Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Aden: Random Memories 15: Kenya

What has Kenya to do with Aden? It’s a different country, and a different continent.
One thing many Aden people did was to go to Kenya. It wasn’t too far, Aden Airways’ Dakotas could get you there and back again, sometimes. We used the same currency, the East African Shilling. There was the Leave Centre in Mombassa. When in Aden, do as the rest of the Air Force do, and go to Kenya.
Our outward journey was not the best start for a nervous passenger. We must have got up at some ungodly hour, as I vaguely remember the sun was not high up when we boarded. The engines started, and we trundled toward the runway. The stewardesses offered boiled sweets or cotton wool. We got to the runway. The engines roared, the plane shuddered, the engines roared, the plane rattled, the engines roared.
The pilot then announced he could not get sufficient power and we would have to return to the terminal building and get on another plane. Which we dutifully did, disembarking and re-embarking.
The engines started, and we trundled toward the runway. The stewardesses offered boiled sweets or cotton wool. We got to the runway. The engines roared, the plane shuddered, the engines roared, the plane rattled, the engines roared. This second plane was not moving either.
Then, imperceptibly, a forward movement was felt, the plane suddenly became lighter as the worries of the passengers melted away like morning mist, and we accelerated along the runway and then, magically, the vibrations beneath us stopped, and the sounds of the engines changed from a tortured groan to a gentler hum. We were on our way. At last!
Looking out the window, I could see below us the reddish earth as we crossed over the horn of Africa. Just as on old steam trains, the Dakota seemed to move so leisurely that speed was not of the essence. As the sun rose ever higher I could see our shadow sauntering beneath us.
We arrived safe and sound in Mombassa. My memories of the place are few, but I was happy there. There was more traffic than in Aden, I thought. I had my first photo (or more accurately strip of four photos) in a Photo-Me booth while we were there. Arching over the road were gigantic elephant tusks made from metal and painted white. While we were there, I bought some little wooden figures, the Three Wise Monkeys, a tribal mask and various small animals as well as a drum made from an animal’s hide. My parents bought some of the same, but bigger, for themselves and as presents to back home for those who would never be able to come here. The drum they bought as our present for ourselves was much bigger than mine, almost as big as me in fact.
And then there was the beach. Never have I seen sand so bright and shiny. It was almost a dazzling pure white. The sea was blue and stretched even further than the sea at Aden.
While we were at Mombassa we went on Safari in the Tsavo Royal National Park. We woke up in pitch black darkness and made or way to the VW van that was to be our home for most of the rest of the day. We were beyond street lighting, the only light was the headlights of the van. As we were driven to the park cracks in the darkness appeared. The colour of the sky broke into fragments of hues of all kinds of shades of pink and red and orange, and then it smeared into a richer darker blue, which turned ever lighter and brighter by degrees. We arrived at the park entrance in half light and drove into a world not even a zoo could conjure. A dik-dik darted into the vegetation at the road side. 
I had been collecting cards given away with Brook Bond Tea. One set was African Wildlife. I have no idea if I had managed to collect the entire set, but I carefully glued every card I collected into the relevant collector’s book for every set I tried to collected. I swotted up on the animals in my book as I wanted to recognise and name as many as I could. What child doesn’t want to impress? One of the first animals in the collection was a dik-dik, and it seemed appropriate that was the first animal I saw in the National Park.
Later on we saw gazelles and zebra and wildebeest and warthogs and all kinds of creatures running, grazing or sauntering in the landscape. When they rushed about, the animals kicked up rich red dust clouds as they disturbed the dry earth beneath their hooves.
Suddenly the driver stopped the van, turned off the engine and told us to be quiet. We waited for an eternity and then, about 800 yards ahead of us, a troupe of elephants of all sizes crossed the road. They were as silent as the night. We saw more elephants during the day. At one point we were looked at very suspiciously by a bull elephant. The driver wasted no time in driving us off as fast as he could go, rather than face the possibility of a charge from the towering and menacing creature.
We saw termite hills that were taller than an eight year old. I was chosen as the yardstick for everybody to photograph. In a river we saw motionless logs. More careful inspection revealed them as crocodiles. Fortunately they were a good distance away from us. A very good distance.
The highlight of the trip was an animal orphanage. There we saw a year old elephant, that was so large I couldn’t imagine how big it must have been at birth to be that size. There was also a young orphaned rhino. The images we were used to was of angry creatures trying to demolish land rovers with their horns as battering rams. Despite the fact the rhino was only about waist height to me I was extra vigilant, but not vigilant enough. While I was stroking the elephant I felt a nudging behind me and a mid-range soprano sound ‘ee-ee, ee-ee’. I turned and to my horror the rhino had sneaked up behind me. I was terrified. The grownups just laughed. It was all right for them, they were much bigger than the rhino, I tried to get away but the creature kept following me. It was just a friendly child. I was a silly frightened child. Frightened by a youngster wanting to be friends. The journey back seemed to take forever, and we returned in the dark.
Whilst in Kenya, we also went to Nairobi and met up with friends of my parents. They showed us several of their films while we were there. Real moving pictures of their adventures. How I wished we had a camera like them and take home movies. We also took the opportunity to go through the Nairobi Royal National Park. The main point was to see the lions, but they were as timid as my friend the rhino in Tsavo had been intimate. We saw no lions. What we did see in abundance within moments of arriving in the park were baboons, or more accurately a windscreen seemingly covered by bare red baboon backsides.
As with all good things, this holiday had to come to an end. We made our way to Mombassa airport laden with our presents. In those days, not only was the luggage weighed but the passengers were too. My wooden figures and mask and my drum were all packed in the suitcase, the large drum my parents bought was too large to pack, and it was likely to take us over the weight limit. My turn came to be weighed. One or both of my parents told me to pick up the drum. I looked at them horrified. I was going to have to hold the drum and get weighed in front of all the other passengers. The shame and embarrassment I felt was, and still is, indescribable. I can almost feel the red flush rushing to my face and the sweat breaking out as all the grownups laughed. Very funny, I don’t think. How would they like to be made to do that? The journey home to Aden was without any memorable incident. I never forgave my parents for that, and I doubt if I ever will. I am scarred by it, even now. As I said before, I hate to be made a fool of in public.
© 2012 Gwailo54

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