Friday, August 27, 2010

the joker.

(maasai boy laughing monduli chini, maasailand. pic by craig doria:

game over, oh bestests. the joker's been slapped onto the green velvet covered bridge table. holidays are officially over and it's back to school for all the naughty wicked people. it's come as rather a rude shock, it must be said. the last two days i have sat staring at paper after paper in a blank way in long school meetings. it felt like staring into an old landrover engine which needs fixing. haven't a clue. can't. not interested. get a mechanic. yawn. which reminds me of the time when i did my safari guide's licence in zambia many moons ago....part of the course was Mechanics. god forbid.

question 1: how does four wheel drive work? (4 marks)
(how easy does this get, she mused, clapping her hands happily in her head)
answer: well. you pull the littlest gear lever back to where it says 4WD and make sure the hubs are locked if you are in a toyota and not a landrover.

question 2: describe the workings of an internal combustion engine. (2 marks)
(wtf? sinking feeling. bewildered and sweating palms followed by resentful anger directed at all males of our species. in her head.)
answer: sdfhwoeihwefzcvw8e3r50237owindefmanvw0ierruw0hjwsoidnvkjhso98eurwer

i surprisingly passed the exam, believe it or not. (do you know what a dendrocygna viduata is, people? i do. it's a white faced whistling duck and dontcha forget it, you hear? it takes you places in life.) i did not pass the walking exam. i didn't even try for it. only the driving one. you need to know how to shoot a .375 for the walking one. and you need to be able to shoot down charging buffalo or elephant in the walking one. i can't shoot a gun which is a super sized confession for the daughter of a professional hunter. (well. i CAN shoot a lever action .22 so there) anyway, i always preferred taking the old ladies out who couldn't walk anymore (why on earth had they booked into a Walking Camp then i hear you say? well quite.) i liked the old people with hip transplants and dicky hearts who had a perverse interest in mopane trees and squirrels. i remember once seeing a herd of kali cow elephants cross the track way ahead. i stopped the landrover and said to the dear little old lady next to me, "we're going to go the other way, ok?" she nodded her head happily, replying " whatever you say dear." you might think i was chicken but i wasn't. i had a keen sense of self preservation. those elephant on the 05 were kali as hell. they took no prisoners. i stayed well clear of those bastards....(i have just asked safari craig if he has any pictures of charging elephant. he sniggered, " i have more pictures of charging elephant than you can poke a stick at." i said: "i want a vicious one." he said: "i can give you vicious. lots of vicious."

(charging elephant, lake natron area, pic by craig doria:

i have poked my head into my classroom once. i have searched long and deep inside of me for that old spark of inspiration and am happy to report that way down in the ashes i see an ember glowing. it just needs a little bit of wind, some twigs and fear to get it firing again. where is that charging elephant when i need him?

toodely toot oh best beloveds, bisous X.X.X. sparky, red hot ones, on yer lips x j

Friday, August 20, 2010

PS: magnificent magdalena in rwanda

this post goes with my post from yesterday. i received this email and these photographs from Dr Mags yesterday:

You are so sweet and it was great working with you, sure it was all joking!! I am attaching few pics of my patients in Rwanda and DRC - also quite cool people they are!
Big hugs,
if anyone is interested for more check out the website:
the work these people do is fascinating. and these creatures are mind blowingly magnificent. just like magdalena.

(all treatment has to be done with a dart gun)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

two brilliant people and why i'm tired

days flip past like cards in a card game.
i'm waiting for the joker. i forgot to remove it from the pack.
the school term is approaching. closer and closer. quite suddenly i think, " i can't do this! i can't i can't...wail wail etc.." let's see. i'm terrified.

in the meantime, back at the ranch....

i have been traipsing after my friend, mags, who is a vet. so DOCTOR magdalena. she's not just any kind of vet but a vet for gorillas and chimpanzees. and horses. and dogs and cats. she lives in rwanda and treks into the forests to check up on mountain gorillas. she's awesome. and full of energy like a whirly gig. it's exhausting sometimes. she never ever stops. oh and did i mention she rode dressage for poland many years ago? she knows stuff. so while she was here, on holiday, training my horses so they are machines, it was decided we would geld my little colt, sukari. (chop his balls off, in other words.) we borrowed The Emasculator. dot dot dot...

quite suddenly the little hill house is empty of all male members. two boys have headed into losamingora mountains on safari (for 7 days bird shooting and doing bally boy things in the mountain forests) the silver back (as in safari c) baulked and disappeared back to maasailand. sadly mwali had to hold the colt whilst this gory operation was happening. he and mommedi were very interested at the beginning....

this is what he looked like as the first ball was coming off....

precisely after this, he dropped the rope and shook his head and said " i can't watch this anymore..." and i suspect went to get sick in the loo. the little horse was tranquilized and doped up with pain killers, people. so he couldn't feel anything. i promise. but OWEEEEE. it was quite challenging to watch, it must be said. i have decided not to post the picture of the actual removal. beppe, our fabulously charming vet, hailing from southern Italy, held the emasculator while mags did the stitching etc....

beppe is another wow person. another vet. he travels to places like somalia, pakistan and afghanistan where not many people like to travel and works with people and goats and sheep and cattle and writes long and interesting reports on projects. he is very funny. in true southern italian style, he cracked jokes about eating horse balls. which made my toes curl. he was charmed by the beautiful magdalena. they swopped notes, as vets do. it was decided that the following day the goat would be de-balled too. so mags could see. she has never de balled a goat before. (is this how vets flirt, i wondered?)

i was duly convinced, by my doctor friends, that indeed it was time for Beano (the little white goat which a chief in natron gave to safari craig because he's so nice) to be de balled. " he will start to get very cheeky if you don't," they told me. and regaled me with a tale of someone being knocked out by a goat head butt. ok. convinced. when Beano arrived, i was definitely going to eat him. but literally in two days he became a fast and firm friend. goats are clever like this. so the following morning, beano lost his balls too...well actually, they're still there but apparently will fall off. a little elastic is neatly and very tightly tied around them. he seems fine, actually. . . .

and as if this wasn't enough, the next thing on the agenda was Teeth Filing...for horses....and we all know, oh best beloveds, what i feel about dentists and teeth....oh my. positively foetal at the best of times.

all the older horses with long teeth were led out and one by one had their teeth ground by an electric drill type file thingy. it was nerve shattering to say the least. but essential. i asked if i could also have some horse tranquillizer but my doctor friends just laughed at me. i was being quite serious.

mommedi is looking the other way because of all the tooth enamel flying everywhere. after the teeth, we had to lance a horse hoof to drain an abscess.

magdalena was magnificent obviously. we all thought so. and so was beppe. she has left for rwanda and gorillas and left me to do all the after care....which i am taking very seriously. here they are after everything... guilio is another trainee vet on the LHS. beppe is in the middle and Magnificent Magdalena is on the RHS.

here is an email i received this morning:

Dear Janel,

Nice to read you and get news.

I never had a so relaxing working time in my life. Could you please ask Magdalena to come back for me to go fishing to Lake Turkana?

Nice to know Sukari is better. Please tell Craig that I took the emasculator with me but I left the elastrator.

Best regards to all of you from Giulio and me (Lieve is in Dar).

Dear Magdalena,

I am really disappointed with you. The only work (?) I did was the X-rays say that only one was less than acceptable, you disgraced me. Nobody will ask anymore for my services.

Thanks for the excellent description of the lesion and way forward. I am available to trim the hoof and help to make the bar-hoof up (I need the shoe first). X-rays, it is not a problem, however VJ should come next week and if Janice wants, we could try to organize a visit and make “good x-rays”. Otherwise you have to keep-up with mine.

We will send you the feed-back and photos of an excellent ray.

All the Arusha animals are missing you, please come back soon.

Keep well and in touch


toodely toot oh best beloveds and bisous X.X.X. ones with balls. x j

Monday, August 9, 2010

maasailand dreamin'

(mwali on rhino)

i don't feel like being back on the hill.

i don't.

i am sulking.

i am spoilt for life.

people, the best way of traversing maasailand is on horse back. and that's a fact. walking is slow and long. driving leaves tracks for years and engulfs you in clouds of dust. it jolts the spine. whereas on a horse, you can pick your way through thickets, silently, flushing lesser kudu. you can play with zebra, if you have the wind right. you can sneak up on gerenuk, with their strange long necks and giraffe wander out to get a closer look at you. sand grouse or yellow necks fly suddenly from the horses feet. you can stop and watch the mountains and the clouds edge across the sun. and you can never get lost on a horse. they will always find their way back to camp. always. it's the only way. more than anything, the horses love it. the place matches their wild spirit.

northern maasailand is a vast wild area, tangle wood drear, lying between tanzania and kenya, belonging to no one, through which the maasai still wander following their herds. it stretches out like an ocean, undulating and changing light with each minute. you can sit and stare at it like you would at a fire. it rolls away in front of you, leaving the impression of gentleness. but once you step off into it, it's anything but gentle. its a sea of dust and acacia. waterless. a desert. the thorns try and grab you as you squeeze past the crooked acacia branches. squat snake tracks lie on old dried up lakes. you think of them as you pick your way through long grass. the wind is ceaseless. sometimes raging, sometimes gentle but always there. at midday, as you sit in camp, sheltering from the sun, dust devils twist and turn far away into the white sky.

it is so silent out there at night. the silence is punctuated only by the mournful whoop of hyaena or the staccato yelp of jackal. lion are silent in maasailand. they are clever. they know to keep quiet. they share their space with maasai and their cattle. maasai do not like lion. they poison the cattle carcasses. and i dream in maasailand, oh best beloveds. its a land of dreaming. clear and vivid dreams, as alive as the waking hours. the lines are thin between dreaming and wakefulness. sometimes you think you can hear the stars creak on their axis, it's so silent. the wind on canvas lets you imagine you are in a little boat far out at sea. camping in maasailand makes you feel very small. and right. it reconfirms that no one can own africa. you want to. you dream of it. you pretend it's all yours. but if you try, it'll kill you in the end. you can only pass through it. momentarily.

we packed the landrover high, bales of hay, horse food, hooch, nyama, fruit and vegetables. safari c took his holland & holland, not for hunting but in case we had to shoot a horse... we loaded our fine steeds onto willie's little blue canter truck, aptly named The White Horse, painted in curly red letters above the windscreen and trundled northwards.

to make the horse camp, we tied a rope from branch to branch, high up in the crooked tortillas branches, and attached the horses on halters to this, long enough rope so the horses could lie down and couldn't tangle themselves up. amneey, mwali, mammedi and steven made an askari rota to keep watch on the horses through the night. hyena circled the flickering horse camp fire at night. nosy jackals snuck in close. my horse, the legendary apaloosa, De La Rey aka The General, lay down each night and perfectly ignored these pesky predators. he knows the bush. he ain't afraid of nothin'. the other horses snorted and pulled at their ropes. it was only on the last night that lion called from far away. i think the little spotty horse would've stood up if they had come closer. . . .

the day starts early. good tanzanian coffee is delivered with a gentle "hodi hodi" from claus or juma to your tent around 6, at first light, when everything is still cool, pastel and gentle. you stumble out your tent, barefeet, stepping on a misplaced devil thorn (those teeny little "mibas" with three spikes). you drink your coffee, thinking of your dreams, smoking a sportsman, eyeing your dusty boots from yesterday, staring at the view.(coffee, early morning and dusty boots of spanish of leather)

two hours later, you sit down to a sumptuous breakfast of fried eggs (2, naturally), bacon (crispy), lashings of baked beans (heinz. some things never change.), tomatoes (fried), toast and strawberry jam, paw paw (the sweetest you'll ever taste) and more coffee just in case you never had enough at six. the horses arrive from their camp, sporting bright yellow boots of pi grease, to thwart the maasailand ticks. you saddle up and ride out, drifting this way and that with the wind, distant cowbells tinkling. you stop to watch a line of zebra in the distance, wandering below a post card picture of kilimanjaro, the snow like icing sugar. two or three hours later, you're home, sipping on a cold vodka and tonic, prettily laced with sliced lemon, or a chilled glass of the cape's finest white followed by a salad lunch. siesta time follows. more dreaming. four o clock tea time and another ride. riding in the late afternoon glow when the grass is gold and the mountains are blue and you know you never magicked this up....

( de la rey with mt meru back drop)

the smell of acacia wood smoke welcomes you back home, at last light, and we sit and watch the african night swiftly arrive, throwing her net of stars across the sky. we munch on bitings of biltong, drawing nearer to the fire because the wind has an icy edge to it now. it blows from behind your back. from the mountains, across the empty ngaserai plain, cold tendrils creeping around your neck.

( mohammed and sybil first home at last light)

the best thing are the piping hot showers. the water is stingingly hot, making your skin steamy pink. the smell of dust, sweat, leather and horse mixed with jasmine scented soap is heady. dinner at a long table, dressed in stiff white linen and the children chattering like monkeys, begging me not to regale them with my finest ghost tales yet secretly wanting me to. the winding sandy path to bed and dreams, following the "nyali" (paraffin lanterns) hung delicately in the tree branches all the way to your tent and the wind, the wind, playing in my hair....

you see, that's why i don't want to be here, oh best beloveds.

i'll be dreaming of maasailand for a while.

toodely toot then, bisous X.X.X windy desert ones x j