N  a  p a  l  m     H  e  a  l  t  h     S  p  a  :     R  e  p  o  r  t     2  0  1  1


The Tourist

The absence of noise was as foreign to her as the country she was in.  The others had gone off to see the Maasai village and the generators were still off.  The tent was far enough away from the lodge that the staff members might as well not exist.
    Settled in a camp chair in the shade of the tent she realized it was not silent at all.  Listening with new awareness she was surprised to hear the sound of a breeze, whispering as it rode through the dry vegetation. The tent flaps moved gently and slowly like elephant ears.   In the distance there was the howl of some large creature, and nearer were the birds.
    A flash of bright sapphire in the acacia tree caught her attention, and she was surprised to see a brilliantly colored bird watching her.  With his blue coat and tan vest, he looked to be heading to an African Mardi Gras.  In the dusty landscape it was a strange case of reverse camouflage.  The brightness must make predators believe they are hallucinating, she thought.  The brighter turquoise under the wings as it flew off made her wonder if the heat had caused her to hallucinate as well.
    Down on the ground a pair of quails wandered into view.  The female was marching purposefully across the ground on a mission, while behind her the male hung back, darting hesitantly in one direction, then another as if the call of some wilder thing was making him question his commitment to her.  They left behind perfect tracks in the dust, hers a straight line, and his, a jagged path of uncertainty.
    She took a deep breath and tried to accept the reality that Mount Kilimanjaro was sitting right in front of her.  As she watched, the clouds and haze evaporated to reveal its snow capped peak below a sky that was shifting toward golden.  The setting sun gave sharpness to the edges of everything.  She remembered the porter saying they had not seen the peak for weeks, and she felt the sense of an ancient blessing.
    Seeing the tracks in the dust made her think of the trip from Nairobi.  The road was uneven and cratered with deep ruts.  It was covered in inches of dry dust that followed the van like a pursuing storm. Trying to avoid the dust, the passengers kept the windows closed.  Even then, visible trails of it seeped into the van through the cracks.  When the heat and stifling lack of air became too much, they slid the window open an inch or two.  The woman could feel the dust coating on her teeth like a piece of felt and her eyes were gritty.
    Occasionally they would meet other vehicles going in the opposite direction.  Then the dust rose and hovered as if it couldn’t decide which vehicle to follow.  Once they encountered a motorcycle appearing out of the fog like a ghost.   The rider had no goggles or helmet, but had a bandana wrapped over his face.  The passengers marveled at his need to risk life and limb in this way.
    They rode through 45 kilometers of this, sliding into ruts deep enough to cause their heads to bounce off the ceiling and to produce ominous impact noises from below.  The driver, Joseph, assured them all was well, and that the vehicle was equipped with steel plates beneath their feet.  
    When they arrived at the lodge, she noted that the acacias were gray and leafless.  The dull earth held only the hardiest of shrubs and the occasional skeletal remains of what once may have been ground cover.  The dust was thick here too, and rose in smaller versions of clouds following each footstep.  Everywhere there were tracks of birds and sneakers.  So this is what a drought is like, she thought.
    They had heard that the large animals on the Mara were dying of thirst and hunger in numbers unimaginable.  She wondered how the local Maasai managed to find water for their herds, and their families.  She now understood why their nomadic life style had taken on more urgency.  How far must they travel now, simply to live?  
    As the sun set, the buzzing insects drove her back into the tent.  It was large and well equipped, as it should be for the price.  There were 2 beds, a desk, and a full bath with a glass enclosed shower. There was even an oversized umbrella in the closet, placed perhaps as a totem or as a plea to the gods.  She thought that now only the gods could remedy the drought.  She wondered why they did not look at the land and let their tears water the ground.
    A voice at the door of the tent interrupted her thoughts.  The housekeeper entered to turn on the lights, as the generator had come on at 5 o’clock.  She was fascinated by this Maasai man, with his weathered face and sandaled feet.  In conversation she remarked how lovely the camp was.  He agreed the camp was lovely, but with concern on his face, he talked of the lack of rain, and the good fortune of the reappearance of the mountain peak that evening.  He hoped the good omen would bring water and his family could return.  When he finished turning down the beds he called her into the bathroom to demonstrate the three settings of the shower controls, and told her the pool was now open for the evening.