There's more work to be done in Africa
On Saturday morning, Kamandu, Patrick, Silas and Nderitu walked through a charged Amka Town Market and pretended to look at the merchandise. The time was 11am and women and young men could be heard yelling in an effort to attract customers. The open air market had cereals, grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, shoes and second hand clothes, and opened on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Most of the merchandise was arranged nicely on the ground while some women hawked bananas near the Nairobi-Nyeri Highway.
The four men with their dreadlocks and dark overcoats looked quite a sight in the small town. Women harshed at their sight and young men stepped aside to avoid confrontation. Kamandu led the way to a large open-air-bar where people ate and drank beer. The four men walked in, ordered a beer each and sat down to drink. These kind of restaurants slash bars were popular in the market; they were but tables and benches set outside under some kind of shade.
The men had only been in town for a few days and Nderitu liked how simple the set up was. Amka Town throbbed on the farming community with most economic operations begining at 4am and ending at 10pm. The Town had managed to attract a bank, a well established primary and secondary school, a P.C.E.A Church, a hospital and a mini-supermarket.
From where he sat, Nderitu noticed how clean the tables and chair were. The place had been wiped down, but the smell of food kept the flies around.
"12 o'clock," Patrick suddenly said and the men turned to look.
Nderitu saw five big men approaching, coming from the direction of the bus terminus. “The Chief’s men?”
“Yes, that’s them,” Kamandu replied.
Everybody in town knew these men and hated them. The chief's muscle men went around the small town collecting taxes and bribes from the hard working people. After harrassing the bus drivers and conductors, they were now coming to bully the people in the market. To avoid eviction, most women in the market set aside money which they quickly handed over to these men. Some of the cash ended up in the chief's office while most of it stayed in the henchmen's pockets.
"His name is Lumumba," Kamandu said pointing at the big man leading the group. "He's the chief's right hand man, an ex policeman. The one on the right is Githinji. Githinji is the brains of the operation and used to work for a law firm in Nairobi that went broke. He points out where the money is and the other men get it."
Nderitu watched the men zigzag between bycycles and motorbikes as they approached. They looked threatening and word was that they carried concealed daggers. The men moved from stall to stall collecting money until they finally arrived at the bar. They walked in with heavy footsteps and sighed into a round table, laughing out loud and making their presence known. A young girl in her early twenties rushed over with a tray of beer and served them.
"Hello Muthoni," Lumumba said with a hearty voice. "You grow pretty every day." The girl looked nervous and turned to leave, but the big man grabbed her arm and jerked her back. "Bring me a glass dear, will you, and tell mzee I want my money."
Nderitu felt a rising anger at the disrespect; an innate sense caused by the sight of injustice. It was one thing to take money from poor people, it was another thing to insult them while doing it.
"The big man is mine," Kamandu said under his breath and Nderitu sensed his friend's anger.
"Do we go in now?" Patrick asked, anxious for a fight.
"Not today," Kamandu said. "We have to go and see Mr. Ferguson about the job. We will return once we get the job and are assured of the terms."
They watched as the girl came back with a bundle of cash. She had done this before they could tell by the numb look on her face. She handed the money over to Lumumba and waited while he counted. Nderitu meanwhile studied the big man and realised how well built he was. Not in a gym kind of way, but Lumumba had great genes that gave him huge arms and a broad torso.
"Where's the rest," Lumumba growled.
"W…we haven't sold much yet," the girl said in a shaky voice. "M…mzee says y…you will get the rest on Tuesday."
"Here it comes," Kamandu said.
Lumumba grabbed the young girl and sat her on his laps. His left hand went around the girl and his right grabbed at the beer bottle.
"You will sit with me little girl until the old man comes out of the kitchen!"
Nderitu felt disgusted and mumbled under his breath. "We better go before I do something about this." The horrors of the past were growing fainter with every passing day, but it was strange how quickly an incident could bring them back.
"Yes, let's go," Kamandu said in agreement.
The four men walked out of the bar feeling horrible for not helping the girl. Face to face with freedom, Kenyans were lost. Everything looked okay on the outside, but deep within, the war had done more than taken lives. It had crashed the people's capacity for compassion and filled souls with suspicion. The chief's men had cornered the people and wiped out the illusion of a free country.
“Let’s stick to the plan,” Kamandu said firmly. “We must talk to Mr. Ferguson first and secure the job.”
The bus terminus was dusty and crowded. Kamandu walked over to a spot where nissan vans were parked in a line and started talking to a driver. Nderitu and the other men hovered around and waited, the sad memories of what they had just witnessed preying on them.
A rugged looking man selling sweets and sodas from a tiny red kiosk tried to get the men's attention by waving drinks in the air. Little boys with no shoes loitered the bus terminus looking for work and change. Kamandu returned and pointed at a shop. "Mr. Ferguson's driver is in there," he said.
They found the man a minute later drinking soda inside the shop and chatting up the middle aged woman behind the counter.
"My name is Kamandu, and these are my men."
"Call me Wanjau," the man said, stretching out a hand.
Nderitu liked how neat the driver looked. He wore a white shirt tucked into brown khaki pants. A full belly told the story of a man who skipped no meals; the shiny face and white teeth portrayed a happy life.
"I work for Mr. Ferguson," the driver said, looking very excited. "I've been waiting all morning for you. Follow me if you are ready."
Wanjau led the way through the terminus and the men followed, zigzagging between people and vehicles.
"We are anxious to work for him," Kamandu said. "He is a very popular man."
"My brothers," the driver said with a laugh. "You are in the right place. Mr. Ferguson is a good white man and treats his workers very well. You must do a good job for him and he will like you. These white people... they are very compassionate you know?" He laughed again. "They cry when the cat is sick, so if you have any personal problems just let him know and he will help."
Nderitu liked what he was hearing about the new boss. Mr. Clive Ferguson was known all over the country because of his deep pockets and connections. His family was one of the large-scale landowners in Kenya; aristocrats rumoured to be descendants of a prime minister of Great Britain.
Wanjua led the men to a white nissan caravan that was parked on the side of the road. The men filed into the back of the van and felt a sense of purpose as the vehicle left the town. They drove past a new cemetery and Nderitu saw a couple holding hands, heads bowed over a grave. Casualties of war. Bodies found in ditches and shallow graves after independence had been reburied here, giving men, women and children a much needed closure. Nderitu shook his head sadly. He could still see the bodies hanging from trees and smoke rising from burning houses. The cemetery was soaked in tears.
They drove into the remote country, the vehicle picking up speed through green land. There was nothing out here but an occasional homestead with a few huts and cows visible. The drive took fifteen minutes before they saw a barbed wire fence that was a dead give a way of a white man's farm. Most natives used hedge fences that were a lot cheaper to grow.
Nderitu looked through the window and whistled. He was looking at woodlands, with the sun streaking between trees to warm the long grass. The trees were almost twenty feet tall, majestic and beautiful. Bushes, yellow and green, mushroomed everywhere around the trees, sometimes rising high to a man's height.
"How much land does this guy own?" Nderitu asked.
"Mr. Ferguson's family has registered over 30,000 acres of land estimated to be worth billions of shillings. They have also registered over 1000 steers and around 700 cows in the stable," Kamandu said, reciting from his research.
Ten minutes later, Nderitu saw the cattle and was amazed at the numbers. The animals covered the land like bees and seemed to spill over the hills. Local Kikuyu lads could be seen watching the animals, herdsticks across their shoulders.
"We should be able to see the house here shortly," Kamandu said.
"Wow," Patrick exclaimed. "How can one family own so much land and yet the locals have nothing?"
"They arrived in Kenya in the late 19th century," Kamandu explained. Mr. Ferguson's father fell in love with the lushness of the land and decided to stay and build a life in the untamed country. He applied for a land grant from the British Crown and received a 99 year lease on 30,000 acres of land."
The driver turned his head slightly back. "It wasn't easy turning untamed land into a farm and the Ferguson family came close to bankrupcy a few times. He tried everything from growing wheat and coffee to keeping sheep and cattle."
"I see the house," Silas said with a pointing finger.
"No," the driver said. "That's a rest stop for visitors who come to visit the ranch. Most of them are hunters from abroad and sometimes local politicians."
"They look like shops," Nderitu said. He was looking at a row of stone buildings with metal sheet roofing.
"Gift shops," the driver said. "Expensive wood curvings and African fabrics."
"Do you live on the ranch?" Kamandu asked.
"No," the driver said shaking his head vigorously like it was impossible. "I'm the only worker who doesn't live on the ranch. I have a wife and kids in a village not far from here. I'm not ready to uproot them, and as a driver, it’s easy for me to go back and forth unlike other workers."
“These workers are squatters?” Nderitu asked.
“Yes. Mr. Ferguson has given everybody a small piece of land to grow groceries and maybe keep farm animals. Most of them have goats and chickens.”
“But the land will never belong to them?” Kamandu asked with a frown.
“Correct. It belongs to the white man.”
The car drove a few yards down a gravel road before arriving at what looked like a double gate. Two game rangers in green uniforms appeared from inside a guard-shack and walked over to the van. Nderitu swallowed hard at the sight of the rifles and realised how little he knew about Mr. Ferguson.
The driver nodded at the rangers but it was Kamandu who spoke up. "We have a 1pm appointment with Mr. Ferguson."
The rangers peered inside the vehicle with suspicious expressions before coming to a decision. "You will have to leave your ID cards here."
The men with the exception of the driver handed over their documents before the gate swung open.
"What are the rangers doing here?" Kamandu asked, looking over his shoulder as the vehicle moved forward.
"They man the gate," Wanjau explained. "Sometimes during the day, one of them takes the jeep into the forest. These patrols discourage poachers from killing the animals."
The van drove on a dirt road for a few yards through lush green vegetation. There were trees and brushes all around, and different species of birds were clearly visible on the branches. Some of the tree branches slapped at the van as it drove by and the view outside was spectacular.
Mr. Ferguson's house appeared shortly after in a breath-taking moment. Nderitu had never seen a house look so beautiful before. It looked more like a hotel than a bungalow. The walls around the numerous rooms were concrete, designed to form a semi-circle, with a huge swiming pool clearly visible. Silas whistled as the van came to a stop at the front entrance on top of asphalt.
"Good luck," the driver said as he jumped out and opened the sliding van door for the men. "I hope to see you around."
"Thank you for the ride," Kamandu said as the men alighted.
The driver jumped back in the van and drove around the house.
The men barely noticed the driver leaving. What they were staring at now took all their attention. It looked like a ... it felt wrong to call it a door because it looked more like an entrance. Black servants opened the brown door and the men walked into a well carpeted hallway. Nderitu raised an eyebrow at the sight of a reception desk, followed by a water fountain. Right above the water fountain was what looked like a restaurant with a set of chairs and tables arranged on a higher floor level. A short wooden railing divided the tables from the fountain although in no way obscuring the lovely view.
A white man in white beard and hair sitting at one of the tables waved the men over with a smile. Kamandu led the way up a short flight of stairs and then weaved between the tables. The white man stood up as the men approached, took off his big white hat, and smiled. He was short, maybe 5'9" with a weak body structure. The cane in his hand, anchored to the ground as though in support although Nderitu doubted the man's legs were that weak. The men shook hands firmly, the white man pausing to meet each man's eyes and Nderitu sensed an honesty about him.
“Habari zenu?” How are you? He greeted in Swahili, with a funny accent.
“Mzuri sana.” Very good. The men smiled because the white man was speaking Swahili. It showed humility, and respect for the African culture – taking time to learn.
"It will take me a while to get your names right," Mr. Ferguson said laughing. "Let me see. Nderitu, Kamandu, S... Samuel?"
"Close enough," the white man laughed again. "Silas and ... don't tell me, Patrick."
"That's correct," Patrick said beaming. "You have a beautiful place here sir."
"It is, isn't it?" Mr. Ferguson smiled proudly. He paused as a black man in red uniform brought drinks. "Thank you George."
"Karibu Bwana," the servant bowed with a sheepish grin.
"I trust Wanjau didn't have a problem finding you," Mr. Ferguson continued as the servant left.
"Your driver found us easily," Kamandu said. "He is a good man."
Nderitu took a cold coke and poured it into a glass. He took a sip and felt his body cooling off. Down the hall, he saw another servant carrying a laundry basket disappear behind a brown door. People like Mr. Ferguson lived like kings. Servants cooked for him and cleaned his house, leaving him with the hard work of sitting back and enjoying life.
The table was covered in red pristine clothing with cutlery arranged nicely around white plates and shiny glasses. The smell of spicy food in the air made him remember he hadn't had breakfast and mostly because the world around him was moving too fast.
Scone bread was served in brown baskets and set in the middle of the table as an appetizer. Patrick bit into one and Nderitu looked up in time to see his friend close his eyes to savour the moment. Unable to resist, Nderitu grabbed one and took a bite. It was soft, freshly baked and the most delicious bread he had ever tasted.
Satisfied that the men were eating, Mr. Ferguson sipped at his glass of water and smiled easily. "Most of you already know my story, but allow me to give a quick recap. Coming to Kenya was the best thing my father ever did. I was born here you know, and went to school in Gilgil before my father shipped me to Eton College in the UK. After college, I worked for an agricultural corporation in Great Britain, and when I returned to Kenya, took over this farm from my father who passed away a few years ago."
The men cleaned out the baskets of bread, heads bowed low, not knowing whether to say sorry to the man for his loss or congratulate him for the farm. Mr. Ferguson gave himself a moment before the smile returned to his face. Nderitu decided he liked the old man, and gave all his attention. There was something sad about Mr. Ferguson and he thought it was the absence of family; a wife and children.
"When my father moved here from England, there was nothing but bushes and forest. The Kikuyu people held most of the fertile land for several centuries before the Europens arrived. But my father was not interested in farming, he was a hunter."
Nderitu saw the food approaching and feared he had eaten too much bread.
"My father established a game cropping enterprise on this ranch and employed a lot of people. I deal mostly with livestock. I will take you to the slaughterhouse after lunch and show you around. We keep cows for milk and steers for meat consumption."
Lunch was a four-course meal affair and the roast meat came chopped in small pieces allowing for more consumption. There was rice, beef, chicken, stewed and fried vegetables amongst other dishes. The food was amazing and enough to feed a small village. The men ate and said little.
After lunch, the visitors headed to the backyard, past the huge swimming pool with empty launch chairs. It was almost two thirty in the afternoon and the sun was hot above their heads. Mr. Ferguson excused himself to answer a phone call at the front desk. It was the only phone in the ranch; a shiny black rotary dial phone.
The swimming pool looked beautiful. The smell of chlorine injected into the water bruised noses and Nderitu nursed an urge to dive into the water. Mr. Fergusons caught up with the men admiring the pool and led them through a back door that opened up to what looked like a freshly mowed soccer field. At the place where the green grass ended was a man-made pond that looked more like a lake with forest on the other side. Nderitu noticed the white sand and figured Mr. Ferguson took a lot of shoeless strolls along the beach.
The men sat on garden chairs in the backyard and drank hot coffee under a blue sky while Mr. Ferguson smoked a cigar. The coffee tasted surprisingly good and helped calm down their full bellies. Unable to resist the urge, Nderitu lit a cigarette, earning himself a curious glance from Mr. Ferguson. The wind brought a familiar odour and Nderitu craned his neck.
“Do you keep horses back here?” he asked.
“Yes,” Mr. Ferguson said with a pointing finger. “That’s the garage for parking my car and next to it is a stable for my two horses. I keep them separate from the other horses on the ranch.”
Nderitu sized up the stable and thought it looked big. Wanjau had been right, white people loved animals too much.
The view of the lake made it feel like a vacation. The men watched the birds dive for fish, and pointed out a few nests on trees and rocks around the water. Mr. Ferguson's home was a small paradise in Kenya. Africa with its dramatic hunting safaris and sundowners in picturesque places was a lure full of romanticism and nostalgia for white people.
"I have two problems I need your help with," Mr. Ferguson said casually as he stared at the water. "The government of Kenya has been good to Europeans and has allowed us to live in the country we were born in. But every other night, my farm is raided and houses broken into."
"How often?" Kamandu asked. "I noticed it’s only a fifteen minute drive from here to Amka Town."
"Like twice a month. If not my house then it’s my staffs' houses." Mr. Ferguson sighed. "I call the police and it takes them all night to get here. The workers are afraid to talk to the police for fear of reprisal."
"Have the workers been threatened?" Nderitu asked.
"Yes and no. One time they talked to the police and the following day a straw-filled-barn was set ablaze. The workers took it as a warning and have lived in great fear since."
Kamandu exhaled. "So we are not talking about harmless locals stealing. We may be dealing with an organized group."
"Possibly," Mr. Ferguson said. "The other problem is that I discovered a dead zebra in the forest the other day. This is the second time. He had been shot."
"Poachers?" Nderitu asked, puffing smoke into the air.
"I think so. I have had my game rangers and government officials look into it but they have found nothing. Poacher's kill for tusks and... they kill elephants and rhinos. It looks like my poacher's are killing zebras and gazelles... for different reasons."
"There's a burgeoning black market for meat," Kamandu said.
"I thought about that too." Mr. Ferguson shook his head in resignation.
Nderitu studied the old man and thought he looked tired. Up ahead, he saw swans and wildfowl, and imagined poachers hidden in the trees, stalking the fields, plotting and setting traps.
Kamandu narrowed his eyes at the white man and looked serious. "You know our methods and yet you want to hire us?"
"You men come highly recommended by one of my staff," Mr. Ferguson said. "I also read about your operation in the newspaper. You control Nairobi City with an iron fist and even the police are afraid to mess with you. You controlled the matatu routes and markets. The policemen here are scared for their lives and every time there's a burglary it takes them five hours before they arrive and most of the time I have to go and pick them up because they don't have transport." Mr. Ferguson stood up and looked frustrated. "I don't approve of your methods Kamandu, but things are getting worse around here. I can feel it in the air. The relationship between the expatriates and the local population is thick with tension. The Africans are getting increasingly angry about the proportion of white-owned property. This land has been with my family for generations and it was not taken away from any natives. There was nothing here but forest and wildlife when my father moved. I can't just give it away."
Nderitu was taken aback by Mr. Ferguson’s words. Since independence the population of white settlers in Africa had been slowly dropping. Though many of these individuals had lived most of their lives or were born and raised in Africa, it had been difficult to shake off the perception of their being outsiders. Simmering tensions between the white communities and the formerly colonised population continued to resurface at various intervals, and the resentment was not unjustified. The wealth of much of Africa's white population was built on an unfair system that allowed for land-grabs, frauds and extortion.
Late in the afternoon, and escorted by a game ranger with a standard issue G3 rifle, the men including Mr. Ferguson took a tour of the land. In front of Mr. Ferguson’s house, Nderitu noticed a waist high cylindrical propane tank and whistled.
“I cook with gas,” Mr. Ferguson explained gesturing towards the white tank.
“That big cylinder is just for cooking?” Kamandu whistled.
“Yes,” the white man said, anxious to move on. “There is nowhere around here to refill it and I have to do it in Nairobi. Everybody here uses firewood to cook.”
The men walked on, impressed by how wealthy Mr. Ferguson sounded. The slaughter house was next to a large fenced enclosure the size of a football field, with countless cows fenced inside. The cows walked on muddy ground and had to stick their heads through the fence to feed from a long trough. The men drove past the smelly slaughter house and horse stables, and headed into the forest. The car bounced dangerously on the ground and almost got stuck a few times on rough terrain. It was fun and Nderitu completely enjoyed himself in the moment, and in the smells of the jungle. The sight of a Rothschild Giraffe drinking water was humorous, bufallos crossing the road surreal. They watched a family of colobus monkeys swing from tree to tree, and had a good laugh about it. There were no rhinos on Mr. Ferguson's ranch, but there were elephants, giraffes, buffalos, jackals, hyenas and lions. Nderito's favourite moment was a chase of a zebra by a limping hyena. The fat guy with short hind legs was gunning for the baby zebra when he stumbled upon a very angry mum. The poor hyena ended up being kicked by the whole herd. Nderitu's worst moment came when they reached a swampy area of the forest.
The jeep suddenly came to an abrupt stop and Mr. Ferguson cursed under his breath. Up ahead, Nderitu saw a huge elephant dead near the swamp. The ranger grabbed his rifle, jumped out of the jeep and started scouting the bushes.
"Poachers," Mr. Ferguson stated the obvious.
Nderitu had seen elephants near his village as a boy, but never one this close. The magnificent beast had been shot with an arrow throw the heart. Its tusks had been cut off and the face was badly mutilated. Nderitu felt sad and angry at the same time. Angry that a great life had been wasted so that someone on the far side of the world could have a trinket on his mantlepiece. The carcass was recent, the smell of decay faint. Beside them, the game ranger kept his eyes on the red earth, searching for footprints.
Mr. Ferguson took off his hat and bowed in prayer, showing a very religious side of himself. Nderitu bowed his head but kept his eyes open. The battle for Africa was being redefined and there was little hope for the long-term preservation of the natural world. Poaching could easily erase lions, elephants and rhino's from the planet; humanity's capacity for evil at its best display.
"How did this happen William?" Mr. Ferguson asked the ranger.
"I don't know sir. We patrol the forest every day. This must have happened this morning."
"You are the last line of defence William. Nature depends on you."
The elephants came down from Mt. Kenya forest and sometimes ventured dangerously through villages. A single elephant tusk could yield 10kg of ivory with market value of thousands of dollars making elephants and rhinos high species targets for poachers.
Kamandu and the men searched the bushes for clues but found nothing helpful. Small waves from the swamp water soaked the men's shoes and Nderitu's socks soaked through.
"I have put many bad men behind bars," the game ranger said to Kamandu. "I have seen them sentensed to prison for many years but six months later, I have fought the same men in the forest."
“Poaching is not illegal in Kenya,” Kamandu said. “But one day it will be and these men will pay.”
The ranger rolled up a trouser leg and showed an ugly scar. "Poacher's bullet," he said. "We are sometimes outgunned but still we fight."
"We appreciate that you constantly put your lives in danger," Mr. Ferguson said with a frown. "But this problem needs to go away. I warned my father about it many years ago but he didn't listen."
"Warned him against what?" Kamandu asked out of curiosity.
"Elephant hunting in Kenya back in the days was seen as a sport for noblemen and was exploited by the colonial governors. Among the game hunters, the bull elephant was said to be the most exhilirating form of elephant hunting, and a shot to the head was preferred to the heart."
"And so when elephant hunting was made illegal, other people found it hard to stop mostly because of its monetary value," Nderitu said as he finally found courage to touch the carcass. The skin was warm mostly due to the heat of day.
"My two rangers have to man the gate and patrol the forest during the day," Mr. Ferguson. "You must find a way to help them."
The men drove back to the ranch in silence, each processing what he had witnessed. Talking about poaching was one thing. Seeing a dead elephant with tusks cut out was mind shattering. Nderitu felt like he wanted to help but he knew very little about the poaching world. Mr. Ferguson promised to educate them more on wildlife, in a way that would make them understand the creatures and most importantly care about them.
The men left the ranch at twilight just as the mosquitoes and fireflies appeared in the brushes. With an advanced payment from Mr. Ferguson, they would stop on the way home at a bar and knock back a few beers. The security job at the ranch was officially theirs to manage and they couldn't wait to get started. The men would keep their apartments in Amka Town for their days off, but for most part they would live in the staff houses near Mr. Ferguson's house.
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...