Day 271: Basking in Authentic Kenyan Hospitality [Part II]
The rangers put on tough faces for our picture. However, I later found pictures on their Facebook of them wearing my helmet. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Daily Updates are not edited and function more as daily journal entries – so if the plot seems to be all over the place or missing entirely and the tenses changes faster than a kaleidoscope, well, that's just the way it is.
William walks a bit slower, listens a bit harder as we walk along the the narrow dirt path toward the other cave.
“Sometimes there are buffalos down by the river,” he says.
Buffalo are one of the most dangerous animals in Kenya, outside of gun-totting hooligans.
At a distant, the caves mouth appears above the treeline. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
The path leads out into a shallow valley, the cave entrance dwarfs that of the Elephant Cave. Its mouth yawns up into the sky like a hippos' and stretches wide like that of a snake. It's a mouth you could build a rapper's mansion inside, with plenty of room left over for a grill.
A wind blows out of the cave, coming through the mouth in tiny separate streams. There's the sound of a fast running river. However there is neither weather induced airflow, nor a river inside. The water flows over the top, a trickling waterfall in the dry season. What tickles the hairs in our ears is created by bats. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of bats.
They fill the cave with life, pressing in and around us with a pressure of life you find in densely packed markets. Their numbers swarm the numbers of bats we saw in the Elephant Cave.
Deep into the cave, standing in the darkness, I am perfectly still. William and Moses have taken up positions away from me. There is a wide, low opening as the cathedral roof dips down and the cave floor rises up. An endless stream of bats thunders through the opening. Behind me, the light from what can still be seen of the cave opening dims from the dark cloud of soaring bodies. Stand there with arms spread wide as hundreds and hundreds of them pour across my body. Gusts of wind come rushing from the mass of bodies, single beats of air from the wings of an individual bat play on my face, my neck my arms. Slowly, I open my eyes in the dark as William continues to scare them down from the ceiling with the torch, flushing them down toward me. It's hard to keep my eyes open. Impossible at first. My breath in slowly and hot slowly, allowing my body to relax. There's a rush that fills me, slowly I drop one arm, accidentally knocking a bat.
Maybe it's best I do keep my eyes closed.
Bats slipped past me into the main chamber of the cave. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
I don't want to leave. I want William to keep chasing the bats down toward me, as there seems to be an endless supply of the winged mammals. However, it's time to go. Who knows how long it would take me to become completely relaxed with them rushing by my face.
Out of the cave and back on the dirt road to the station, a silence has settled in. I think both Moses and William are tired. It's the silence I was wanting to enjoy from the start. A silence you keep when looking for wild animals that easily fright. It's a welcome silence.
“So you are not a Christian? How can you look around this beautiful thing God created and not believe in his greatness?” Moses asks, breaking through the soft sounds of insects and rustle of leaves.
“If you ask a Muslim, he will agree with you that Allah created it,” I say.
“Are your parents Christian?”
“I am a pastor. I am the first member, the founder, of my church, the Fellowship of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” he says, his eyes growing wide with pride. “I will give you homework.”
“Okay, what's that?”
“You need to bring people to make my church,” he says.
I want to make a comment about a shepherd needing sheep, but Moses is on a run now and I can't get a word in edgewise.
There's the sound of a safari truck rumbling our way. Headed the same direction as us, we jump in. I'd prefer to walk, but William and Moses hardly hesitated to catch the lift, as if the walk through the woods was not what we'd signed up for.
We rush past colobus monkeys, baboons, a handsome female waterbuck. William says we'll find more in the field in front of the station.
I'd prefer to be walking and taking pictures.
Thankfully, a herd of zebra and waterbucks are in the field at the entrance.
Waterbucks and zebra at the park entrance. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Two female park rangers, dressed in olive green uniforms and carry AK47 assault rifles, are standing near the bike when we get back.
“What's in your backpack?” the plumper of the two asks.
“Video equipment,” I say, fudging the truth.
“It's such a nice backpack. How much did it cost?”
“The backpack cost 200 dollars, because it's specially made for the video equipment,” I explain, worried about where this is headed.
“It's so nice. Can I have it?” She asks, taking the bag from William who'd been carrying it. She puts it on.
It turns out that they love the Dice Travels helmet, with its furry little ears. I put it on to take a picture with them. Then, when the thinner of the two, the one who loved taking the photo, but doesn't look like it in the picture, pulls up Facebook to add me I discover this isn't their first photo shoot with the helmet. First thing on her wall is an adorable picture of her in the helmet, the fluffy ears juxtaposed with the firearm in her hands.
The sun, covered by thick rain clouds that are needed elsewhere in the country, is getting lower as we head out of the park. A long string of school children in dark blue uniforms is slowing moving toward us along the dirt road, like a line of ants worried about an oncoming storm. They scatter when they think I'm about to take a picture of them. Though in reality I'm photographing a flame tree, it's exotic branches and bright blooms fuel for a smoldering imagination.
I remember the first turn out of the park, but check with Moses on the next one as a soft blue settles over the rolling hills.
“You don't remember?” Moses accuses. “No wonder you were lost with the map this morning.”
Why the Old Man keep keeps taking these little snipes is beyond me. He directs me to one side of the road, where the path looks a little bit smoother, at least for a little bit.
“I really don't appreciate your company,” I mumble into my helmet, fully aware that he won't hear a word of it.
I smile at the thought of hitting every big bump on the way back to the house.
“Is there anywhere we can stop for dinner,” I ask, feeling like I shouldn't presume there would be a home-cooked meal waiting for us at Moses' house, though that's exactly what I was doing.
It turns out there is somewhere we can grab food.
We pop into a small shop in a small town. The first one is only serving mandazi and milk tea, so we find another.
We wash our hands outside. Inside, we order. Moses gets ugali and veggies.
“Do you want rice and meat?” he asks me.
“Ugali is fine. I'll just have what you're having.”
“You eat ugali. I didn't know,” he says in surprise, so much surprise in fact that it almost seems like he's mocking me, even if he isn't.
I'd already told him that I eat ugali. I told him I was up for eating anything.
“You don't listen very well,” I snap back.
The bowl of meat I also order, is served up with only bones.
The entire meal is piss poor, hardly improving my opinion about present company.
The woman over charges me for the food, though Moses argues with her, getting me 50 Shillings back.
“I think I'll take tea,” I say, slowly adjusting my sentence structure to match what I'm hearing in Kenya
We take tea in small crowded shack. It's well lit and warm, full of young Kenyan men eating mandazi and drinking chai.
Though I'm ready to go, Moses has to run an errand.
He disappears across the street, talking on the phone. I pull up outside the butchers, where he's trying to figure out what his wife wants him to buy, or at least I think that's the conversation.
“Meat,” he says holding up a white plastic bag.
The last of dusk's light fills the yard when we arrive back at Moses' home.
His three grandchildren come running to him, full of respect, delighted to see him.
My heart melts watching him pull them close. A good man taking care of his children's children with boundless love. It's nothing in particular that's said, but rather the look in his eyes as he bends down and tells him what he did today. And the looks in their eyes as they hear about his little adventure with the mzungu.
Inside, a small, batter-run desk lamp is the only source of light.
I sit back in a couch until Moses' wife comes to me with a pitcher of warm water and bowl to catch the water as I wash my hands.
We're having second dinner.
Large chunks of Kenyan cake, ugali, is served up next to a big pile of curried meat. The kids appear next to each other on the couch in front of me. All small on the big piece of furniture.
Moses takes a bite of some ugali then toss the piece onto the floor before moving on to another piece.
“The kids are saying we started without praying,” Moses says, a heartwarming hint of pride resonating in the words as he speaks them.
We all bow our heads. The children say a prayer for us.
After washing the sticky ugali and curry from our hands, there comes the sound of a rain.
It's dark out.
Moses is outside in the light rain, trying to move the bike. I join him, pulling the clutch in and pushing hard. The bike starts rolling.
Carefully, we get it through the doorway and into the living room, where it will stay for the night.
“Come, we'll go to Monoo's now,” Moses says, leading me out of his yard and down the dark mud road to Monoo's gate.
At first Monoo doesn't answer. However, we call him on my phone. One of his sons comes down to the thick metal gate and opens a door in it, allowing me through. Moses and I shake hands; we'll see each other in the morning.
It's bed time.
I'm wrong. It's not bed time.
The light blue door of the house swings open. Inside, the mostly empty foray is filled with rotund, child-tall bags of corn kernels. The next door opens up into a the living room.
The room is crowded with plush red furniture drape with white sheets, white lace hangs from stained yellow walls. A string of picture frames with different members of Monoo's family are strung up high on the walls, just below the ceiling.
Monoo and his wife immediately made me feel at home. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
It's not bed time in Monoo's house. It's nearly dinner time.
Monoo introduces me to the children.
There's a wedding photo up on the wall.
“When did you two get married?”
Monoo's wife's face goes soft with love, as she looks at her husband.
“Twenty years ago,” Monoo says. It's hard to imagine he's old enough to have gotten married 20 years ago.
“I think I'll save enough money to build a modern house and leave this to the cows,” Monoo says, glancing up at the water stained ceiling tiles.
A huge plate of rice is set before me, despite my protests – I have eaten dinner twice today.
“You have to eat,” Monoo says with a smile. “It's our custom to feed our guests, it would be an offense not to join us for dinner.”
We pile in. Afterward, we have a chai tea and talk more about life. Monoo has traveled some, doing rescue work for an international organization. When there is no work for that, he farms, slowly expanding the family's business, adding corn, then chickens and a couple heads of cattle.
Exhausted, I crawl into a bed. The twin-sized bed is one of two in the room. It's one of his boy's beds, the younger of the boys who is now sleeping in the larger bed with his brother.
The lights go off and I fall asleep in a strangers bed, in a strangers house, feeling more welcome than I could have ever imagined.