Flamingos At Dawn On Lake Elmenteita And Remembering Paul Kabochi

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It looks like a mirage, I know – not helped by aging photo/collapsing scanner syndrome. But even when I was taking it, it was hard to believe I was there. This despite some very particular sensations that still lurk in my memory – the sting of soda in nose and eyes (Elmenteita is one of the Great Rift’s soda lakes)  plus the pungent whiff of flamingo guano, and under foot, the slimy droppings-rich mud along the shore. There was also the noise – the continuous honking of the birds as they jostled among  rich algal pickings.

On one of my dawn visits to the lake shore, I bumped into Paul Kabochi. Or rather he bumped into me. He had driven a Japanese bird enthusiast down to the lake to take photos.

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Paul Kabochi wildlife expert and ethnobotanist 1942-2003

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As I said in an earlier post:  “Paul Githinji Kabochi was a man I am lucky to have met, and I mourn his tragic loss in what was, for him, the strangest of accidents. He was a true path-finder, and not only for the likes of me, a traveller, wanting to experience the African bush with someone who knew it intimately, but also for august naturalists such as David Attenborough.  Paul had been one of the expert guides during the making of The Life of Mammals, and his special knowledge was often called upon by the BBC’s outpost in Nairobi.”

For more of his story…

 

In the Pink #27

Persian Gulf Sunset And Wondering: Isn’t Travel Always A Moral Issue?

It was still winter in Dubai, the hotel palm trees along the beach well wrapped up against the wind. We were on a two-centre trip – a week in the Maldives with stopovers in Dubai either side. It was 1998.  We needed a break from Kenya. There were times when crime-and-politics wore us down. The long-term one-party presidential incumbent and his backers were more than a little reluctant to admit the construct of multi-party politics into the regime. And it seemed to me that whenever the power-brokers felt nervous, the crime rate soared. Just to make us all feel uneasy.

It  began at the top of course – the crime. And doubtless still does. It is the same here in the UK, I lately discover, and is also officially-unofficially sanctioned. It is just not visible to most of us, and is massively more clever, being wrapped up in trusts and shell companies parked in the ‘hot-money archipelago’ of the Cayman Islands et al. I am indebted to British economics professor Baron Nicholas Stern for this phrase. (He’s also written a good deal about climate change). Such offshore financial services (so anodyne in their terminology) apparently provide safe places for the world’s robber elite to hide their loot, so maintaining the status quo of tyranny and poverty meted out to ordinary hard-pressed folk in the places whence the loot was stolen.

And so we were in Dubai and Maldives for some light relief, destinations where in 1998 crime was not permitted to exist. The only problem was, even then, both locations seemed more than slightly bonkers (and probably more so now in sustainability terms). On the one had – a complex of luxury island paradises, where both the tourists and every consumer item they might want was flown in, and the resultant minute-by-minute packaging residue disposed of in a massive concrete silo embedded in the sea off the capital Male. Not only that, but contact with the locals was very tightly managed (not that I blame Maldivians for that. Someone has to make a stand against nasty European sex predators – women as well as men). But it also meant that you felt as if you’d just holidayed in a stage set. Very lovely, certainly – but synthetic.

And as for Dubai (and it’s probably ten times wider and taller now) it was wall-to-wall shopping malls, eight-lane highways, building sites, apartment blocks and hotels of the top-end plush variety. Since our visit this last notion has gone stratospheric. I mean, what does it say about us humans? How much consuming do we need to do and in how many weirdly fabricated environs?

Actually in ‘98 there was not much shopping going on. The malls were magnificent but eerie – scarcely a soul in the marbled halls of designer boutiques. Though we did see mature dishdasha-ed gents in the cosmetics stores treating their black-gowned wives to Chanel perfume and Estee Lauder lipstick. It appeared to be a popular family pastime. We also saw similarly garbed gents in the bar of the Radisson, drinking lager. Interesting, I thought. It was the  particular brand that was said to reach parts that others didn’t. I wondered if it also granted dispensation to Muslim transgressors. Or if perhaps the territory of a European owned hotel provided the equivalent of diplomatic immunity for the drinking of alcohol.

The best part of Dubai is the Creek. Tied up along its banks were still the great dhows of the Gulf – Indian Ocean trade routes – timeless somehow, despite being loaded up with refrigerators, expensive motor cars, crates of coca cola. Once such dhows plied the coast of East Africa as far south as Mozambique and the Comoros, borne on the outward voyage by the monsoon north-easterlies, returned six months later on the south-westerlies – this before the advent of petrol engines of course.

Over two thousand years, the dhow merchants of Persia and Arabia traded with the coastal Bantu peoples of Africa. In return for consignments of dates, rugs, silks, jewels, treasure chests, they bought, gold, mangrove timber, animal skins, ivory and slaves. And their centuries’ long congress with Africans gave rise to a string of coastal city states of mixed race Arab-Persian-African people, the Swahili, who both owned and traded in humans, and did so until at least the 1920s when the British occupiers of British East Africa (now Kenya) finally outlawed the practice – the unintended consequence of which was hundreds of homeless and unemployed ex-clove plantation workers whose former owners could no longer afford to employ them as  plantations ran to bush and their fortunes rapidly dwindled.

Ah, the tangled webs we humans weave. (And this is not an apology for slave owning. Only an example of what happens when you unpick/ban other people’s economic practices, customs and beliefs in a piecemeal fashion.)

Which brings me full circle really. Kenya. After two weeks away in odd places, we were fairly glad to go back there, never mind the moral dilemmas. And that I suppose is the point of this little travel ramble. Moral dilemmas. The more we ignore them, the more things stay the same.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

 

P.S. There are things we can do about the present state of global inequality. The Tax Justice Network outlines some of them.

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In the Pink #20

Remembrance Of Things Pink In Koroni

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I have no idea why other people’s washing is so fascinating to humankind; nor perhaps should one enquire too deeply into the rhyme and reason of it. In scenic foreign places (i.e. not at home) it does have a certain art-installation allure. So here’s some Greek washing you haven’t seen, and coming up is more Greek washing that was hung out to dry in an earlier post. I thought is was worth a second airing. A washing line with a view of the Taygetos and the Gulf of Messenia. How uplifting must be the daily act of pegging out. (Not metaphorically of course).

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copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

 

Six Word Saturday

In the Pink #15

Seeing Pink In The Peloponnese

The first morning in Greece the sun was so astoundingly bright I panicked. Why had I not brought better sunglasses? How would I get around if I couldn’t see for the dazzle? It took me a while to realize that the effect was caused by the glassy stillness of the Messenian Gulf. It did not last. Nor did that morning’s terrific heat.

We Farrells have a habit of taking our holidays just as summer is ending, and our trip to the southern Peloponnese was no exception. On that morning, the last of high summer departed. By noon a storm had rolled in, cascades of rain pouring down our cottage pantiles. When the rain cleared three hours later, it was a different climate. The sky was grey. I could see where I was going, and I was no longer melting.

Of course we had some sunshine in that last week of September, and the temperature was perfect for exploring Koroni and Pylos. But the season was pretty much over; the beach empty of locals who thought it too cold to be there; fish soup off the menu at the taverna due to lack of mass demand. But if the season was done, there was still much magic – the softer shades of Taygetos Mountain pink at sunrise and sunset. And each day, looking over the Gulf at the wild fortress lands of the Mani, I thought I probably was in heaven.

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copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

In the Pink #12

 

Still Sizzlin’ In Old Orchard Beach ~ Has No One Told her Summer’s Over?

And summer did end as we arrived in Old Orchard Beach a few late-Septembers ago. It ran out on us while we driving up route 95 from Boston and broiling in an hour-long traffic jam caused by roadworks just north of Saco. The late summer sun bore down, dust clouds from fleets of excavators blew up, the young woman engineer yelled above the din of men and machinery, and we crawled along, inch by inch, praying for the turn to Ocean Park, our actual destination. Cousin Jan had driven down from her alpaca farm in Richmond, taking a swift ‘time out’ between alpaca babe deliveries. She would be waiting for us at her beach cottage to hand over the keys. We would be staying there for the next week before driving on to the farm.

Praying is of course apt behaviour for Ocean Park. The community has its origins in 1881 when the Free Will Baptists founded a family summer resort there with the object (then and now) of providing “opportunities for spiritual growth and renewal (in) a non-denominational, interfaith setting”.  The Tabernacle Temple meeting hall, among the pines and maples, is still there and much used. And, in keeping with its reflective origins, the surrounding settlement is sedately picturesque: tree-lined lanes, genteel small hotels, boarding houses, and homes, both  holiday and residential. The local people we met there were mostly retired, perhaps a touch eccentric, and often with English connections.

Two miles along the ocean front, Old Orchard Beach could not be more different, the coastal strip lined with down-scale boarding houses, motels and fast food kiosks, all the fun of the pier – a mass of holidaying humanity. Except it wasn’t when we walked there on our first morning. The sky and sea were grey, streets were uncannily empty, tourist shops and the funfair already wrapped up for the winter. So soon! we said.

Summer was definitely done. It was thus a huge relief to find a coffee shop that was still alive and ready to serve us, and it was while we were drinking our take-aways at a table outside that I spotted the header mural on the side of a house wall beside an empty lot. Some of you will have seen it before, but I thought it was just the thing for a pink square reprise – a piece of high summer out of time, a girl forever having fun beside the sea.

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copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

In the Pink #9   Today  Becky’s taken flight – up, up and away.

The Blissfulness Of Blue On A Winter’s Day In Wales

We have spent several Christmases on the island of Ynys Mon, otherwise known by its Viking name of Anglesey, in North Wales. The weather in December always throws up surprises. On our last trip this was one of them – a perfect, windless, cloudless day with warm sunshine. We wandered on the Menai Straits beach, looking out at the Great Orme peninsula at Llandudno across the water. I found myself watching this young man and his little  boy, so absorbed in their play, the sun catching winter-white faces. No sound but the call of an oyster catcher.

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That day in that place, we felt the universe had just given us a gift.

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Lens-Artists: Blue

No, This Is Not My Polytunnel

Polytunnel spotted on the path to Koroni, Messenia in the southern Peloponnese. And now for some more scenic Greek roofs to conclude Becky’s very entertaining June squares photo-jaunt. Didn’t we do well. And a big round of applause for Becky.

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THE END

Roof Squares 30

Six Word Saturday

Flight From Lusaka To Seychelles

We were living in Lusaka, Zambia in 1993. Multiparty democracy had not long arrived, and the long-outstayed-his-welcome president, Kenneth Kaunda been sent into retirement. The future might have looked bright but for the fact that the rains had failed in 1992 and many Zambians were starving. On top of this, the price of the national staple, maize, had anyway been going through the roof, courtesy of the International Monetary Fund, who had decided, under the new regime, that the time was ripe for the country to be structurally readjusted. The object of course was some much needed fiscal cleansing, which looks fine on paper, but somehow overlooked the effect on actual human beings. It also neglected to deal with the fact that the rich resource-grabbing nations of North America, UK et al had been robbing Zambians blind for decades, making off with cheap copper and somehow neglecting to pay their taxes. These are the same nations that call African regimes corrupt. It’s all a case of copper pots and kettles.

In the city there were people dying from AIDS, the endless funeral corteges to Leopard’s Hill cemetery. Then there was an epidemic of cholera due to polluted bore holes. Even the nation’s pigs were sick with swine fever. The Zairean Army over the border in the Copper Belt (now Democratic Republic of Congo) had not been paid, and so had taken to conducting armed raiding sprees down the Great North Road and into Lusaka. We were told if driving in the city at night never to stop when the traffic lights (robots) were on red since we were likely to be ambushed. To the east, the civil war in Mozambique was also spilling into Zambia, the fighters predating on already impoverished farmers.

Then Son of Kaunda started a campaign of national unrest ending in an attempted coup, the national football squad was tragically killed in an air crash, which depressed everyone, and I had amoebic dysentery which wouldn’t quite go away. Meanwhile Graham was based in the European Union Delegation, organising the distribution of food aid to the worst famine-stricken areas. His immediate boss was French and communication was conducted in fragmented French on Graham’s part, and confused English on Bernard’s part, and over all, they were subjected to the dogmatic rule of an envoy of volatile Mediterranean disposition who thought he spoke better English than Graham and would alter his reports. And so when the chance came to take a break in the Seychelles, we were more than ready for it.

There is more about our Zambia life at Letters from Lusaka I and II and Once in Zambia: in memoriam.  And before you join our much needed Indian Ocean getaway, I should say that I really loved Zambia – this despite the catalogue of human misery. The people we met, from immigration officials onwards, were so very gracious. It is also a very beautiful land with some of the world’s best places for wildlife viewing.

Now for some Seychelles rooftops for Becky. We were staying on the main island Mahé:

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Roof Squares 26

 

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Misty Morning Sailing Into New York

Sunday 8 June 3.15 a.m.

I had woken early, anxious not to miss our passing under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (that connects Staten Island to Brooklyn), a feat that had to be timed precisely to occur at 4.45 am to accommodate the soaring height of Queen Mary II. We had been at sea a week – for that’s how long the Queen Mary’s Trans-Atlantic Crossing takes – even now – and as the song goes – there had been nothing to see but sea. I was growing used to the meditative sameness of the view, and thinking I might just like to go on sailing forever. But then it was chilly too, and much of the time overcast; we saw not one sunset or sunrise, though one day I saw four dolphins. We spent our days and evenings after dinner roving the ship. You could walk miles, and often, despite the presence of 2,000 passengers and as many staff, we would find ourselves in utterly deserted quarters; silent but for the hum of ship’s engines. It was often very eerie, the more so after attending one of John Maxtone-Graham’s lectures on Titanic. He was Cunard’s resident historian, and his morning talks in the grand auditorium were one of the few activities we took part in.

On some days there were strong winds that put the top decks out of bounds – the doors firmly roped to prevent access. This was where the tennis courts, swimming pools and golf range were sited; also the pound for all those sea dogs who were accompanying their owners on the voyage. I spotted a labrador, dalmation, terrier and cocker spaniel, all under the care of the dog stewards. It made me think of the Trans-Atlantic Walking the Dog sequence in the 1937 Astaire-Rogers film Shall We Dance. (You can see a clip at the link.)

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At 3.15 when I opened our veranda door it was like stepping into a steam bath. Somehow in the few hours between going to bed and making landfall there had been a complete climate change. All around were small craft, distant shore lights, sea birds flitting by like bats. It was a shock to see so many signs of life out there. Soon the little Sandy Hook Pilot boat was heading our way, disappearing astern to deliver the pilot. A little while later I saw the boat veering off again, lights flashing. It seems that not only the pilot had come aboard. Later still, I came across two hugely scary flak-jacketed security men, one wielding a very large weapon. Overhead a chopper dogged our slow progress. The passage under the Verrazano Bridge went smoothly, complete with accompanying loud-speaker commentary from John Maxtone-Graham. It was all immensely theatrical like much else on Queen Mary II.

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The regal arrival next involved a stately three-point turn in front of the Statue of Liberty, this in order to dock stern-first at Red Hook, Brooklyn. We put in at 6.a.m, right on schedule, a blood-red sunrise over the new IKEA building. We’re here. New York. The last time Graham made this crossing he was three years old. They had sailed on Cunard’s much smaller Medea, a civilised first class only ship. He and his parents were set to start a new life in London, Ontario, where his father was project managing engineering works in a new power station. This new life would begin with a few days in Manhattan and a visit to the Empire State Building before heading to Canada. There was another connection too. We were carrying with us a copy of a letter written by one of Graham’s ancestral family members, Robert Baxter, a Northamptonshire farmer’s son who made the crossing to New York in 1852, and described the appalling conditions he witnessed in steerage when he had to go below to fetch water for his own cabin. At that time the voyage took 21 days and passengers had to do their own cooking, although Robert said he felt so sick for two of those three weeks that he could mostly only manage to eat the home-made cake he had brought with him. There would have been no Statue of Liberty to greet their arrival. She did not sail in until 1885.

Here is the last paragraph from Robert’s letter home.  He had gone to America to make his fortune. There is no doubting his sense of excitement:

New York is a dirty place but a wonderful place for business. It is very large. It appeared rather curious to see the telegraph posts and wires in all the principle streets and the railroad carriages running every quarter of an hour drawn by horses. They are beautiful carriages lined with silk plush. You can ride 3 miles for 5c. It is beautiful travelling. It is a splendid sight to see the fire engines and that is nothing new. I have seen them out 6 times in one day.

Arrival in a new country is often fraught with anxieties, and US immigration is particularly fraught-making. We began our own adventure with mixed emotions, but then thoughts of Robert Baxter’s enthusiasm proved infectious. A week in Manhattan and old friends to catch up with. It was bound to be good.

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Six Word Saturday

Please visit Debbie to see her stunning views of St Pancras Station. She kindly allows some of us to overstep the 6-word mark – just so long as we have a 6-word title.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell