Feeding Vanessa the Kudu breakfast


One of the tribe

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Part 1 of 5

Goodbye, Gourmet: Kenya is not for the kitchen-hearted. Okay, I did find Skippy Super Chunky Peanut Butter in KPS (Karen Provision Store, the A-1 market for ex-pats) this week, leagues beyond the usual offering of American-style PB riddled with sugar. But if you’re hankering for Maldon salt, black beans, graham crackers, ancho chilies, Oreos, real dark chocolate and chocolate chips, Ben & Jerry’s, frozen spinach, non-stick cooking spray, Fritos, salt-cured-and-dried capers and flaky coconut for cookies, you are lost in translation. Furthermore, you can forget real maple syrup from Vermont, unless you want to pay $12 for a small, perfume-sized bottle of the good stuff. Some of these goodies are basic fodder for any gourmand, chef, or mad housewife cooking up trouble; some of it’s all-American junk food. But the rest you’re not sure how to live without. I’m currently suffering from Crystal Light relapse.

John Moeller: A one-time big-game hunter (and one of East Africa’s finest), John is now a conservation-minded safari guide who prefers to troll the Maasai Mara and other wildlife venues on foot. Not to fret if you’re trekking along behind him – he carries a very large gun, one that could fell an elephant at not too great a distance. Of course, John has had more than his share of close encounters of the animal kind, nearly being gored to death a few years ago by a Cape buffalo, probably the most dangerous creature on the continent. As you can imagine, the stories he tells over a proper snifter of Glenfiddich – that chui (leopard), this idiot, that bull (elephant) -- rival any you’ve ever heard. And suddenly, you have a glimpse of what it means to be a dreamer who dares.

I first met Mr. Moeller (all cock and balls, as he would say) on my very first safari in 1999, and we’ve remained friends through several adventures in several Kenyan conservation parks. Just recently while staying at Serian, he spotted a lion nesting under brush as thick as any Indonesian jungle (talk about tracking and spotting). Our hearts were beating fast as a hamster’s as we slid up in the Land Rover within feet of the male cat. Suddenly, John realized that our sighting had just pulled a Topi antelope into the bush with him and was growling over the intrusion. We left the lion to his lunch, but soon came upon a single-tusked elephant who was tearing down acacia trees for his lunch. (I thought a guy with only one tusk might be a bit cali, i.e., hot under the collar, but John could tell the elephant was mellowing out by the “relaxed look in his eyes”.)

A lion-hearted man who has a leonine head of silvery blond hair and a leonine look about him from head to toe. Simply put, you couldn’t put your life in better hands. Need I say more?

Oh, I almost forgot. He’s got one of the greatest laughs on the planet.

Mosquito Netting: Sometimes in Kenya, all you can do is pray.
Not infrequently when I sleep, often a muddled sleep, I dream of Ralph Fiennes as Count Almasy, the Hungarian mapmaker, in THE ENGLISH PATIENT. And my heart goes out to him for I too suffer from nightmares of being swaddled and smothered in gauze.

Go ahead, give it a try. Wrap your bed in the ceremonial cloth of mosquito netting and you will find, usually on nights hot as a volcano, you are trapped like a tuna in this shield that is meant to keep the mosquitoes OUT. (In my experience, it keeps more of them IN.) There you are, in the middle of the night, sweating, disgruntled, harried by “no-see-ems” and their infernal buzzing. There you are bursting at the seams to make it to the loo on time, and you are literally reduced to clawing your way out of the teepee-shaped cone of white, innocent-looking layers. Ol Doinyo Lengai (mountain of God in Maasai), please spare me the English patient routine.

Jay-C’s Garage: He is a man of mighty o’ temper with a garage bursting to the seams with business. Of Indian persuasion, Jay-C’s nose is beaked, his face narrow and his eyes, brown as peat and flashing with daggers. This morning, Joseph and I went to discuss a highly-inflated and misguided estimate that he’d given to us the previous day on the phone.

Mr. Jay-C was having none of it; he flared like a Fourth of July rocket slapped by a Molotov cocktail. “You and him, you come in here and say I’ve made a mistake? That I’m not doing on that car of yours what he [Joseph] ordered? You believe him? Get out of here and take your car with you!!” I’ve never seen such a fiery, hilarious display of anger since watching Disney cartoon “baddies” on Saturday mornings when I was a child.

I remained steady as a plank. Mr. Jay-C stormed out of his office, then spun around in the middle of his booming enterprise (go figure), tore up the estimate and threw it in my face. “Just for that, for all this trouble you’ve made, I’m giving you the gaskets and washers for free!” I went to shake his hand, he guffawed and started yelling at the mechanic working on my Land Rover. Joseph shook; I shook with laughter.

The next (second) installment of 20 PERSONS, PLACES & PRODUCTS I LOVE/LOATHE ABOUT KENYA includes Bedtime, Skies for Days, Freddy Face (& Atticus), and Gal Pals.