Tales From Hunter’s Lodge ~ Further News Of The Crocodile

229

23 February 1994

This morning when I peered over our balcony rail I could see a pair of well-polished black boots and the shiny black barrel of a rifle propped against the veranda wall of the room below us. A wildlife ranger come to hunt the reptile. I wandered down for a word and found not one, but two young men, both smartly kitted out in Kenya Wildlife Service uniforms. I asked them if they had come for the crocodile.

Probably because I was a mzungu and therefore presumed fervent in my desire to protect absolutely all wild creatures no matter how inconvenient or deadly their presence may be to the locals, their response was defensive. They were clearly expecting an argument: “Crocodiles are very dangerous,” said one. “The manager is very worried about his staff and their children. It will have to be killed.”

I did not disagree, but told them I had seen it a number of times. “And weren’t you frightened?” I said I wasn’t. They seemed so surprised I did not like to tell them I had also been running around after it trying to take a photograph. It would have sounded most foolhardy and eccentric after what they had said. I left them to their watch, wondering who would get a shot first, me or the rangers. I hoped it would be me.

As I sat up on my balcony I was convinced that they would have no luck that morning. I had only seen the crocodile after lunch. Anyway, it did not matter. Soon there was much chattering down below. Rose the chambermaid had arrived and was doing her level best to distract the rangers from their quest. She did so for a good hour or more. Nor was it idle chitchat, although there was much laughter. From the snatches of conversation that were in English. I gathered that she was conducting an evangelical crusade; she had a captive audience and, as a born again Christian, more than enough zeal to win a hearing from even the most obdurate of unbelievers. And not only was she extremely eloquent, but she was also very handsome. Already she was broaching the subject of the sort of man she would marry. A smart young woman.

*

16 March 1994

As has become the habit, we collected Dorothy from Pangani en route for Kiboko. There had been rain in the night and the gaping potholes in the roads of the estate’s shopping centre were now red-mud lakes. The women vegetable sellers sat along the broken pavements, in front of them their produce – neat pyramids of tomatoes, red-skinned onions, mangoes, small pink potatoes. A girl stared at us from the clinic doorway; the pile of refuse on the corner of Dorothy’s road sweltered in the humid atmosphere.

The drive from Pangani followed the network of ring roads that take you to the south side of the city without hitting the centre. It was hair-raising. We dodged matatus that either pulled up or pulled out in front of us without warning, sometimes barely a hair’s breadth of leeway, all over-laden with passengers and luggage. Then we nearly collided with a man pushing a wide handcart that lurched along the broken tarmac on wobbling wheels. The sea of traffic swept round the large walled island that serves Kariokor Market (the place for kiondos, the local sisal shoulder bags, and used truck tyres), and on into Haile Selassie, the heartland of the tea and coffee trade. Here humanity and motor vehicles jostle for space and it is all push and shove beneath the looming post-war warehouses of ‘the cup that cheers’.

As we headed out of town on the Mombasa highway we were soon aware of a strong police presence, an armed officer stationed  under every roadside thorn tree; near the airport approach road the flags were flying. Later, we discovered that President Moi was expected to pass that way. He was scheduled to meet the arriving Sudanese President, General Omar Hussan Al-Bashir. Out along a ridgeway, and leaving Nairobi’s industrial concrete wasteland behind, strode a young Maasai herdsman, red shuka shawl draped over his shoulder. Ahead of him trailed a file of motley coloured cattle, their pied shades a smaller variation of the white and grey and black clouds that swelled on the skyline behind them. Africa’s two worlds.

There was much game to be spotted on the Kapiti Plains. Thompson’s gazelle were grazing so closely to the road that at first I thought they were goats. Then, beyond a stretch of whistling thorns I spotted the head and neck of a giraffe. The rest of it was lost from view. It was striding out along a gully that ran parallel to the highway. Soon we were passing several more elegant necks and heads, all south-bound. And then at last, a hundred yards from the road, a gathering of eighteen fully emerged giraffes; as many as we had ever seen at one time and with the russet hides of the reticulated variety that we had not seen before. When giraffes move with intent like this – the loping gait – they seem to dance to rhythms that only they can sense, but you long to join in with. Alongside were kongoni and ostrich too, and we were not even in the park.

Down on the lowland plains the skies were grey. The wasted maize crop from the December planting still clung to the crusty soil, rows of skeleton stems. On some of the plots men were out with ox teams ploughing in the aborted effort. The long rains were expected, and soon it would be time to take another turn of the roulette wheel and sow the seed for the next maize crop.

At lunchtime Hunter’s Lodge simmered gently in the heat. Even the weavers were subdued. As we drew up in the car park we noticed a small overland truck parked right down at the pool edge, the travellers’ washing lines strung out between two acacias and bowed down with wet T-shirts. Out in the water, wading thigh deep were two young Akamba boys, wielding their fishing rods and casting their lines as they went. We had never seen anyone in the water before and we knew then the wildlife rangers had been successful and the crocodile killed.

The afternoon was sultry and I sprawled on the bed and slept. Later Joyce called in with some fresh towels. She told me she had just come back after two months leave at her home in Kibwezi. This small township is about half an hour’s drive south from Kiboko, but if you have to depend on a matatu for a lift, then it is too far and too expensive for her to travel to work each day. And so her husband, who works for the forestry department, lives at Kibwezi with their oldest boy who has just started school there, and Joyce lives with her three year old son in a single room of the staff quarters at Hunter’s Lodge. Sometimes her husband comes to visit at weekends. When I said that it must be hard to live separately like this, she laughed and did not seem to think so.

Scan-130520-0001

Before bed that night we went down to the terrace bar for a soda. Only the manager and the barman were there. It was  as if we were stepping onto an empty stage after the play was done. Yet there was still a sense of drama. The empty white bentwood chairs on the empty lawn glowed faintly at the  edges of the light cast by two lamps hitched up in the acacias. Across the pool, fever tree branches reached out from the darkness. A lone firefly winked on its steady course over black waters. A bush baby cackled, piercing the soundscape of cricket and frog call. Up above, the sky seemed to be bursting with every star in the universe. On the northern horizon the sheet lightning flickered, fitful bursts of a failing element. Against the stars we could just make out the ghosts of bats’ wings as they wafted silently. It was the sort of night you swear you will never forget, but always do.

17 March

The fundi is still at work across the pool, carefully placing the grey fluted tiles on the summerhouse roof. He has a radio on – Congolese rumba rhythms issue faintly. Today there are two young women at work in the garden. One is raking up the dead grass. She wears a turquoise blouse over her kanga wrap and her hair is braided into corded rows from forehead to nape. The other girl barrows the debris away to a far corner of the property. Her hair is close cropped and she has on a brown and orange kanga. Flashes of vivid colour on a parchment-pale landscape; cobalt blue darts of the greyhooded kingfisher as it sweeps the lodge lawn for insects.

It is only 10 a. m. and already it is hot. The girls work slowly, pausing often to exchange a few words. The air is spiced with the scent of the tiny sun-baked acacia leaves that fall in drifts; the chatter of weavers is overlain by the more intense whine of insects. This is how I remembered Hunter’s Lodge all the time I was in Zambia; this was how it was on the day I first came here, two years ago.

Tish on the terrace 1992

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

 

50 thoughts on “Tales From Hunter’s Lodge ~ Further News Of The Crocodile

  1. A master piece in vivid and colourful writing! Every scene you describe on your journey surfaces so clearly before my inner eyes that it is as if I am experiencing all this myself. Looking foreword to the next instalment.

  2. Beautiful and vivid piece of writing Tish. As for the crocodile, hmm, sure it would have been killed here. I wouldn’t go near it for anything in the world. We do have a crocodile pond at Paga in the northern part of Ghana, a sort of tourist attraction. 🙂 Famous too I might add. 🙂

  3. Marvelous narrative. I felt like a visitor as I followed your observations… and this was a few years ago; which supports my belief that writing transcends time and space. Even before the digital media, by attaching ourselves to a writer whose taste we enjoyed, we were freed of both moment and place.

  4. I want to jiggetty-jig along with the giraffes! And Ark’s right- you do look wonderfully elegant. It all comes deliciously back to life, Tish. Are these purely diary entries or amended by your present day self? So beautifully done! 🙂 🙂

    1. Jo and the giraffes jiving – that’s a jolly notion. Many thanks my dear for the nice comments. I have pruned out a few adjectives here and there, but otherwise it’s much as it was written. I used to spend A LOT of time doing it!

  5. Oh, I was so hoping you’d get a shot of the croc before it was shot! Another lovely nostalgic read Tish, and what a beautiful young woman you were (and still are). Africa is hard to forget and you certainly experienced its wilder side. I can picture those giraffes though I didn’t see many in Cape Town!

  6. You paint such a vivid picture of Africa the sights, sounds and smells conjure the reality you were experiencing. I wonder if it is still the same, or as sadly happens, it has all changed. Have you been back recently? Over here the croc would not be shot but captured and relocated. They are a protected species….

    1. No we haven’t been back. But from reading the Kenyan press, I don’t think things have changed a great deal for most people – at least not out in the provinces. I dare say Hunter’s Lodge has had some sort of makeover. I don’t like to look.

  7. love the shot of you in the chair.
    Re: “When I said that it must be hard to live separately like this, she laughed and did not seem to think so.”

    it would be hard for me to be away

  8. I think it is wonderful serendipity that you, a writer, got to spend all this time in Kenya, because years later we get to read about it all and be transported to that time and place. I love the detail, I love imagining I am there. Like Peter I want more.
    Alison

  9. I couldn’t resist a peek at the Hunter’s Lodge current website. I had to smile. The place has been revamped and there is a swimming pool. There are two tiled crocodile images on the swimming pool floor. So the legend of the crocodile lives on! Another smile came from the mention of Kapiti Plains. My children used to love the story, Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by VERNA AARDEMA. Interesting, too, is that we have our own Kapiti in New Zealand. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kapiti_Coast Kapiti also lends its name to delicious ice cream. Your diary entries are very vivid. I feel as though I am voyaging with you. Oh, and another smile….the sign, NO PICNICS. One imagines that picnic-ers were more of a nuisance than the solitary crocodile. 😀

    1. Yes that no picnics sign always made me smile. And interesting to see a very different Kapiti. I might have to look at the Hunter’s Lodge site now. There did used to be swimming pool in our day, though it had no water in it. How v. funny about the croc tiles. They certainly weren’t there. And again thanks for the kind words about my writing 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.