Day 360: What do We Name the Kids?
Hard to say no to a baby hippo. 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.
UP BEFORE the sun crests the mountains to the east of Lake Naivasha, Linda pulls on my gray hoodie before taking my hand and heading down to the waters to search for hippos.
Our ailing hippo, the one we thought might be dying in front of the campground yesterday, is gone.
“Flamingo,” I say pointing at a pair of pelicans coasting overhead.
Linda laughs and shakes her head. It's been a running joke since the first day, when I was convinced that one of the birds we were looking at was a flamingo – it most certainly turned out not to be. Our fingers interdigitate as cold dew flicks from the short blades of grass onto my sandaled feet.
The first rays of the morning's golden hour paint the trees and birds with heavy, warm strokes, leaving the trunks of the yellow acacia glowing orange. The water itself is a flat, cold gray as we move around its edges spotting ibis, herons, superb sparrows,
cormorants, and fish eagles.
The bird life around the like left little more to be desired. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
“Let's go farther,” Linda says after we pause at the first crush of hippos. “I want to see other hippos.”
It's the same, magical scenery as yesterday, with the tall seeding papyrus plants creating an otherworldly atmosphere balanced out by the swath of manicured lawns between the swamp plants and the electric fences of various lodges, campgrounds, and resorts.
We have the hippos to ourselves, their laughing occasionally cascading up and down the shoreline.
There's the sound of a baby whale breaching the water somewhere behind the wall of plants between us and the lake. It's the sound of a heavy exhale sending a fine spray of water into the air.
Crouching in the mud, we follow a hippo path through a papyrus stand, like hunters following rabbit tracks in the Midwest. It opens up to a swampy mess of water hyacinth dotted with purple blooms.
A tangled mess of hippos lays in the shallows. The sides of their face catch the rising sun, brightening their foundation with undertones of pink. Keenly aware of us, the beady little eyes of the ones on guard track us. It feels like a game of chicken, where I inch closer and closer to get a better photo, always aware that I might have to make a mad dash for it.
From the knot of bloated bodies emerges a baby hippo, who carefully clambers onto its mother's back, standing above the rest of the crush. Another hippo munches on papyrus stalks.
So many hippos. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
There's a startling roar as an argument flares between two of the hippos, their masses rising out of the water as their colossal mouths snap open, revealing hand-length fangs. Like a magician's flash paper, the burst of furry is gone in a flash as the two beasts settle back down into the water.
Some of the hippos have already broken free of the sleepy group, pushing into deeper water by themselves or in smaller groups. Their heads bob to the surface like stealthy surfacing submarines. They chill, their tiny ears wiggling and wiggling. Then, they slide back below the surface leaving behind only the smallest ripple, as if a particularly large raindrop had splashed down to mark their departure.
By the time the sun banishes the cool of the morning, we're headed back to camp.
“Okay, I'm going to shower and then write,” I say, needing to wash the lake muck off my feet and legs.
However, by the time I'm sipping at a pot of coffee, there's a change of plan. We're going to be responsible by heading into Naivasha to buy Linda a helmet and to get poor Rafiki fixed up. Just as importantly, we'll be scooping up all the necessities – cheese, wine, bread, and grapes – for a hippo-viewing picnic.
The sand below Rafiki's engine is stained by her oil. With the same level of concern as last time, I begin massaging my baby back to life by kicking and kicking and kicking until a spark catches and she sends out a billowing cloud of healthy blue smoke.
Up the fly up the sandy path out of Camp Carnelley and out onto Moi S Lake Road. With no bags hobbling Rafiki, the little beast gleefully pounds down the asphalt road. Feeling guilty about not having let Linda use my helmet on the drive up, I've given it to her for the drive to Naivasha.
My jacket flaps open as the wind wets my eyes and sifts through my dress shirt. My face mask is pulled up high over my the bridge of my nose to keep the dust out of my mouth as we turn at the junction with Old Naivasha Road.
A hundred meters down the road, we spot three giraffes grazing among zebra and antelopes in an open field backed by umbrella acacia trees.
A sign at the entrance to a dirt road leading into the acacia forest reads: No Trespassing. Use Man Cave Entrance.
Since Linda was wearing the helmet, I get to enjoy the wind in my hair. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
We stop to enjoy the sudden presence of some African wildlife before saddling back up, skating through a police checkpoint, and entering Naivasha.
It doesn't take too long to find a motorcycle helmet for about 30 dollars in a store that is a Kenyan attempt at a western-style shopping center. The shop is very much like the first place Sister Sarah took me to when I arrived in Kenya months ago. It's nice enough to be too expensive for most, but not even close to targeting a higher-end market.
I plop the helmet on Linda's head. She shakes it back and forth, the helmet's movements delayed as it rattles around her skull. On top of being a bad fit, the plastic feels cheap.
“Just buy it. It's got to be better than nothing,” I say.
“I don't know.”
“Okay, we can look somewhere else.”
We drive around for a bit without success, which doesn't bother Linda. The reality of the situation is that she is considering grabbing a matatu to meet up with another part of the organization she's volunteering with north of Naivasha instead of riding back toward Nairobi with me. If she does go north, she won't need the helmet.
Earlier, I suggested using the dice, but she has no interest in handing this one over to the cube.
“Oh, let's try this place for breakfast,” I say as we pull down a wide dirt road before turning toward a sparkling shopping mall to do our grocery shopping.
The woman squatted down in front of the otherwise nondescript one-story cement building with a door-less doorway fans a pile of glowing hunks of charcoal as she bakes a fresh batch of chapati.
Fresh chapati is always a good sign.
We find a pair of open seats next to a Kenyan man polishing off a plate of mandazi with his young daughter.
A bustling, smiling woman takes our order of beans, chapati, and tea.
“Oh, can we have a few mandazi too?” I ask, unable to resist the temptation.
“Aren't places like this amazing?” I ask as we take in our surroundings. “This is the kind place that I love to eat at when I travel.”
“I never come to places like this,” Linda admits.
On the mostly barren walls, there's a poster of WWF Raw wrestlers, with Ryback, Randy Orton, The Rock, Kane, and more awkward-looking dudes with big title belts over their shoulders. On the other wall is a 2016 calendar with a picture of the Obamas and, who I presume to be, the Kenyan president and his wife. Oddly, the calendar is titled “The Royal Couples.” On another wall, a key hangs from a nail like some sort of abstract piece of modern art.
Some people's interior decorating choices are very questionable. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
The food comes out nearly falling off small plastic plates. It takes a while for our tea to cool, though that doesn't stop me from dunking unsweetened, deep-fried mandazi triangles into it.
“The guy who took me to New York was so wasteful,” Linda says as we do our best to clean our plates. “He wanted to take me on a helicopter tour. I argued with him about it because he should have better things to spend his money on. We actually had a big fight about how wasteful he is.”
The German guy, who she met on Tinder, flew them out to New York City for a week or so.
“Yeah, but a helicopter ride. That's an opportunity that I wouldn't want to skip out on,” I say.
“I don't know. We did end up going.”
“That's really just amazing. You have some of the craziest stories from Tinder.”
We pull through the gates into the parking lot of the modern shopping mall, which stands behind fences, in stark contrast to the rest of the town. A few goats, herded by a lanky man, rip at tall grass among rubble and broken glass on the other side of the fence.
We pass through security, finding ourselves standing on an immaculately clean and polished tiled floor. There's a boutique store selling women's clothing, another selling glasses, an expensive coffee shop, and, at the back, a Tuskey's grocery.
“Come on, give it ago,” I say. “When else will you get to ride a zebra.”
By rocking back and forth, Linda is able to get the Zebra, which was sitting in the public area in front of Tuskey's, to roll in a large circle. Her childish smile makes me want to hop on one and race her down the hall, but I don't.
Once she's dismounted, we make our way into the store, which could replace any generic grocery in the west. The high ceilings and cold air hold the superficial smells of food that are pumped through groceries stores across America.
“What cheese?” I ask.
We try a couple, but can't make up our minds.
“It's just fucking cheese,” I think.
I check the die. We order a hunk of a cumin-seed hard cheese.
“What about these?” Linda asks, holding up a package of grapes.
“Sure, let's do that,” I say. I'd already checked for strawberries, but they weren't an option.
Having checked the ATM and pulled out a thick pile of cash, several hundred dollars, from Top-Journey, I'm not too worried about the budget for our picnic.
After picking up some fresh local fruit for Linda and a bottle of cheap red wine, we spot a welder standing at the open gate of his property not far past the circle at the end of Moi Avenue.
Rolling down the slight incline into his fenced-in property, we're surrounded by scrap metal, an old, defunct bus, and a shack with all his welding equipment.
I explain that Rafiki's rake needs mending, but that it needs to be possible to take it off.
“I just want to make sure it's not welded to the frame,” I say.
“Yes. These are too weak. I can reinforce them,” he says.
“While you're at it, can you also put a peg on for me?” I ask. Somewhere in Tanzania, I lost the passenger footrest on the left side of the bike, which was part of the reason Linda had been resting her wait on the bags.
Confident in the man's abilities, I leave him to it, crawling into a seat of the old bus.
“Hey, come onto the bus,” I call out to Linda.
“No,” she says.
She's suddenly running cold on me, as if the water heater has given out in December.
Linda reluctantly climbs onto the bus.
“Have a seat,” I say, patting the ragged old seat next to me.
The old bus is charismatic and stylish in its dusty way.
“No,” she says, before sitting down.
“We should do a photo shoot here. It's perfect. Super interesting. Nobody can see inside,” I say in an attempt to coax her out of her shirt.
She lifts her shirt momentarily, but isn't remotely interested, which sucks the fun out of the situation.
Silently, but not uncomfortably, we sit on the bus together.
Linda relaxes and cuddles into me. I pull her close and kiss her stomach.
“You're making me feel pregnant,” she says.
I laugh. Since she's come to Africa her flat stomach as swollen some, as have her breasts. On top of this, she's missed her period. However, she seems mostly unconcerned and unconvinced that she might be pregnant.
“Well, what are we going to name the kids?”
Linda had wrapped me up in the biggest, warmest hug when I presented her with the stuffed animal last night. Up to that point, I'd carefully been hiding it, not sure what she'd think about getting another present – she certainly wasn't overly pleased by the chocolates. I tried to explain that the stuffed animal was because she always wished for puppies when she had the chance to make a wish, but she cut me off. She knew. She understood. She loved it.
“Well, we already have Louis,” she says. Louis is the dog.
“He needs a sister,” I suggest.
We begin to spin into a ridiculous fantasy about the child that could not biologically be mine and most likely doesn't exist. However, it's the first time in my life that I think I would be okay with taking care of the little one if it did.
We settle on the name Mona.
“We'd have to get married,” I point out. “Where should we get married.”
There are some pros and cons to getting married in Thailand, but we agree that a beach wedding would be fun, despite my dislike of sand.
Before we're done blowing life into this new reality, the welder is done with Rafiki.
The work is exemplary. The best I've seen in Africa so far – and, with Rafiki, I've seen a lot of welding. Additionally, he went ahead and found the right nuts to fix the back brake.
With our bills paid and a quick lunch at the same place, we had breakfast at under our belt, we make our way back to the campground.
Curled up on some pillows in our favorite alcove in the common area, I begin to write.
Linda leans away, holding her phone in front of her to Skype her boyfriend. Though I can't understand a word of the German, it's impossible to focus.
Slowly, I drift into a sullen, despondent mood.
“What's wrong?” she asks, knowing full well what's wrong.
My distance, as always, seem to attract her.
It doesn't take her too long to soften me up. The die demands we have some wine, which I suggest we order from the bar instead of opening the bottle, which we should save for tomorrow's hippo picnic – today's was rained out.
“Can I get it?” she asks.
Her eyes are soft and wet, big enough that I poor boy could spend his life wandering around the mazes of her heart if he was so silly as to walk through those cosmic, sparkling windows.
“Sure,” I say.
Somehow, getting the wine gets complicated and the mood shifts again.
“This bullshit really isn't worth the effort,” I think, ready to just call it a night.
In the naked light of a bulb by a picnic table outside our dorm room, we take up positions. Linda has pushed to salvage our hippo picnic sans hippos. I don't care. I've had some wine, as dictated by the dice, but I don't want the cheese or grapes.
“It's like you're constantly putting up new fences between us,” I explain. “Sometimes you teleport me onto one side of a fence and then suddenly I blink and I'm on the other side. I've pulled down my walls. I think you're trying to protect yourself,” I say.
“It's not that. They're there to protect you,” she says.
It's long meandering conversation about vulnerability, as well as my role in her life.
“I want things to be less sexual. I don't want to be a sex object,” she says. It's an interesting paradox because in other situations she courts that sort of situation, enjoying being naked in front of a camera and objectified.
“Of course, that's fine. I understand,” I say.
Linda closes the conversation hard, focusing on her boyfriend, doing everything in her power to push me as far away as possible.
A silence sits at the table with us for a few moments.
I give her a kiss on the cheek. She smiles.
“I thought you'd never kiss me again,” she says.
Curled up in bed together, I'm careful to keep my hands in friend zones: one on her shoulder and another on her belly.
“In this moment, you're everything to me,” I say, because it's true. I lose myself in moments, it's a way to be completely present without the vulnerability of long-term planning. Vulnerability in a moment only lasts a moment or at least it can be quickly shored up.
“I know this doesn't make any sense, but I want your dick inside me,” she says.
Teleported back onto this side of the fence, I don't argue.