With a car, it is not far
The Rendille boy pleaded with us to go to the “foor” (animal camp) to fetch a warrior bitten by a snake. “Where is it?” “Oh, with a car it is not far! Remember the old site of the Saale village? Just near there,” he replied. That gave us an idea of where to go and how long it would take. We would be home before dark.
We jumped into the GMC Jimmy and drove off into the dusk. After all, with a car it is not far. The initial part of the journey was reasonable. The old track that had been used by the now defunct UNESCO project was getting overgrown and often disappeared. We would wander around in the general direction we guessed at until we discovered further traces of our “road”. It was slow going, but eventually, we reached the site of the Saale village.
Turning to our guide, we asked where we could find the patient. He now rolled his eyes, and told us that from here it was “Ma dow!” (Not near.) In the Rendille language, you often use a negative to really emphasize something, so when he said it was not near, it meant that it was actually very, very far! He had lied to us in the fear that we might have refused to come. It was now getting dark.
We were in unchartered territory. A wide sand riverbed loomed up and we charged across, trying to keep up the momentum. At times it was touch and go, the wheels spinning and throwing up sand, then getting a grip so we would lurch forward. We managed to breach that obstruction, but ahead of us lay miles of tall grass and not even a footpath to follow.
We pushed on into the sea of endless growth. Then a thick clump resulted in the sump getting caught, suspending a wheel in the air. The only solution was to pack out the high-lift jack and hack out the offending bush. In the dark, our lights lit up the way, but that meant that the guide no longer recognized the landmarks he would normally follow when walking. We climbed onto the roof and looked in all directions but could see no sign of life in the pitch dark night.
We were now well and truly lost, but just then we saw the welcome light of a torch. Driving for a further fifteen minutes, we finally reached the “foor”. It was the right place and we were welcomed by the crowd of warriors and the moaning of the camels. The snake bite guy was lying down, his leg badly swollen.
We had not packed any food or water. After all, with a car it is not far! With all the driving and pushing and jacking, we were thoroughly exhausted and completely dehydrated. A warrior gave Lynne a container full of camels’ milk. She took a sip and was about to pass it to me when he stopped her – that container was all hers. I had my own! Now we experienced the wonder of camels’ milk! The warm smoky fluid completely dealt with both our thirst and our hunger!
We spent the night in the car, dozing fitfully to the background sound of snorting camels. The next morning with the patient in the vehicle and a new guide, we returned on a better route. However, obstructing our return was a huge donga with upright walls! We searched for a long time before finding a place where we could drive down into the sandy riverbed, then proceeded along it until we found somewhere to exit. Just as we arrived back at the site where Saale village had been, the project car arrived. A search party had come looking for us. We were able to drive home without further incident and deposited the snake bite victim at the dispensary.
* Written by Nick Swanepoel