In 1992, at the end of a ten-day hike around the
Samburu camps of Kenya’s Mathews Range with three Samburu morans and three pack
camels, I needed someone to drive me back to Nairobi, the country’s capital. So
at dawn the next day, with Leneemi, Lekerepes, and Lalaur, I walked to a lodge
in the Kittchich National Park to use its radio. For a while we moved
cross-country, then followed a dirt road. As we waded through a river a Samburu
man caught up with us. He said he was a game warden, and he joined our march.
Here is what I wrote in my diary that day.
On the other side of the river the road
climbs out of the valley, littered every twenty meters or so with the dropping
of elephants that came to drink earlier.
They are so fresh that the urine in which some of them sit has not yet
soaked into the dusty ground. The warden looks around warily.
"This is a dangerous time to walk
this road," he tells me in English. "I cannot avoid it because last
evening I got permission to spend the night home after work under the condition
that I would be back to the lodge before eight, but you should not have come
this early. Generally the elephants keep away from the road, but in the morning
and evening they use it to go drink. Last evening, near here, I was charged by
one. I had accidentally banged a can I was carrying, and the noise enraged him.
Though I literally flew down the road, he was much faster. I threw myself into
the underbrush, zigzagged for my life, and cut back to the road again. Looking
back, I saw the elephant hesitate, and give up his pursuit. If we see
elephants, do not speak, do not make noise, tread carefully, and they will keep
Worried by his words, I scan the bush
around for a possible escape road. But there are no trees big enough to climb,
and the bush is so closed and thorny that to try to run through it before an
elephant would be offering myself to it on a silver platter. I have not
resolved what to do in case of an emergency when, on our left, in a clearing
not 20 paces away, stands a huge elephant.
Anguish silences us as if we had just
heard a fatal verdict. Looking to the left, we walk as if on eggs--I, on shaky
legs. The elephant is feeding. Though he eyes us suspiciously, he does not
move. He would make a great picture, I think. And that reminds me of all the
times I have had, in the face of danger, similar thoughts though not the
courage to act upon them. I survived each time only to blame myself later for
Thus I stop, and while the Samburu walk
on, subtly shaking their heads at me in silent reproach, I slowly point my
camera at the elephant. I click once, but even that minor sound irritates it, for it
lifts his head, shakes its huge ears, and takes three steps in my direction.
Horrified, I resume a cautious march. Trying to look immobile, I stretch my
steps as much as I can. I try to hurry without haste. Fortunately, the elephant
reverts to its browsing. As soon as I lose sight of it around a bend of the
path, I run after my companions. Suddenly, perhaps to dampen any further wish
to take elephant pictures, they have plenty of elephant stories to tell me.
"I knew a man," says the warden,
"who fell asleep in the bush. An elephant came by, dragged him to a tree,
and beat it against it to pulp."
"Many a Samburu," says Leneemi,
"facing alone with his spear a pride of lions threatening his herd, has
frightened it away, but those who have seen a single infuriated elephant
trample to death twenty of their cows have had no alternative but to run for
their own lives."
As predicted by the game warden, our
return through the park much later is uneventful. We meet only three morans on
a strenuous eight-day round trip to Marsabit, to the north-northeast, to buy
spears from the famed local smiths. Like Leneemi and Lekerepes, they were
circumcised and became moran only
some months ago. The spears they are carrying were lent to them. Those spears
are their only luggage. Their only food will be the milk they will get in
Samburu camps, their only water that which they will find along the way,
sometimes at great intervals. In the desert, where they will walk one
exceptionally long day without either milk or water, they will risk their
Sahara Desert. Ghardaia Oasis (Mzab). Mzabite Berber family. Street is narrow to keep
it shady. Fabric stretched between walls helps this further. The woman is sowing
only one eye.
Algérie. Sahara. Oasis de Ghardaïa (Mzab). Famille berbère
mzabite. La rue est étroite pour la protéger du soleil. Une toile étendue entre
ses deux côtés ajoute à l’ombre. La femme ne montre qu’un œil.