Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Visiting Africa


I’ve been away. On a big trip to East Africa, Kenya and Tanzania by way of Emirates Airlines and Dubai – long live the Dubai Mall! Big, lots of good stuff for people who like fancy stores and fancy stuff, and on the bottom floor I could buy a lithium battery to bolster Ann’s light for her Kindle for 3 bucks. It’s nice to have Arabic dress around, real people who just happen to dress that way, and Pakistanis who drive the taxis and remind us it’s only 3 hours to Pakistan and Afganistan, whereas it’s 15 hours to the U.S. They have lots of money, so they get to choose what lifestyle they want. They choose Arab dress, but it looks like they choose Western stores and goods. They had lots of money to make a Dubai first class, uninhibited by the restrictions of taste. Hoo-hah!

Anyway, that was our stopover before and after Africa, where I had been aching to go for years, but we went elsewhere on cruises and such, but then Ann said, if we don’t go now we’ll never go so we did. With trepidation. What if we get sick. What if we can’t take the rigors of a trip like that. What if. We needn’t have worried.

The hardest part was the packing. Since we were going on safari (Swahili word), we were restricted to one 33 pound small bag apiece, since we were flying on many small planes. We took weeks to get ready. I had to buy shoes, and thank goodness for my shoe guy Cyrus. I called him and he said I needed all terrain shoes, that’s what people going to Africa wore. I went there and he gave me no choice, just fitted me to the shoes he chose and I couldn’t be happier. If someone knows best, all you have to do is listen to him. Not too heavy, laces around hooks, OK!

Several trips to REI, mosquito repellent shirt. The company, Abercrombie and Kent, sent us flashlights that had bright white light, just after we bought mini.-flashlights at Ace. We took the free ones (well, considering the price of all this, not quite free) and were very happy. We used them in our tent cabins at the four lodges we visited, and going to dinner with our askari’s our guardians, who were unarmed, but I guess they knew how to shout at animals that happened our way.

We went on lots of game drives, in open and closed land rovers, looking for and finding game. We were mostly just alone with our driver/guides, or sometimes with others, but always very private, nothing like the tour buses from cruises. Very knowledgeable and very lovely people. We saw tons of animals, starting with zebras and giraffes, which seemed to hang together a lot so the giraffe could spot trouble from on high and warn the band. Giraffes walk with two left feet and then two right feet strides, so they aren’t too fast. But their kicks can kill a lion. We saw baboons warning others from trees about an approaching lion pride. We saw a pride of lions stalk and kill a wart hog, a half hour of stalking and about 5 seconds of jump and kill, after which the other four warthogs wondered what had happened to Henry.

But the animal most admired by our guides was probably the impala. Impalas hang together, but in two different groups. The guides would say, look, there’s the boy’s club or the bachelors club, where all the males are. And close by would be the harem with a couple dozen females and one male, who would be their consort for a few months. They guides would chuckle in admiration and say, he’s very tired. And chuckle again. He was their idol.

One afternoon at the Maasai Mara, where we had a beautiful cabin on the banks of the river where hippos soaked all day and night and made their noises so they sounded about 20 feet away, Ann took a rest and I went for a walk with my guide Richard. We walked through grass and by trees and he waxed eloquent about what was what and what did what. Who knew ebony trees were so skinny? An impala admirer, he had two wives and aspired to four, which was a pretty common aspiration. I couldn’t help thinking that their admiration for the chosen impala consort and their own aspirations were connected. His wealth was counted in cattle, which is common for tribes in Africa. I had studies the Nuer of Sudan in college, and the Dinka, and they were the same. We found hippos and some crocs on our walk, and talked. Talked a little about wives, were just together mostly, taking a walk. Took pictures of each other at the hippo pool.

As we walked I said he was a great walker, and I told him I was older but I was keeping up with him. He said, you are old, but you are strong. I guess that was true. I asked him how old he was and he said 37. Then he asked me how old I was and I said how old do you think? He looked, sized me up, and said 45.

So I said, actually, I’m older than that, I’m 69. He was amazed. He looked at me with wonder. He said, how do you do it?

I looked back at him, drew closer, and said, “One wife!”

He giggled and hit me on the arm and we had a fun time and walked home.

Budd Shenkin