The Rift

Nairobi, Kenya: Nairobi is one of Africa’s mile-high cities, some 1,700 meters.  This means weather is wonderful all year round, somewhere between 15 degrees and 25 degrees Celsius.  The blossoms are beginning to fall off the trees creating purple, red, yellow and orange velvet mats on the roads. 

Some twenty kilometers South of Nairobi you come up to a bluff.  Below is the Rift valley.  It spreads flat and dry between high and sharp extinct volcanic mountains.  The mountains cannot really be called chains because they are not all attached.  You can flow between them with your eyes following the valley from one wide desert pass to the other. You are looking at a landscape which takes you back millions of years.  I am told that from this vantage point, on a clear day, you can see Mount Kilimanjaro, minus the snows that global warming has destroyed. 

Descending into the valley, the brush becomes short and thorny with prickles so long and sharp they will not only slit your throat but cut your tires. The trees are short and twisted with leaves all at the top like parasols.  Under the trees, the whole length of the road down to the desert floor sit the Maasai, most in their traditional bright red loin clothes but other colors now that they have new dyes: blues and yellows.  They wear either a very short sword or a long knife and carry a long stick. 

It is the way they sit which amazes me.  Their backs are straight and their legs stretched out flat along the ground.  Not far away are their cattle, donkeys, sheep and goats.  This is their wealth.  They have been herders and warriors since for as long as man has memory. They live in small villages of round mud and brush houses with corrugated tin roofs, no electricity and their water comes from bore-holes.  These are the Kenyans who live on less than a dollar a day.  But the Maasai are proud.  They do not feel less than anybody else. 

You stop for the view and there is not a soul in sight but within minutes Maasai youth are there trying to sell you brightly colored bead trinkets.  No, you don’t want any.  Give me money!” they say and you know it is time to move on. 

Not so further on, four male baboons cross the road.  They watch us carefully but continue their hunting-savaging party without any real fear of us. The brush and demented, tortured short trees are dense enough to give the illusion of life but spaced enough to hypnotize you as you stare through them. 

The valley stretches on and flat, twisting between the mountains of volcanic stone.  So where are the dinosaurs?  The Rift valley: This is supposed to be, according to some, the cradle of homo/erectus/habilis/sapiens.  This is where Lucy walked, or at any rate, a little further North.   

As long as we are in the car, the Maasai wave to us, so friendly.  The rest is a question of luck.  The Rift is magic but I am telling and not showing… 

Monday’s newspapers: last week end Kenyan Police shot dead more than ten ‘robbers’ in Nairobi.  A cop was killed by bad-guys, a 53-year-old woman had her leg chopped off in a land dispute.  Her friends completely destroyed the property of her aggressors who managed to escape.  Cattle rustlers are becoming so daring they even stole more than 50 cattle from the former President Arap Moi.  They got caught.  

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