A taste of Africa
I have always loved Africa but spending time at Ol Lentille with John and Gill Elias, and their son Tom, is always special as it allows me to get up close and personal with Africa; the beautiful landscape, its wildlife and its people.
To be surrounded by the stunning African bush in every direction with no signs of buildings or civilization and the occasional herd of elephants roaming free is an experience in itself but it’s just as much about its people and the friends I have found there during my far too brief visits.
John and Gill have created an environment that brings together the land, its wildlife and its people in harmony. A collaboration that appears to be ‘win win’ although it’s not without its many challenges. Spending time with them in this environment you get to see the real Africa and not a show put on for the tourists.
It is a country where cultures clash, where the modern world is interwoven with the old world and such contrasts are frequently observed.
Having my photo taken by a Samburu Moran (a young warrior) in his traditional dress with his Nokia Mobile phone is one of the many contrasting images that this part of Africa creates. Where people live in simple huts made of wood, mud and covered in animal skins without lighting, running water or electricity yet everyone has a mobile phone. Where you can be miles from the nearest town, in the middle of the bush and still get a strong mobile phone signal!
I always feel humbled by the people and the levels of poverty that you find yourself immersed in….yet within that poverty there is always a smile for a stranger, their hospitality is generous and no effort is spared to share a cup of tea with visitors in spartan surroundings but rich in its welcome. The Western world could learn a lot from the Samburu people on what is important in life; Family, friends, the clan and their heritage.
We were privileged to be invited along to a Samburu Warrior ceremony that was being held in the middle of the Kipsing plateau far below the slightly cooler highlands of Ol Lentille and miles from the nearest town or village. It was a 3 hour drive along dirt tracks with the last few mile just cutting across the barren scrubland.
“I think our wheel base is too long to get across here,” said Tom moments before we ended up like this:
Our journey, as are many in these parts, was eventful as we had to cross a dry river bed and although Tom suspected the car was too long to get across the river bed as it was the only crossing place we could find we gave it a go only to find ourselves wedged in the ditch. While we all got out and scratched our heads, within minutes, a group of children had spotted us and came along with a long knife and a shovel….so eventually we were able to dig ourselves out and carry on across the plain.
A temporary village was built purely for the ceremony. The reality is that it’s the women (the mothers of the Morani warriors) that build the village from scratch, everything transported here on Donkeys for many miles and with everyone helping each other to build their huts and the boundary fence made up of Acacia trees with their needle like thorns.
We arrived after the cows had been slaughtered as part of the ceremony, this was good timing as we were glad to have missed that part of the ceremony. There were 53 Morani taking part in the ceremony, each killing their own cow (or in one case a camel that reflects his was ‘more well off’ as camels are worth more than cows). The Morani, with the help of elders, butcher the carcasses with their long knives, separating the different parts that will then be divided up. There are no fridges here so everything is left to dry in the hot sun of the African bush and kept off the ground on cut down bushes. The Morani take the best cuts of meat to a separate area where they will cook the meat on open fires for themselves and to share with the other men, the elders then get the next share of meat and eventually the women are allowed to come and take away what is left. It is a male dominated society and this was reflected throughout the ceremony but it couldn’t happen without the hard work of the women in their preparation and support of the Morani throughout.
Tom Elias along with James, Moses, Vincent and another Sambaru Moran in front of Moses’ cow
As we were there with James and Vincent, friends from Ol Lentille who were now Samburu junior elders (as they had their ceremony earlier this year) we were treated as friends and welcomed. We were also here to see Moses one of their friends who was part of the ceremony. Instead of his western clothes that he wears normally he was in his traditional Samburu dress wearing colourful bead necklaces and armbands and with red ochre in his hair.
We were invited to take tea in Moses’ mother’s manyatta (the low roofed hut they live in where even sitting in a chair my head was near to the roof). It was hot enough standing outside in the sun and inside the manyatta with its low ceiling, its black tarpaulin roof and the cooking fire it was even hotter; literally it was out of the frying pan and into the fire. The higher you sat the hotter it was, just like a sauna, and I soon realised that sitting on the ground was the coolest place to sit. We then drank the hot, sweet and milky tea cooked over the open wood fire which gives it a smoked flavour that is not every one’s cup of tea (excuse the pun) but I like it, the milk is stored in large leather gourds and then heated in a saucepan with tea leaves and excessive amounts of sugar before being strained with a tea strainer into enamel camping mugs. It is always one of my favourite experiences.
I felt privileged to experience and be a part of the ceremony that only happens every 15 years and to see such traditions continue. It was a shame we did not stay for the singing and the dancing that would have carried on into the early hours of the morning but for some of us it was time to return to Ol Lentille and our beds whereas for the Morani they had 3 more days of the ceremony and the celebrations and no time to sleep!
This was an experience of the wonders of Africa and its people and a big thank you to the John, Gill and Tom who helped make it happen and Vincent, James and Moses who looked after us throughout the visit to the ceremony.