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This Blog used to be about the question: What is Science?
Now, it asks: What is Happiness?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Cross Maasai (knot)

Visitor: silkhobby
Location: Sydney, AUSTRALIA
WebSite: Animal Spirits
Date: Tuesday, Oct 23, 2001 at 20:00:31 (EDT)
Comments: I loved looking at all the animal photos. I became interested in the maasai when the (Australian) TV show '60 minutes' showed an Australian girl - Catherine Oddie, marry a maasai warrior named Robert, and she changed her name to Nasha Oloimooja. Catherine wrote a book about her life with the maasai called 'enkop ai' (my country). It was a fascinating book. Does anyone out there know whatever happened to her ??? I'd be interested to know if she is still married to Robert.

I know someone who knows someone who knows somebody who retired from a 30 year career with the World Bank and the IMF. She now lives in Nairobi....happily, it seems. She has a small enough fortune amassed to be able to NEVER HAVE TO WORK AGAIN!

Her name is Margaret (name changed to protect innocent people including Margaret whose real name I don't know).
Margaret says, with a whimsical half grin, 'International aid does not work.'

This is the second person of some influence and credibility that I have heard this from. the other is Paul Theroux, author of 'Dark Star Safari', a bum in the matatu travel book wherein, disguised as a auto-erotic novelist, he traverses Africa from top to tip and basically comes to the same conclusion (with a lot more hilarity) as Margaret.

Now, I don't necessarily agree with either of them, though Dark Star is on my top 10 list. In fact I can't even agree 100% that Barrack Obama is the best choice for November or whether South Africa will in fact be a better place if our president is an accused but proven innocent rapist and is wiggling his way through 782 charges of corruption. So, I buy both the adorned mugs and all the badges and hope that my investment will help Democracy grow in the third world and be rediscovered in the first.

Meantime, nailed down by the frequent politically correct company I keep I am obliged to come up with some kind of mission statement for Africa.
The only thing that comes to mind is an oft quoted quote from my late and lamented role model of how to live creatively on the edge, Kessie Govender (the spontaneous, real, earthy, naughty, chuckling, satirical playwrite and bricklayer who 'kept a tradition of humanism and discord alive' in a country where being politically correct is your boy scout badge to boredom.)

He put it all rather simply - 'There cannot be any real cultural cross-fertilization without genetic cross-fertilization'.

I suspect that these words were sprung from loins of opportunity, perhaps confirmed by his (in later years) throwing his tabla out of his '79 Volvo window when his beautiful and talented daughter announced her love for a black American violin player. All however was forgiven and the violin sang a mournful but uniting song at Kessie's funeral some years later.

Nevertheless, those words resonated as true in a sort of global way for me and so it was with great delight that I learnt that my recent visitor, Margaret (believe me, she isn't a Margaret), had a deep seated fantasy to run away with a Maasai warrior and spend the rest of her life flying Quantas between a Manyata and the Sydney Opera House.
She arrived in Kenya clutching her copy of Catherine Oddie and wiping away her tears of anger at the original lady (Corinne Hofmann - 'The White Masai'), who succumbed to this (totally understandable) dream. (see note 1)

For days it seemed that her love would have to be from afar, a desire fuelled by fiction and expressed through a small Olympus digital camera.

On the 8th of October we piled into Ravickles, (Ida's trusty RAV4) and headed off to Lake Magadi, mostly because we could see flamingos for free which was certainly not the case at Lake Nakuru. (50 dollars! incl. rainy day).

What a smashing adventure we found ourselves in....and here are just a few pix..take a tea break and check them out as the real adventure begins ....on our way home.

Having completed the Magadi 4x4 bushawallah experience and still not found the thermal mud baths, we made a last stop at the Lake Magadi Golf Course.

What appeared to be the 19th hole sprung out of the middle of the sand ruck which seemed to have gobbled up the fairways.

What a great place for my 60th birthday!

I'll give a set of co-ords and invite whoever I know is still alive and vaguely mobile and see who turns up.

While doing the promo pic for the invite, the world took an about turn.

(well, it was clearly now Margaret's turn!).

Feeling a touch out of the picture, Smith spots a 2-wheeled opportunity...

... and soon discovers the reason for endless Maasai migrations...
...their transport has no brakes!

Margaret in a bit of a daze, we headed outa town past the local bus shelter, a greyish structure filled with red and purple people. An irridescent piece of red waved me down and said what could only have been the name of a town....suspecting that a lift was required and realizing the opportunity therein, I stopped and before you can say Sam Buru's my uncle, Ravickles had one bag of cabbages, 2 Maasai children and Nashun Mle aboard.
Make no mistake, the cultural X has happened with or without the genetic stuff as Nashun gaily fielded multiple and loud cell phone calls on his Motorola mobile, tucked into a leather holder which seemed attached to a rather large weapon of sharp destruction that hung off his belt.

25 kms later we were motioned off the main road and headed into the bush for another 8.5 kilos. By this time Mags was in her stride, giving Nashun and family, in well honed Rhodesian English, a crash course in birding. Clearly she had a convert as confirmed by the conversation, "Well, Nashun, that bird over there is the yellow necked brilliant shrike and as it is endemic to these areas, is a lifer for us!" To which, Nashun replied, "Ah! Baad ...Aafrika!"

By this time my sister was glancing at her watch and every time we passed a cow would ask Nashun if it was his.

As Rift Valley Freeways go...this one was A-OK!

Eventually we were ceremoniously guided into his humble collection of 2 huts and introduced to Mrs Mle and child.

Despite all the legends about stolen souls and cross Maasai, it was clear to us all that...

One man's ethnographic photo opp is another man's lift home.


So, after a day of Ubuntu, Smiles and cycling adventures, I finally headed back to good ol' Naairobes, stopping only to do the African sunset pose and think of absent friends...(and wonder what more I have to do to convince you buggers to came and visit!)

Note 1: for a bit of fun & nonsense see

Friday, October 17, 2008

Smith joins the Peace Corps

That's it! I've had enough. I am joining the Peace Corps.

Impressed by my moral fortitude and sence of service, god immediately summons me up to Rapture...along with my 2 cultural advisors, Lerok Sikoki and Lepatanapa William.

Monday, October 6, 2008


There is a mandatory viewing material for this blog entry.

2 short clips from the 1962 Howard Hawks/ John Wayne flick, Hatari!
Clip 1

If you haven't got a fast enough connection to watch you-tube then you'll have to order a copy of Howard Hawk's 1962 film Hatari! from Please note however that Amazon no longer posts material to South Africa due to high postal losses.


I love international aid.

What used to be a proverb of potholes between Nairobi and Nakuru is now a smooth tar highway, thanks to the European Union (and their inspiration, the recent Chinese upgrading of the Uhuru Highway headin' outa town, the other way).

Driving back last night from our mini-safari to Lakes Naivasha and Nakuru saw us sharing this road with the same traffic that comprises a never ending advanced driving course in downtown Nairobi. And clearly, the same rules apply, just a lot faster.

1) All the lanes of a road are yours to use. Solid lines are an indication of the maximum separation allowed between you and the 3 vehicles you are overtaking on a blind rise.
2) 1, 2 or no bright lights approaching as you overtake are an opportunity to decide whether to force the oncoming car/motorcycle/donkey cart into the Great Rift Ditch or (if it is a truck) to force yourself back into the left lane.

3) Tail lights are not required -

The 367 police check points en route will only see the front of your vehicle and you will only be stopped at month end which is pay day for the Police Services.

4) If you manage to survive the night riders then you will probably be taken out by a suicide wall jumper,

though you can normally predict them as occurring within 100 metres of a pedestrian bridge.

Apparently, the most complex thing the human can do with their brain is to drive a car...and that is in America.

In Kenya, we have clearly evolved to a higher level of survival intelligence and not only do we regularly get back home from a short safari to the supermarket, but also manage to chat about the good ol' days. Last night it was all about our Drive-in Theatre memories....

The first drive-in movie I saw was Elvis Presley in 'Jailhouse Rock'. Despite feeling lonesome at night I never became much of a rock 'n roll fan, but the flick that really did it for me was the 1962 John Wayne film, 'Hatari!'.

Thanks to you-tube, I was able to watch it again and it has lost none of its original charm. Well, in a different sort of way. Etched into my memory from my first viewing is the rhino capture scene - and looking at it now makes me understand how no matter how environmentally or politically correct we may be .... safaris are always Hatari! Safaris. Whilst some may dismiss Howard Hawk's film as being "politically incorrect and gender stereotyping", I suspect that not much has changed in 50 years. The same khaki adorns tourists and local role models, the same inter-tribal/racial/gender/sexual/class issues energize our experience and quite frankly, driving has not changed a jot.

This is after all, Afrika, and I suspect we are here for that very edge that has been legislated right outa sight north of the equator.

On the other hand, judging by the copious amounts of cigarettes smoked in every scene of the film, maybe Kenya's draconian anti-smoking laws are a real sign of post-colonial progress.

Then there is the hugely enlightened no-hunting rule which means that Kenyans as a nation, stand taller than both South Africa and the USA.

It was in celebration of this that we headed off on our first mini-safari - to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in the upmarket and tranquil Nairobi suburb of Karen.

In wildlife circles the biggest change since 1962 has been adjectival. Then it was all about 'charging' rhinos and 'rampaging' elephants. Today, it is 'kissing' giraffes and 'adopting' elephants.After the Mau Mau liberation war some colonial types left, some stayed and others dedicated their lives to preserving Africa's wildlife heritage.

It seems that some felt that the best way is to get the animals at risk close to humans and others felt this was not the way to go.

Both realized that a careful balance is needed between human and wildlife needs in order to support the expensive breeding and rehabilitation programs. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Giraffe Sanctuary are 2 fine examples of this.

Once a day us ordinary folk can get close to and touch the bristly back of a baby elephant, but only for 1 hour a day, so the babes don't get too used to humans.

The giraffes, on the other hand hang around all day for the opportunity to 'kiss' a tourist and get some mouth to mouth nourishment.

Hatari!, the film may have created an adventurous longing to get close to my wild side, but it was the real 'Baby Elephant Walk' that made me reach into my pocket and adopt 'Shimba', whose picture now adorns my studio wall and on whose mailing list I will be for....well a year, the next time I have to come up with 50 dollars.This was clearly a very effective sell as my budget for the entire Safari week was about $55.

I can't help recalling my Thailand elephant experience. For our $10 we were entertained by 20 elephants playing soccer, dancing and finally painting their own self-portraits. I can only imagine that by the time Shimba is fully grown and playing Elly league footers, his Thai cousin will be working in the IT industry.

A new orphan has been rescued in the Mzima Springs area near Tsavo National Park.....
see The David Sheldrick Report for the full story and pix!


It is clearly time to start planning anogther serious bicycle trip!