Pinch me I’m in Africa, or I was. So was Aiden Briggs of Just Before Sunset and that’s where the story begins, on the site of a large work camp in Kenya.
Swahili is the official language of Kenya, among other African countries, and Aiden would have to know a bit of it or use an interpreter, or both, like me, but a few of the basics include hujambo or just jambo: hello; lala salama: goodnight or sleep well; sawa sawa: okay, alright; Habari: what’s new (information)? The Swahili phrase that has become iconic is hakuna matata which means: No problem! No worries! I heard that a lot when I was there; Aiden would have too I’m sure.
An engineer, it was Aiden’s second trip to the African continent in a professional capacity, and before travelling to East Africa he would have required several vaccinations and also carry antibiotics with him there as a precautionary measure.
Not far away from where Aiden and his men were working on a huge development project, lie the expansive grasslands of the Maasai Mara (sometimes spelled Masai Mara), one of the most biologically diverse places on earth. Encompassing 1,510 square kilometres of national reserve, punctuated at intervals by escarpments, rivers and several varieties of acacia trees, The Mara, as it’s more commonly called, is home to thundering herds of wildebeest and zebras, towering giraffes, the majesty of lions, leopards and cheetahs, hyenas, elephants, cavorting bands of monkeys and baboons, strutting ostrich and the occasional stylishly-plumed secretary birds. It is a land where sunsets are spectacular but brief, being so close to the equator, and an enormous hushed cathedral at sunrise.
In addition to side trips to Nairobi from where he called home to Suzanne every month, you can bet Aiden would have spent any other free time venturing into this magnificent wilderness that was so close at hand. A massive expanse of golden grass, often tall enough to block the view from the safari van window, he likely would have embarked onto the savannah during these brief sojourns from any one of several beautiful lodges located high on the slopes of the Oloolaimutia Hills. I guarantee you, he wouldn’t have missed it.
He also no doubt visited with the Maasai tribe, because most foreign nationals do when they’re in the area. Known as the lion jumpers – the Maasai are one of the world’s last great warrior cultures. Their manner of dress is a symphony of bright colours in both garment and beadwork – crimson, lime green, deep sapphire, tangerine and sunbeam yellow. The women wear the rainbow, well, and the men are dazzling in their red shukas, believing that colour scares away lions. They are a fascinating indigenous people, and while I was there I received an invitation from the chief, to stay. I asked him for how long? He said forever, I want you to be my wife. He told me that Maasai chiefs can take several wives, and apparently there was a vacancy. I politely declined. Western women are popular there, and consequently marriage proposals were easy to come by.
Like me, when Aiden visited the Maasai village he would have seen tribal warriors such as those pictured above – one a young man, the other middle-aged; an elder following the Olng’eshere ceremony, one of three male rites of passage. Both carried the traditional cattle herding sticks of the Maasai herdsman. Tall, pencil-thin and able to jump as high as thirty-one inches off the ground in their adumu (jumping) dance, they struck an accommodating pose against the backdrop of the far-flung Maasai Mara – perhaps thinking of a different world that routinely sends curious tourists to their village. Celebrating their pastoral way of life, the Maasai are content and at perfect peace with the land. Visitors on the other hand, while deeply appreciating the incomparable spectacles of East Africa, are only passing through.
Aiden’s eight months in Kenya are coming to a close as the Just Before Sunset story begins, although as it turns out, his is an inglorious, explosive farewell to the magnificent dark continent. Once recovered sufficiently from the ordeal, he begins his long journey home to his own slice of heaven on the Kennebecasis River in beautiful New Brunswick, but he is completely unprepared for the bombshell that awaits him there. Just as his final hours in Kenya are life altering, so is his return home to the Kingston Peninsula.
Writing Just Before Sunset was an emotional yet gratifying experience, an opportunity to visit Africa again, this time through Aiden’s eyes, if only briefly, and I’m looking forward to sharing this heartfelt book with my readers.
Amani na upendo niwe nawe (peace and love be with you)