Etherial Experience In Darkest Africa
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 and 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, and just plain travelling in Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia, and 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, and the sky pink with flamingos, I travelled North through the little towns of Lakchar, then 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, and Uganda, with a big Somalian influence not far to the East. As you would imagine, a warlike tribal place .
The men, and some women, adorn themselves with an innocent looking bracelet, which when aroused, they whip off the rawhide cover, exposing 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, and sure enough, a truck with fishery officers aboard, the only vehicle all day I was later told, came by and 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, and having been a fisherman my self, I was in my element. The fish were dried in the sun, then stored in great mountains, fifty feet high, in two sided tin sheds, with no roof as it rarely rained. What a sight, oh the smell. I happen to like the acrid, slightly decayed smell of dried fish, so basic, real, and i'am often reminded of this in my travels around the world, even here in Woolston . Due to the intervention of man, e.g. dams upstream in Ethiopia, the lake had receded about ten miles from the village, and 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, are 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, so mostly lived on ugali, the staple diet in that part of Africa.
After a meal, in the evening the fishery officers and 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, and the camaraderie of the men. They would head off to their beds early and I would be left alone with not a soul in sight, meditating in a spiritual haze . "But where are the village people, they must socialise somewhere." I start walking along the deep still hot sand of the main street and gradually imagined I could hear the beat of music, and 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 I am way out of my safety zone. But my star was still with me, and 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", and 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 fingers creeping upon us and discretely retreated to my tin hut, escaping 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) then wended my way back down The Rift, eventually to Nairobi, carrying with me great memories of Baku.
I guess I could have stayed and danced again the next nite, but, would I have ended up with two wives? At least!