Walking With Maison: Part 6
Silence in Africa
“Are the Maasai happy with the conservancies Maison?”
“Oh yes very happy.” Maison and his three brothers have 450 acres in Mara North that they receive rent payments on. One plot was given their father, a former policeman their father was smart enough to buy two more at the going rate then of a cow per acre.
“I remember when and used to be a sheep per acre but now, much much higher.” Land throughout the Mara is around 30,000 Kenyan shillings or $3,000 an acre and that’s at the heart of the challenges facing the groups who are fighting to preserve, protect and extend the life span of the nature of this remarkable region.
This is no pristine forest that can be protected with the signature of the President’s pen. The land is $3,000 an acre when sold Maasai to Maasai and the deal is conducted in Maa under a tree in Aitong or perhaps down in Talek on market day which is Wednesday in the Mara and the women are buying or selling or more than likely both. If you are muzungu and you want to buy land or you are from a different tribe but still black well then the price goes up and up to maybe $4,000 an acre or even more and you are paying cash because you are Maasai and it is unlikely you have any cows at all in the Mara far less enough to buy a plot of land at 150 acres.
Naboisho if you wanted to buy it and protect its 55,000 acres in some other means or fashion than what is being done now, you would have to go one by one like they did when they set up the conservancy and you would have to deal with over 500 families, and the men who head them and make one deal after another after another. This is what they did to create this place.
Over 500 families, over 500 leases, over 500 rent payments made every month to the male head of each family – a fact that doesn’t sit well sometimes with female Western donors who have never been here and think well why do the men get all the money? Those on the ground here who sat under the trees for months on end just don’t know how to answer but hope that the rich American woman will indeed pay for the school and they just sit and listen and hope she doesn’t know that the Maasai men have multiple wives, still now as many as five a man because that really drives the female donors crazy and more than one checkbook has been closed right at that moment.
After you went one by one and paid each man for his land and registered it at the land office in Nairobi, you would have spent at least $15 million dollars, probably more like $20 million at that point and that’s why the conservancies make so much sense. The conservancies are imperfect and laden with challenges, but they do appear right now to be the best solution and chance for the region.
We stop and I drink from the water bottle I am carrying. We are a mile or two from the camp and we turn back to circle up the other road as it is getting hot and the air is still and the flies are bad. I noticed the flies before but when Maison says there are so many flies then I know they are bad because the flies come with the cows and there are a lot of cows.
For a while, we walk in silence. Silence is different in Africa out here on a plain. Silence is the absence not only of cars, or the sounds of people around you it’s the sound of silence above as there aren’t any planes above right now – there will be later when the Air Kenya flight lands at the airstrip. There aren’t any cars right now either though again, later there will be when people travel this road from work in Talek to their homes.
Silence in Africa is the buzz of the bush and the cackle of birds. The grunts of the animals in the plains and if you are walking, silence is the sound of your hiking boots on hard packed ground if it is the dry season and the soft sound of the mud in the wet
season and if it has really just rained, the sucking sound that comes with every step.
Silence in Africa is the wind that rustles the small black balls that hang on the Acacia trees which are where cocktail ants live that protect the leaves of the trees from animals so the tree gives them a place to leave and silence is the whistle of the wind through the yellow fever trees which were named by explorers because expedition members always seemed to drop dead of yellow fever around the trees not knowing that it had much more to do with the dirty water that ran in front of the trees than the trees themselves.
Silence in Africa is when you can hear the sound of the man walking with you breathing. When the grunt of a buffalo travels for a mile and when a marshall eagle cries you think he is right there next to you when instead he is circling high above.
Silence in Africa is the squeal of the small mongoose that the marshall eagle spied from hundreds of yards up in the sky and dive-bombed straight at the earth in what can only be a suicide mission, plummeting hard and fast straight down like a bullet shot from the heavens and then at the last moment, so close to the ground you can’t even see, the eagle grabs the animal or snake it has seen and swoops back up the sky shot now from the ground and the animal squeals.
“Maison, one time in Zambia with my kids I saw a marshall eagle hunt, it was incredible, straight down and straight up. It was amazing.”
Maison smiles at me.
“They are amazing birds James. I have seen them hunt. You know the time we walked down from Parmalat hills, the time we saw the cheetah on the plain and it was running along the edge?” I nod.
“In that plain, I saw a marshall eagle take a baby impala when I was walking with other guests.” Maison’s black hand tells the story with the words. Straight down and straight up the hand goes like the eagle did that day.
“But it is hard to see them hunt because they go so fast.”
Silence is the buzz of the flies we both swat away. Silence is now the sound of me drinking my water. It is the sound of the crickets buzzing seemingly louder and louder with every moment we are still as if they are filling the gap of our pausing and the wind rises too as it has picked up but not enough to drive the flies away.
More than anything, on a dirt road in the Mara, silence is two men, one from a village not so far from here and one who crossed the water to come towards this place, lang’u, and will keep coming towards this place as long as he can and do what he can to keep bringing tourists to the conservancies and money to Crystal so that this place can hold on for a few more years or decades or maybe generations.
Then one day maybe my son can come here and walk with Maison’s son and the two of them will walk and talk about how their fathers once.Silence is me thinking that and silence is Maison thinking about how I was able to see a marshall eagle hunt when so few white men or muzungu do and then the silence between us is broken when he tells me:
“Did the eagle catch his prey?”
Maison smiles. He knows that is what usually happens when the marshall eagle dives from the sky. It floats back up food in its beak and climbs and climbs. He’s seen it a million times. I saw it once.
I screw the top carefully back on top of the plastic water bottle I have been filling and refilling since Crystal and I left Nairobi. It’s nothing more than a plain blue water bottle that I have used for almost a week now. It’ll last me the trip. It’s nothing special but it’s all I have.
Maison was ten, fifteen feet ahead of me by the time I had finished with my water. He had stopped and was waiting for me – his hands in the pockets of his jackets, his eyes on the horizon. He seems about to say something to me but when I get near to him, he simply turns and we walk again.
This story was written by James Cannon Boyce, who has contributed to Longevity before. This is the final instalment of the “Walking with Maison” series.
To read the Full Story of “Walking With Maison” Download the Free PDF here.
“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 or their website to see everything they are doing.”