Monday, September 22, 2008

Rescued by a Mountain

Daylight--strong breeze, perfect temperature. Hoards of buffalo stare at us as we stop and drive. Their perfectly carved horns fuse together over their head, curving and flipping out wide and far. Is it an up-do, like the uptight old English wigs? Or maybe the flaming strands of Zeus' silver locks? Large, wide contemplative eyes. An overpowering black nose set with huge ebony nostrils. Strong, secure and peaceful, standing in solidarity on their Tsavo ground.

Elephants and giraffes galore! Their magnificence still radiates and shines silhouetted against twilight skies and black mountains. The giraffes, perfectly picturesque, gentle faces, gentle eyes hidden amongst the treetops. What an exhilarating feeling to be driving at the same speed as they walk/run.

A slender tailed mongoose and and his family scramble down the road in front of the vehicle. One veers off to the side, rushing to get under cover just as a young eagle swoops down . The mongoose jets ahead. The eagle dives again. His prey disappears! We wait. The inexperienced eagle flies away empty handed. The mongoose safely hidden-a lucky getaway!

An aardwolf reveals itself to us. Quiet and cautious. His orange fur with black stripes a perfect contrast. Related to the hyena, but not a hunter of large prey. He eats termites using his long, stick tongue--at times more than 200,000 in one night!

My first time on the spot tonight. Very cool! This job requires total focus on the night. My arms tense. My wrists tight. One of my first spots: a civet, uncharacteristically sitting right in front of our vehicle-- watching us. Bruce's camera is uncooperative--no extreme close-up shot. Bummer! But always such great conversations with Bruce up front; such wonderfully, interesting man who fits in perfectly with the richness of Kenya!

Our first siting of a Hartebeest, or Kongoni. This big fawn-colored antelope looks at bit odd at first glance. His extremely long, narrow head barely supports the two large eyes, and slender ears that stick out from each side. His horns are slightly curved and small. The kongoni might be seen as the a less elegant antelopes, but he is actually one of the fastest with the most endurance. His name means "tough ox" and by his size, you can see why!

Another amazing creature spotted tonight: an eland. Beautiful, cow-like face, soft black eyes, straight but spiraled horns. Massive neck and body, lapping with loose skin. A short ridge of hair along his back, and long, wispy tail. Eland are uncommonly sited here in Tsavo, so it was a treat to see one. About the size of buffalo, but with the grace and agility to leap over an entire vehicle if spooked! (No, no flying eland tonight!)

The dramatic mountain, Kisigua, looms in the distance today. This mountain still seems to hold the sacredness that it did 1,000 years ago. Swahili (Arabic) traders came to East Africa for ivory, horns, and skins to trade for silk in India. Once the animals had been poached, transporting their massive tusks and horns from inland E. Africa to the coast was difficult, and the slave trade was born. These Arab traders enslaved Africans to hall the tusks, and then sold them as well. To elude them, native hunter-gatherer and pastoralists retreated to Kasigau's rock shelters within the side of the mountain. They survived there, eating frogs and local plants, hidden away from persecution for many, many years. Research is being done today to study these brave, ingenious people and their cave settlements.

After learning about these people, I saw Kasigau in an even more magical light. It is hard to hear about past injustice, or the inequalities and heartbreak that exist in Kenya today. But to be rescued by a mountain strikes me as the ultimate poetry. Of course, it was the people, their wisdom and tenacity that kept them safe from such monstrosities. Beauty and elegance in hardship. Resilient, genuine joy in the smiles and eyes of Kenya.

But once again, I see her arms open wide. Sheltering us. Giving life back.

As it did in the very beginning, and as it does today.

And I will forever honor her.

(Thank you Bruce Patterson, for photos of the: giraffe, mongoose, and eagle.

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