While we eat our cornflakes as the sun comes up, and wonder where our colleagues are, at the end of the street two thieves stand among a crowd of excited neighbours and a collection of security guards. They are two of four the guards have caught. They are not running anywhere. To start with the crowd will make sure of that. But they are encumbered by two tyres dropped over them. You know, that South African legacy of ‘necklacing’ – fill the tyre with petrol and light it up, burning the trapped person alive. The guards are keen to get some information from these men before the police arrive. Who are you running with? Who tasks you? And to whom do you fence the stolen goods? Local sentiment is firmly against the thieves and property owners, who suffer possession loss also fear for their lives at the hands of these men who apparently operate under a brief of violent and random assault once they are inside. As the men are being threatened with fire the owner of the property urges the security guards to move off her property. She wants no burnt bodies on her place thank you very much. Burn them by all means but do it on the side of the road. The sub plot to all this is interesting. Everyone wants confessions from these men before the police arrive for, once in the hands of the law they claim there will be no justice. The neighbours know the thieves only have to hand over a bribe and the robbers will be back prowling the electric fences around the neighbourhood in a few nights time. Or worse, the locals are convinced police are part of the robbery operation in the first place.
Michael manages to get through the clamouring crowd and arrive as we are finishing breakfast. We head off to climb Mount Longonot, a nine thousand foot peak which dramatically lifts out of the Rift Valley floor an hour or so drive north of Nairobi. It’s a three kilometer climb to the rim and then a six kilometer circumnavigation of the rim. Of course it turns out to be ‘Climb Mt Longonot Day’ or something similar and the advertisements in the papers have gotten a whole lot of school and church groups out of bed and up here with us. That actually makes for a lively scramble up the hill and it’s nice to have a quick chat with others we encounter walking in the opposite direction. Apparently there are antelope and buffalo in the crater. There may well be the case with about four square kilometres or a thousand acres of vegetation down there. We wonder as we go if that is really the case and then the wind carries up the sound of a bovine bellow, not once but a number of times. We are convinced, but wonder how they get in and out. A waft of antelope carries over the track later on though it’s not so hard to imagine nimble and fleet of foot animals negotiating their way in and out.
The almost perfect circle of the crater, and the sheer size of the thing catch the imagination. But soon I am distracted by the need to mind where I step – there are sections that are good for reminding myself to focus on line and balance least I vanish over the edge. And when precipitous edges are not a concern the loose ash based gravel underfoot and the steep ascents mean the focus is on staying upright and not on the scenery.
We leave the chattering crowds and make our way back to the gate, collect our vehicle and head on out. Goat herders and sheep herders are walking their stock home at the end of the day. No cattle dogs here but a compliant mob which even waits for passing traffic before crossing the road. The Maasai herder wrapped in a red blanket (everyone here seems to think it is cold) standing on the open grassland watching his animals catches my eye. It’s a classic East African scene. The sun, and some rain, the first of the second wet season, chase us back into town but we stop to drop off Lilian and do so in a neighbourhood with which she is familiar. We take tea in a ‘hotel’.
I have no idea if this hotel offers beds. I doubt it. We sidle in past swinging doors and squeeze into a seat. This place is tiny. I count seats and reckon eighteen in here would be a tight crowd. As it is there are nine in the place when we pile in and the three extra bodies means there is some shuffling of seats. Food and drink mysteriously appear from behind a screen draped with some slightly tatty lace. Above it, and catching everyone’s eye is a small colour television. Three teens cram in and order tea without taking their eyes off the screen which is broadcasting a mix of items covering the Westgate investigation and the pending National Day. Chances are it is the only access they have to a television. We sip our sweet milky tea which has been delivered in tin enamel mugs and inhale the bread – we have just climbed and walked no less than twelve kilometres and have an appetite! There are all sorts of characters in here and I am sure they have some stories to tell. But the Hawthorne Effect has kicked in and the place is very quiet. I am told it is normally pretty rowdy and the happening place to be. But a mzungu armed with a camera has everyone modify their behavior. A shame really. But it’s good fun and where I would rather be when visiting a country. This runs rings around a Marriot in every way. Oh, except for a bed. But I am sure one could be found around here if I asked.
We come back though the end of the street late at night. No one is around and the orange street lights flood the umbrella tree canopy with softness. No hint of a community hardened to robbery and bent on their own justice. As we trundle up the street to our gate I wonder whether the police were called in the end, or whether there was some sort of summary justice handed out, necklaces or otherwise. I double check the locks downstairs before I go to bed.
Diary 19 October 2013