Disconnect

Cheeky Monkey, Lake Naivasha After lunch we take our time. I sunbathe by the edge of the lawn, watched by naughty monkeys and the occasional brave pair of rock hyraxes. My soundtrack is made up of incessant, gaseous grunts from the hippo and the shrill notes of the birds.

I sit for too long, too close to the sun, and then I have that heavy feeling, which comes over you just before sleep, or sometimes vertigo; my lids half-close against the glare, my limbs go sticky with sweat. My head feels hazy, full of sand; I've no doubt that, were I to suddenly stand, I would briefly but powerfully become dizzy, overcome by the black mist of heat-and-inertia-induced weakness.

So I move slowly to the shade, set up camp again on the smooth, cool terrace. I don't know where everybody has gone--off hunting monkeys with slingshots, perhaps, or enjoying an impromptu snooze.

Laughter comes from inside. Grunts form the disgruntled hippos at the lake. I remember suddenly an ornament from my childhood, a blueish-green glass hippo, flat on one side, which stood, I'm sure, in the bathroom for quite some time. I feel it's possible I even used to play with it in the bath.

Speaking of baths: I watch birds taking a bath. Action fails me. The monkeys crash onto the tin roof. They have enough energy for all of us.

I move back into the sun. I lie on a deck chair reading Blaine Harden's piece on good intentions in the Turkana district of Kenya. He writes about the Norwegians, who decided to take the old fishing proverb literally, and not only teach the Turkana tribe how to fish (incidentally, these pastoral people consider fishing to be only a last resort, the desperate measure of a man who can't keep his herd in tact), but also to build a multi-million dollar frozen fish plant in the middle of the desert. Within two days the plant had run out of fuel, and the attempt was deemed well-intentioned but misguided. And so it goes in Africa, Harden writes--money and wasted resources are poured in, but in the case of a flailing continent, it really isn't the thought that counts. They need more than good intentions, they need good solid thought, research, and proper infrastructure.

Then I take a nap, being remote as I am from Turkana and its troubles.

Later we go into Naivasha to run some errands. We stroll half-anxiously up and down the main street. We attract glances by dint of our incongruity. One man wants to sell us something, but we decline the offer; otherwise people steer clear, as if we don't really exist, maybe. A sweaty illusion; a pair of shadows. It's a heavy, muggy afternoon, and the street moves quite slowly. Once a vehicle pulls into the post office and expels a brazen, pink-faced white woman, but otherwise we are on a brightly-coloured Mars. Our lives do not overlap with theirs in any way. The facades crumble and the shops seem asleep; in the bank, I see a woman in flared suit trousers and high-heeled sandals, and am almost relieved at the familiarity of her bank-teller composure, except that it feels even stranger out here. I see she looks out of place, too.

The security for the bank is thoroughly modern. An askari in a baseball helmet, holding his gun, sits outside and waves us in, one at a time. We push through one glass door and then wait while a metal detector scans us. A prim voice says, "Metal Detected. Please Step Forward," and we push at the door and stumble into an air-conditioned, empty lair. Going out is just the same, but there doesn't seem to really be any concern about safety and security, as if it's all an elaborate theatrical production, and in a way, I'm sure it is--to make "us" feel safer, and "them" even further removed; but the reality is always simpler than that and in this case the truth is this: we're all as fragile as each other.

We drive back, away from Naivasha, towards the edge of the lake. The street is teeming with walkers, cyclists, kids on their way home from school, in uniforms and winter hats. Along the side of the road runs a piece of the original Lunatic Express, now more or less abandoned, though all the infrastructure is there.