Kenyan New Year

This post will (hopefully) be an extra one this week. The prompt was for the Creative Non-Fiction class I’m taking currently. We were instructed to write a true scene. I’m adding it because I truly would like feedback on it.  Does it bring you in to the scene? What works for you? What doesn’t?  Is there anything unclear or that doesn’t ring true? This was how I welcomed the New Year 2014. Enjoy!

Hippo FamilyOn New Year’s Eve, the drums came calling. The rhythmic huffs of the hippos had replaced the tinny electronic sounds of the DJ some time earlier. I was sitting in a brown wooden chair on the veranda outside my tent at Fig Tree Resort in the Maasai M’mara. A few paces in front of me, the bluff dropped away to the river bend where the hippos spent most of the day. The tall panga-sporting Maasai patrolman had told me they would emerge shortly for their nightly foraging. He’d pointed out the path worn into the less-steep side of the bluff across from me; I could just make it out in the moonlight.

The camp was a mix of dark wood, greens, golds and reds nestled between two branches of the Mara River. The thatch-covered red wooden bridge that brought us to the resort’s entrance conveyed a sense of hidden treasures waiting to be found. The green canvas tents and wooden structures from which they hung seemed outgrowths of the natural lushness surrounding them. The stone paths leading to each individual tent platform invited serenity while the bougainvillea and palms lining the walk promised privacy.

We’d arrived a few hours earlier, shortly before dinner. After 3 ½ weeks without a shower, I’d been extremely excited about running water. Each of the three of us had our own tent facing the river. Inside were two beds, one double and one twin. Embroidered elephants danced across their red-gold coverlets. The bedside stand and posts were wooden and each bed had a canopy of mosquito netting as its curtain. At the back of the tent was a permanent bathing room all tiled in white.

Once gloriously clean, we met up again at the communal dining room for a holiday feast. Wooden giraffes and leopards lounged around the food service area and each had been suitably attired to welcome the New Year.

Christmas Kenya Style

Christmas Kenya Style

The giraffe’s two-pronged gold and silver party hat made us laugh and even the leopard had a few decorations between his paws. Christmas trees were made of gold tin and the ornaments were muted red pouches and shapes made of straw. Every lantern in the room was lit and the room glittered with good will.

As we were finishing the feast, our waiter and some of the other young Maasai men treated us to a performance of traditional songs, dance and the leaping for which they are famous. They were dressed as herders with red woven plaid blankets interspersed with navy blues and blacks. The dancers accompanied themselves with the gutturally rhythmic “auwoos” that you can’t help but bob your head to as you listen. We had to move outside for the jumping performance. Even leaping from a standstill many of their heads would have broken through the nine-foot ceilings if we had not!

After dinner, the DJ started up and a few of us M’zungus were brave enough, or happy enough, to attempt to dance. It wasn’t until after dark though, that the party really kicked off when all of the workers’ friends and families came to the resort. I watched for a little while since I wasn’t yet tired enough to sleep. My companions had already retired. Around 11, I had returned to my veranda to sit and write a bit. I was hoping to get some of my impressions down before we left Kenya the next day. My tent was situated far enough down the path that the electronic strains of the dance songs kept me just barely tethered to the celebration. After they ceased, the soothing sounds of the hippos were leading me toward sleep.

That’s when the drums called. Their sonorance blended seamlessly with the sound of men and women’s voices raised joyfully. The simplicity was haunting. And then I recognized the tune. I’d heard it sung often enough during the three weeks prior at one church activity or another. It instantly called me forth. The celebrants had moved farther off; they were outside now, on the patio near the bridge and bar, the welcome area of the resort. I wound through the bar tables and couches that were mostly empty to join the handful of other M’zungus that were watching delightedly. I perched on the edge of a couch half in and half out of the circle of dim lantern light.

As the song went on I sang along. The sounds I could mimic; one of the ladies I’d met in another part of Kenya had tried to teach me what the Swahili words meant, but I couldn’t remember. I sang though – achingly, heartbreakingly, joyously just as they did. The tears rolled unheeded down my face. This was Kenya. This was what I would miss: the purity, the intensity, the ever-present joy and pain that simultaneously under-girded every story, every family. This was Life in Kenya. Taking part in this music and dancing was Kenya’s remembrance gift to me. It sent me on my way and launched me into the New Year. The drums called, the dancers welcomed. We sang. We danced. I wept. I laughed. And then, the drums sent me home.

Fig Tree Resort tree house

Tree house



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