I wrote about the last book I reviewed in this blog that I found it difficult to feel any affinity with the author (Ann Patras). The author of Safari Ants, Baggy Pants and Elephants, Susie Kelly, is quite different, and soon after starting the book I found myself on her side. Why? Because she is interested in Africa and its people and says things such as, “Kenyans are naturally warm and smiling people, and when it comes to giving service they excel and take pride in doing their utmost to please you wholeheartedly, which I guess is one of the reasons so many people love this country.” Kelly was brought up in Kenya, so she should know. Whereas Patras spent a lot of time complaining that various things were not available in Africa, Kelly celebrates the things which are offered (papaya, mangoes, oranges, watermelon, pineapple, loquat, guava, passion fruit, etc), and notes that they always seem to taste much better in their country of origin. Patras mentioned that her husband tried nshima once, but never again, yet Kelly writes that on her return to Kenya she once more has the ugali that she loves but had last eaten fifty years ago.
I don’t want to labor the point, but one author is much more positive about her perspective towards Africa. Maybe Kelly is too positive! Sometimes she gets a bit…well…gushing, as in, “I wonder who first described Africa as the ‘Dark Continent’? Anybody who has been there knows that Africa is radiant; the bluest skies, the greenest foliage, the richest and most varied colours in the world of the animals, birds, and insects; the glossy yellow of pineapple, the deep orangs of papaya; the pale turquoise of the waves that tickle the silver sands of the coast; the red rich of the murram and the warm, soft beige of the desert. The golden glow of the sun rising and setting on the snowcaps of the great mountains. Where is the darkness?”. On the other hand, anyone who has been to Kenya will recognise what she is saying.
Anyone who has visited Kenya will also understand the following, “It does something to you, this infinite space, so tranquil on the surface, yet so teeming with life. You feel at once insignificant and amazing, just for being here. I wanted to hold out my arms and gather it all in, hold it pressed to my heart, never let it go.”
She comes away from a visit to a Samburu village feeling a bit uncomfortable – she enjoyed seeing them in their traditional environment, but couldn’t help wondering how long they will be able to maintain their lifestyles in a rapidly changing world.
When my son Jamie went to Australia on a gap trip, shortly after completing secondary school, I made sure he took a kikoi with him. I convinced him that it would come in useful. I always take a kikoi with me on holidays. Kelly writes about a gorgeous kikoi she is given early in her trip, “With one of these versatile colourful cotton rectangles, you are ready for anything as they can be used as articles of clothing, baby-carriers, headgear, beach mats, shopping bags, towels, curtains, sheets, table cloths, picnic rugs and any other purpose that you can think of for a rectangle of strong cotton.”
Safari Ants, Baggy Pants and Elephants covers Kelly’s three-week safari to Amboseli, Samburu, Nakuru, Nairobi, Masai Mara and a couple of other places. You wouldn’t think that there would be enough material to write a 250-page book, but Kelly’s experiences also stimulate some memories of her time in Kenya, fifty years previously. There is never too much detail, and it was a very enjoyable read. I learnt several things, as well, for example, the meaning of the word ‘nidifugous’, the difference between passerine or non-passerine birds, and my favourite, the origin of the word wabenzi.
Here’s a link to Kelly’s slideshow of her trip.