In 2008 I walked across the Mara in the company of a Maasai warrior. They pride themselves on their ability to walk. We’d walked about 15 kilometers when he asked:
“Are you tired, do you need to stop?”
“No, I’m fine . . .are you tired?” I asked.
“I am Maasai!” he exclaimed. “I can walk without stopping.”
“Well, I’m Canadian . . . I can walk without stopping too.”
We continued on our journey although now he was walking just a little bit faster and I wished I’d just kept my mouth shut.
It was during that same walk that he talked to me about the dangers of elephants. Part of this scene played itself out in my novel Alexandria of Africa. ( See my video here.) We also had the following conversation:
“Often there are elephants under those trees during the day,” he said. “But there are no elephants there today.”
I looked at the trees. “That’s too bad. It would have been cool to be that close to an elephant.”
“Cool?” he asked. “Do you think it would be cool to die? Elephants do not like people. If it sees us it will try to kill us.”
“I didn’t know that,” I stammered. “What do we do if we see an elephant?”
“You stay with me, you stay silent, and we try to move downwind so that he cannot smell us,” he said. “But if it sees us and starts coming toward us you start running away as quickly as you can. I will wait this long,” he said, holding up four fingers. “Because I am faster than you. “We will hope that he will chase me, but even elephants are afraid of Maasai. Most likely he will chase you. If that happens you need to stop running straight and start running zaggy-zaggy.”
“Zaggy-zaggy?” I asked.
“Yes, make many turns. Elephants do not corner so good. He might fall over.”
We didn’t see any elephants that day.
This scene, this conversation, has stayed in my head since then and I wanted it to be included in this Muchoki and Jata’s story, which I wrote four years later.
As we walked on that day there were dark clouds starting to form behind us. We started to climb up from the Rift Valley and up to the top–a climb that would take us to over 8,000 feet. As we continued to climb the road became narrower–still two lanes but almost no space on the edge for us to walk. Large trucks raced down the hill while others rumbled, roared and inched up the steep incline, belching out clouds of thick black smoke. I thought about the state of repair or disrepair of these vehicles and the driving habits of the drivers. Often the best time to pass seems to be uphill, on a blind curve. Our guards suggested that this route was no longer safe. They discussed with our driver an alternative and we turned straight uphill along a dirt path. I felt like Muchoki and Jata were with us as we walked.
As we climbed I could feel the climb in my legs and in my lungs. I thought back to the year before when I’d climbed Kilimanjaro and how I’d swore never to write about anything involving climbing more than a step-ladder. This was an 8,000 foot tall step-ladder.
We kept moving but were slowed by the climb. The storm was gaining on us. If it caught us we’d simply make a call, get our driver and step into our vehicle–what would Muchoki and Jata do?
Just as the rain was threatening we passed an abandoned building–Mini Stage Shop. The windows were gone. The door was gone. The roof was mostly gone. But this is where they’d take shelter for the night.