Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Birth of Mkeri - Part One

There are many times I have sat back and pondered on the beginnings of this journey called Mkeri.  It was led me down paths that I never expected. Opened doors and shown me worlds that if I hadn't of lived them... I wouldn't have believed them.

But for me, Mkeri was born the day we stepped off that KLM aircraft, and walked down the steps to the searing Tarmac in the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The whine of the turbines reverberated through the fuselage as the KLM stewardesses announce the preparation for landing. Dropping into a banking turn, the servo motors resonated and vibrated through the floor boards as the landing gear was dropped.  Levelling off, an announcement crackled over the PA system.

Due to a lone giraffe walking across the runway, we had to circle until it was clear. Sure enough, ten minutes later we were once more ascending, and levelled off for a touch down. As the scenery flashed past, the main gear squawked on the runway and the nose began to drop... I saw her.  Standing on the far side of the airfield, she had her neck stretched up into the green tops of an Acacia tree.  Unmoved by the reverse thrusters that shrieked as we were pushed forward against our seat-belts; her world was calm and at piece.  Far from what we were about to be thrown into. My first wild giraffe.

The heat that assailed us sucked the breath from our lungs as we descending the steps to the hot, black pavement.  We had just arrived at the start of the dry season.  This, was their summer.  This, was just the beginning and only at a cool 38 degrees C.

No one spoke as we were ushered into the terminal.  Surrounded by military and police carrying AK-47 machine guns slung loose at their side, we were one by one escorted to a table and interrogated.  The first questions was - Do you have any American money?  Already pre-warned to this part of their world, we did what everyone in our situation would do.  We lied.  Giving him just a few hundred dollars, it was transferred into Tanzanian Shillings.  Mind you... at a very poor rate of exchange!

Next question... do you have any weapons.  Again I lied.  I was carrying my prized Buck folding lock-blade knife which had been my best and most trusted friend when in the Navy.

I passed the customs.

The drive on the bus back to our staff house on the north shore of Oyster Bay, was a solemn ride.  We had never seen such poverty.  A country that had just opened it's borders two years prior, after throwing out all whites in their attempt to regain control of their own destiny, was one that left us with no words. The degradation of the country that had once been during the British empirical rule, was everywhere.  Whitewashed buildings with bare  concrete and only patches of white remaining.  Broken and crumpling balustrades and benches along the seawall was disheartening to say the least.

As we turned down the street from the ocean drive and rumbled along the rough and broken paved road; we seriously were asking; "What have gotten ourselves into?"  But as we pulled up to the fortified home with guards and a welcoming field supervisor and staff administrator., you could say that we were home.  Yeah right!  I don't think so!!!

The following weeks were filled with preparations to enter camp.  We had a lot of work to do as we were assembling vehicles and quads shipped over on a cargo ship. Drills and swamp buggies were also assembled.  With shipping containers filled with gear and my recording equipment, we all had to account for every item and loaded onto their respective trucks.

Two weeks after arriving, the convoy left the safety and bustle of the city and headed north.  Following the coastline as we bumped and rocked along the dirt roads, we caught glimpses of the Indian Ocean . The occasional breeze lifted the dust and dirt from the caravan and for a moment - just a mere moment, offered us a respite from a world we come to know and admire.  We were headed for Bagamoyo.  We were headed for Mkeri.  Destiny was awaiting me in a world that  would soon, turn the world I thought I knew, upside down.  We were here... we, were in Africa!


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