Edgy

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs


The chicks were fast asleep! Swahili for sleep like a log is 'lala fofofo' I wanted an excuse to write that down.

Submitted: January 28, 2018

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Submitted: January 28, 2018

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For a number of years, my work took me through the Arusha National Park, the road we took climbs from the Ngongongare Gate, over a saddle and drops down to the Momella Gate. The Momella gate is where all the porters waited in the hope of finding work, carrying tourists’ equipment when climbing Mt. Meru, the second highest peak in Tanzania after Kilimanjaro.

The road was generally in shocking condition, especially after rain, although sometimes a few of the local youth who had committed misdemeanours in the villages were put to work moving rocks and filling potholes. These guys would create a roadblock and try to enforce a road toll. It was a dilemma whether or not to pay them. On the one hand, they were being punished, while on the other, any improvement to the road was a bonus. If there was a third hand, the money might go to feeding a family, but the fourth, the realistic outcome, would be the purchase of booze and maybe another stint on road maintenance. I found it easier to pay a couple of hundred shillings for a quiet life, but my mate Olotu believed we were already helping the people, so that gave us free passage.

The park authorities changed the location of the Ngongongare gate about the time we left Tanzania. Beforehand the road we took was more or less straight for a kilometre or so into the park to where another road took off to the right. The gate was a little way along the branch-road. There were no park fees to travel on ‘our’ road, a non-tourist route for mainly foot traffic, donkeys and local transport to the market town of Olkung’wado. The reason the gate was moved is vague, but guys pretending to be safari guides, usually in saloon cars rather than 4x4 vehicles, took cheapskate tourist as far as ‘Little Serengeti’. It’s just a little distance past the road junction. There they could see zebra, buffalo, baboons, giraffe, warthog, maybe an elephant, some egrets and perhaps a glossy ibis. But all of them at some distance, but the guide would have charged for the park fees, when in fact there were none. Once the gate was moved, those people no longer had free access. But it meant we had to negotiate our way through, almost daily.

Park rangers are a surly lot! They have an air of authority that they like to flaunt. I never knew any personally, so I have no idea if they are nice at home, or not. Especially in the earlier days, the parks had no vehicles, so rangers would stop you on the road and tell you that you were going to give them a lift! A good few of them were armed too! It wouldn’t do a lot of good to refuse them, but for safety, I made my own rules. They could have a lift within the park, where they had jurisdiction, but on the understanding I wouldn’t pick up any of their civilian mates. Outside the park I might choose to give one or two a lift, but not if they were carrying weapons. Whenever they were in the vehicle there was a silent air of unease.

The Crowned Crane might be the national bird of Uganda, but it’s found over much of East Africa. It’s a big, beautiful bird, about a metre tall with a wingspan of perhaps two metres. It wears sticky-up, golden crown of feathers. It has a pretty white face, with a black forehead and a red balloon-thing at its throat. Its body is mainly grey, wings are white and it has black legs. We would see this beautiful bird in the wetter areas we frequented but they are also found in the grasslands before the dry season arrives. They are a special bird.

My mate Olotu owned quite a sizable farm, and grazed cows, goats, sheep and he kept chooks. I think he had ambitions to have a menagerie! Because we often saw guinea fowl in our travels, and he hankered to breed them as well because he wanted to try their eggs. ‘Kanga’ is the Swahili name for the bird, and I’m more comfortable using it even today. I remembered Steven, the guy who had those special papaya plants, and how he used to husband kanga. To keep him from nagging me, I took Olotu out West, and sure enough Steven was able to sell him a sitting of kanga eggs. So from time to time Olotu showed me his kanga, which were successful due to the nurturing of his wife, more than any other reason. Their eggs were delicious too!

One day on our way home from work in the villages we passed through Momella, which has some fame for being where the John Wayne movie Hatari was filmed. The movie was about the live capture of animals for sale to zoos and collectors, so in this day and age, the subject matter is not so glorious, but the locals recall it with some pride.

We passed through the Momella gate and climbed over the saddle, through some rainforest where a cloud of iridescent blue butterflies took off from a puddle in the middle of the road. I was concentrating on sharp rocks in the road on a steepish downhill section of the road, when Olotu called, ‘Stop!’ Which I did! He was out of the vehicle in a flash, moving faster than I’d ever seen the old codger move before! He was chasing a Crowned Crane and her chicks!

With a smile as broad as the Serengeti, he showed me three chicks he had tucked under his sweater. Seriously, I said, what he had done was highly illegal and we had yet to exit the park, who knows when a ranger might appear! He replied that maybe for me it was illegal, but not for him. I was decidedly edgy! I had no doubt that if he was found to have the chicks while sitting in my vehicle, under his sweater or not, it would be me and only me that would go for a skate!

Sure enough, there were two rangers waiting at the gate for a lift down to Usa River, where they would catch a bus. Olotu was unconcerned and said the chicks were fast asleep! I’m not that silly! They were standing on the side of the road to my right and something important took my attention to the left, I made an exaggerated show of pointing to the lie and sped past them!

To his credit, Olotu, or his wife, they reared those chicks and all three survived. He assured me that he released them back in the park. I didn’t see, but he did ask me to transport them, but metre high birds in my vehicle? In a national park? They wouldn’t have been half obvious!

 

 

 

 

 

 


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