Walking With Maison: Part 1
Waking up in the Naboisho Camp
In Africa, I never need an alarm to wake me and I never pull the sheets over my head to stop the day from coming. When the crescendo of the birds in the bush jumps from the chatter of the night to the growing roar of the moments just before the sun, I know what is coming and I want to see it all.
I want to see the sky off to the East get lighter and lighter. I want to see the animals straggle home from a night of hunting or watch as they wander down to the plain that runs below the camp towards the reserve, where yesterday I walked alone and saw the two old buffalo. I was a hundred yards away from them and I had the wind in my favor and besides there was a large ditch between me and them and I felt safe even though they saw me.
Francis, the name they gave him in school, not when he was born in the manyatta at Aitong, and whom I met when he was dropped off at the corner of the two roads at the top of the plains so he could walk the ten miles home from there because the car was going the other way, south to Talek, was worried about me and the buffalos until he too realized that there was the ditch there. The ditch would have saved me if they had charged, but I was more worried that they would have broken a leg or two and their grunts and squeals of agony would have brought even the sleepiest of lion out of his afternoon stupor to come feast on the wounded buffalo.
The lions would have come down from my right, from Naboisho, and so I would have been between the buffalo and the lion and Francis agreed when I shared that with him, that that was more of a problem than the buffalo because they would never be able to clear the ditch but were more than capable of running into it full speed and injuring themselves.
Francis and I were happy to see the buffalo didn’t move much past raising their heads and watching us. The buffalo never got near the ditch and we had no problem with them or with lions. The Maasai fear the buffalo more than I, but then again, to be fair, they have known many more people who have been killed by buffalo than I have, or ever will.
Francis and I walked back up the hill to the camp and he borrowed a computer to check Facebook until the last of the beading ladies was done with their work and he could hang on to the back of the car catching a ride and not have to walk home.
That was yesterday. Now it is morning again.
Every camp wakes up the same on the plains in Africa.
It’s just that in the high-end luxury tents, you don’t hear them pump the water into the five gallon buckets that have lost their handles. You don’t hear the machete chop the food for the fire under the old black stove that turns the water hot for your shower. The rattle of the metal pans on the old black stove as the water heats is far too unseemly for guests paying $1,000 a night to hear so it happens away from where your tent is. The sounds of the pans and the boiling of water happens in the back, by the staff quarters and near the rooms where everything from spare toilet paper to bottles of wine are locked up after carefully being counted.
In five-star camps, you don’t hear the grunts of the guys who work in the camp as they lift the buckets over their heads and carefully pour the water in the large black tank behind your tent all so you can have a hot shower.
You don’t hear any of that down in the valley where Encounter Mara or Naboisho Camp lie or farther to the West where Branson has his camp. There, dawn is a more subtle affair where your house boy gently calls your name before waking your around 5:00 for your game drive.
“Your coffee is here Mr. Boyce, we are meeting at the lounge tent in ten minutes. Dickson will wait for you there.”
Where I am staying now coffee comes hot and bad from Soit the cook boiling the water in the kitchen. I will then make it myself in the plunger that I borrowed from Niels who is the Danish lion researcher boyfriend of Crystal who runs The Maa Trust, the best community development project I, and everyone I know, have ever run across. Here on this hill on the 150 acres the Trust shares with the Mara Lion project where Niels works, the Mara Cheetah project, whose sole employee is a woman from Botswana whose name is Femke but she is white even though her name suggests otherwise and where the Conservancy manager Richard and his girlfriend Lorna, who came and took photos of the beadwork for the website yesterday live, here on this hill, the buzzwords of western development groups turn real.
Women’s economic empowerment means that 300 women take turns sitting on the stone porch of the new community outreach center that is three quarters built but one quarter paid for. Here the idea of a livelihood program means Crystal carting 800 glass jars from Nairobi in the back of the Land Cruiser she and I drove up in that will house the honey from the first bee hives that women now own that were placed in the conservancies.
“A lot of projects started by putting the hives in the villages, but the men and kids destroyed them.” Crystal had told me as we bumped along on the almost nine-hour journey from the capitol north, west and then north again to the Mara.
Jonathan interrupts me as I am thinking about the hives and before my coffee water is hot.
He points to the tent and goes to pump water, chop wood, start the fire, heat the water and then lift it with another grunt for the next tent. I remember more of what Crystal said.
“So what we did is we took the hives and put them in the conservancies by the ranger stations and the women take care of them.”
The honey is then not only organic but actually from inside the conservancies, the large chunks of protected land north of the Maasai Mara National Reserve that I am here to help as I can, to visit, and to walk through with my Maasai friend Maison who is a guide, former ranger and tracker.
Kenya is an importer of honey somehow in a crazy, screwed-up, deliciously African sort of way. A place with more than enough land and more than enough flowers and bees and people needing work and the perfect climate for honey buys crappy diluted honey in plastic bottles from I don’t even know where but I will try and look again when I go the store. China probably sends it by the ton.
74 hives sit in the conservancies waiting for their first harvest. Crystal now has 795 jars because five broke when one of the boxes opened when Jonathan was moving it.
“Pole.” I said. “Sorry.”
This story was written by James Cannon Boyce, who has contributed to Longevity before. Keep an eye out for the next part of “Walking with Maison”.
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Walking The Earth is a literary expedition whose goal it is to shine a light on people worth supporting and places worth saving around the world. For this story, I stayed with The Maa Trust, in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy in the Mara region of Kenya. I have also worked with the neighboring Naboisho Conservancy. Maison is a friend of mine who was a ranger with the Kenya Wildlife Service and now is an armed safari guide who works with Encounter Mara. He lives in Aitong.
I hope that if you liked this story, you will consider asking your friends to go to WalkingThe.Earth and support The Maa Trust by purchasing it. You can also perhaps visit The Maa Trust on Facebook and their website and see everything they are doing.