled the rough and dusty roads beautifully and it seemed Thomas knew exactly where he was heading for.
Emma was clearly ecstatic, telling the others that this was exactly what she’d been waiting for. It really felt now like she was on safari and her excitement was infectious.They all agreed that they had never seen so many big cats in one location.The undulated land was characterised by lightly wooded valleys and as the river never dried up completely, animals were ever constant along the tributaries.Though many of the predators had followed the migration, many others were clearly still resident as they found subsidence in the area all year round.
The sheer vastness of the Serengeti was overpowering. In the four hours they were out, Thomas found leopard, lion and cheetah for them to photograph as well as a herd of giraffe.At 2pm they returned to the camp and there was an array of freshly baked breads just out of the oven and fresh coffee bubbling waiting for them
It was pleasant to relax in the shade and they chatted to the team about what they’d seen but very soon they saw Thomas getting ready and knew they’d be travelling again shortly.
“No rest for the wicked Thomas.”
Pete shouted it but Thomas merely smiled widely back.
Within 15 minutes they were on the road again and went a little further, this time finding hippo and crocodiles as well as some elephant along one stretch of the river and also great-winged Maribu storks taking flight overhead as they watched. Thomas was knowledgeable and talked as he drove.
“The Seronera is the largest and most well-known of the four rivers that flow northwest from the plains, through the valley and ultimately into the Grumeti river, which empties eventually into Lake Victoria.”
When they got back to camp once more at 6pm they were exhausted but all agreed it had been a wonderfully exciting and memorable day. They ate heartily of the wonderful meats sizzling away on skillets in the camp and to follow there were delicious fresh fruits and decent wines all served on tables with linen tablecloths.
As they relaxed afterwards Thomas came over to tell them that the following day he intended setting off at dawn, taking them back to a stretch of the Seronera river where there were swamps and deep pools of water, which were ideal lion and leopard habitats and that there was perhaps no easier place in Africa to observe these carnivores in action.
Pete looked across at Marie and winked. She was ruffled immediately knowing exactly what he was thinking!
“Listen Peter, I’m really looking forward to observing them.I know what you’re thinking but just because I don’t want to actually watch the gory, eating feast in graphic multi-colour, doesn’t mean I’m a complete jessie at all.”
They all laughed loudly at her indignant tone, and though she tried to continue looking fierce she couldn’t maintain it and at last grinned wryly.
“My reputation’s in tatters isn’t it? The secret is well and truly out.This is all Ned’s fault.Him and his juvenile jokes!”
“I tell you what Ocean, I’ll put my thinking cap on and I bet I can come up with a dastardly plan to get him back when we return.”
He used his hands to claw the air fiercely and she whacked him, but it took her breath away for a second. She did wish people would stop doing that.
“Listen, I’ve already taken the wind out of his sails thank you, but the damage is done. He knew, and now so do you lot.I can’t deny it, I care nothing about the killing habits of wild animals, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying seeing them in their natural habitat and … well I’ll survive … and I can always close my eyes!”
Everyone laughed noisily at this and Pete pulled her close and hugged her roughly, despite her battling with him to escape.
That evening, after eating, they played board games and swapped stories around the fire. Not only did the other visitors to the camp have stories but the Dunia team had theirs to tell as well and it was altogether interesting and fun.Some guests at the camp had returned that day from a balloon safari experience and regaled the wonderful sights that they’d seen of the terrain from up high.
Marie got into conversation with a man called Jack. He was on holiday in Tanzania with a group of friends and they’d been here for almost two weeks but were leaving this camp the following day.
“We’re going to Momella Lodge tomorrow Ocean.” He said. “I really can’t wait.My Grandad once met the entire Trappe clan.They’re the people who used to own it.He was a young man at the time of course as it was before the Second World War but the stories he told me about the Lodge and the people who owned it were absolutely fascinating and I’m dying to find out more.”
Marie’ interest was captured immediately telling him she would love to know more too.
“I can tell you that the farm’s located at the foot of Mount Meru in Arusha National Park but the family who originally built it developed it into a small estate. The matriarch who oversaw this seems to have had a reputation as a formidable hunter in her day and was renowned throughout the area.It’s said that wild animals, including elephant and buffalo are even now seen roaming just a short distance from the estate.
Also it’s an ideal base for climbing Mount Meru and appears to be a pleasant place to relax after the climb. I’ve already arranged for us to do this though so far the fine detail is a surprise from my own group but I’m going to share what I know with them later.”
Marie grew excited.
“I’d love to go to Momella. In fact once we’ve finished this safari that’s the next place on my list to visit though I haven’t got anything planned so far.”
She shared what little she did know about Momella with Jack, including what she’d learnt on her visit to the Arusha hotel and the photographs hanging in the Hatari Tavern.
“Do you know if it’s true that there are plans to change its name to Hatari in memory of the actors who starred in the film?” she asked.
“I’m sorry, I haven’t heard anything about that but it has to be a possibility doesn’t it. I’ve heard snippets of gossip but you know what, now you’ve put me in mind of it,I’m ‘sure as hell going to find out’ once we get there.”
She laughed merrily, truly amused. She’d said as much to Joe when they first met and Jack fleetingly reminded her of him.
However, his next words left her reeling and she was unable to answer him immediately so great was her astonishment.
“You could join us you know Ocean? When do you leave here anyway?I heard it was Friday morning?”
She nodded but still couldn’t bring herself to say anything.
“Well we aren’t leaving camp until 2.30 latest tomorrow so you’ll only miss the afternoon and evening activities. You could do a bit of safari in the morning, and then when you return back here to eat, gather your stuff together and travel across to Momella with us.I have to warn you though that we don’t expect to stop until we reach the Lodge tomorrow evening.We’re spending a couple of days there including the surprise trip I’ve planned, before travelling directly to Kilimanjaro airport on Saturday, so we could drop you off at your house on our way through?”
Marie bit her lip hard still unable to speak. She really was tempted to say yes straight away but was hit by a wave of guilt.What would her friends think of her accepting this proposition?It might be construed as self-indulgent to even be considering parting from them and they’d been such good company … even so .…”
“Look Jack, can I give you my answer later? It sounds perfect and I’m really desperate to see that old Lodge before I leave Tanzania but I have to speak with my friends first.I’d hate to cause any upset with them because they’ve been such great people to travel with … though … even if they don’t mind … you mustn’t think about making yourselves late tomorrow by waiting for me….”
He put his hand on her mouth to prevent her from saying any more.
“I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t serious, besides I’ve got to check it out with my own friends yet but I’m pretty sure there won’t be any objections … and there is room. We’ll speak again later then?”
He smiled warmly and she nodded.
When she went back over to her group she suddenly felt panic stricken about what they’d discussed. She pondered over and over in her mind how she was going to broach the subject.
Pete spoke suddenly and it brought her back to the present with a jolt.
“You okay Ocean McKenzie? Has the lion got your tongue!”
He laughed at his own joke looking at Helen and Emma as he did so but when he turned back to Marie he saw she looked stricken. He opened his mouth to speak again but she held up a hand, licking her lips as she did so and they all remained quiet.When she spoke at last it was barely more than a whisper.
“Well it’s like this Pete; I’ve just been made an offer I’m not sure I want to refuse.”
Still they remained quiet though now there was a question in the eyes of each of them and she had no choice but to explain. After she had told them what Jack had proposed a hush remained and eventually she had to speak again as the silence grew unnerving.
“I’m sorry and I know you probably think if I go I’m being disloyal but I’m desperate to see Momella and I’m not sure I shall find anyone else to come with me. Those people are offering me a seat in their vehicle and they’ll even drop me back in Arusha on Saturday morning … and there’s room at the Lodge to stay apparently ….”
She stopped talking and hung her head unable to continue, still conscious that none of them had responded yet. Despite her earlier excitement at the prospect of going to Momella, now all she felt was remorse.
At last she felt a hand on her shoulder and she looked up to see Helen standing, smiling down at her. She pulled Marie up and hugged her unexpectedly.
“Well I can’t speak for the others Ocean but I think you’re right to consider it really. I would in your place, especially if it was somewhere that I really wanted to visit and you’ll soon enough be back in England and then wishing that you had made the time.”
Marie hugged her fiercely back and her tears started then though she didn’t know whether they were flowing in happiness or relief. Abruptly the other two stood too, joining them and they huddled together all laughing together now.She glanced around briefly and saw Jack watching so grinned impishly at him and he raised his glass in acknowledgement of her message.
Turning back to her friends she joined hands with them again and they jumped about in a circle just as if they were children. However, she wasn’t let off the hook just yet.
Pete as usual was the one who couldn’t resist a parting shot.
“My dear Ocean; all you had to do was be sincere. If you’d been honest with us right from the start, that anything was better than watching Mr. Lion eat Mrs. Zebra, then we’d have completely understood!”
“It’s not that … really, it’s not.”
This time it was Emma who slapped him.
The rest of the evening flew by happily. She went to see Thomas and explained the situation and he was completely relaxed about it.However, even he had a jibe.
“Perhaps Ocean you are not so keen to view the predators killing their prey eh? Either that, or it’s my wild driving that’s putting you off travelling any further in my vehicle!”
“Not you too Thomas! You’ve been fantastic and I mean it.This isn’t about that at all but I do so want to see Momella Lodge …”
She stopped talking as the expression on his face said everything he was thinking. There really was no point in continuing making excuses.Instead she clasped his arm, squeezing it and thanking him for introducing her to the Olduvai Gorge and Camp which she had felt privileged to visit.
In her heart she knew that these were the highlight of the tour for her.
He nodded his head in acknowledgement.
She recognised that they really did all have a point. She had enjoyed visiting the Seronera area and seeing its spectacular beauty but if she was honest she had never felt any enthusiasm about watching the animals tearing each other apart.She was much more roused about going to Momella.
That night, as she dropped off to sleep, she distinctively heard the sawing call of a leopard and the distant grunting roar of a male lion and realised that though she was looking forward to going out with her group one last time the following day, she had made the right decision about leaving with Jack and his friends.
They awoke to a chorus of birdsong next morning but didn’t have time to wonder too long as they had to be quick and made their way sleepily to their vehicle where Thomas was waiting as usual.
“No rest for the wicked hey Thomas.”
Marie said it nonchalantly as she clambered up but he just smiled broadly at her and tapped his nose. She was immediately reminded of William from the Arusha Hotel and as she paused, puzzling why he would do that, suddenly she knew exactly what his intentions were that day.
They were out for six hours and as promised Thomas drove them to a specific section of the Seronera River, from which point they had followed the flow of the water. Everyone agreed they had never seen so many big cats in one location.There were some sightings of leopards and cheetah too but specifically this was the game loop for the lions.The wilderness had been completely preserved and the animals were abundantly free in their natural habitat.
The Lion Prides were more sedentary and easily spotted in some of the parched grasses but Thomas explained that given this was the dry season, all they had to do was be patient and wait, as the hunt would come to them, enlightening them that animals were forced to regularly visit the river to drink and the prey animals were no different.
Thomas at last pulled over and turned off the engine. They waited as he pointed out the small tracks on either side of the river that ran up and down the entire length of the watercourse, naming the animals who had made them.
Eventually of course the inevitable happened but though they all gazed in morbid fascination, Marie silently shut her eyes. If she had been watching this scene on the television back home, she would have done pretty much the same or gone to make a cup of tea.However, this time everyone left her alone.
Thankfully afterwards they moved on and Thomas put his foot down hard on the accelerator but the Land Cruiser handled the rough and dusty roads beautifully and they all stood up, their binoculars to their eyes, scanning the area for more animals. They saw elephants and giraffe loping about in the savannah and in one spot near the river were delighted to see some elephants playing in the water trying to cool down and rid their bodies of the dust of the day.There were some calves too and Marie enjoyed this experience much more than the previous one.
When they returned to camp in the early part of the afternoon, Marie left her friends and went straight back to the tent to shower quickly and then she packed everything away in her rucksack. She went to the Central Mess eating room where her friends were waiting and she hugged them all tightly.They had made her up a picnic and she gulped down some of the freshly brewed coffee.Thomas was also there and she hugged him too impulsively and thanked him profusely again.Eventually Emma spoke.
“For goodness sake Ocean, GO, or you’ll change your mind.”
Then she added “Either that or your new friends waiting over there will change theirs! They need to get off and I think the time is now.See you back at the House Saturday morning before I leave.”
With a final wave to them all, including Thomas who winked wickedly as he did a half salute in her direction, she turned her back on them and went towards Jack and his friends, following as they got into their vehicle. As she glanced back at her friends still waving, and at the camp itself, she had a pang of regret wondering what on earth she’d done and sat down quietly in the back of the new vehicle feeling a little forlorn.
However she had no time to be maudlin as Jack and a girl about her own age joined her and he introduced her as Bronwyn. They did most of the talking and it was chiefly about Momella.Bronwyn tried to put her at her ease.
“We’re really happy to have you with us Ocean and I’m quite sure we’ll have a lovely time at the Lodge. I don’t know if he’s told you but it seems Jack still has one more adventure planned for us which you might find surprising.”
Marie smiled and shook her head saying she knew nothing about it and so Bronwyn enlightened and they talked through his plan.
When Jack went to join the others she and Bronwyn continued talking and before long Marie found herself, finally, eagerly looking forward to the prospect of visiting Momella. Eventually they too joined the others who were scanning the scenery, which seemed now to have become a way of life.She wondered at how quickly you could adapt to life on the road.
They followed the B144 back to the Naabi Hill Gate and once through, travelled south until they reached the A104 and then continued east towards Arusha. However long before they got close they took a turn, heading north, driving instead towards Nairobi on a road that ran parallel to the west side of Meru, and past the Forest Reserve.
This was the route to Engaruka but they stayed east of it, hugging instead the dormant volcano and from this side its view somehow seemed much grander. They skirted the northern tip at last, travelling east along the top of the Arusha National Park, until they got to a place called Ngare Nanyuki, which was a small market town.It looked interesting but they didn’t have time to stop.Leaving Nanyuki behind they went south again, now on the eastern side of Meru, by which time they were reaching their journey’s end.
They had to stop at the Park Headquarters which were at the Momella Gate entrance because there were some fees to pay. The Guide’s name was Jimmy and he organised their entry just like Thomas had done at Naabi.Marie had offered to pay her share but the group declined her offer.Once through the gate they drove slowly along the dirt track that led into the shadowy montane forest which seemed to be filled with numerous acrobatic black and white colobus monkeys that she knew were common to the area.
Everyone was weary by now and agreed they would be glad to arrive at their destination. It was just a further brief drive along a short road to the Lodge and Marie held her breath not really knowing what to expect.She’d built up a picture in her mind of it and was excited despite her tiredness.At last she got her first sighting of the recognised building on the left hand side of the road and she stood up peering out of the roof and scanning its exterior, trying to see whether it was any different now to the old pictures she’d looked at, on the wall of the Hatari Inn back at the Arusha Hotel.
However surprisingly, looking around she saw another building on the right and turned her head to take a proper look at that. By comparison it seemed to be much more run down than the main building. It was situated on the south side of the road they were travelling on which she knew ran east to west.Marie reflected that this road must also be the access road back to Arusha.As she scanned the whole area, back on her left side she could just about see another building in the distance at the top of the hill.It appeared to be stone built.
The vehicle came to a halt at last and the group picked up their bags and trouped off, glad at last to stretch their legs. Several people came out of the main building as they waited and they were welcomed officially to Momella.Once the introductions had been made, they were directed towards the main door and Marie giggled as she saw a sign hung outside swaying slightly in the breeze, which read ‘Krueger’s Bar’.Now she knew she really had arrived.
She followed the others in, glancing around as she walked and they were led into a huge lounge where on one wall there was a long bar. Drinks and snacks were already prepared and offered to the guests as they made themselves comfortable on the unusual sofa, covered with animal skin cushions, which ran around the whole edge of the circular room.The thatched roof could be seen clearly above but round wooden stakes threaded at crisscross angles across the whole circumference of the room, giving the effect of a ceiling.
A patchwork animal skin rug covered the floor and a man stood in front of a large open fireplace watching them and smiling encouragingly. Eventually he spoke, asking them to take a seat and as they did so they then waited expectantly.He introduced himself as Eddie, going through the pleasantries of asking if they had had a good journey which everyone in response smiled at and replied politely that they had.
“I know your journey today has been long and you’re likely to be tired and hungry but before we feed you and show you to your rooms I thought it would be interesting to tell you a little about the history of Momella now, especially as I understand you’re on another trip tomorrow. So, is that acceptable to everyone?
There was a chorus of acknowledgement from them all and Eddie nodded his head.
At last then, he told them the story of Momella and what he said was more interesting than Marie could ever have imagined.
“Momella Farm was originally built by a family called Trappe which perhaps you pretty much all know anyway. Nevertheless what you might not know was they first arrived at the Meru Pass on an ox cart from the coast in the early twentieth century, during the German colonial period and very quickly they built up a small estate, expanding it by ranching and keeping cattle, horses and goats.Of course then this area was a complete wilderness with abundant wildlife.
The matriarch of the family was a woman named Margaret Trappe and her courage and pioneering spirit is now legendary. From the very start of the First World War a cat and mouse game developed between her and the English soldiers, which earned her the name of Iron Lady, simply because of her stubbornness, strength and courage, given she scouted for the Germans, more specifically for von Lettow-Vorbeck in his ‘Ice-Cream War’ with Frederick Courtney Selous.”
Marie interrupted immediately.
“Are you saying Margaret Trappe was German?”
Eddie nodded and Marie found this staggering. She hadn’t anticipated that at all.Also there was something now about the name Margaret Trappe that was vaguely familiar but she couldn’t for the life of her think why for the moment.However, she had another question.
“And Ice-Cream War?”
Eddie smiled benevolently and answered.
“An ‘Ice Cream War’ is really about the tragic randomness of life and how we as humans really have very little control over our individual destinies.”
Marie shivered as his words were profound.”
“That’s very philosophical Eddie, but still, why ‘Ice-Cream War’.”
“Did you know there’s a monument in Dar es Salaam called the Askari, which pays tribute to the native troops who died in the ‘Ice-Cream War’? It was an East African campaign during World War 1 and was so called because the British were convinced that their German enemies would melt away like ice-cream in the sun.Askari translated means soldier and has come to symbolise the sacrifice made by all the African troops in conflicts which were not of Africa’s making but which they were drawn into because of World War 1.”
The whole room fell silent but now Jack had another question.
“So who was Frederick Courtney Selous?”
Eddie answered immediately.
“He was not only a British explorer but also an officer, hunter and conservationist, famous for his exploits in South-East Africa. He was also a friend of Theodore Roosevelt and pre-eminent within a select group of big game hunters in this region.”
Marie remembered the book she’d read at the House before she left and wondered if Kenyon too had been part of that group. However, she already had an additional question.
“And von Lettow-Vorbeck?”
“Lieutenant Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck was posted to Tanzania, or as it was called then Tanganyika, in 1914. He was determined to tie down as many British troops as he could to keep them away from the Western Front.”
“So Margaret Trappe helped him.”
He looked across at Marie and simply nodded.
The silence then was total. Eddie took a sip of water before continuing.
“Of course as we know, the Germans lost the war and afterwards the Trappe’s land was confiscated, which forced them to flee the area completely and leave the Farm behind. However eventually they did return and managed to buy everything back.Margaret then started to build a new farm which she called Ngongongare or as it became known by the locals, Yejo’s which was her Maasai name and this is the building you might have seen, just up the hill.”
Marie knew it was the stone building she had seen in the distance and Eddie confirmed this.
“The stone building faces Kilimanjaro in the East and was surrounded by pine trees with its own water, supplied by a small stream. However, by now Margaret was bankrupt but financial survival was eventually secured through highly profitable trophy hunting after she became the first female professional hunter in East Africa.When she died in 1957 her beloved elephants’ last tribute to her was gathering around her house to pay their final respects.”
The room remained silent as Eddie paused again to take another sip of the drink he had by his side. It gave them time to think about his words.
‘Margaret Trappe’; Marie contemplated the name and furrowed her brow, again trying to think where she had heard the name before.
Given there were no more questions, Eddie continued with the story.
“A third building in the trio, which comprised the lodge estate, was also built and used by family members throughout the 1950s. Then, early in the 1960s Margaret’s son Rolf was persuaded to lease the main building to Paramount Pictures as they wanted to use it for the setting of a new safari film being produced at that time called Hatari, which was to star John Wayne.During filming however, one of the other actors, himself German by birth, named Hardy Krueger, fell in love with the area and decided to settle down here, eventually buying Momella, because it seemed he had always dreamt of owning a farm in Africa.He lived here for 13 years and raised his family.
When he left, the Farm was transformed into a small and privately managed Lodge integrating with the original buildings and renamed Oldonyoroc. This is the building that you are now sitting in.”
It appeared Eddie had finished his story but Marie put her hand up again. She had another question and now seemed to be the best opportunity to ask it.
“Eddie, are any of the buildings here called Hatari … only … given this was the setting for the film, and … well I understood that this might be the case ….”
She stopped, feeling herself blush and conscious that the very nature of the question must be one he’d been asked numerous times by star struck visitors to the estate.
“What’s your name Miss?”
Marie lifted her chin and looked him straight in the eye.
“My name is Ocean Mckenzie.”
To give him credit his face barely twitched.
“Well Miss Ocean (and Marie was reminded immediately of Ali) there’s been some discussion about that but no, for now at least, the name won’t be changing. In any case the locals know it as Steffi’s Place and that’s what it will remain.I’m sorry.Are you disappointed?”
“A little I guess but only because Hatari seems to be on the lips of so many local people, that somehow it just seemed to fit. The word means ‘danger’ doesn’t it?”
“It does indeed. Anyway, who knows what the future holds Ocean and perhaps someone, somewhere, very soon might just well decide that you’re right and we should change it to reflect its fame and glory as the location where one sport in particular has reflected so much danger and excitement for many hunters over the years, but for now can I just finish by saying to you and your friends, welcome to Oldonyoroc or Steffi’s Place, whichever you prefer and I hope that you too will find much to entertain you.”
The group clapped before standing and going over to thank Eddie personally. Everyone else now had their own questions which he answered patiently until at last it seemed they were done and at last they were shown to their rooms, which weren’t located within the main building because they were simply cabins just outside.The group divided into three sets of two.She and Bronwyn shared as they had already agreed to earlier.
Though not a nurse, Bronwyn worked in a hospital in London. This was in fact a holiday for her and her friends, not a work placement, as was the case with Marie, but they’d already discovered that they had a lot in common.Marie had insisted on paying her share for the accommodation and no-one argued this time which pleased her as she had never intended being a financial burden to them.The cabins, they found, were spacious but basic though no more so than the accommodation they had all lived in during the past few weeks.
There wasn’t any point in unpacking given the following day they were trekking again but they freshened up and changed out of their dusty clothes before meeting back up with the others and eating supper together in the main building. The food was basic but extremely satisfying.They started with soup, followed by chicken and finally fruit salad and given they’d all been on the road for several days now it felt like a feast.
Once they’d finished they wandered around looking at the pictures and other memorabilia from its past, which was everywhere around them. There were some pictures of the Trappes which were interesting and Marie for her part thought the woman intriguing though once again puzzled over her name and why it should now be so familiar.
Later on, relaxing at last and still discussing Momella, Jack changed the subject and told them more about the arrangements for the following day. Though the girls earlier had discussed it, Jack gave them more information about what he had arranged.He had organised a 48 hour camel safari, which would mean them camping out overnight the following evening.This was news as they’d all thought they would merely be walking to a native village and be back that nightfall.
It seemed too they would have to be up early again and a good natured groan went up from the party members.
Unexpectedly Marie yawned and then apologised.
“I’m sorry people, I’m whacked, really, and I think I need my bed now. I’m sure you can fill me in over breakfast Jack but if I don’t get some sleep now I’ll never manage another early start.I’ll see you all tomorrow.”
Jack waved her off. He was still talking to the others but Bronwyn stood too, obviously following Marie’s lead and they both said their goodnights.They entered the cabin sleepily and got ready for bed silently.Neither had the energy left to make further conversation and once in bed sleep came fast.
However, Friday morning they awoke almost at the same time and grinned across at each other before jumping out of bed and running to the cabin window to check out the view. Marie couldn’t resist.
“Anyone would think we didn’t know what to expect outside this window!”
The pair of them laughed, relaxing against the window ledge and gazing across at the volcano but Marie thought from this, its eastern side, it appeared much more dramatic than the view when looking from Arusha Town. When she’d looked up from its southern side it had been majestic.From its western side yesterday it had looked enormous but now from this eastern side it looked almost scarred.
Bronwyn read her mind.
“It’s more dramatic from this side isn’t it Ocean.”
“Yes it is but I can’t quite work out why. It looks so much more damaged somehow.”
“That’s because it is. The eastern view actually shows the scars of a cataclysmic volcanic event which is said to have blown away its entire side including the top, 200,000 years ago.From what I was told it seems that Meru could well have once been taller than Kilimanjaro.”
“My God!” said Marie. “That must have been some explosion.Can you imagine what the people who lived here then must have thought and felt as it erupted, then collapsed, spewing out all that rock and perhaps even lava into the atmosphere?”
“That’s if humans existed at that time Ocean.”
“I guess you’re right, but there must have been some human activity even if it was primitive? Whatever did live close by must have been terrified.”
They gazed up in quiet contemplation for a few minutes more before Marie broke the silence.
“Back at the House, we were talking about its last eruption but no-one really knew when it happened?”
“I think I read somewhere that it was 1910.” Said Bronwyn.
“Around the time our Trappe family arrived perhaps?”
Bronwyn nodded before shrugging her shoulders.
“You seemed fascinated by their story Ocean.”
“Yes I was but there’s something more now; something about Margaret Trappe that’s familiar but I just can’t put my finger on what.”
She furrowed her brow a moment before turning to face Bronwyn again.
“I was disappointed though that there aren’t any plans to rename the Lodge Hatari – yet! You wait though Bronwyn; it has to happen one day … “
Bronwyn hooted at the expression of supreme certainty on Marie’s face that this wasn’t a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. Marie continued.
“I think that the biggest surprise of all though, was that the family were German. I’d never considered that at all.”
“No me neither. Eddie told the story beautifully though didn’t he and I certainly learnt something.”
Marie had to agree.
At last they moved, getting dressed and packing their bags. Marie furrowed her brow and Bronwyn noticed.
No, not drastically. It looks like I left my camera behind at the camp in Senonera.Damn!I was hoping to take some photos of my own whilst we’re here.Oh well, that’s it, nothing to be done now.Helen or Emma will find it and hopefully drop it back at the House Saturday.
Shaking her head in niggled irritation she smiled at Bronwyn anyway and after dropping their bags near the door and taking one last look around they returned to the main building to get some breakfast. The others were already in the breakfast bar and they joined them, eating their fill before they all filtered out into the living room to relax in the comfy sofas and talk some more about the plans for the day.
“Go on then Jack. What did we miss last night?”
She winked at Bronwyn and then turned, to find him scowling at her and she smiled impishly, gesturing him to reveal more.
“Are you poking fun at me Ocean?”
He didn’t wait for an answer and continued.
“In any case all you missed was me telling everyone that the camel safari doesn’t begin from here. I’ve arranged for a Guide to meet us outside and walk with us up the slopes of Mount Meru to a village called Mkuru and it will start from there.”
Marie smiled benignly as she continued listening to Jack colourfully trying to sell them the concept of camel safari. He described it ideally of course; talking glowingly now about how exciting it would be sitting on the back of a camel, with the wind in your face, following an ancient trail through the forest and up to some blessed caves on the very mountain itself.
Marie imagined it rather differently. Being part of a camel safari would mean them having to balance on the back of the animal for several hours in the baking sun, whilst it negotiated up the rocky terrain of the mountain, until they got to those blessed caves.
Jack was still speaking, saying it was intended they would camp the night but it was expected they’d be back at Momella early the following day, where they’d be able to rest until after lunch when their vehicle would take them on to the airport via Arusha.Marie’s eyes closed briefly as the chatter around her continued.She was bushed, yet even so, knew this would be another experience of a lifetime and really she was looking forward to the adventure.
She thought about Joe all of a sudden knowing he had to be back from Zanzibar by now. She should see him tomorrow and he could tell her about his trip.She still pined for Zanzibar; relaxing in the sun and swimming in the sea, sounded divine right at this moment, then shook her head in exasperation.Always she was thinking about what to do next.However, the time was coming when she would have to make some definite decisions about her future, though before then she had two days left still to enjoy this adventure.
She turned her attention back to what Jack was saying. They had forty minutes before the Guide arrived but given everyone had already packed their belongings they continued sipping their coffee and the discussion turned to the best technique for sitting astride a camel.
At last they went back to the cabins to collect their bags. Marie gazed around the interior of the main building before leaving and was glad they would be returning the following morning.It would give her chance to investigate the estate further.She wanted to check out the other buildings before she left for good.
A young Maasai Guide was waiting for them outside the Lodge at the pre-arranged time and they set off walking straight away. It was intended they follow the trail through the forest and onto the lower slopes of Mount Meru.However, Marie felt compelled to turn around just as they entered the wood and hands on hips she took one last look back at the small estate behind them.
She shuddered for some inexplicable reason and found her heart beating faster. The group of buildings shimmered in the sunlight and she blinked hard trying to refocus her sight.
A feeling of apprehension engulfed her and it was disconcerting. She knew she’d be back the following day, once the camel safari was over, so why did she feel suddenly so desolate?This wasn’t the first time she had experienced an unnerving moment of dread, which seemed to descend without warning and then flee again just as quickly.She had to admit that it was beginning to alarm her a little, as if somehow she should be afraid for the future, but what was there to fear?
She spun back round at last and caught up with the others, trying to forget the feeling of foreboding that had filled her soul for such a brief period.
It took several hours to walk to the village. They all had on their stout boots and were glad of them as the going was tough but everyone was in high spirits and from time to time they even sang songs as they followed the trail and it made the time pass much more quickly.
Mkuru village was situated on the north-eastern side of Meru and not far away from the irrigated fields of Ngarenanyuki and the Momella Gate of the Park. As they neared it at last they looked up as the Guide pointed out the remarkable shape of Ol Doinyo Landaree which stood in the distance.He told them that it was famous for its pyramid shape.
Lily, one of the girls from the group asked him how long it would take to ascend and he told her at least two hours but insisted they could only climb it if they were escorted by Maasai warriors. Marie smiled in anticipation as she watched Jack come to life, stating blithely, “clearly not today then Lily, now let’s continue on shall we!” and she and Bronwyn glanced across at each other and smothered a laugh.
Marie paused a few seconds more, contemplating the view from the top of the mountain and knew how fabulous it would be, looking downwards, through the pass between Meru and Kilimanjaro and across at the great Maasai plains beyond. Unexpectedly she yearned to climb one of these many dormant volcanoes scattered along the line of the Great Rift valley, but even as she thought it, their Guide continued talking, despite Jack’s impatience to reach the village, telling them about the many Maasai families who lived in small traditional bomas scattered throughout this whole area and she listened keenly.
They set off walking again and before very long started the approach to the village. Despite it still being relatively early, immediately they noticed some warriors walking towards them, already leaving with their cattle and obviously going to look for new pasture and water for the herd.As they got closer and walked through the entrance to the centre, young children scampered about busily, tending their goats and sheep with others helping their mothers to gather firewood.
Their Guide, clearly knowledgeable, told them he had grown up in the plains around Mount Meru. He went on to explain that keeping camels was a new project for this village.An American had come to Tanzania intent on starting a project on sustainable development through the use of the camels.Many local villages had received beasts but so far only those from Mkuru had managed to make a success of it.Others were now either selling theirs or were simply not looking after them properly and they weren’t thriving.
However, since their introduction, this village was gradually becoming one of the main centres for camel promotion in the whole country. Every day they would be lead onto the plains to search for forage and in the afternoon all camels were returned to the camp by the Maasai warriors.Since the camels ate from the trees, they hardly competed with the livestock and they could stand the droughts much better than the cattle.
What he said was interesting. Marie looked around the village and thought what a lovely place it was.They had continued walking slowly through as the Guide had talked and it seemed alive with the singing of colourful birds swooping around.Warriors were milking the camels and they wandered over, where they were offered and enjoyed a cup of fresh milk.
As they stood together still in their group, five or six children ran up grabbing hold of their hands and this cheered the weary travellers. Marie looked around again and took in more of the detail.The boma itself was a small circular village, surrounded by thorny acacia trees.The villagers’ huts formed an outer circle, which was where they now stood and then another thorny acacia fence encircled the goats and cows enclosure in the centre.
The Guide explained that the huts were made of sticks, plastered with a mixture of dirt and cow dung and looking around at the incredulous looks on the faces of her friends she almost choked on her drink as she started to chuckle, given she’d already had experience of living in a hut just like these.
It was as they relaxed, chatting to each other and waiting for the camels to be prepared, that they realised that the mood in the village had changed, ever so subtly at first but clearly something was amiss. A growing sense of anxiety started to emanate from some of the villagers.The children suddenly disappeared.Marie looked over to the warriors, some of whom had been milking calmly when they’d first arrived, but who now appeared agitated.Several set off running, heading to a hut at the far side of the village circle whilst others seemed to be arguing amongst themselves.
“Something’s happened.” said Marie, wrinkling her brow.
The group nodded their agreement and they murmured to each other a little alarmed, moving backwards, away from the activity to avoid getting in the way.
After awhile, as it appeared some crisis was developing Marie could stand the tension no longer. She went over to the Guide and asked him if he knew what the problem was.
He looked down at her and in his eyes she could see his concern.
“One of the women is having a baby and yes, you are right, there could be a problem. They are concerned because the medicine man Mzee is not at home in his village at the moment.”
Having replied to her question, he looked away obviously distracted, peering towards the hut at the end, where a low wailing had now started and was becoming louder.
“Is that all you know?”
Marie shook his elbow urgently, instinctively understanding that there must be some serious issue to cause this amount of fuss, as she knew well enough now that these village women were resourceful and strong and quite used to coping with a birth between themselves.
“Yes, except that someone has been sent to try and find the medicine man so whatever the crisis is, it must be serious.”
“What’s your name?” she asked him impulsively.
He turned to look at her again and answered.
“It is Lembui ma’am.”
“Thank you for the information Lembui. I’ll be back shortly.”
With that she turned and left him, going back to her friends and updating them with what she’d found out. She didn’t make a conscious decision about it but spoke out loud.
“I’m going over to see if I can help.”
Her statement took them all by surprise and no-one answered at first. She then continued more gently.
“Look I’m a nurse. I’ve worked in Tanzania for nearly five weeks now, in the hospital and the community, treating many of the local population and I have some experience with pregnancy.This is important.There may be something that I can genuinely do to help the situation.”
It was Jack who at last broke the silence.
“Ocean, we’re leaving shortly. I’m not sure that the camels will wait!”
“I know Jack but it may be that you’ll have to set off without me. I really don’t think I can leave just yet.”
His expression took on an exasperated look and he tried to speak again but she quietened him gently, moving forward and putting her hand on his mouth and then calmly continued, trying again to get him to understand.
“Jack … you especially have been so kind to me, letting me join your group and travel to Momella with you. I’ll never be able to thank you enough for the opportunity and so far it’s been fabulous, but originally I came to Africa to try and make a difference to the lives of the people who live here.I’m just as disappointed as you are but this could be a life or death situation.It could be I won’t be able to help at all, but if I left now and found out later that this woman’s baby had died, well … well I’m not sure I would feel good about that.This is the right thing to do.”
She removed her hand and waited now for his response but he just stared at her broodingly and seemed quite unable to utter anything at all. It was Bronwyn who at last spoke.
“Jack, she’s right. She has the experience and could well make the difference.Ocean you must go and see if you can help, I think we really are all in agreement on that… aren’t we Jack?”
She stopped speaking, giving Jack a stern look. It was clear he was still struggling with some inner emotion but eventually he let out an exasperated sigh and then grinned tightly at Marie.However, he still said nothing.She knew he was put out and felt contrite but something within her soul told her she should stay here and try to help if she could and that feeling was more overwhelming than complying with his wishes.
Again it was Bronwyn who broke the deadlock.
“We’ll be sorry to lose you Ocean and I will miss your company lots but you’re right I think and if I were you, I’d probably do the same. Perhaps you can catch up with us later?”
“I hope so Bronwyn and I will do my best. You’ve all been so kind and I really do appreciate it …”
Marie smiled a little sadly at them all but her mind was made up. She hugged Bronwyn quickly, kissing her on the cheek and murmuring her thanks and then with a wave and quick pleading look for understanding at Jack she turned and left them all behind and went back to find Lembui.
“Lembui, my name is Ocean … and I’m a nurse. Do you think I can help?”
He grinned at her unexpectedly before taking hold of her hand, walking across with her to the hut where a low wail was still emanating. He spoke to one of the woman standing at the doorway and the next minute she was being ushered into the hut and that was the last the group saw of her before Lembui went back to them and steered them away to where the camels and the warriors were now waiting for them.
Marie entered the hut and blinked trying to accustom her eyes to the darkness of the interior after the brightness of the sun outside. However it was easy to follow the sound of distress into another room.There were two women; one, heavily pregnant, on all fours, writhing restlessly on the bed, in obvious agony and the other, trying to soothe her with little success.She mopped her brow with a dampened cloth but her friend was clearly in a world of her own that was full of pain and barely noticed.
Marie went over and made herself known. She did a rapid systematic examination, allaying the protests of both women with soothing words.The friend was the first to comprehend that she was trying to help and pacified the expectant mother.As Marie continued her examination, she realised with alarm that the prognosis was not good because in her opinion this was a breech pregnancy which had potential dangers for both mother and child.It was no wonder there had been so much anxiety because if this baby was born without any sort of calm and controlled intervention then there were possible mortal consequences.
She went over to her bag and rummaged, finding at last her pinard stethoscope and felt relief she’d put it into the bottom of her rucksack as usual and she used it to listen to the heartbeat of the baby, finding thankfully that it was still beating, but clearly already she sensed it was weakening. The fact that the mother was so distressed didn’t help.
Already too, in her opinion, the labour was in its last stage and there could be no time to lose. Acknowledging she had no previous experience of delivering a baby on her own before, never mind a breech birth, the prospect of trying to do this now, without any help at all, was daunting but she knew she had to at least try.
The additional worry was she had no medical records for this woman, which would at least have helped establish whether the pelvis was wide enough for baby to pass through and if there was any past history of breech births in the family. As if this wasn’t enough she would have to anticipate other dangers such as from a tangled umbilical cord.Altogether this was an even more complicated and dangerous procedure.
She focused her mind trying to think positively. What she did know was that it was vital the mother didn’t push through her contractions, even though every sense within her body would tell her to do so.The labour had to be slower and more controlled and the expectant mother had to be calm and collected even in these dire circumstances.
The next few hours were going to be fraught. She got started, putting some water on to boil as she thought everything through and then brought into the bedroom as many blankets and cushions that she could lay her hands on.
Trying desperately to communicate she gestured to the friend that the expectant mum should come to the edge of the bed and let her legs dangle over it. The woman looked unconvinced.The trouble was getting her to understand what it was she was trying to achieve without having to discuss it all with her.She didn’t have the time and instinctively she knew it.She needed to take charge of this situation now.
She stopped what she was doing and stood perfectly straight, dropping the contents in her arms onto the bed and letting out a long breath, allowing her eyes to harden before looking the woman square in the face. She folded her arms across her chest as she did so.Though she didn’t know it the picture was formidable and despite the turmoil raging inside her, she appeared outwardly completely calm.Quietly but firmly she repeated what she’d said and told the woman this must be done – now!
She kept the dialogue short, not wanting to lose any of her meaning in useless words, hoping the woman would understand better. Then she explained, gesturing with her hands, that the baby was the wrong way round and without any intervention it might die.The woman clearly understood that word and began to look fearful.Marie felt a little guilty but her face remained fixed.
The pregnant woman was watching them and despite her pain, called to her friend and whatever was said between them, the friend acknowledged it and turned back to Marie nodding she would help. Marie had been holding her breath but now let it out, gently.That was the first hurdle.Gaining their trust would make everything that much easier.With the woman’s help Marie finished the preparations and using hand gestures as well as her voice, gave instructions.
Once they had her in position, the expectant mum leaned back and hooked one arm around the neck of her friend pulling on her regularly and gripping tight when the pain came again but Marie felt much easier now. At least she was in the right position which was infinitely calmer than her previous thrashing about.Each time the expectant mum felt a contraction, Marie started panting and encouraged both women to do the same to slow the labour.
Time suddenly seemed to have no meaning. Marie had to hold her concentration completely and didn’t have time to feel nervous any more. At last Marie recognised the woman was ready to give birth.This was now the critical part and she would have to keep her nerve and hope that there were no complications because she knew, there would be no other help forthcoming.
She spoke with Doula, the name she’d given to the expectant mum’s friend, in halting Kiswahili and hand gestures as she tried urgently to explain just how important it was that mum not push unless Marie specifically told her to do so.
Doula still seemed unsure and spoke to the mother who nodded her head to say she understood. Marie leant over and gripped Doula’s hand tight in her own, forcing her to look her in the eye and really listen to her words as she explained it all again pressing upon her that she must make the mother understand how important this was.Doula nodded her head solemnly.
The contractions were coming more frequently now and on inspection Marie found her cervix fully dilated.
The baby’s legs came first and Marie looked up and shouted out in warning to the expectant mother to pant, to offset her overwhelming need to push. Whilst the baby’s legs were still hanging, Marie wrapped a cloth around them and as the contraction started again yelled for her to push.The body began to emerge and she gently turned it around so its back was facing her and called urgently for her to pant again.Doula mimicked.The labour slowed again.
Marie checked her watch and then looked across at them, gesturing for the Mother to start pushing once the contractions started again. Doula whispered to her encouraging her to obey and the mum-to-be needed no prompting.Slowly but surely the baby’s body slipped further out and she supported it by holding it steady.Finally when the shoulder blades were at last revealed she held up her hand and called out sharply, gesturing Doula to get her friend to pant again and stop pushing.
She glanced up and watched the women working together now and Doula continued to urge her friend by panting herself until they were in unison and the full birth slowly stalled temporarily.
Despite her pride in their teamwork, she reflected that the hardest part was still to come.
She checked there was no tangled umbilical cord and then gently let go of the baby’s body and allowed it hang, turning it slightly once more. The wait seemed interminable but at last the contractions began again and Marie waved her hands wildly to gesture the Mother to push.As she did so, as if brakes had been gently applied, slowly but surely the baby’s head came out into the world.As the infant slipped into Marie’s waiting hands, the room momentarily took on an altogether unnatural silence that seemed to last an eternity.
Marie looked down at the baby lying silently in her hands but then so suddenly it made her jump, he started meowing, quietly at first but then more loudly even as she watched. Marie grinned widely despite her eyes being full of unshed tears.
He was alive, thank God he was alive!
Despite him still yelling, she gently wiped the mucus from his face and body, briefly checking his limbs and spine as she did so, lifting him up at last and placing him onto the belly of his mother who looked in wonder at the infant, still attached to her, that she had just given birth to. She touched his still wet hair, then his ears and nose.She looked up at Doula who was crying.
Marie was the first to speak.
“Congratulations you have a beautiful son.”
The continuing wonder in the young mother’s eyes was her reward. It was as if she couldn’t quite believe the miracle that lay in her arms.The mother looked again at her friend and then they both laughed loudly in perfect joy and the sound forced the crying infant’s eyes to open widely as if he could actually see and hear what joy he had brought into their world and then the wailing got louder and the room was filled with his cries.
Marie brought the mother’s legs down, covering her temporarily, knowing that visitors might well be imminent.
She was right. Suddenly, a man came running into the room and when he saw the picture in front of him he ran over to the bed and knelt in front of them both as if in prayer as he talked gleefully to her and lovingly stroked the child’s head.
Marie knew this must be the father but that before long the hut would be filled with other well wishers too but her job here wasn’t done yet. She gave them a few minutes more and then went over, telling the man that he would have to leave.His face looked crestfallen.
“Listen, you can come back soon. Invite as many people as you want to and introduce your son to the community.”
The father, still on his knees, turned to look up at her and Marie didn’t know if he’d understood anything of what she’d just said but he stood anyway and then shook her hand gleefully, pumping it up and down and speaking so rapidly that Marie certainly couldn’t understand his words but she knew he was ecstatic and also strangely it seemed pure relief shone from his eyes too.
She kindly but firmly drew him away from the bed and made him understand that he must go now but soon he could come back. He walked reluctantly towards the door, backwards as if he was loathe to turn his back on the happy scene in front of him but eventually she managed to get him away and as she went back into the bedroom, she heard his woop of joy outside and smiled, raising her eyebrows at the two women, as clearly now they could hear the rising excitement as he shared the news that his wife had given birth to a healthy baby.
Moving back towards the bed she went swiftly over and helped bring the child up to the mother’s breast where he stopped his tears and thankfully suckled strongly for several minutes, first one side then the other but eventually this seemed to exhaust him and very soon his eyes closed.
She lifted him, soothing the mother, who clearly was reluctant to part with him, and with some scissors that she’d already sterilised she deftly cut the umbilical cord and sealed it before wiping the mucus away from his mouth and nose again. Then with a clean cloth she swaddled him tightly and at last passed him to Doula, quietening the mother again and reassuring her she could have her baby back soon.
Next she examined the mother and monitored her closely until at last the afterbirth came away cleanly. This was the third stage of labour.The body was functioning properly thank goodness, as further contractions had expelled the placenta out of the body.
Letting the baby suckle immediately had helped the process along beautifully and she couldn’t have asked for more.
Within half an hour mum had been washed and was lying comfortably on her side on the once more made up bed, with her child lying beside her. She gazed at him adoringly and she and Doula sat stroking his hair and face as if they couldn’t keep their hands off him.They no longer talked and seemed content to just watch.
Marie was just as content to watch them. How right she had been to stay.Every instinct in her had told her that she should and she sent up a silent prayer that she had had the sense not to be swayed, as this birth could easily have gone so terribly wrong.The celebrations outside could now be heard quite clearly.She reflected she should go and get the father back here for he needed to be with his family.However suddenly the emotion of the whole affair flooded her body and made it tremble.
She put her face in her hands and wept quietly but they were tears of relief and joy that it had all turned out so wonderfully well.
She contemplated that the view from the top of a slope on Mount Meru might well have been breathtaking but it could not have competed with the look of love from this woman as she gazed at her new son, who could quite easily have died.
She turned around at last and went over to the sink, checking the utensils and washing her hands and face in the sterilised water that was still in the bowl and then she dried them both on a cloth hanging there. She knew she had cleaned everything spotlessly so turned around and leant back still content to watch the scene through the bedroom door.The friends had barely moved, but she should and resolutely she turned towards the door and walked out into the sunshine, blinking her eyes at the glare of the sun and shading them with her hand before finding the father amongst a group of waiting villagers who all turned to face the hut.As he looked across at her there was a fervent question in his eyes but he waited.
She gestured for him to come to her, smiling at his hesitancy but then more firmly she gestured him over indicating he could go in and then there was no stopping him as he ran.
As he disappeared through the door she found herself surrounded suddenly by members of the village, who came close to her, all wanting to shake her hand whilst others just clapped in unison as they started swaying and singing in a half circle around her. She laughed in pleasure as she watched them because she felt their joy but knew also she would have to sit down or may well faint and conveniently there was a small stool by the side of the door which she dropped on to.She really was so weary but her heart was singing and she was content.
Throughout the morning a steady stream of people came to the house shaking her hand as they passed through the door to visit the new parents. The stool had been taken away and a more comfy chair brought instead.Initially it had been quite novel to feel so special but eventually she’d began to feel discomfited by it all.She felt like a Queen which was lovely of course but she wondered how anyone had got the patience to endlessly watch events and greet people, keeping the smile on their face fixed.
Food and water were brought which she graciously accepted because she knew that they would not have a surplus. They entertained her with their continual singing and dancing but she felt there was only so much refreshment and entertainment that anyone could take.What she really wanted was a hot cup of tea and to sleep for a week.As she thought about it her she could feel her lids closing and it was almost impossible to keep them open.
However, unexpectedly she sensed a change in the mood of the crowd and her eyes flared open as an abnormal hush descended on the party. It was quite surreal because though imperceptible, Marie felt the air chill just a touch, but enough to make her shiver slightly and she became more alert.
The physical sign, that something really had changed, and it wasn’t just her imagination, was when the people surrounding her started parting and broke the circle, creating a pathway through the throng. Marie felt a fit of giggles start but stifled it.She mustn’t lose control of herself now but it was intriguing.
As if in a dream she continued watching and through the gap, left by the villagers, came a man. His face was serious and though he turned his head occasionally and greeted one or another of the villagers he didn’t stop but continued his march on towards the hut.
Marie sized him up. He was tall and thin with no hair on his head at all and was dressed in a piece of purple cloth tied in folds around his body.Draped over his shoulders was a round cape of brown with a white trim around the edges.
Marie sat still, as she wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. If this was the traditional healer of the village, which was very likely, then he could only have just arrived back from wherever it was he’d been this morning.At last he stood in front of her but though stopped, he said nothing merely looking at her.Nervously she made to stand up but he gestured to her to remain seated.After appraising her a moment more he smiled fleetingly but then walked straight past her, through the door and disappeared into the house.
Marie’s eyebrows rose in uncertainly but she kept quiet and stayed in the chair, waiting, along with all the others there. The villagers now were more muted but after ten minutes the man came back out.This time he looked sideways at her and signalled for her to follow.He didn’t wait for an answer and there wasn’t anything else she could do, except obey.
Getting up off the chair she followed him, a little way behind until, abruptly he stopped by another hut and turned before sitting himself down on a low stool. Someone brought another and placed it opposite him and understanding this was for her she sat down, hugging her knees but still stayed silent.
This was a completely different encounter with a healer than she’d had in Engaruka and she really wasn’t prepared for it. This was obviously a face to face meeting with him.
His English was good and he asked her name, to which she answered immediately.
There was a moment of silence and then he spoke, though not to her but rather to a man standing by his side and it was Maa. Something had clearly amused him because they laughed together and she felt a little vexed that she didn’t know what it was that they found so funny, except it had something to do with her and that needled even more.
However, the next moment he turned and addressed her in her own language again.
“Today Ocean Mckenzie, you have prevented a terrible human tragedy. The woman you helped deliver of a healthy baby has already lost two others and for her to lose a third would have been catastrophic for both her and her husband.”
He paused in speaking to give her time to digest the news.
Marie was stunned. No wonder the poor woman had been so demented when she had first arrived and the father too; the look of relief on his face so evident was all the more clear now.
The holy man continued.
Naengop and Nataana have previously been denied their chance of a family but today they have exactly what they have always yearned for, thanks to you. The village today is a very happy place and we will be celebrating long and hard.I want to thank you sincerely.”
Marie was astounded because this wasn’t what she had expected from this holy man. It was plain, honest and sincere but also answered all the questions she had had pertaining to the young couple and now she knew for sure that staying had made a difference to their lives and it justified her decision to stay.She beamed across at him, her eyes brimming with unshed tears but her heart was full of joy and then just as Joe had first taught her she answered him.
“Karibu sana Olaiboni”.
She would have to share this moment with Joe when she returned to the House again.
He surprised her further by leaning forward and putting his hand on her head, which she bent forward naturally and then he spoke again in his own language. Once he had raised his hand she looked up at him her eyes wide and simply said ‘thank you’ again, as she knew that he had blessed her and that it was an honour.
He then took from his clothes some stones. Just as she began to wonder what they were he threw them into the dirt and proceeded to scrutinise them closely.Twice he took his eyes off them and though his face revealed nothing, there was something about his piercing glance that she found perturbing.Finally he faced her but for several minutes more he merely arched his hands in front of his face as if in thought before at last he spoke to her in English.
“It seems Ocean … that you are blessed indeed. God believes that you are on a mission.This has in fact already been forecast and you have to know that it will have far reaching consequences.I can see much happiness ahead for you in your life but also you must be prepared to accept the sadness that will inevitably follow.My words to you today are to give you strength for the journey you must make.
However hard you find to accept the consequence of what you will lose, you must never give up hope, throughout the dark days that will follow. Remember this too; always consider this village as your own and we offer you our hospitality for the rest of your days, just as if you had been born here.The influence your seed has made to all our lives is significant indeed.”
He stopped speaking and waited, it seemed for a response. However, Marie remained quite still and quite incapable of saying anything in response, so great was her shock at his words.Her face lost its colour and she felt drained of all emotion.
What on earth was he talking about? Was he going to explain his words further she wondered?
“I can see already you are full of fear Ocean but let it go. You are in God’s hands.No doubt you have many questions too but I cannot answer them today.You will leave here to follow your destiny and must try to embrace it.Go in peace Ocean with the blessings of us all, but try to remember; always keep your faith with God, and all will be well.”
With these words he rose, nodding his head in acknowledgement and leaving, but not before he spoke quietly to someone behind her. She couldn’t hear what was said but she wasn’t really paying attention though she knew he was talking about her.Still completely bewildered by what had just happened, she thought she’d never felt so alone in all her life.There was no-one she could speak to about what he had told her.It seemed insane somehow.
Someone tapped her shoulder and made her jump. She turned and the father of the newborn, who must be Naengop, smiled down at her.
She couldn’t find any words to speak to him. However, he took her by the arm gently and lifted her off the stool, before walking back with her to his hut where one of the other warriors, who could speak some English, explained.
“Today Ocean you missed going on the Camel Safari. It is unlikely that we can catch up with your friends now but we would like to offer you a trip to the caves anyway which are not far away.The Baboon Caves are set amongst some of the most beautiful surroundings and you will enjoy the experience.
They are a special place for the Maasai as every year groups of our men and boys go to that area for many months away from their homes. We are offering to take you to this special place as a gift.There is still enough daylight for you to enjoy the sun and your every need will be taken care of.”
He bowed his head now and waited for her reply.
Marie still in a state of shock didn’t know what to say. Did she really care about going on a Camel Safari this afternoon?No she most certainly didn’t.It was the last thing that she wanted to do.She wanted to find somewhere dark and quiet and sleep for the rest of the day.
What Mzee had said to her had initially been uplifting and raised her spirits but his final words were far too deep to even give consideration to, especially as she was dead tired. He had said she would see much happiness but then somehow spoilt it by saying she must be prepared to accept the sadness that would follow!That sounded scary to her and she didn’t know whether to be frightened or angry, especially given he hadn’t even tried to explain his words.And what was that all about – the influence your seed has made to our lives is significant.It was all too much for her and now she could quite easily just burst into tears.
Then to cap it all she had these warriors offering to take her to some holy caves miles away this very afternoon. She thought back to Mzee’s words about when she left here her journey would begin.Did that mean that if she went back to Momella, then it would begin there, or did it mean that by going on the Camel Safari, then that would be the start of it?
Every instinct told her to run away, back to Arusha immediately and to the sanctuary of the House. She lifted her head and saw that the warrior, head bowed was still waiting patiently for her response.It seemed as if she had a decision to make and all of a sudden she made up her mind.
“Oh what the Hell, I will!”
He looked up at her words but quite clearly had no idea what they meant so she spoke again.
“Let’s do the Camel Safari and get started to those Baboon Caves … what is your name again?”
He replied ‘Mbiraru’ as he grinned widely, before turning and telling her he would get the camels prepared.
She was left alone again and though still surrounded by the villagers, she felt completely detached from them now. People smiled but no-one spoke and the singing had all but stopped.She felt a little bit uneasy as if now for some crazy reason she wasn’t the same person who had delivered a baby that very morning.What had changed?
She came to a decision and started walking back to the hut where Naengop and Nataana lived because now desperately she wanted to see Nataana one more time and was glad at least that she now knew her name.
The young mother was still in her room with Doula by her side. The baby was in a cot sleeping contentedly.She went over and sat on the bed before hugging Nataana as well as reaching over to squeeze the hand of Doula.She still didn’t know this lady’s name but it didn’t matter really.Today she had earned her title as she had helped empower Nataana during her traumatic labour.The joy of the young mum was still vivid on her face and Marie couldn’t deny her part in that and would never regret not going with the others earlier that day.This had been a good day’s work.
Picking up her bag, with a final wave she left them and walked through the throng of people still surrounding the hut smiling and bidding them farewell too until she got to the edge of the village where Mbiraru was waiting patiently for her with two other warriors.
Getting on the camel was a feat in itself especially as she was so exhausted but she concentrated her mind and it seemed that, to the camel, it was if he had no load at all. As they set off along the trail she turned around, back to Mkura village and put her hands over her forehead to squint at it one last time before she turned to look ahead, wondering what on earth really did lay ahead of her.
The journey was uneventful and she had nothing more to do than survey her surroundings, though initially she was fully preoccupied with getting used to the width of the camel’s body and trying to learn the technique of keeping her balance on the precarious place she had to sit on its back, as she was swayed back and forth with its near waddle. She was relieved to be wearing her trousers, as there was no doubt it would have been chaffing on her legs otherwise.The beast took not the slightest notice and seemed full of general disdain for its passenger, against all her efforts to cultivate an essence of relaxation and comfort on its back.
The group was quiet but occasionally someone pointed out an interesting feature on the landscape and Marie smiled politely especially of a dam in the distance which Mbiraru said was leftover from the Colonial days.
She had been given food and drink for the journey but despite some pangs of hunger it was totally impractical to even consider eating. However, she was glad of the water.The further away they got from the village the more calm she became and her hope was that somehow she might meet the others and they would laugh together, especially regarding the technique of riding a camel which they too would have had to learn earlier that day.
She really did need some light relief. She could try and share with them too her part in the delivery of a much yearned for child in the village and it would become just one of the many memories that she would keep of her time in Africa.
The journey took an hour and a half and most of it was through a dry and windswept corridor of land, flanked by Meru on one side and Kilimanjaro on the other. They passed through the Maasai Steppe and it was well into the afternoon when they at last arrived at last.
The camels stopped naturally at the rocky terrain on the perimeter. They were trained to lower themselves to the ground and after doing so she followed the warriors lead and swung her leg over and slipped off her own camel’s back before lifting her arms high and stretching, yawning as she did so.
She looked upwards but closed her eyes to the sun. She could sleep for a day and not be disturbed by the baboons even if they returned now.The camels were left outside of the area where there was still foliage for them to feed upon and they left them behind as she followed the warriors into the area.
There was no sign of Bronwyn, Jack and the gang and she felt a pang of regret. She turned and listened to Mbiraru who was talking as he swept his arm in an arc extolling the stark beauty of the area with his gesture.
As they had travelled he had already told her that the caves were set amongst some of the most beautiful surroundings and he was right. Mbiraru led them to a clump of trees where under their shade he insisted she sat to rest herself and eat.It was really quite touching because he put a cloth on the floor beforehand before he invited her to sit.As they ate she found her appetite returning with every mouthful she took and found herself a little revived.
She had time to look around at the rocks now which dwarfed them in places. Mbiraru told her more about the ceremonies held in the Baboon caves for the transfer of knowledge known as Orpul.This was a word she knew from Sankei of Engaruka and she nodded her head now, genuinely more interested.Mbiraru’s English was good and he told her more about the healing ritual.She remembered too how he’d explained that the men and boys of the village came here, away from their homes, for many months.
Once they’d finished eating, she scanned again the area of the caves where she saw there were sporadic openings that clearly went deep inside the earth, which presumably were the entrances that the baboons would use to get into the caves as well as the men and boys when they came here.
The area was hot, dusty and scorched, though in places on the lower ground between the great stones were intermittent small waterholes which would have to be manoeuvred around by climbing over the rock mounds themselves. Dehydrated giant cacti were growing on the parched land.Mbiraru told her it was the medicinal plant Osukuroi and she peered more keenly writing the word down so she wouldn’t forget.
Afterwards she was encouraged to follow them and the group walked around and through the rocky caves until they came at last to a larger opening, which he seemed intent on entering.
She suffered a little trepidation as she followed him as it was pitch black at first especially after the glare of the sun outside but once her eyes adjusted, what she saw within the caves was more surprising than she had expected. She thought she would see some signs of activity but Mbiraru explained that the baboons didn’t usually arrive back until the evening.However what she did see were more examples of the colonial dams which in itself was rather bizarre.
Mbiraru also said more about the groups of men and boys who came every year to the cave area for months at a time living away from home with only their cows and goats to feast on during their stay. They would eat only the meat and drink nothing at all.It really was a feat of stamina she thought.
When they emerged it was clear that the sun was sinking fast and dusk would be swift and according to Mbiraru it meant that they wouldn’t have to wait too long now to see the baboons. Although curious she wasn’t sure she wanted to be here when they arrived.She closed her eyes in weariness and wondered how long it would be before she would be taken back to the village.
Mbiraru suddenly bowed, excusing himself telling her he wouldn’t be long but just needed to check on the camels and his companion went with him. The third in the group had already left to do the same.
She smiled at him just a little anxious as they disappeared from view but wandered on her own, climbing the rocks and hoping that the warriors were preparing the camels for the ride back to the village and it wouldn’t take too long. She climbed right to the very top of the highest rock and looked out on the terrain and because it was getting darker, the view was more spectacular as the sun hung precariously in the sky practically ready to fall beyond the horizon.She felt like she could be the only person living on the entire planet as could see for miles and there was no sign of human life whatsoever.
She shivered and wondered how on earth she would ever cope with living in a City again after all this isolation?
As she clambered back down she found other small openings but now felt it far too dangerous to try and get inside, especially on her own. Absent mindedly she continued exploring as she descended but at last she had seen enough and made her way back to the first cave hoping to see the warriors waiting for her.
However, they weren’t there so decided to wander through the gap they’d first entered, between two high rocky formations and peeked around, trying to catch sight of them. There was no sign at all.She was alarmed now because the darkness was growing and she definitely didn’t want to be here alone if the baboons suddenly returned.Where had the men gone?Thinking that perhaps she had followed the wrong path she turned back and came upon the larger cave she’d been in earlier and walked in the opposite direction but couldn’t get far as her path was obstructed, by vegetation and some waterholes.The poor light didn’t help.Still there was no sign of them.
She decided to shout.
“Hello! Where are you?Mbiraru!”
There was no response and she shivered again in genuine fear. It was eerie.The night was creeping in more quickly now and she really was starting to become frightened.
Then suddenly it happened.
A rumbling began, slowly at first and sounded strangely like thunder though she knew that this was ridiculous. She looked around wondering what on earth it could be and then it came to her.The baboons must be returning!If it was them, then where on earth should she stand?Would they come racing through and knock her over? She was vulnerable out in the open but maybe they would just make their way directly into the cave, though they might well come clambering over the rocks as well, from any direction.
She stood stock still not knowing whether to move or stay and as she pondered what she should do next, the strangest feeling of fear came over her. She had felt this sensation before but irritatingly couldn’t remember when.
She felt nauseas and her head started pounding as if from nowhere and a hot flush surged upwards through her entire body leaving her skin feeling cold.
As she looked at the view of the caves in front of her colours started dancing before her eyes as its image began to shimmer in a haze, dazzling her senses. The edges of the cave became blurred as she continued to watch and the thought crossed her mind that perhaps this was a dream and in fact not real at all.
However, that thought disappeared immediately as in one terrifying moment the world itself seemed to tip, so violently that she thought she’d lose her balance and fall to the ground.
The rumbling in her ears started to get louder and a mist began rising from the ground and when she looked down at her feet they weren’t there anymore. She was rooted to the spot now and didn’t dare move an inch.
Never in her whole life had she felt so terrified. Where on earth were the warriors?
She had nothing to hold onto and as the world continued to shake, next minute she found herself on all fours, like an animal and a thought crossed her mind that perhaps one of the volcanoes had started erupting. Surely this couldn’t just be down to baboons.Maybe this was why the warriors had run away.They too had been afraid.Her mind raced with everything and then she thought of the caves.The warriors could be hiding there from the violent tremors around them.Perhaps it would be safer there than here?
The one thing she was sure about; she didn’t want to stay out in the open on her own especially if a group of baboons were imminently due to arrive.
The ground continued to quake all around her now and the mist rose higher and she knew she was in danger of getting swallowed up in it. The roar around her got louder too and eventually she had to put her hands over her ears to try and drown it out.
As she looked up, she saw the baboon caves directly in front of her and in a moment of pure panic, got herself up on two feet, picked up her bag, and sprinted towards them in the vain hope that she might at least find some protection from the elements within their depth. Being out in the open was far too frightening.Besides, that had to be where the warriors were because there was no-where else for them to hide.
As she sprinted inside, she prayed that the rumbling would stop soon but it didn’t and instead the very caves themselves seemed to boom at her and now she was convinced that Mount Meru itself, that dormant volcano for so long, really was erupting again and she was caught up in the violence of its anger.
Running to the farthest point of the cave she could, by a large standing stone, she dropped her bag to the ground and curled up into the tiniest of balls, wrapping herself round it and closing her eyes tight waiting for the noise everywhere now to stop, her head to stop spinning and the world to return to normal.
In a fit of pique her last thought before she finally passed out was that this was some thanks for helping to bring into the world today the miracle of life, to a young couple who had been waiting for a family for years.
That was the last thought Marie had before she gave up the struggle and passed into unconsciousness.