In the blackness of night I feel hard clay of a dry riverbed under my bare feet. I am surrounded by a sea of, glistening black, sweating bodies, male & female.We are dancing, it’s one of the most exhilarating moments of my life. This the classic jumping dance of Africa. No music, they create their own . The sound of feet on hard clay is tantamount to wonderful, primitive music. They jump vertically into the air, the men so much higher than the women, the highest jumper obviously the dominant sire. Mine being pathetic, didn’t stop the older women desperately trying to mate me with an attractive nubile maiden. I guess my obvious western wealth was high enough for them
What got me into this fascinating, if awkward situation? Around 1988 I was working, learning, & just plain travelling in Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia, & Sudan. On my way up The Rift Valley in Kenya, after spending time with a Fuel & Fodder Program, around the exotic Lake Beringo, which heaves with hippos, & the sky pink with flamingos, I travelled North through the little towns of Lakchar, Ladwar, on to the larger town Lukitaung, the last before the Ethiopian border, where the Turkanan people eke out a living in the dry desert lands .
This is wild, cattle stealing country, as it has the unique distinction of being the crossroads where Kenya meets Ethiopia, Sudan, & Uganda, with a big Somalian influence not far to the East. As you would imagine, warlike tribal place .
The men, & some women, adorn themselves with an innocent looking bracelet, which when aroused, they whip off the rawhide cover , exposeing a lethal razor sharp blade, which can slit your throat in a second.,. I have one, but don’t use it.
So, I am getting to know the culture!, but still, my adventurous ( if a bit crazy) nature, would have me get to the last little village of Baku fifty miles out on the shores of Lake Turkana. There was no transport going there for several days, so it was walk or wait. The few people who live amongst the boulders of this inhospitable land, looked in awe seeing a white man walking alone. Was he mad?! But I always know, someone above,, or perhaps below! will look after me, & sure enough, a truck with fishery officers aboard, the only vehicle all day I was later told, came by & picked me up .
.Baku, built on pure sand, had just several tin huts for travellers, toilets being just a slit in the ground, entirely public. This was princely compared to visions of having had to sleep on the rocks beside the road. The one café owned by a sharp looking Somali family, leaned drunkenly into the sand that was main street.
The only industry here is fishing, & having been a fisherman my self, I was in my element. The fish were dried in the sun, & stored in great mountains, fifty feet high, in two sided tin sheds, often with no roof. What a sight, oh the smell. I happen to like the acrid, slightly decayed smell of dried fish, so basic, real, & am often reminded of this in my travels around the world, even here in Woolston . Due to the intervention of man, eg. dams upstream in Ethiopia, the lake had receded about ten miles from the village, & the fish with it, threatening this lifeblood industry. Oh, when will we learn. There is very little food , but if I was lucky for dinner I would buy a tilapia This plus the grand nile perch, is the main fish there.
Tilapia , a flat fish , slashed on top,with a knife & grilled to a turn, beautiful, with ugali (ground maize) eaten with the fingers. The locals could not afford the fish, & mostly lived on ugali, the staple diet in that part of Africa.
After a meal, in the evening the fishery officers & I would find each other, ( not hard as there is only one main café, ) to sit, yarn, and have a few beers, our bare feet in the sand on a bench outside in the road. These were indescribable magical moments, with the hot sand through toes, warm ambiance of an African twilight, birds carking overhead gliding towards the lake, & the comradiare of the men. They would head off to their beds early & I would be left alone with not a soul in sight, meditateing in a spiritual haze . “But where are the village people, they must socialise somewhere.” I start walking along the deep sand of the main street. & gradually imagined I could hear the beat of music, & yes, there it was, dance music, which I am drawn to anywhere. I follow my ears, down thru little streets, which turned into tracks, feeling venerable as am way out of my safety zone. But my star was still with me, & as the noise crescendoed I emerged onto a dry riverbed flooded in moonlight, where hundreds of villagers are dancing
Talk about “down at the hall on a Saturday nite”, & there was no music, just the wonderful rhythmic beat , of all those feet. They insisted I join them. What a nite!
I suddenly noticed dawns soft fingures creeping opon us & discretely retreated to my tin hut, escapeing feminine charms . At breakfast next morning I was duly harassed by a young tout, who insisted, “as I had danced with the young lady, she had been promised to me. I had to marry her”.Well! needless to say, not being that brave, I got a ride back to Lokitaung, with the fishery boys, (who got no end of mirthful enjoyment from my plight ) & wended my way back down The Rift, eventually to Nairobi, carrying with me great memories of Baku .
I guess I could have stayed & danced again the next nite,, But,, would I have ended up with two wives ? At least !.