A War-time Safari
When the war broke out, my husband and the two Swedish assistants on the farm volunteered and went down to the German border, where a provisional Intelligence Service was being organized by Lord Delamere. I was then alone on the farm. But shortly afterwards there began to be talk of a Concentration Camp for the white women of the country; they were believed to be exposed to danger from the Natives. I was thoroughly frightened then, and thought: If I am to go into a ladies’ Concentration Camp in this country for months,—and who knows how long the war is going to last?—I shall die. A few days later I got the chance to go, with a young Swedish farmer, a neighbour of ours, to Kijabe, a station higher up the railway line, and there to be in charge of a camp to which the runners from the border brought in their news, which had then to be telegraphed on to Headquarters in Nairobi.
At Kijabe I had my tent near the station, amongst stacks of firewood for the railway engines. As the runners came in at all hours of the day or night, I came to work much together with the Goan Stationmaster. He was a small, mild man, with a burning thirst for knowledge, unaffected by the war around him. He asked me many questions of my country, and made me teach him a little Danish, which he thought would at some time come in highly useful to him. He had a small boy of ten, named Victor; one day as I walked up to the station, through the trellis-work of the Verandah, I heard him going on teaching Victor his grammar: “Victor, what is a pronoun?—what is a pronoun, Victor?—You do not know?—Five hundred times have I told you!”
The people down by the border kept on demanding provisions and ammunition to be sent to them; my husband wrote and instructed me to load up four ox-waggons and to send them down as soon as possible. But I must not, he wrote, let them go without a white man in charge of them, for nobody knew where the Germans were, and the Masai were in a state of high excitement at the idea of war, and on the move all over the Reserve. In those days the Germans were supposed to be everywhere, and we kept sentinels by the great railway bridge of Kijabe to prevent them blowing it up.
I engaged a young South African by the name of Klapprott, to go with the waggons, but when they were all loaded up, on the evening before the expedition was to start off, he was arrested as a German. He was not a German, and could prove it, so that only a short time afterwards he got out of the arrest and changed his name. But at that hour I saw in his arrestation, the finger of God, for now there was nobody but me to take the waggons through the country. And in the early morning, while the old constellations of the stars were still out, we set off down the long endless Kijabe Hill, with the great plains of the Masai Reserve,—iron-grey in the faint light of the dawn,—spread at our feet, with lamps tied under the waggons, swinging, and with much shouting and cracking of whips. I had four waggons, with a full team of sixteen oxen to each, and five spare oxen, and with me twenty-one young Kikuyus and three Somalis: Farah, Ismail, the gun-bearer, and an old cook also named Ismail, a very noble old man. My dog Dusk walked by my side.
It was a pity that the Police when arresting Klapprott, had at the same time arrested his mule. I had not been able to recover it in all Kijabe, so that for the first few days I had to walk in the dust beside the waggons. But later I bought a mule and saddle from a man whom I met in the Reserve, and again some time after a mule for Farah.
I was out then for three months. When we came down to our place of destination, we were sent off again to collect the stores of a big American shooting Safari that had been camping near the border, and had left in a hurry at the news of the war. From there the waggons had to go to new places. I learned to know the fords and water-holes of the Masai Reserve, and to speak a little Masai. The roads everywhere were unbelievably bad, deep with dust, and barred with blocks of stone taller than the waggons; later we travelled mostly across the plains. The air of the African highlands went to my head like wine, I was all the time slightly drunk with it, and the joy of these months was indescribable. I had been out on a shooting Safari before, but I had not till now been out alone with Africans.
The Somali and I, who felt responsible for the Government’s property, lived in constant fear of losing the oxen from lions. The lions were on the road, following after the big transports of supplies of sheep and provisions, which now continually were travelling along it to the border. In the early mornings, as we drove on, we could see, for a long way, the fresh spoor of the lions in the dust, upon the waggon-tracks of the road. At night, when the oxen were outspanned, there was always a risk of lions round the camp frightening them, and making them stampede and spread all over the country, where we would never find them again. So we built tall circular fences of thorn-trees round our outspanning and camping places, and sat up with rifles by the campfires.
Here both Farah and Ismail, and old Ismail himself, felt at such a safe distance from civilization that their tongues were loosened, and they would narrate strange happenings of Somaliland, or tales out of the Koran, and the Arabian Nights. Both Farah and Ismail had been to sea, for the Somali are a seafaring nation, and were, I believe, in old days, great pirates of the Red Sea. They explained to me how every live creature on the earth has got its replica at the bottom of the sea: horses, lions, women and Giraffe all live down there, and from time to time have been observed by sailors. They also recounted tales of horses which live at the bottom of the rivers of Somaliland, and at full-moon nights come up to the grass-land to copulate with the Somali mares grazing there, and breed foals of wonderful beauty and swiftness. The vault of the nocturnal sky swung back over our heads as we sat on, new constellations of stars came up from the East. The smoke from the fire in the cold air carried long sparks with it, the fresh firewood smelt sour. From time to time the oxen suddenly all at once stirred, stamped and squeezed together, sniffing up in the air, so that old Ismail would climb on to the top of the loaded wagon, and there swing his lamp, to observe and to frighten off anything that might be about outside the fence.
We had many great adventures with lions: “Beware of Siawa,” said the Native leader of a transport going North, whom we met on the road. “Do not camp here. There are two hundred lions at Siawa.” So we tried to get past Siawa before nightfall, and hurried on, and as haste makes waste on a Safari more than anywhere else, about sunset a wheel of the last waggon stuck on a big stone, and it could go no farther. While I was now holding the lamp to the people working to lift it off, a lion took one of our spare oxen not three yards from me. By shouting and cracking whips, for my rifles were with the Safari, we managed to frighten off the lion, and the ox, that had run away with the lion on his back, came back to us, but it had been badly mauled and died a couple of days later.
Many other strange things happened to us. At one time an ox drank up all our supply of paraffin, died on us, and left us without light of any kind until we got to an Indian dhuka in the Reserve, deserted by the owner, where strangely some of the goods were still untouched.
We were for a week camped close to a big camp of the Masai Morani, and the young warriors, in warpaint, with spears and long shields, and head-dresses of lion-skin, were round my tent day and night, to get news of the war and of the Germans. My own people of the Safari liked this camp, because here they bought milk from the Morani’s herd of cattle that trekked about with them and was herded by the young Masai boys, the Laioni, who as yet are too young to become warriors. The juvenile Masai soldier-girls, very lively and pretty, came into my tent to call on me. They would always ask for the loan of my hand-mirror, and, when they held it up to one another, they bared their two rows of shining teeth to the mirror, like angry young carnivora.
All news of the movements of the enemy had to pass through Lord Delamere’s camp. But Lord Delamere was moving all over the Reserve in such incredibly swift marches, that nobody ever knew where his camp was to be found. I had nothing to do with Intelligence Work, but I wondered how the system worked for the people employed in it. Once my way took me within a couple of miles of Lord Delamere’s camp, and I rode over with Farah and had tea with him. The place, although he was to break camp next day, was like a city, swarming with Masai. For he was always very friendly with them, and in his camp they were so well regaled that it had become like the lion’s den of the fable: all footsteps turning in and none out. A Masai runner, sent with a letter to Lord Delamere’s camp, would never show himself again with an answer. Lord Delamere, in the centre of the stir, small, and exceedingly polite and courteous as ever, his white hair down on his shoulders, seemed eminently at ease here, told me everything about the war, and offered me tea with smoked milk in it, after the Masai fashion.
My people showed great forbearance with my ignorance of oxen, harness and Safari ways; they were indeed as keen to cover it up as I was myself. They worked well for me all through the Safari, and never grumbled, although in my inexperience I asked more of everyone, both men and oxen, than could really be expected of them. They carried bath water for me on their heads a long way across the plain, and when we outspanned at noon, they constructed a canopy against the sun, made out of spears and blankets, for me to rest under. They were a little scared of the wild Masai, and much disturbed by the idea of the Germans, of whom strange rumours went about. Under the circumstances I was to the expedition, I believe, a kind of Guardian Angel, or mascot.
Six months before the outbreak of the war, I had first come out to Africa, on the same boat as General von Lettow Vorbeck, who was now the highest in command of the German forces in East Africa. I did not know then that he was going to be a hero, and we had made friends on the journey. When we dined together in Mombasa before he went farther on to Tanganyika, and I went up-country, he gave me a photograph of himself in uniform and on horseback, and wrote on it:
“Das Paradies auf Erde
Ist auf dem R"uken der Pferde,
Und die Gesundheit des Leibes
Am Busen des Weibes.”
Farah, who had come to meet me in Aden, and who had seen the General and been aware that he was my friend, had taken the photograph with him on the Safari and kept it with the money and the keys of the expedition to show the German soldiers if we were made prisoners, and he attached great value to it.
How beautiful were the evenings of the Masai Reserve when after sunset we arrived at the river or the water-hole where we were to outspan, travelling in a long file. The plains with the thorntrees on them were already quite dark, but the air was filled with clarity,—and over our heads, to the West, a single star which was to grow big and radiant in the course of the night was now just visible, like a silver point in the sky of citrine topaz. The air was cold to the lungs, the long grass dripping wet, and the herbs on it gave out their spiced astringent scent. In a little while on all sides the Cicada would begin to sing. The grass was me, and the air, the distant invisible mountains were me, the tired oxen were me. I breathed with the slight night-wind in the thorntrees.
After three months I was suddenly ordered home. As things began to be systematically organized and regular troops came out from Europe, my expedition, I believe, was found to be somewhat irregular. We went back, passing our old camping-places with heavy hearts.
This Safari lived for a long time in the memory of the farm. Later on I had many other Safaris, but for some reason,—either because we had at the time been in the service of the Government, a sort of Official ourselves, or because of the war-like atmosphere about it,—this particular expedition was dear to the hearts of the people who had been on it. Those who had been with me came to look upon themselves as a Safari-aristocracy.
Many years afterwards they would come up to the house and talk about the Safari, just to freshen up their memory of it, and to go through one or another of our adventures then.