31 Oct 96 - Gilgil, Kenya
Lord Delamere hands me a flat round rock. "This is copralite," he says. "It is a polite word for a fossilized turd." He explains how the buffalo must have dropped this some 30,000 years ago and the process by which the calcium from the soil preserved it. We are on the 64,000 acre estate of Soysambu which borders Lake Elementeita inside of the rift valley. The name comes from the Maasai word ol osoito sambu for brindled rocks. Lord Delamere also goes by the shorter name Hugh. He tells me that the Maasai have 80 different descriptive words for cattle. There can be as many as 120 head in a kundi and after only one week, a Maasai herder will be able to identify each of the 120. Hugh has 10,000 Boran Friesan cattle on the estate and 9,000 different varieties of game.
Hugh comes from the 100 families in Britain that married each other, he tells me. I haven't known him very long, and already I like his relaxed and unpretentious manner. He also seems to know an incredible amount about almost anything. He tells me that the word kenya comes from the Kikuyu word kirinyaga (white-headed old father) which was used to refer to Mount Kenya. Lady Delamere's father was the colonial Governor of Kenya. She tells me that she came with 250 foot shelving of books. This explains all the books in the house, and she has read most of them. "As far as wedding presents go, you can't beat a decent dictionary," she tells me. Lady Delamere, or Anne, had been married before, so before she and Hugh could wed, they had to prove adultery in an Edinburgh hotel. This had to be witnessed by three people, so the following morning a lawyer, a secretary and a chambermaid came in to see them in bed together. Anne's husband was Scottish, and according to Scottish law, it had to be done this way.
Hugh wears two watches on his wrists - one digital and one analog - so that he can see the time with his glasses on or off. "I am not British; I am Kenyan," he tells me. In 1965, he became Lord Delamere with the death of his father, so he had to change his citizenship in order to retain his land. Hugh is 63 years old, and he says that his height has shrunk from 6' 5½" to 6' 4¾" in the past ten years because his disks are shrinking. "It happens to us all after age 50." I am staying in one of the old stables. At one time, his father had as many as 140 race horses here. The stable is now a guest room. Not far beyond the stables, sits a Bronze statue of Hugh's grandfather - the Third Baron of Delamere. It was this man who convinced the British Colonial Government to let people settle in Kenya. He got sick of shooting things, and it was the ideal place for white settlement. "He practically invented the country," Anne says. Hugh tells me that writing was considered to soften the sword hand in the old days. "We didn't learn to write until 1440. All our first names were Hugo, and each generation spelled the last name differently." He tells me that his family has been appropriating other people's land since 870. In 1776, you Americans did what my family did in 1715. We were "royalists", and we thought that the proper king should be descendants of James II. However, knowing when to change sides is very important in life, and in 1821, his family purchased the Barony title for 5,000 £. Hugh's grandfather was given the 1,200 acre "Vale Royal" estate in England. It was a monastery built by Edward III in 1298. It had a two miles driveway and two acres of roof, and it was before the days of the motor car, so there were only two other families he could have dinner with. When the roof needed to be replaced, he left for Africa.
I am taken to see the "Tokyo-London-Boston & Elementeita Rail Road". It is in a small building behind the house. Hugh tells me that he was given his first toy train by a British spy at the age of four. Inside this building is one of the most magnificent model train layouts I have ever seen. Hugh starts flicking switches, and soon 8 different trains are running in different directions at the same time. They are all controlled by magnets on the locomotives and small reed switches which change signals, allow one train to stop in a station, then another to pass. It is very impressive, but it is not finished. Hugh loves trains, and he can disappear in here for days.
We sit down for tea, looking out from the porch across a vast expanse of Africa up the eastern wall of the rift. Hugh is telling me about his tea farm in Sebukia. "You grow tea above 7,000 feet and coffee below; getting flavor into the tea is all a matter of not starving it. Most tea companies these days are run by accountants, so they don't know about this." Hugh offers me a choice of his Sebukia tea or China tea. I chose Sebukia, and he gives me a surprised look. "Real tea comes from China," he says. I obviously have made the wrong choice, but I enjoy it anyway.
Hugh is very interested in selling "zebra hot dogs" along the road by his dairy on Lake Naivasha. They have a tender beef taste he tells me. The longer I listen to this man, the more ideas I hear. He tells me that the best way to shoot a giraffe is at the base of the neck, so it doesn't spoil the meat. He also tells me that the xanthophelia acacia tree that the giraffes graze upon produces tannic acid within 20 seconds of the first nibbles at the leaves. This is why you see them graze from one tree for a few bites, then move on to the next. This same tree is called the yellow fever tree. It grows near water, and in the early colonial days, you got a fever if you camped near it. It took people some time to figure out that the fever was actually from the malaria transmitted by the mosquitoes that lived near the water, and not from the tree itself. Hugh loves Africa. He feels the wilderness satisfies an atavistic sense that every man has to hunt, but Africa is also special, because you can leave your mark here.
Children are very important for the Africans. It is their way of being looked after in old age; the more the better. Thirty years ago, the Kikuyu wouldn't put any fertilizer on their potatoes, because the mzungus (white people) did this, and they only had three children. Hugh tells me that the tomato and the potato came originally from Peru. "You Americans pronounce them correctly, because they migrated up to North America before they were brought across to England." Hugh shows me his simbidians and explains how this orchid grows the best from 8,000 to 10,000 feet in altitude. The temperature must drop below 55°F, but not have frost, in order for it to flower. "The real money is in Fahrenheit," Hugh says. He tells me that sea ice melts at 0°F and the human body temperature is 100°F; this is where the scale comes from, but the guy must have been standing in hot sea water, because he was off a little on the body temperature.
Hugh's step-mother Diana Delamere was well-known in Kenya. She was the beautiful wife of the man who was murdered by Lord Errol in the days of "white mischief". Hugh doesn't think so highly of her and believes she was a nymphomaniac because she didn't ovulate properly. Hugh and I share the same love for flying. He uses his plane to travel to his different farms and to Nairobi. He sits before an old organ and begins pumping his feet to bellow the air into the instrument. Visiting this farm has been like traveling back through time for me - a glimpse of the past, from the past.
Down a winding dirt road, I arrive at the house of another character. This one is my age, and he is from my country. Doug McCallie comes from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and he used to direct fake documentaries for the movie studios. He worked behind the scenes on films like "Congo" and "The Mask" recording on video the creation of these films. Now, he is sitting here in a bathtub with his books looking out at the wilds of Africa. "This is just something I always wanted to do," he tells me. Doug packed up his job and bought every book he had ever wanted to read and left for Kenya. He has read over 110 books so far - literature, philosophy, religion, history, pop-science (history of science) - and he has even read the dictionary. He is especially proud of the dictionary. It was Merriam Webster's Collegiate 10th edition and this gave birth to the idea for his "Sweet Baby Ass Action Vocab Kit". This is a collection of 1,077 words that caught Doug's eye. "These are just words that I like," Doug says. They include words like eleemosynary, prurient, pulchritude, and sussurent (which means whispering). When Doug finds a word that he likes, he puts it on a flashcard and learns it. He gets up at 5:30 in the morning, with the sun, and sits for 4 to 5 hours at his computer writing about what he has read the day before. "I am not summarizing, but responding to what I've read. It stimulates thought," he tells me. He reads for the rest of the day until dark, "then I get drunk as a mother every single night," he adds with a smile.
This dream has taken its toll. His girlfriend came out here with him, but they started to drive each other crazy, so she went home. He has that far away look in his eye that wonders if he made a mistake. He misses her. "It is good to be here now," he says, "but to be here, you need to have done something else." Doug was hungry to come here and to spend a year reading. The thickest book he has read was Bertrand Russel's "History of Western Philosophy". The shortest was "The Fall" by Camus. The "History of God" by Karen Armstrong was interesting. He hasn't read the Bible nor the Koran, but he has to drink a lot of coffee to keep from falling asleep. For exercise, Doug built a raft to float around on the dam and read some more. He also has calluses on his hands from driving around on these roads. It is a two and a half hour drive to reach some of the social activities around here, but you still go. One of Doug's most memorable experiences was spending 10 hours watching a sunset. Everyone got stuck in the mud, so we just got drunk and played music out in the middle of the bush. Doug feels his biggest mistake was in not bringing more modern works. He was stimulated by Daniel Boorstin's "The Americans". It was a thematic approach to history. One morning, while sitting in his bath tub, he saw a lion kill a baby zebra and feed her cubs. He also saw 15 elephants in the dam during a thunderstorm. They were smashing heads and playing. "It was a coalescing night," Doug says with a dry smile, "rainbow, sunset, pelicans like jumbo jets landing on the water, millions of swallows and giraffes everywhere." Africa is like that liquor store sign on the road from Nairobi. "Thrust & Engulf" is a strange name for a liquor store, but it makes you stop and think. A friend of mine says that when people first come to Africa and a fly goes in their drink, they throw the drink out. After they have spent more time in Africa, they take the fly out and keep drinking. Then they get to a point where they don't even bother, and just keep drinking. Doug is in the process of packing up now. He has given away most of the books, and he has sold his truck. I think he has been touched by the "thrust & engulf" way of life out here. He tells me to look him up sometime if I ever get back home.
Dawn Ekdahl is a primatologist studying Patas and Vervet Monkeys not far from Doug. She tells me, "When you're looking for something, you're going to find it." She is referring to female primatologists perhaps not being as objective as they should be. "Females are food-limited, and males are female-limited," she says. This means that the females show more aggression when they are hungry, whereas the males show more aggression over mating opportunities. There is a whole field of female primatologists who are attracted to the theory of the powerful female. "It is all about 'female choice' and which males are allowed to forage or mate with the females," Dawn says. "Perhaps, the female has the ultimate control, but all of the studies that have been done were carried out by powerful significant female primatologists."
Charles Darwin was the first to recognize the importance of female choice. He noticed this with birds and the female's choosing the male with the most beautiful plumage. "However, if you look at literature, it is extremely male biased," Dawn says. These powerful women are keen on the topic of giving power to women. It is a challenge to the "man-the-hunter" and the "man-the-provider" concept, and by proving this, it stresses the role of women in early Hominid societies.
Dawn takes me to a private wildlife reserve to meet Vince Smith. Vince is a male primatologist, and he is getting eaten alive, she says. Apparently, male primatologists are not very common in this field. Vince shows me the same chimpanzees that I had photographed in Bujumbura, Burundi some years ago. I remember 3 months after I had left Burundi, I had heard on the radio that 100,000 people had been massacred in the capital. I couldn't help but wonder what had happened to the orphaned Chimps in the refuge there. A chimpanzee, once domesticated, can not go back to the wild. It will be killed by wild chimps. The idea had been to release them in a reserve away from wild chimps, where they could begin to live a semi-normal life. I thought it was a good idea, and then there was a war. I am now staring at them all on the bank of a river. Somehow, they were rescued from Burundi and brought here.
Dawn tells me about the Bower birds of Asia. They build beautiful ground structures called bowers to attract the female. Across the bower species, the more elaborate the bower, the less colorful the bird. "It is like money and humans," Dawn says, "The more money he's got, the less you worry about his looks." I find it a shuddering thought. Dawn continues to explain that there is some controversy over "female choice". Some believe that the females make the choice only for their offspring, and others feel they do it for themselves. Perhaps, it is a combination of both, but as Dawn points out, it is a powerful force in directing male evolution for female's benefit.
The Ring Doves (streptopelia risoria) also interest me. Dawn tells me that if a female responds too quickly to a male's courtship, this may imply that she has already been sexually aroused before the meeting. It may also mean that once paired, she may too easily respond to the courtship of others. "If she is too easy, he is not interested," Dawn says. Dawn points out that this is the same with humans. A girl that is too easy is less desirable, because the male will feel that she has already mated with someone else, or soon will, and will be less likely to produce his offspring. Dawn tells me that vervet and patas monkey females have the ability to hide ovulation. This is the same in human females, and it helps to keep the male around all the time. He can then provide the food, and it makes for a higher reproductive success. Somehow, the more technical this topic becomes, the less magical it seems, and I prefer the magic.
Bernard Musyoka tells me, "It is better to be trampled by an elephant you have not seen than by one that you have seen." Bernard is Dawn's field assistant. He is a Mkamba from Machakos, but he is also somewhat of a philosopher. He is one of the most sensitive and pleasant Africans that I have ever met. He tells me that the local African people would like to live with the wildlife and benefit from it if someone could show them the way. Bernard tells me that he is happy when he sees wildlife. Near his home in Machakos, there are vervets and he wants to bring his children to see the animals that he works with someday. He tells me, "We must conserve wildlife; it is a decoration of the world. If man lives with animals, these things make him feel he is in the wild - like when the world was new. It is important to keep this with the change of time."
Bernard is a very conscientious driver, and I explain to him that if the starter on his vehicle does not work, it may be due to the solenoid. Bernard looks at me with a blank stare. We open the engine, and I show him what a solenoid looks like. The blank stare is gone, but then he says to me, "If you ever tell a Maasai about a solenoid, it will be like playing a guitar to a goat." There is something about the relevance and the simplicity of his sayings that make them so endearing. He also likes to tell me, "If you have a basket of meat, and a hyena is following you, throw it away and you are free. You can find meat another day." Bernard asks me what time Dawn will be back from town, and I reply, "anytime from now". Bernard looks at his watch and nods his head in understanding, and I can only smile. Time is different in Africa.
I have met many pilots on my journey. There seems to be a brotherhood of people of the air all over the world. It is not a realm of competition, but rather of camaraderie. Jens Hessel is one of the most capable bush pilots I have ever met. He is also very modest. He flew the Gypsy Moth in the film "Out of Africa", and he has worked on many films of Africa. It was Jens who took me to meet Daddy Probin in Mweiga many years ago. "Pop" Probin is the only man I have ever met who was shot down by the Red Baron. If Probin, had a "Gin and Italian" for breakfast, he could climb back into his Sopwith Camel and take you with him. He never liked radios. Even at age 92, when he was still flying solo in Kenya, he would wait until the last moment before touching down at Wilson Airport in Nairobi, before announcing, "Probin landing." The tower would then scramble and remove all traffic from the way until Daddy Probin was clear. The only time a radio was any good to him was when the Red Baron shot his gunner, and the bullet that would have killed Probin lodged itself in the heavy lead-acid battery behind his seat. Probin trained most of the pilots for the Battle of Britain during World War II, so he had seen plenty in the warfare transition from Sopwith Camels to Spitfires.
Fuzz Dyer takes me up onto a
ridge looking north. There is a stone with a plaque that reads, "Our gentle
tiger". This is where a dear friend is buried. Tim Ward-Booth was one of those
people who was larger than life. His rallying cry was, "Come on," and he would
always find the quiet guy sitting in the corner of a room and bring him into the
center. Whoever you were, you would feel 100 times better, because you were
Tim's friend. I know, because I was one of Tim's friends. It was he who gave me
my first lesson in a helicopter. He believed in people, and he knew that to give
of yourself was the greatest thing you could give. When I learned of his death,
I was crushed. I was on my way to see Tim again. It was strange to me how
someone that always seemed to be there, would be there no more. As Fuzz and I
stand by Tim's grave, Fuzz's young son takes a beer from the back of the truck
and brings it to Tim's grave. "We can't forget a drink for Tim," he says.