Saturday, May 05, 2007

Part V: A Day between Two Mountains

This is the last of five-part reminiscence from my time in Kenya as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the mid-Sixties. See the first four parts in posts from earlier this week.

Ali and I slowly emerged from the desert and its maze. The road straightened. Clusters of sage-like brush appeared along the roadside, then the shade-making, flat-topped acacia “umbrella trees." We passed a pair of camels laden with sticks and guided by an ancient herder. A gazelle clan stared at us from afar before bounding away, their white tails flicking in retreat.

The road turned to tarmac at the crossroad garrison town of Isolo. We passed the armed jeep, which had pulled to the side of the road. We waved good-byes and thanks to its dust-covered driver and machine gunner.

From here it was another hour to Nanyuki and the home of the owner of the Ali’s lorry, Mr Singh, one the thousands of Asians in Kenya’s merchant class.

I would be welcomed, Ali assured me.

We gained elevation again. The coolness of the evening, the forests and the heights enfolded us. Nanyuki is still known to most westerners as the place where the actor William Holden built his resort, the famed Mt. Kenya Safari Club. Even at dusk it was easy to see how he chose it. Nanyuki is safe and pristine, tucked away in a canopy of giant trees and guarded by the mountain slopes.

Mr. Singh and his family lived in an ample rectangular compound of white washed, single-story buildings. The compound’s gates were thrown open, Ali drove the truck into the courtyard, and Singh himself ran out to greet us, knowing full well the dangers of the journey. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I was a welcomed with surprise and made a cause for added celebration.

Singh insisted I stay with the family that night before heading to Nairobi in the morning. He led me to a guest room which had an adjacent, and much welcomed, shower.

“You take your shower and then come out to the courtyard and we’ll get you a scotch and curry. You have had curry, haven’t you?”
As a matter of fact, I had never had curry, I admitted. It wasn’t a dish common to Illinois.
“Well, then, you are in for a treat.”

Indeed I was.

Scotch in hand, I sat with Mr. Singh and his family around the outdoor charcoal burner and gazed into the embers and the curry pot. The pungent amber curry bubbled and steamed into the mountain air. The spicy richness of the exotic flavors melded with the scotch, the celebration, the camaraderie, the distant desert, the day and the danger.
That night, I slept as soundly as I have ever slept.

I have treated myself to hundreds of curries since that first one around the fire in Nanyuki. None has tasted so good, and each has renewed memories of that day between mountains so far away and long ago.

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