White Kenya, Black Kenya
There was a British lady sitting in front of her wearing black sun glasses with very long black hair. The thirty-something year old woman turned around with a cautiously polite smile:
“kudyu pass soom woota pleiz?”
In her cheery happy-go-lucky voice Nneka said with a bright smile: “Yes Ma’am!”
She knew it wasn’t intentional that the first half of the small aircraft to Masai Mara carried white folks in front row seats and the remaining half of the aircraft carried black folks. Not wanting to wonder why the Kenya she was experiencing was like that; she tilted her head to the window on her left.
She looked at the undulating plains in the distance. The landscape was marked by the deep green of shaded sunshine and the light brown of naked sunshine. She saw purple bushes with pink flowers highlighting the gardens of rich Kenyans as they flew past. She immersed herself in the shadow of white clouds. Firm white clouds, forming a small army in the sky, willing to charge at anyone who dared to disturb. She admired the snowy clouds on green hills, her mind wondering which one looked more like Mount Kenya and which one, Mount Everest. The land below her was dainted with puddles of water, sparsely scattered around the Kenyan grassland. The oasis designed the finely chiseled landmass of Nairobi; even birds didn’t fly that high to see what she saw from up there. The birds were below her, just above the houses and maintaining a safe distance from the aircraft.
The sloppy land carried slides from erosion. For her, it was earth’s own way of saying that it was a fashion designer too. The Safari drive routes looked like thin lines drawn from a spider’s web on brown paper. The wide carpet of land resembled 3D images of a movie with tiny circles of settlements, probably the many Masai villages with beds made from cow skin and carpets made from cow dung.
She grabbed the edge of her seat when the aircraft swayed and she closed her eyes when it dropped and swerved suddenly. Tears welled up in her eyes. While the British lady spoke with her new best friends sitting adjacent to her, Nneka held her nostrils with her right hand and released the gas from her ears. She remembered the Indian pilot smiled deeply at her when she took her seat while boarding, but now she wondered if he was really smiling at her, or someone else entering the aircraft.
When the plane was going to land, she noticed there was no airport unlike many of the other cities where she had landed. There was a brown airstrip and she didn’t have the luxury to watch the aircraft release its tyres for landing like she watched the Kenya Airways flight from Lagos when she landed in Nairobi. The Masai Mara aircraft almost crashed the ground when it landed. Everyone on board acted like it was normal so she too didn’t stir. When the door opened, there were people waiting and smiling, but after she descended the stairs, she realized they were not waiting and smiling for her.
She was going to abandon her bags when her tour guide laughed at her saying:
“The luggage claim is not automatic, you know!”
The flight took off again with passengers for Nairobi and she dragged her big blue box across the air strip and towards the land rovers parked around the brown, dusty airstrip. The white bus which came to carry her group had the words “Destination Connect” written on it. She couldn’t guess how long the drive to Amani Mara Lodge would be so she sat quietly behind the bus clutching her black handbag from Nakumatt and listening to the silent sounds of the Mara as they drove.
When the roof of the car was opened she stuck her head outside to see the vast territory of the National Park and its heavy-duty hippopotamus weighing over 200 kilograms, it’s black and grey hyenas who refused to laugh with her and the left-over wildebeests from the Serengeti Migration to Tanzania. She enjoyed the miniature Jackal who posed and waited for her to take its picture, the proud and lazy Lion who lay in shade and waited for his wives to bring him some game and the beautiful-skinned okapi – endemic to Mara – who looked like it wore orange tights in the setting sun. She revered the brown female and the reddish-black male Massai ostriches, the slender antelope which reminded her of how sexy she was supposed to be and the charged waterbuck who pushed everything in its way as it walked on. Huge elephants wallowed in mud and ran out of the path when they saw her bus approaching. She noticed the brown and yellow giraffes hid in the bushes when she came too close to take pictures but the sea gulls and horn birds stood with pride while she photographed them. As they approached her Lodge for the night, she saw the secretary bird crossing the road and she remembered how famous they were for their crowning feathers which were used by scribes in the colonial times.
The rains welcomed her as she stepped out of the bus and into the Intrepid Lodge. The bush-like setting of the accommodation reminded her of her village in Awka but a refined version of it. Hurdled under an umbrella with three other women, she hurried through the stone paths till the lounge appeared. She ignored the tea and biscuits the waiters were serving instead she ran to the balcony and looked intently at the bridge and the river beneath it. She stared at the droplets of water as they glimmered in the sun while the rain danced in the atmosphere. She ran into it, put her face up and smiled as she licked the water. The green trees surrounded everything, like one of those anaconda movies where there was only one bridge made from ropes helping the actors cross a river. She swerved as she moved on the bridge. At its centre, she stopped.
She hadn’t said much to anyone in her group. She was playing out conversations in her head. The long drive to the lodge brought her to the middle of the desert in the National Park. The walls were made from acacia wood and limestone. The floors were brown and wooden and she wore her winter jacket with the furry cap because it was too cold to explore the Mara without warm clothes.
There was no dinner to welcome her only snacks and tea. An overweight Indian lady who stood by the tea-stand said “Jambo”.
“Would you like to have some tea?” she was polite.
“Not really, I’d rather have some food. I actually eat a lot … and this looks like an appetizer”. Nneka giggled.
The Indian lady laughed a loud long laugh and said, “So where does it all go?”
“I don’t know …” Nneka said. “I think I have very fast metabolism.” She was smiling her best smile for the first non-black person in Kenya that would try to have a conversation with her.
“I hate you” the expression on the Indian lady’s face changed ironically. “You’re not married and you definitely don’t have any kids”.
“Yes” Nneka said.
With thanks to the wonderful Walter Plitt Quintin for use of his amazing artwork.
If you enjoyed Tracy’s short then you will love these others stories. Click the link and check them out: