Off-road, unmapped and out of her mind

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Kijabe.jpgIn The Celebration Husband, my fourth novel, which I'm currently writing, the protagonist, Tanya, runs intelligence missions for the British irregular forces fighting the Germans in East Africa during World War I.  Tanya's contribution to the war effort is based on something that Karen Blixen actually did: she led a caravan of four ox wagons to supply Lord Delamere's men (with whom her husband was volunteering).

Kijabe_train_station.jpgLike Karen Blixen, Tanya begins her journey at Kijabe, a railway station on the escarpment overlooking the Rift Valley in Kenya.  From Kijabe, Tanya travels down the escarpment and across the floor of the Rift Valley to the Ewaso Nyiro River in Masailand.  Then she moves south along the river until she reaches the tributary called the Narosera River.  She follows the Narosera River until she finds
where Lord Delamere is camped.  (As a matter Rhino_swimming_pool.jpgof historical fact, Lord Delamere was recruiting Masai scouts in the area of the Narosera River after WWI broke out in August 1914.)

To write plausible descriptions of Tanya's journey, I made the trip myself, first to Kijabe (top picture) and the railway station currently there (second picture).  (The existing station was established in 1947 and is higher on the escarpment than the original station where Karen Blixen worked; all that remains of that spot is a grassed over mound of cement.) 

Then I traveled (by car, not ox wagon) across the floor of the Rift Valley until I reached the Ewaso Nyiro River, whereupon I bumped down a dirt "road" for two hours before I reachedRoad_to_Narosera.jpg Narosera Town, on the banks of the Narosera River.  Neither the "road" nor the Town were on the map, so without my Masai guide, Jonas Olsarara (bottom picture), I never would have found either.  (Jonas' critical contribution to this research, including his local and linguistic knowledge, made me wonder how Karen Blixen crossed Masailand in 1914 without a Masai-speaking guide; she makes no mention of such a person on her supply mission and claims that her crew consisted of Somalis and Kikuyus.) 

Along the road, we passed a seasonal "rhino swimming pool" (third picture), filled with water from unseasonal rains.  And, despite the inconvenience and stress of the drive (that the wheels remained unpunctured and the chassis uncracked was miraculous), the richness of the landscape (fourth picture) would have made the trip worthwhile, even if it hadn't been necessary reconnaissance for my book.   
 
Masai_girl.jpgHowever much I was enriched by the sensory wealth along the road, the local Masai population knew that such riches are of limited exchange value in a modern market: they were walking, not driving.  I ended up giving rides to a number of them and was shocked to learn that they'd never seen - much less been in the car with - a woman driver before.  This gorgeous young girl (left) had never had her picture taken previously, either.  (This shot was the fifth attempt; on the previous four, she'd squeezed her eyes shut when the camera shutter clicked.)

Curious, I asked Jonas if he'd ever been in a car with a woman driver before: "No," was his answer.  Jonas works in a lodge and makes a goodJonas_Olsarara.jpg enough income to pay the school fees of his four brothers and sisters; he has also been in many types of cars in many situations, including cross country trips and game drives.  Nonetheless, women drivers (though common in Nairobi) were an anomaly to him.  He graciously opined that, based on my example, he found women drivers to be excellent.

He also hazarded that I was the first mzungu (white) woman to visit Narosera and seemed tickled by the idea that he had contributed to the introduction of this rare species to the ecosystem.  Knowing that, 95 years before me, Karen Blixen had succeeded in locating Lord Delamere in this vicinity, I assured him that I couldn't be.  "Well," he compromised, "the first mzungu woman who came by herself just to see the river."

He graciously declined to express any opinion about the sanity of such a woman.

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This page contains a single entry by Maya published on December 30, 2009 1:12 PM.

Wood's Auster(e) review was the previous entry in this blog.

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