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The Safari Man

The Safari Man
Every couch potato in Nairobi is raving about this new homegrown TV wonderboy Kiran Jetwa. His TV show, Tales from the Bush Larder, is pushing the eyeballs for Zuku, East Africa’s fastest growing satellite home entertainment network, that hosted the series in February 2013. The TV grapevine has it that Nat Geo feels threatened. Everyone whose cutting final cut pro and Avid is wracking his brains to squeeze in more eyeballs on something quite like Jetwa on offer.Women past their prime get dilated pupils when they see his gym toned body walk the Tiwi Beach estuary in Kenya in conversation with the salt of the earth. Swahili fisherman diving for prawn off the shimmering white sand beaches near Diani, half an hour from Mombasa. Jetwa is just about getting into his TV act. Back in Nairobi Jetwa, 37, chef and owner of his restaurant, Seven Seafood and Grill, is the TV flavour of the season.The half Indian half Irish man gets into accent mode. Jetwa says he’s talking real Kenya, not the white version of Karen Blixen or Ernest Hemingway. This is the real Africa, says Jetwa.<br><br>Quite extraordinary. Cameras, over the shoulder shots, sound bite, dolly tracking the man. Night TV for you. I don’t watch TV, it sucks. Its an idiot box fuelled by TRP, shows abound, one slicker than the other. I was looking for the real safari man and my search had just begun. Sipping coffee at Art Café, I fell in conversation with a taciturn man, Aman, our researcher at the Millennium Post, had arranged to meet. Tommy Gerald or Tommy G also known as TG, looks like he is in his early forties. He runs one of the best safaris outfits in town and knows the Mara. I asked Tommy G, ‘Have you heard of the safari man?’<br><br>TG looked amused. ‘Someone who knows everything about the wild and...’ I asked. It was Tommy G, who got me in touch with Carlos, someone he described as master of all. He does generators, does everything. A thin rain had begun to wash the streets outside Dormans Coffee House in Karen as I lay in wait for Carlos. Carlos, a man in his early forties, was born in Scotland but his parents brought him to Karen when he was three months old. He told me quite perfunctorily, I am a Kenyan citizen and speak Swahili. Karen was home.<br><br>The road to Karen, a 30 minute drive from Nairobi, runs through hills and forests now being cut wide open by Chinese bulldozers. Roads and ugly malls, new condominiums and what is loosely called architorture scald the eyeline. The ground has begun to shake.No wonder WangariMaathai, the feisty Kenyan woman from the dominant Kikuyu tribe, had fought for the forests. Hundreds walked, wept and sang when this 71 year old Nobel Prize winner died in September 2011. For me Karen meant  the novel, Out of Africa.<br><br>Karen was where the white man had stamped Kenya with his particular brand of the sweet life, la dolce vita. I wanted to see Karen perhaps more than the region claimed by Hemingway, In the Snows of Kilimanjaro. Blixen’s cottage is now a museum and her lover, Denys Finch-Hatton’s Camp is now under renovation, owned by Kishan Singh Gehlot, a Rajputbusinessman from India.<br>I noticed a strange respect in Carlos’s tone,  ‘Tommy G called me so I had to come’. As Carlos described, he did generators and fabrications but the business was not doing well. He was closing it down looking at neighbouring Tanzania for work. Labour around Nairobi worked from 9 am to 5 pm at 400 shillings a day and Carlos was happy with that. ‘Were the whites leaving Karen’, I asked. ‘Since the last ten years the numbers are going down. Kenya is changing,more roads,more flats,papers full of car ads. Whose buying, are the flats empty?’ A strange look came into Carlos’s eyes. The conversation shifted to Tommy G.<br><br>‘Did he tell you about Waso? ‘Carlos asked. ‘We call it Waso – I mean the story about the crocs?’I am getting used to sheng, I mean Kiswahili slang in Kenya, but this is Karen sheng, Waso for Wasenero.Wasai means a river, it runs beyond Lake Magadi. ‘I used to go with Tommy G to Waso quite often,float in electric tubes down the river,run through the forests until we set up camp. Once we were there, two of us. It was Tommy G who instinctively smelt the presence of a lion. In the wild savannah grass where no Maasai roam, to protect their cattle, the king of the forest lies in wait for game. Tommy G and I were out of  breath.Tommy turned to me, ‘Carlos, what happens if... What will we do?’<br><br>We kept running silently through the tall grass in safari boots. It was the month of April when the sun scalds you in dry, unrelenting heat. But the question still lingered.  Carlos’s question, ‘Did Tommy G tell you about Wasenero and the crocs?’ remained unanswered. When a crocodile gets hold of game he brings his prey up once and then begins the classical roll which crushes an unmindful wildebeest to pulp. The rains had stopped outside Dormans Coffee House and the smell of African earth wafted in the cool air. ‘We don’t go out that often to the Waso ever since Tommy G got married’,says Carlos. Tommy G’s parents sent him to La Roche to study. They call them KC’s, Kenyan cowboys. Tommy G loves his beaded belts and bangles, boots, Victorinox Swiss knife,not to mention Tusker Beer at sundown. Always dressed like that, he will shout across the road and wave you down. Tommy G loves his Jack Russell dog.<br><br>Men like Carlos who work with their hands talk little. Unlike the lazy Giriyamasor Digos off the Mombasa coast. Carlos doesn’t blame them, the sun is sharp and they open a bottle at 12, here it’s around five when they get on the horn. Yes, the whites are going down. I don’t mean those two year wonders who come out on contract for the United Nations or the World Bank.The distinction is not lost on me:  whites who stay and whites who leave. Carlos, Tommy G stayed back. One afternoon, I took a drive down to M’Bogani House in Karen wherethe Swedish author who wrote under her pen name Isak Dinesen lived from 1913-1931 at the foot of the Ngong Hills. Old coffee grinder machines still stand testimony to the good old plantation days. It is here that Isak whom the world would come to know as Karen Blixen lived. Her novel immortalised in the Hollywood classic, Out of Africa, in 1985.<br><br>Karen Blixen Museum is hidden away in the back of Karen, a large plot now humming with tourists, 1200 shillings a ticket. This is where the love story of Karen Blixen and Denys Finch-Hatton had once bloomed in the 1920s. An ill fated air crash on 14 May 1931 left Finch-Hatton, the second son of the 13th Earl of Winchilsea dead. Tall,dark and handsome, Denys stole Karen’s heart. Out of Africa is a bildungsroman of the time they spent together. <br><br>The tribes of whites, as Carlos described himself, now approximate 30,000. They still live a scented life and it’s hard to break in. They run the safaris, the big plantations and converge on sun downers when the mists of the African dusk descend on rolling plains and the night begins to awaken to night sounds. It’s all very heady. It is this animal energy that pulses through Africa that brought the white man down here years ago They speak a different sheng. Outsiders are politely held at the door when its time for a sun downer. If Kenya meant adventure, the whites found it. <br><br>BinyavangaWainaina, the 2002 Caine literary award winner thinks otherwise. The heavily bulky Kikuyu lives in Karengata too. He circuits on literary junkets, explaining that’s the best way to travel, speaks rapid fire and tenses over as he talks about the black man’s burden. The fact is that in 1905, Nairobi had become the capital of the British East Africa Protectorate, simply put it was under whites. Blixen, Hemingway et al were to bask in the clasp of empire, a land safe for their forays.The Mau Mau rebels in Hemingway’s last yet unfinished novel, In the true light of day, herding under fledgeling Jomo Kenyatta were not exactly disturbing Tommy liver lunches, liver from culled Thompsons gazelle. Unrest and intransigence were not coming in the way of Hemingways’s young wife Mary Welsh’s obsession to hunt a lion before Christmas. <br><br>Years later Kenyatta would come to power in 1963 and today his son Uhuru has switched from the English to Chinese pushing Kenya Airways to open several flights to China and personally visiting Beijing. The streets of Nairobi are being carved new by Chinese supervisors in straw hats with armies of  semi skilled black labourtoiling in the heat.The swanky Nairobi Mombasa highway which cuts through safari country past Tsavo is Chinese built. ‘Atleast the Chinese are not coming here behind aid, humanitarian gestures or concern for children of conflict. It is business for them,’ says Wainaina, his sarcasm not lost on us as he serves glasses of tea, marvels at his new mobile which can now do many things and checks his jet hopping travel schedules. <br><br>In Mombasa, Tuva Mwahunga, General Manager at the Serena Beach Hotel and Spa, told me that Chinese tourists were coming in for the first time.And KalmanLissak, Gaming Manager at the swanky Millionaires Casino, has begun to count Chinese heads over the gambling tables. ‘They don’t bother about food, just drinks, cigarettes and gambling’, said Lissak. Chris Modigell,the manager at Leopard Beach Resort and Spa onDiani Beach, has a few things to say on the Chinese. ‘Maasaimara is over, The Chinese are throwing water bottles at animals to make them move for pictures,what a shame.’And then later,’Everyone knows who the new colonialistsare, don’t you and turns to me – ‘China of course’. <br><br>Is China now breaching the land, the safari man. The talk of China is clearly in the air. Brennen Mathews,who runs the East Africa Destination magazine, out of Karen sits in a large manor of lawns and driveways and wooden floors. He is full blooded Karen. China does not exist here, says Mathews.Karen is holding out in its own inimitable style. Where does one start writing or rewriting the story of Kenya? Should it be written from the safaris and beaches that have made Kenya the prime wildlife destination of East Africa? Some fear the worst. Is it time yet to start writing a sequel to Thomas Packenham’s classic, Scramble for Africa? Are the idyllic days of Karen about to come to a close. The Chinese and the Indians have seen the gap and understand the maths of supply and demand. However, both China and India do not have enviable track records back home in preserving wildlife or forests. Are we about to lose the idyllic world of Blixen and Hemingway. The sundowners and the animals in the mist, the call of the snows of Kilimanjaro and Blixen’s immortal line,  Last night I dreamt of Africa. <br><br><i>The author is Consulting Editor, Africa<br>Research by Aman Ramrakha<br></i><br><br><br><br><br>
Kalyan Mukherjee

Kalyan Mukherjee

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