Trio Of Photo-Favourites From ‘The Old Africa Album’

Mzee Lali

This first photo of Mzee Lali having a nap, with three full-sail Lamu dhows  in our wake  has to be my absolute favourite photograph. It was sheer chance that a) the scene composed itself so beautifully, b) I was alert enough to snap it and c) my Olympus-trip was not on the wrong setting.

It was Boxing Day and we had been out cruising the Manda Strait for several hours. In the morning some of our small party went in for a spot of snorkelling out on the reef. Next, using baited lines, we caught a few little fish which Lali and his nephew Athman scaled and cleaned. At noon when we were moored off Manda Island, Lali waded ashore and knelt down on the beach to pray. Then lunch was prepared, the fish grilled on a portable charcoal (jiko) stove and served up with freshly chopped coleslaw. Delicious.

In the afternoon we meandered back along the strait between the mangrove forests, waiting for the wind to pick up. We passed a large dhow taxi, utterly becalmed, engine stalled. It was brimful with laughing, chattering passengers, all hopeful  that some time or other they would finally reach Lamu mainland to visit their relations.

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Robert Omondi ed

This photo was taken a few years later. It’s a favourite because it was a chance meeting that pretty much sums up all that is so powerfully positive about young Kenyans. We were staying at Safariland Lodge on  the shores of Lake Naivasha. Graham was hosting a conference of international crop pest scientists, and I was spending the days wandering around the place, bird watching. One afternoon I met Robert Omondi on the hotel mooring. He sold me one of the hand written booklets he had made, its topic the ecology of Lake Naivasha and the water sources that fed into it. He was visiting all the hotels and lodges along the lake, selling copies where he could, and so raising funds for his next term’s school fees.

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And finally a photo to prove to myself I was actually there, although even at the time I took it, it was hard to believe. Besides which, the Great Rift Valley is almost impossible to photograph and give any true sense of scale or depth. If there isn’t a heat haze, there is often a fog. I was standing somewhere north of Nairobi, on the east escarpment highway which runs up to 9,000 feet above sea level. Below, in the foreground, is Escarpment location, a community of smallholder farmers. The bright green of the plots suggests it must be the main growing season after good rains. In the Rift bottom are the wheat and barley fields of larger-scale farmers, the crater of defunct volcano, Longonot on the left. The low road to Lake Naivasha runs north beneath it along the valley floor.

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Lens-Artists: picking favourites This week Sarah at Travel With Me  invites us to choose three favourite photos (not necessarily absolute favourites). Please go and see her three stunning choices.

Roadside Creations

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It’s back to the old Africa album for Cee’s ‘made by humans’ theme because it was while I was thinking what to post, that I suddenly remembered here was something I really missed from our years living in Kenya and Zambia: the roadside artists and artisans who, day in and day out, made some truly wonderful creations.  In fact we did most of our best shopping on the pavement – from the decorative to the solidly functional.

The header photo is a young soapstone sculptor in downtown Harare, taken during a road trip to Zimbabwe from Zambia. Meanwhile in Lusaka, here are the furniture makers who made beds of every kind, including ours, from repurposed air freight cases:

Kamwala roadside furniture market mono

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And while I’m here,  a more recent shot of one of my favourite baskets, made by the Tonga women of Zambia’s Southern Province. I use it for storing sewing and knitting bits and bobs.

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Human-made

Quiet Hour In The Maasai Mara

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Almost sunset and a good time for mamas to play with the children…

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Or for lads to roll and loll…

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Or a cheetah to snooze in the grass beside a mulului tree…

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And then for humans to watch day’s end over the Mara plains…

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Lens-Artists: Serene  This week Patti invites us all to stop and ponder on peaceful scenes. As ever,  these views are from the old Africa album.

In Matching Stripes?

Grevy's zebra

Day’s end and a gathering of Grevy’s zebra, the largest and most northerly race of zebra-kind. It was a chance encounter. For two hours Kevin, our Chagga guide had been driving us along the dirt tracks of the Lewa Downs reserve. It was new territory to us; our first trip to northern Kenya from our then home-town of Nairobi. The landscapes were breath-taking, sweeping rangelands, pale grasses, beetling gorges, the distant gauzy backdrop of the Matthews Range.

Earlier we had stopped to follow a Greater Kudu family on foot. They were moving in single file up a steep bush trail. We lingered under a thorn tree and in the late day light, watched as they melted one by one into dappled cover. Then it was back to the truck and more trail bashing, the only sign of wildlife, massive piles of elephant dung on the track, and some torn up thorn trees where the herd had passed.

We scanned the bush country all round for a glimpse of them, but they were gone, or at least we could not see them, which is not the same thing. Elephants are invisibility specialists. No matter. As I said, the country was magnificent, the light like liquid amber, and the air filled with the soothing scent of acacia blossom. Lemony with tones of jasmine. As ever, out in the bush, all felt like a dream.

And by now, too, the sun had dropped behind the mountains, the light fading fast. We headed back to camp, and it was then, as we rounded a bend on the trail, we met the zebra. There was only just enough light left to take their photo, but they obligingly stood perfectly still.

And just in case you’re wondering what the difference is between Grevy’s and the plains zebras, here’s another sundowner scene, this time from the Maasai Mara far to the south:

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These are Common or Burchell’s Zebra, smaller than the Grevy’s. Their all-over, widely spaced stripes are thicker; ears pointed to Grevy’s endearingly round. Their social habits are different too, the plains’ zebra living in family groups with much grooming between members while their cousins appear to move in less structured gatherings.

But what about the stripes, you may ask: is every zebra’s livery unique?

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It is hard to be sure from the Grevy’s portrait, though I’m thinking it’s highly likely. But when it comes to the plains’ cousins, I have told the tale before of how once in Zambia, on a New Year’s Day game drive, a rather tipsy guide waxed lyrical about the very particular patterns on each zebra’s ‘butticles’, and how it was by such means that zebra offspring recognised their respective mamas. I don’t know about the last bit, but these two photos from Nairobi National Park certainly prove a point, final blurry butticle shot aside: the stripes truly do not match.

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Matching Things

Thursday Doors Appeal

Here’s how to make someone’s life better:

Have Stethoscope, Will Travel

If you have been following my contributions to Thursday Doors over the years, you will know that I do voluntary work as a doctor overseas. Last year I was working at Kakumbi Rural Health Centre in Eastern Province, Zambia. It was distressing to see the lack of medical care for people with severe mental illness, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Their families would look after them as best they could; but if the patients became violent or started destroying property, this support could end. Patients would roam around the village, clearly very disturbed, behaving inappropriately (throwing stones at vehicles, wandering about naked).

Thursday’s door – torn off its hinges during a violent outburst by the man wearing white trousers. He has a long history of bipolar disorder. Neighbours managed to subdue him and chained him to the door to prevent him from doing more damage to people and property. They felt…

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Taking The Broad View ~ Mara Grasslands

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In the rainless months it is the oat grass that gives the Mara plains their golden hue. The small trees with their sculpted looks are desert dates, mulului trees, much browsed by all the local herbivores.

These photos from the Farrells’ old Africa album were taken outside the main Maasai Mara National Park, below the Oloololo Escarpment on territory owned by related Maasai families, locally referred to as a group ranch. Visitors pay a daily fee to group ranch elders. We were lucky to be able to make three trips there while living in Kenya.

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Life in Colour: Gold

Lens-Artists: Going wide

How Elephants Hide In Bushes

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These elephant photos were taken in the very special community sanctuary of Mwalunganje near the South Kenya coast. It was set up in the 1990s to ensure the future of an important migration route from the Shimba Hills to Tsavo East National Park AND as means to provide compensation to 300 smallholder farmers whose crops were being destroyed by the herds. The farmers retained ownership of the land in the form of shares, and many of them took up posts running the sanctuary as a tourist attraction. The project continues to be run (or at least it was still going last year) with the support of the Kenya Forest and Wildlife Services and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. (More photos at this link).

The Mwalunganje sanctuary is extraordinary terrain, a remnant Jurassic Forest survivor that still supports many cycads. They look like small palm trees and, as living survivors from a 200 million year old forest, are a seriously endangered species.

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Mwalunganje Hill is also a sacred place for the local Duruma people. Here there is kaya, a palisaded space where traditional rites are performed by the elders. On the day when we went to look for it there was a tree blocking the trail – frustrating for a nosy mzungu, but then I thought, ‘quite right too. You have not been invited there.’

There’s more about the sanctuary HERE

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‘Large As Life’ ~ More ‘Vintage’ Africa Scenes

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Maasai Mara

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For this week’s Black & White Photo Challenge, Cee asks for things on the large side, which at once had me thinking of big animals; big skies; big landscapes: Africa. And this further prompted the thought of trying a sepia-vintage look with photos from the Farrells’ aging Africa album. To my eye the results look rather like plates from some 1930s book club imprint of travellers’ tales.

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Lewa Downs, Northern Kenya: white rhino

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Lewa Grevys Zebra and Mount Kenya sepia

Lewa Downs: Grevy’s zebra with Mount Kenya backdrop

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Kilimanjaro from Mombasa Highway sepia

Kilimanjaro revealed one morning on the Mombasa Highway at Kibwezi

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Maasai Mara Marsh Pride

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Olololo Plateau and Thomson’s Gazelle

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Desert Date tree Maasai Mara

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Athi Plains Giraffe

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Large subjects

A Very Big Zambian Baobab

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Zambia is a country blessed with some magnificent trees and miombo woodland that makes for parkland like landscapes. This particular tree is in South Luangwa National Park, one of the world’s wildlife treasure spots. (Do not believe the tales that Africa has no wildlife left. It is absolutely untrue.)

Here is more of the tree that wouldn’t fit in the square. The damage on the lower trunk is probably due to elephants and/or other other grazers:

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South Luangwa - mighty poachers' baobab

Tree Square #30

Vintage Zimbabwe

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Late 1992-3 and we were living in Lusaka, Zambia, Graham on secondment from the Natural Resources Institute in Kent to the European Union Delegation – his job to manage the logistics of food aid deliveries to drought-stricken parts of Zambia.

These were exciting times. As we arrived, long-term presidential incumbent, Kenneth Kaunda (he who had led Northern Rhodesia to independence in 1964) had recently ceded to Frederick Chiluba, the first elected president after the return to multi-party democracy. Which sounds positive, but it also involved the International Monetary Fund structurally adjusting the nation, causing hikes in staple food prices, and stopping free schooling and medical care for the poor so they could become even more hard done by.

Then there were the international corporations who continued not to pay taxes on their exploitation of Zambia’s copper mines. Then Kenneth Kaunda’s army officer son, Rezi, had thoughts of starting a coup and was said to behind much of the criminal activity in the capital, and then over in the neighbouring Congo (or so the story went) President Mobutu had neglected to pay his army thus causing them to come on regular night-raiding missions to the diplomatic quarters of Lusaka.

One could have become very anxious, but actually, none of this was my experience of Lusaka. It always seemed rather sleepy under the wide blue skies of breezy white clouds, the locals ever quick to smile and share a joke.

Anyway by July ‘93, winter in southern Africa, we thought we needed a holiday, and headed south for the then peaceably prosperous neighbour-state of Zimbabwe. We drove on near empty roads all the way to Harare. Back then that city  seemed like a wonderland, the epitome of sophistication compared to Lusaka where the downtown stores had empty shelves and all seemed stuck in a 1950s time-warp.  And after Harare we set off across Zimbabwe – nothing booked ahead – empty roads. The only downside was a gloomy day or two when we were in Hwange National Park and my little camera could not cope with low light levels. Still, it just about managed to capture the elephants under this very large acacia. They turned up while we were eating our picnic lunch.

Photo: Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.

Tree Square #29