ARUSHA Steve met me in his Land Cruiser (their ads say "the best 4x4xfar") and we lunched at an Italian place al fresco. Then we stopped by his Serengetti Select Safaris office to look at my email, then rushed out to Marilyn’s school, International School Arusha, where she teaches French and special ed. We attended a meeting of parents of kids with special needs featuring a speaker from the U.S., held in Mare’s French classroom. There I met the current owner of Marangu Hotel and his wife, who took it over from our family friends, the Lanys.
We rushed to church for play practice, "Godspell," which both Mare and Steve had parts in. I chatted in the parking lot with the husband of the headmistress of the Lutheran Maasai Girls School at Monduli. Then home to Olasiti, Steve and Mare’s semi-circular, beautiful new home under construction, with stables for their nine horses which were built in a mirroring curve behind it and already in use. They and their two boys, Lane and Caleb, were still living in a tiny temporary cabin near the new house. I spent the night in the finished kids’ bedrooms wing of the new house, in Serena’s (with a spinet piano in it). We rushed off next morning without a good look at the construction yet. I wondered what had become of the legendary slow pace of living in Africa?
Steve’s dad, Dave Simonson, is one of the missionaries in Gokoo’s (Mother’s) story to whom she taught the Maasai language at the Lutheran Mission around on the other side of Kilimanjaro from us at Lasit. Read in Road to Kilimanjaro, I think in a chapter titled "Lasit," about how she started a girls’ school there because the government didn’t provide education for girls, and Mother and Daddy wanted literate, trained, Christian girls for the new crop of converted Christian boys who were growing up, graduating from high school and having a hard time finding educated wives. Well, it’s still a problem. Today there are good schools providing education for girls throughout Kenya, but Dave says they are clogged with non-Maasai politicians’ and tycoons’ daughters, so the Maasai lose out again. So, as his last big hurrah before retirement, Dave, with the collaboration of the local Maasai Bishop Kariungi, who happens to be our old nursemaid Sophie’s son-in-law, is building a private girls’ school exclusively for Maasai girls, to be run by the area Lutheran church.
Dave and Eunice had invited me to join a tour they were giving the next day for a group of executives who came out to see the Lutheran Monduli Maasai Girls School before they started a climb up Kilimanjaro. (How I wished I were going up with them!) During the tour at the school, I split off and went to talk Maasai with a wonderful old lady who was sitting on the ground in the sunshine sewing a beaded necklace. She, as a tribal cultural treasure, had taken part in the school’s inception. She knows no English, so I had to stretch my memory and blurt out what Maasai came. She’d listen to what I was trying to say or ask, correct my Maasai and I’d repeat it right, then she’d answer, and we’d plunge on. It was, whew, invigorating. When I really got stuck, we’d fall back on Swahili, an iffy thing for both of us . She’s sort of a grandmother to all the girls at the school, hired explicitly to pass on good old Maasai lore and traditional decorative bead-sewing skills.
That girls school is an inspiration. The girls are so eager and bright, and so decorous, the Maasai way. It was cold, so the uniforms they had on that day were red sweatshirts over blue skirts. Dave Simonson is a formidably successful fund raiser. He goes to CEOs and other moneyed people in the States (mostly in the Minneapolis area) who are interested in a walking tour adventure in Africa, and says, "I’ll walk you across a desert and you will barely survive, return looking haggard, pounds lighter, and love it, and donate some classrooms for the school," and it works.
However, yesterday’s tour group weren’t cross-country hikers. They were "only" doing Kilimanjaro. They included a handsome young guy who was taking and handing out Polaroid pictures of the girls while they were mixing with us at tea time (tea served with boiled eggs). He was the director of the Mayo Clinic, where Jordan’s King Hussein was currently under treatment for cancer and shortly died. The Maasai elders gave Dave the land for this school, just like my Dad was once given Lasit around the mountain for a mission station, but not until he’d shown them the plans for the school, all laid out in a circular pattern like a Maasai kraal with a strong security fence around it all. The matron, an American woman, has had a career in education, and was most recently dean of women at a university in Seattle. I had chatted with her husband, Marv, the AA meetings leader at Simonson’s church, out in the parking lot while Godspell was being belted out in practice inside.
Dave and Eunice took the tour group to lunch back in Arusha, the Mezza Luna again, then we wished them well on their Kili climb, and returned to Steve’s office to join the rest of the family who had arrived from Moshi: Arlene and Serena who came up by van from their boarding school, the International School Moshi, and Carolyn, Roy, and Betty who drove up separately. Carolyn teaches French at ISM. We all went out to Steve and Marilyn’s Olasiti for the weekend and a grand tour of the new construction.
This time I moved into the "boys’ room" with Carolyn; Roy and Betty into Serena’s room; Serena and Arlene into Arlene’s; and Mare and Steve and the two boys remained in their little cabin. Full houses.
Next day, Steve’s brother Nathan and son arrived to help Steve work on the master bathroom, Roy worked on making a rope ladder to the boys’ room loft, and we ladies kibbitzed. That evening we had a barbecue with Dave and Eunice at the cabin, with Sophie’s daughter Penina, her husband, Kariungi the bishop, and their teenage son, Kasaine, joining us to map out plans for driving around the mountain to visit Sophie, and Maho, her sister, the next week.
Dave Simonson had such a quintessential Gokoo story to tell us. She stayed at their home once while doing translation work, in their early days when things were still primitive on their station, and they had a longdrop for a toilet. He said the hole in the wood seat was cut out pretty far back, and apparently Gokoo’s legs stuck straight out when she sat on it. So, of course, being Gokoo, she let it be known. Without telling her, he went to town and bought a proper toilet seat, sawed out the front of the hole closer to the front edge and installed the real seat. Next morning he says they were all sitting on the verandah when she went in, and watching when she burst out, arms waving, exclaiming "Praise the Lord, they fixed the seat!!!"
I still had not found my lost Maasai author, but we were going on safari to the other side of the mountain, and who knows, I thought, he might just walk in out of the bush!
MOSHI Later at Roy and Betty’s, Betty heard me complaining bitterly about writing by hand, and reminded me I could be keyboarding on their computer and print it out. Wow! what a concept! Back to civilization. Up to then, I’d been trying to keep my journal in an elegant, blank, soft leather-bound book , "just like the one Magellan kept on his exploration around the tip of South America," which the Department of Geography and Anthropology at LSU gave me when I left for my trip on retirement. Alas, the pristine blank pages intimidated me when they proved that I didn’t know how to write legibly any more. Back to the keyboard. Roy and Betty are so high tech. Every morning they check their email for the three or four messages that usually come in from some of their scattered kids in Tanzania, Malawi, Florida, New Mexico, and Alaska.
How I enjoyed beginning to get to know all those sweetheart-grandkids of Roy and Betty’s. Caleb and Luke energetic preteens; Serena, Marilyn’s daughter, and Sandra, Carolyn’s, both in the throes of filling out and sending college applications by email. The four teenagers — these two plus Marilyn’s Arlene, and Steve’s nephew Seth — were attending high school in Moshi at ISM, and going home to Arusha weekends. So when they have free time Tuesday afternoons, they get to walked over to Granny’s to hang out and munch cookies with juice.
In Moshi, it was so good to hear the African mourning doves’ call again, unique and completely different from American ones’. I taped them. They go "Coo, coo. C’ cook coo coo." The rhythm sounds like "Hey, there. Who cooks for you?" (with apologies for borrowing the words out of Louisiana’s Barred Owls’ beaks).
I’m getting houseshoe-trained. In Addis, Fekade had insisted I borrow Amanuel’s flip flops as house shoes while there (after first making him scrub them clean for me!). Then at both Nairobi homes, Murungis and Mburus, they provided me with them as well. So here at Moshi, I preemptively bought a pair for the rest of the trip.
Roy, Betty, Carolyn and I spent a weekend away in a Maasai boma. A boma is a kraal occupied by a large extended family, in this case some of our host's twelve brothers and sixteen sisters and their spouses, each wife having her own separate hut (which she built herself, of course). Unfortunately, our host, Ole Kinue, had a real house so we didn't get to sleep in a hut on skins on a rack, but every other home on the premises had just that. In one sense, it was reassuring to me that the old world I was familiar with and grew up in still exists out there somewhere. But of course, at the same time I regret that such a majority of the tribe are still having to live so uncomfortably (by my standards).
We went in Carolyn’s car, "since hers is the reliable one at the moment," with Ole, as he’s called (which actually means "son of"). He was one of the medical students in the Assistant Medical Officer program at the multiracial Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) where Roy teaches. Ole is actually a pretty big local political power at home, not just a lowly student. He and his wife have a precious little guy, Melita, our grandson Nicky's age, plus school-age twin girls. They have the girls living in town with an aunt in the "servant’s house" on Roy and Betty's doctors’ housing quarters in the KCMC compound, so they can go to school and learn English. A nephew of Ole's has also been brought there to live away from the village for the same purpose, because he's so bright. They're representative of the lucky ones who escape living "in the bush." And the bush is where we went after we left Moshi and turned off the tarmac road and on to the dirt track.
"Now it's going to get very dusty," Ole warned. We immediately started jostling wildly as Carolyn drove fast enough to stay ahead of the dust cloud kicked up by the car. I had to rediscover that you ride best if you relax to jelly on these roads instead of trying to brace yourself to anticipate the jolts. Off we went across a plain dotted with scrub brush; it was desolate looking, but for Ole, and I suppose for Roy, it was teeming with life he could discern in the distances. In fact at one spot he asked to stop just a moment so he could deliver a message, and we looked around in bewilderment for a message receiver. Off he loped, and sure enough a habitation appeared in the bush a distance the equivalent of three blocks off the road. Roy tells of a trip he took with another guy out in the boonies where they came up over a rise, and five miles away they could see a herd of cattle looking as big as grains of pepper. "Oh," says the guy, "those are my cattle!"
At one time, this area we were heading for was known for the great number of giraffe that lived in it, so in Maasai it's named the equivalent of Giraffe Place. But, except for one fleeing dik-dik, we saw no game all day, much less giraffe. A dik-dik is a wee antelope that might come up to the ankle of a giraffe. We did see day-old elephant droppings, which prompted Ole to tell how when he was a young herder and they'd happen upon an elephant, they would hang a white garment on a tree, then flee the other direction while the elephant dealt with the cloth by stomping on it and ripping it up, even tearing up the tree bark where it had hung. Daily, as Isak Dinesen says in Out of Africa, "as though meeting an appointment at the end of the world," the elephants march from the hills where they feed on greenery, down to the nearest water course, in this case a river about 10-20' wide, with huge trees marking its snaking course across the otherwise empty-seeming plains.
The "road" got worse and worse, and in a couple of places the great billowing pillow of dust following us rushed up and completely engulfed the car so Carolyn was blinded momentarily as the windshield turned ochre, cause for great merriment, rather than consternation. Everything's an adventure "or else you develop high blood pressure," as Ole commented more than once. The road degenerated into cattle trails and soon it was braiding. Ole had to keep Carolyn on it by directing her "left, right, left, left," or even "straight ahead" (which was NOT always obvious!). We passed several bomas before arriving at his a couple of hours later.
In the middle of the boma is the thornbrush-enclosed cattle corral, with a separate entrance into it for each male head of a family. I lost count of the number of entrances into this one, because it kind of snaked around instead of being in a neat circle. Just outside each entrance is that man's first wife's home on the left, then subsequent wives on the right. This particular cattle boma looked like it might cover half an acre, because this family was very wealthy with many cattle. It is so old that it is mounded several feet above the surrounding ground, and they said it has already been lowered once by setting it on fire and having the fire smolder underneath several days, then the whole thing collapsing. You'd think it would stink peeyuu, being a pile of dung, but it doesn't since it's all dried out, and when walking on it, you just have to watch to avoid that day's fresh contributions.
We arrived early enough in the afternoon to find only women around, and a horde of children. It seemed like the kids engulfed us. They were all wearing little shukas, ranging from very grubby to very clean. We sat and drank tea on the shaded, afternoon side of Ole's long, six-room house, which is oriented north-south. He designed it that way with a morning. and an afternoon shaded side, with a bench built into the house wall down each side of the length of the house, where the elders can come and sit to hold discussions.
A few white goat kids bounced and bleated around, while the Maasai kids shyly drew shapes that resembled letters in the dust on Carolyn’s car. Then they got bolder and bolder, and finally ended up all up inside the back of the suburban when they saw it was ok with Carolyn. They started singing songs antiphonally, one kid belting out a lead, then the others all chiming in with a response. They sang with a strong beat and even got in some syncopation.
Evening drew on and we started hearing the cattle's bells approaching. Oh, but first, the comical little white kids, on their pointy stiletto hoofs, sensed their mama goats approaching, and rushed off to attack their udders before they'd even fully arrived and stopped walking. Then as cattle started pouring into their corral, Ole said to come meet some of his brothers, and we all migrated over there. The eldest brother is tall, stately and wearing glasses; another is a bit roly-poly and gregarious; two or three others are all different, but each one, including Ole, carrying a long whitish herding stick they occasionally leaned on, all the while talking. Conversation concerned our family and theirs. The eldest brother said his chief wife is like an mzungu (white) because she only had two children. Betty pipes up and says she had six, and he exchanges high fives with her, or rather the palm, thumbs, palm handshake, saying she makes a good Maasai wife. Joking is a big part of Maasai's lives. He said he was on the lookout for another good wife. Carolyn looks pretty good, he says, nice and tall. When she asks what dowry he'd pay, he says whatever Roy asks. Lots of shared laughter.
When the cows first came in, the ones in milk were lowing insistently for their calves, but the calves were herded, or rather shoved most unwillingly, into a calf-holding pen. One by one each calf was released to its mother to help let the milk down when the owner was ready to milk it. Each wife milked her own cows, milking on the side opposite the calf, into a pint-sized enamel cup. Each cow seemed to be only good for less than a cupful, which was poured into a gourd before loosing the next calf, and going to its cow. One cow kept kicking at the milker's hand, and finally knocked a big splat of milk all over her foot. Betty and Carolyn murmured "Pole" in dismay, but got no response from the woman. (Pole [po-leh], said once, means commiseration, and has no equivalent in English.) But just then another wife walked by and noticed the spill, then the two of them let out a peal of laughter together. Obviously their pastoral ancestors must have been the ones who invented the saying about not crying over spilt milk. One woman apparently lacked a cup because she was trickily milking directly into the less-than-two-inch mouth of her gourd. The cow repeatedly kicked at her hand and spoiled her aim, trying to give its calf all its milk, they said, but the woman finally outmaneuvered it by pulling the teat up higher than it could kick, and tugs of milk whooshed down into the gourd.
The next morning, Ole suggested a walk, and it ended only part way around the boma at the home of a widowed sister. Her home was the traditional kind of oval hut, and she invited us in to view it and have a cup of tea. There was a three-stone fireplace in the center of the floor. First Ole explained facets of the interior architecture of the structure, dictated by tradition, and much more complex, intricate, amazing, and cunning than I’d ever known could be incorporated into a "simple" dung and mud hut. Then she got some kindling, stirred a coal out of the ashes and built up the fire, produced a pot of water, and some cups, sugar and milk, "from my storeroom," she chuckled as she reached under her bed, and soon we were relishing a proper Kenya "cuppa" tea.
A week later, we went to Tarangiri Safari Lodge, where I stalked a troop of baboons and ended up so close to them I was too scared to turn around and retreat. Thank goodness when I heard footsteps come up behind me it was Roy. Whew! It happened this way.
At Tarangiri we looked down on miles of baobab tree-dotted savannah spread out in a vast basin, with a braided river running through it off to the right. We were high on a ridge where the lodge is perched just right so you can sit on the verandah sipping something delicious and watch the Garden of Eden in business. First when we arrived about noon, I saw one or two elephants down there and excitedly shot pictures where they occupied about 1% of the frame. Then I looked again, and realized that there were dozens of elephant, zebra, and giraffe — I swear you could just sweep across the view with binocs and have some sort of animal in the field the whole time. Had to drag myself to join the others for lunch, Roy, Betty, Carolyn, and Sandra. Scrumptious watercress soup, mouth-watering roast beef and several other kinds of meat, and vegetables, salads, fruits, feast time. The huge circular dining room under a thatched roof also looks out toward the view, wide open with no windows, just a low stone wall. We visited with Annette and Jon Simonson who were lunching late like us. Jon is the brother of Steve (Roy's son-in-law), and the two of them run the lodge and Serengetti Select Safaris, Jon at the lodge, and Steve in town in the office handling bookings and logistics of transport and provisions for tour groups.
Annette told us about their kitchen visitors and that low stone dining room wall next day. You see, the back side of the kitchens and food storage is very securely walled off with thick, high stone walls, impenetrable roofing, and metal gates so no predators can get in. So instead, a leopard and a badger came in after hours our first night there through the dining room, going for the smell of the roast beef’s grease in the kitchen ovens. The guard heard a racket. It was the leopard knocking pots and pans with his swishing tail, and as the guard went in one of the double doors to the kitchen to investigate, he passed the leopard exiting out the other half of the double doors. But the badger had already done the actual damage; it had ripped the doors off the ovens.
Anyway, as you can guess, we spent a lot of time on the verandah watching herds of beasts down below, or rather I did. The others spent more time at the swimming pool since it was all familiar to them already and the day was beastly hot. At the pool and even in all the trees around the tent/cabins there are jillions of birds that alone could occupy your whole time for watching stuff.
Sometimes there were elephant or giraffe or whatever down at the river drinking, or sloshing around in it all at the same time. Everybody down there seemed to keep on the move; it was too hot to stay still. If they did stop and lie down like I saw three wildebeest do, it was only briefly, then they were up and moseying on again. It was interesting to see paths cross, and predict who would give way to who. Baboons gave way to impala.
That troop of more than fifty baboons came on the scene late in the afternoon. I was excited to see them, as we used to watch them from across the valley raiding corn plots a lot at home at Siyabei when I was a kid. First they showed up way down on the left side of the arena, all scattered but moving slowly and persistently toward the right, so I was pretty sure they were heading for the river. Actually however, their path converged with the humans' path, which I was conscientiously staying on as requested by signs on it, up on the ridge. I didn't know they converged, and just thought it was great that they were coming parallel to me. Then I was surprised that it seemed like they kept coming higher and even closer. Finally the truth dawned on me when the front big guys showed up ahead of me on "my" path, right where it reached a crest at the end of the ridge. There were all the juveniles and mamas and babies (occasionally screaming for attention) and a few more massive males coming right along through the bushes just below me, heading up to the crest. That stopped me and I started taking pictures.
They studiously ignored me twenty or thirty feet away and seated themselves in a row on the crest with their backs to me looking at the beautiful view out over the river and valley below. But, in keeping with the way they'd been constantly on the move, gradually they started disappearing over the edge, and at last all that was left was one very big male, and a smaller juvenile, and a big mama with a baby. The mama made grunting noises to the baby, groomed it, let it run a little, hauling it back. The juvenile appropriated it and started grooming it. Then the big male came and dragged it away by one leg, about ten feet. The baby screamed, lying on its back and baring its whole mouthful of teeth up at the male, screaming nonstop. The male looked bored. It looked like he might have had a toe holding down the baby's foot. Suddenly, the baby shut up, moved away a little, and, realizing that he'd gotten away with it, scampered away back to mama. Each of them, even the baby, had glanced at me once or twice, but didn't find it very interesting. However, other times I've seen baboons suddenly unexpectedly attack each other, so I was both scared, well aware of their huge powerful jaws and teeth, and rooted.
This is about when Roy came up behind me, giving me a start. But when I saw who it was, rather than another baboon, I felt much safer, and we watched quite a while. I had wanted a look at the view from the crest in the first place, so I kept expecting them to move on so I could go look over the sharp dropoff. Finally all went over the edge except the big male, apparently the rear sentinel. We approached a few steps, and he continued to look bored. A few steps more, and he just barely moved over into the shade of a bush on the very edge, but no more. So we conceded that spot to him, and went over to the left of him to look over. There were the rest of the troop, just over the edge and keeping silent, right there in the tops of small trees which grow on the steep wall of the ridge, just feet away from us, grooming each other. We all eyed each other a bit, then we decided to leave them in peace.
Roy suggested we go to the other end of the path, past the dining area and all the cabins, to where Jon's house is, near the water tank. There was a delegation of elephants waiting for us there! Not really us. They were trying to persuade some workmen to cease work so they could get to the leaking water supply tank. It's a big metal reservoir way up on sturdy legs, sort of small city size. They had caused the leak earlier by bending the outlet pipe, and the workmen were there planting posts to erect a fence around the outlet pipe so it could be mended. They were joking rather nervously with Roy in Swahili, and he said they're wondering if the elephants wanted the water or the workmen. Soon more and more elephants, whole families, were showing up, all facing the tank, switching their trunks and moving about restlessly. When a couple of huge bulls moved a few steps closer, the workmen dropped their tools and retreated. Another tourist couple had joined Roy and me, standing near Jon's house, watching. There's a small pond behind his house, and grudgingly some of the elephants had started going to it, obviously much more interested in getting at the fresh cool trickling water coming down from the tank. I took a couple of pictures, and about then Jon drove over in his Range Rover.
"If they decided to come, you'd never outrun them," he observed dryly. We moved off. "Jon's very protective of his elephants," Roy said. "He gets eyeball to eyeball pictures of them at his living room window at that pond, and doesn't take kindly to gawkers riling them up, no matter who it is."
LASIT Well, the highpoints of this trip kept leaping higher and higher, like the stock market back in the U.S. at the time. But after I got back to the U.S. and people asked what I enjoyed most on the whole round the world trip, this next one was it. I’m writing this part months later back in Pennsylvania, and still finding it very hard to adequately express, to do justice to such a rare, quintessentially life-compressing experience.
The bare facts are these: Roy arranged a small safari around Kilimanjaro from Moshi on the Tanzania side to Lasit (rhymes with ‘loss it’) in the foothills on the Kenya side. This was where I was taken when newborn, and where we five kids did a good portion of our growing up.
Dad built a small dam at that mission station where we swam and fished and rafted. He installed a pipe where the Maasai could come and catch their water directly into their gourds. High Lasit trees (acacia) shaded our home, as well as Eucalyptus, and other trees called Grovillea robusta which Dad got as slips from the government agricultural service. They grew tall and straight and eventually made church pews for many of the small churches he eventually built all over the Maasai Reserve. I remember our taking evening walks to look again at the bleached skull and pelvic bone of an elephant not far from the house. Elephants loved the deep gorges cut into those foothills of Kilimanjaro, so deep that the tops of trees in the mature forests down in them were even with the ground we were walking on above. Yellow-barked fever trees lined a little river below the ridge our mission station was on, where guinea fowl flocked to roost every evening. They made good eating, nabbed with a small .22 rifle that left only one bullet to remove before we plucked and roasted them. We all knew how to shoot and handle a gun properly. We lived on wild meat, especially liked waterbuck, and hardly knew what beef tasted like. Another favorite, pungent memory is snitching half-cured banana slices which Mother was drying in the hot attic of the garage to store later and take as snacks on safaris. Aah, Lasit.
Well, back when the newborn baby "Esita" was brought back from the hospital to Lasit, two young sisters were also brought into our home: Sophie as a nursemaid, and Maho to help around the house. Over the years, with few lapses, Roy, whose career kept him in Africa, first in a flying doctor service and later in health care training, stayed in touch with Sophie. He and she have called each other brother and sister all this time. So, off we went around the mountain to look up Sophie and Maho, and to see what Lasit looked like these days. Sophie’s daughter Penina’s family in their car accompanied Roy, Betty and me in Carolyn’s car.
Deep blue Lake Chala was on our route. It’s a crater lake, and we drove up to the rim to look almost straight down into it. Kilimanjaro is only the youngest of a string of volcanic eruptions in that part of the Great Rift Valley, 6his worn down old volcano and Mt Meru among them.
After Chala, we found Sophie at her home at Taveta, half-way to Lasit. We exchanged hugs, and warm handshakes with all the relatives who had also shown up. Although Sophie doesn’t speak English, most of the younger generations do there now. Penina’s siblings were especially interested in seeing her. A sister, Elizabeth, and her husband, who have an insurance business in Nairobi, had driven all the way down to join the occasion.
Of course, our arrival meant it was tea time. My command of Maasai was so shaky that Penina had to do a lot of translating between Sophie and me, though I caught a lot of it. Sitting practically nose to nose talking avidly over our tea cups, Sophie exclaimed to me, "You have your father’s eyes!" and I said, "Ah." Then a little later she said, "You have your mother’s nose!" and we all cracked up.
The more we talked, the more I began to recognize the zesty personality that had attracted our parents to Sophie as a child, and moved them to give her a home. I’d always wondered why my memories of Sophie were such a blank when the rest of the family had talked about her avidly over the years. This was when I finally realized: it was because I was an infant at the time, she was my nursemaid, or ayah, and I could not have remembered her!
After tea, we drove most of ten miles then walked the rest of the way to visit her lush banana garden. Each tree grows in a 3 ft-deep well which holds the water ditched to it from an elaborate irrigation system which has been maintained by the tribe for generations, and keeps the area lush. Mighty palms and jungle-high tropical trees line the main source canal. At 74, Sophie has finally given up bicycling there daily on her own, and because of arthritis in her knees has agreed to riding side saddle on the back of a bike kindly pedaled by a teenage grandson. That night she put us up for the night in the country mansion of an absent rich relative, a Nairobi architect.
In the morning, with her in Penina and Kariungi’s car, we went on around the mountain. We drove carefully along cow-track-like roads, but fast enough to keep ahead of the dust billowing up from behind, and with the two cars spaced well apart.
First we went to sister Maho’s at Loitokitok six miles up the road from Lasit. She and her daughters and granddaughters had prepared a big spread, and almost all of her eleven children and their offspring were present. We feasted at a big, lace-covered picnic table out on her front lawn under huge shade trees, with Kili as the backdrop. We visited and walked and visited and walked. At one point in the house eating a light supper, I took off my shoes. "You have your Mother’s feet, too!" Sophie observed. It was funny and comforting to know she’d known our parents so well.
We began learning some of the great gaps in their lives’ stories. For one thing, Maho had never lived in our house as Roy had remembered. This was because she and Mother could not get along. We were amused to hear that this was because they were both kali. That means sharp, or maybe monumental when applied to personalities. Anyway, they didn’t coexist smoothly, and Maho chose to live in the village with relatives, even though she came to work every day. When I got back to the States and talked about this to Grace, who likes to reminisce about being the rebellious one of us five, she remembered being buddies with Maho.
"We tried to do everything we could to get out of eyesight and earshot of Mother because she couldn’t stand seeing us enjoying ourselves and not putting us to work. Sophie was old enough to be a responsible ayah, but Maho and I were the same age and just kids," Grace said. "They became ‘closer’ than the other girls and boys Gokoo took under her wing, and Maho was more of a sister to me than Ruth Marie was because she (RM) was away at boarding school when I was the barefoot neo-Masai brat running around getting tapeworm and flat feet and wishing I didn't have to wear clothes, and especially a hat!" Grace would have been six when the two sisters first arrived. She remembered going out into the woods with Maho and other Maasai women and girls, gathering firewood, hot sweaty work, and bringing it back slung from a tumpline across her forehead, working just like an African woman. They’d "sell" the wood to Mother for pennies. She also remembered sitting around with the little girls in the Girls’ School sewing classes, sewing dresses out of cloth gleaned from disassembling missionary barrel dresses by picking the seams apart.
Before we left Loitokitok, the two old sisters spoke earnestly to us about two of their adult grandchildren who needed a break of some sort, preferably jobs to get them out of a bleak situation. We couldn’t offer anything but advice to complete high school first.
They put us up for the night in an empty missionary’s
house at Loitokitok. Next day we drove over to look at Lasit, which has
completely changed except for the presence of the spring where our lake
used to be. The water is still channeled through a pipe for the people’s
access as before, only now they use more plastic containers than gourds.
We think we found one bedraggled old Lasit tree that might have been the
one in our front yard, now in the soccer field of the local primary school.
The "mud and manure mansion," as Mother called our home, is long gone,
as is the tin church. But the current local pastor at a small stone church
was very excited about our visit because he had recently read a copy of
Road to Kilimanjaro and wished he knew how to get in touch with
the Shaffer family. And here we were!