Cover Artist: Sara York
Editor: Labyrinth Bound Edits
Blood & Milk © 2016 N.R. Walker
Publisher: BlueHeart Press
All Rights Reserved:
This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form
or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction,
in whole or in part, without express written permission.
This is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to persons, living or
dead, or business establishments, events or locales is coincidental.
The Licensed Art Material is being used for illustrative purposes
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this may be used or reproduced in
any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case
of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Intended for an 18+ audience only. This book contains material that
maybe offensive to some and is intended for a mature, adult audience.
It contains graphic language, explicit sexual content, and adult
The author uses Australian English spelling and grammar.
Trigger warnings: Homophobic violence. Reader discretion
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners
of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
Morris Minor: Morris Motors Ltd
Google: Google, Inc.
Jumanji: 1995, Tristar Pictures
Lion King: Walt Disney Pictures
Land Rover: The Rover Company Ltd
Colgate: Colgate-Palmolive Co.
Styrofoam: Dow Chemical Co.
Coke: The Coca Cola Company
Common terms used throughout:
Manyatta/Kraal: Maasai village, surrounded by an acacia thorn fence.
Shuka: Traditional red shawl worn by the Maasai
Rungu: Wooden club, used/thrown as weapon
Diviner: Tribal witchdoctor
Uji: Thin, milk-like consistency drink made from water and maize.
Ugali: Water and maize mix with the
consistency of mashed potatoes.
At the date of publication, June 2016, the International Lesbian,
Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, or ILGA, lists 73
countries with criminal laws against sexual activity by lesbian, gay,
bisexual, transgender or intersex people, punishable by imprisonment,
torture, or death. 33 of these countries are in Africa, Tanzania
being one of them.
To my African friends who read my books, I am truly honoured, and
incredibly humbled. Your strength encourages me, and to know my words
give you hope and happiness is a gift that will stay with me forever.
Nawatakiya amani na upendo.
Human Rights Coalition does some amazing work for
LGBTIQ people, and donations are always welcome.
To Santa Aziz,
For helping me with true Maasai ways, diet, language and culture, and
for giving me the courage to publish this story. But especially for
reminding me why words are important.
This book is for you.
A Very Special Mention:
To the many pre-readers and beta-readers who helped and guided,
suggested and corrected. You made this book better, and I thank you.
twelve months on. A full year had passed, yet my world had stopped
completely. The men who stole my life were charged and would serve
time for their crime. No one called it a hate crime, but that’s
what it was. If I was expecting some sort of finality to come with
the court findings, I didn’t get it.
still hollow. I was still numb to the world, and I was still alone.
I was also
awarded damages, civilian victim and medical.
healthy sum that meant I could pay off my debts after not working for
twelve months, and more. Though no amount of money would make this
right. No amount of money would bring him back.
came along for the final hearing, though I could only guess why. I
had barely spoken two words to her in the last year. Maybe she came
so she could vie for the sympathy card with her friends. Or maybe she
thought she could have one last twist of the knife…
it’s all over,” she said, nodding her head like her words were
wise and final. “You can put all this homosexual nonsense behind
at my mother and smiled. I fucking smiled. I raged inside with a fury
to burn the world, and maybe she saw something in my eyes―maybe it
was a ferocity she’d never seen before, maybe it was madness―and
my words were whisper quiet.
a despicable, bitter human being, and you are a disgrace to mothers
everywhere. So, when you go to your church
group, instead of praying for my soul, you should be praying for
yours. You have only hate and judgement in your heart, and you are
doomed to an eternity in hell.” I leaned
in close and sneered at her. “And I hope you fucking burn.” I
stood up and stared down at her. She was pale and shocked, and I did
not care. “If you think my words are cold and cruel,” I added, “I
want you to know I learned them from you.”
away, for the final time. I knew I’d never see her again, and I had
made my peace with that.
care for the money. I didn’t care for anything. I longed for sleep,
because in my dreams, I saw him. And that night, almost one year to
the day since he was gone, in our too-big bed, in our too-quiet flat,
in my too-alone life, I dreamed of Jarrod.
on our bed and grinned. I longed to hear his voice, just once. It’d
been a year and I craved the sound of his voice, his touch. But when
I reached out for him, even in my dream, as in my waking nightmares,
he was gone. I sat up in our bed, reaching out for nothing but air.
He was gone, really gone.
this dream, on the bed where he’d sat, was a plane ticket. Mr Heath
Crowley, it said. One way ticket to Tanzania.
from Sydney, Australia, to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, was long, though
I didn’t remember much of it. Much like the last twelve months of
my life, zoning out and staring into space for undetermined lengths
of time made my days bearable. My connecting flight to Arusha, with a
fly-by view of Mount Kilimanjaro, was much less pleasant.
Australian couple I had the misfortune of sitting next to were off on
some great safari, glamour camping trip, according to their never
ending attempt at conversation.
have odd coloured eyes,” the woman said bluntly, like I might not
have known. She stared into each of my eyes like she was looking to
see if she could find a way to fix them. “One’s brown, one’s a
yes. I know. Heterochromia. Don’t worry,
it’s not contagious.”
snorted rudely. “My sister had a dog with odd eyes.”
repressed a sigh. Funnily enough, most people made a similar comment
when they first met me. You’d think someone having different
coloured eyes was the most absurd thing they’d ever seen, but,
to me, it was as obtuse as me telling her
she had blonde hair like it was some kind of disease. She clearly
didn’t pick up on my want for silence.
meeting someone there?”
visibly relaxed. “Oh, that’s good. I hear it can be very
dangerous if you’re not in a group tour.”
explain that I’d made one phone call and, for a nominal fee and
something akin to a breath of hope, would be meeting a man whose name
I couldn’t remember, and he would be taking me to a remote tribe of
Maasai who had no clue I was coming.
Because I’d dreamed of this.
dreamed of, as in a bucket-list aspiration kind of dream. But
literally dreamed it. I’d had many instances, where my dreams
foretold events that would inevitably shape my life. Not like normal
dreams. These premonition-type dreams were the ones that woke me with
a piercing weight on my breastbone. I would wake up in a cold sweat
with vivid images screaming through my mind. Then, in the near
future―a day, a week, a month―the dream would happen in my waking
life. I couldn’t explain it, and only a few people ever knew about
I had a
dream that told me I must go to Tanzania and that I would live with
the Maasai. So, with absolutely nothing left to keep me tethered to
my life in Sydney, I made a phone call, booked a ticket, and boarded
beside me was still prattling on, her ignorance and naivety keeping
company with her good intentions. “You read the travel warnings,
yes? I’ve heard all the horror stories of people who come to these
far-off countries by themselves. You must be so careful, or you might
find yourself not coming back at all.”
wouldn’t much matter if I didn’t,” I mumbled. “Waking up in a
bathtub of ice with one less kidney isn’t so bad. I’ve lived
blinked back her surprise and stopped talking to me after that. I
smiled internally, put on the headphones, and closed my eyes,
grateful for the peace and solitude.
landed, and even as we made it through the concourse and were herded
out to the blistering heat of East Africa, I still kept to myself.
The majority of other people were ushered onto tourist buses to the
right. I went to the left, armed with no more than the backpack I
brought with me. The sun was blinding, so I kept my head down and
almost missed the guy waiting for me.
up to find a man, a few inches taller than my five ten. He had short
hair, nubbed at his scalp, dark brown skin, and a smile that showed
almost every single one of his teeth.
I corrected, not that it probably mattered. No one else here knew I
was coming, except the one person I’d given my name and flight
details to, the man who would drive me to the Maasai. “And you
are?” I was expecting an Eric, I thankfully remembered, but I
wasn’t naïve enough to give a stranger the name of the person I
was waiting for.
Eric. I wait here for you.” His English was broken, but he nodded
enthusiastically. “You want to go to the Isikirari people. I take
him my hand, which he shook with just as much enthusiasm as he
smiled. “Heath Crowley.”
come with me,” he said. His smile never faltered, and without one
iota of concern for my safety, I followed him. He stopped at a car―if
it could be described as that―and I couldn’t believe what I was
itself was an early 60s model Morris Minor, held together by rust and
goodwill. But inside the car, piled into the backseat, were two other
men… and three goats.
I wasn’t sure what the hell to do.
in front,” Eric said. His grin was somewhat reassuring.
I did as
he asked and climbed in. The smell inside the car was an unholy mix
of sweat and piss―human or goat, I couldn’t tell. And for the
next hour, Eric drove west. The scenery was beautiful, just like I’d
imagined it to be. Arusha was green with Mount Meru as a backdrop to
the north, and the countryside as we drove was mostly farmland.
I had no
idea where he was taking me, and it occurred to me that I didn’t
really care. We went through a few smaller towns, and I tried to take
in as much as I could. I felt so removed from the fact that I was
actually heading toward the Serengeti. Well, I hoped I was. Eric
asked me a few questions and pointed out a few landmarks, and the two
men who both eyed me warily in the back with the bleating, stinking
goats, never said a word.
we came to the large gateway to the World
Heritage’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It was a name I remembered
from the maps I’d studied, so I knew Eric had at least taken me in
the right direction. There were a few mudbrick buildings and a flow
of safari buses that surprised me but then we passed a huge,
westernised looking tourist safari hotel and I understood why.
really was the gateway to the Serengeti.
Then, at a
turn off in what looked like the middle of flat grassland, Eric
brought the car to a stop. I was almost hoping we’d lose the two
silent guys and their goats but that wasn’t what happened at all.
Eric stopped in the middle of the road and the two guys got out from
the backseat taking their goats with them. Then Eric held out his
hand. “Pay now.”
paid him the eighty-thousand Tanzanian shillings I’d agreed to,
which equated to about fifty Australian dollars. I folded up the rest
of my money and slid some into my backpack, some into my sock, and
some into my shirt pocket. I’d travelled enough to know to separate
my money. “Where to now?” I asked.
with them,” Eric said, pointing in the
direction the two men had gone. They were already a hundred yards
ahead and were, by all accounts, walking into the middle of nowhere.
“They take you.”
men with the goats?”
yes,” he said, still with the grin. “Hurry, hurry.”
I grabbed my backpack and scrambled out of the car. I waved my thanks
as I ran after the two men. There was no turning back now. Eric was
already driving away and I had to run to catch up to my guides.
coming with you, yes?” I asked them.
the shorter of the two, turned his head in acknowledgment, though he
never spoke. Actually, they never even looked directly at me, but
they never stopped or said no, they never
hunted me away, so I assumed it was okay to follow them. I stayed a
few metres behind, and we walked. And walked, and then we walked some
I had no
clue where we were going, or how long we would be walking for. From
the direction of the setting sun, I deduced we were heading west. The
sun was hotter and brighter than I thought possible, probably because
we were walking directly into it. Though I was surprised by how green
everything was; the grasses were long and danced in the breeze. I’d
always imagined Africa to be arid, much like central Australia, but
this was very fertile land.
walking, I sipped at my bottled water sparingly. I resisted the urge
to complain or even speak. The two men remained silent, but from what
I could ascertain, they were happy in their camaraderie, and as we
continued to walk, I wondered if they were indeed brothers. They
looked alike: both tall and lean, thin even, with dark skin and
short, nubbed hair. But it wasn’t even their looks. They walked the
same: long, confident strides, moving purposefully, yet there was a
stillness about them.
I took in
the scenery and kept reminding myself that I was walking the
Serengeti. The landscape was beautiful. Remote and so removed from
anything I’d seen in regional Australia. This was a foreign
vastness, a different kind of isolation, than anything I’d
experienced back home. The trees that spotted the scenery were no
longer eucalypt, as they were back home, but were flat-top African
acacias, which were so typical in photos of Africa. A herd of some
kind of bison were off in the distance, and I tried hard not to
wonder if there were lions anywhere close by.
men strode easily over the rocks and tussock grasses. And for the
hours I walked behind them, I studied them as well. Their sandals
were made from old tyres. Crude and elementary, but functional. Their
clothes were threadbare and dirty: not a judgement, merely an
observation. They had beaded loops instead of earlobes and I could
see necklaces hidden by their shirts.
they Maasai or just villagers taking me to the Maasai? I had no
walked behind them, thankful the setting sun had
taken the baking heat with it. But the cool change brought
with it another element I’d not expected. Darkness.
The men in
front of me were obviously familiar with their environment, and as
evening became night, their silence as they walked became eerie.
Thankfully the noisy goats kept me on track and just when I couldn’t
see my own hand in front of my face, and just when I was about to ask
the men how much further, a faint orange light came into view.
booked my ticket to come here, I had done some research. Well, all
that Google and travel forums would allow. I knew the village itself
was called a manyatta or kraal, with a wall built of
thorns to surround and protect the people and livestock within.
otherwise all-surrounding blackness, the flickering of orange I
didn’t realise until we were right up on it, was the fire I was
seeing near the thorn walls of the kraal. The two men ahead of me
stopped and faced me. “Stop,” one of them said.
man disappeared through the narrow gateway with the goats, and I
stood there under the watchful eye of the other guy. Just a short
moment later, I heard voices, then a long line of people filed out of
the manyatta. They formed a half-circle around me; my back
to the wall. And within half a minute, I was surrounded by
dozens of people. Maasai people, tall, imposing, and intimidating. I
could barely make them out―the night was too dark―but there was
an air of concern and danger to them.
need to speak Maa to know they were alarmed at my presence. Outraged
even. A tall man, well over six foot, confronted me, draped in red
cloth and wielding a long spear, he spoke in my face. His eyes and
teeth looked yellow in the lack of light; his disposition was
formidable. “What you do here?”
recognising he was a respected tribal man, I kept my head down,
knowing my place here was well beneath his. “I mean no harm,” I
said, surprised by the strength of my own voice. “I have come to
live with your people. If you would have me. Please. I want to learn
swept through the village, murmurs and rumbles of unease. The man
before me raised his hand and a silence hushed over the people. He
gripped my chin and forced my face upwards so he could see my face.
went wide, and he yelled something I couldn’t comprehend. Was it a
name? Was he calling for someone else?
have been afraid. I should have run away. But instead I stood there,
without any thought of self-preservation, under the scrutiny of a man
who might possibly kill me.
another man, much older and smaller, wearing a headdress of some
sort―I couldn’t quite make it out in the darkness―draped in
red, with beaded necklaces, appeared in
front of me. The crowd moved for him, a clear mark of respect. He
came to stand in front of me, and when he saw my different coloured
eyes, he let out a long gasp.
words in Maa I could not begin to understand―a quiet
timbre to his voice, but with
strength as well. From his reaction, I could see he was excited and
even amazed. Waves of disbelief and murmurs spread through the people
encircled around us. Whatever he called me, the words I didn’t
understand, must have meant something to them.
village elder smiled at me by the firelight. Then he spoke in broken
English. “Broken man. Incomplete, but he brave. No fear.” I
wasn’t sure what to make of that. But then he said, “He dreams.”
understood that. “Yes. My dreams told me to come here.”
man, the angry warrior guy, didn’t like that at all. He spoke
harshly to the elder, stomping his spear to the ground. I made no
sense of his words, only his demeanour. He didn’t like me or want
stopped him with just his raised hand. A silence so profound settled
over the kraal, and the elder looked at me. “He stay. He be ghost
of Kafir.” He nodded sagely. “He stay with Damu.”
in the kraal buzzed in conversations and excitement. Someone at the
back started to sing, and I wondered briefly if I was being welcomed
or if I was about to be speared.
angry warrior eyed me, not even trying to hide his disdain. He was
only a few feet from me, thumping his spear into the dirt as he spoke
to other men. Some women stood back, further into the darkness, and
some smiled and giggled behind their hands. Some sneered.
fate was being decided, I took a moment to look around. The night was
dark, given the moon was no more than a sliver of light in the sky,
but my eyes had adjusted somewhat. I could see the people surrounding
me were all wearing shukas, the traditional red shawl the
Maasai were famous for. Some of the shukas were blue, some a mix of
both, but there was mostly red. They wore beaded earrings, beaded
necklaces, and most of them were barefoot.
Some wore the same tyre sandals the other men had worn.
the smells then. The fire, of course, but the unmistakable odour of
cattle and cow shit was the most prominent, plus the faint smell of
food cooked hours before.
the angry warrior yelled, short and clipped.
of gatherers whispered in surprise and amusement as a man weaved his
way through from the very back. He was tall, had a shaved head, and
stared at the ground. The warrior spoke down to him, angry words
that, once again, I could not understand. It was very clear, even to
me, this man was not held in any regard by his peers. I briefly
wondered what he’d done so wrong, what terrible crime he had
committed, to be spoken to in such a manner.
still with his head down, turned to me. He glanced up for just a
second. He beckoned me with his hand, and the angry warrior pointed
in the direction Damu wished for me to go. “You go. Go with him.”
I bowed my
head, in what I’d hoped was a sign of respect, and quickly followed
the man named Damu. Only once we’d got through the gateway and were
away from the fire, I couldn’t see a damn thing. I was following
him blindly, in every sense of the word.
walking. “Uh,” I said, loud enough for Damu to hear me and
hopefully quiet enough that the others didn’t. “I can’t see.”
silently, a hand touched my arm. “This way.”
his hand on my arm and led me a short distance, where he stopped. My
eyes had adjusted a little, and I could see we were in front of a
small hut. Damu bent low to get through the doorway, and putting my
complete faith in a man I’d not even been introduced to, I
thought the African night sky was dark, then inside the hut was a
blackness I’d never imagined before. I literally couldn’t see my
own hand in front of my face. It was warm inside the hut, and it
stank. I couldn’t stand up; the ceiling was far too low. I crouched
down and slung my backpack off to the floor, which I now realised was
dirt. I had the sense of being enclosed in a room far too small to
contain me, let alone two men.
here,” Damu said. His voice was soft and kind. There was an edge to
his tone, like he was uncertain but didn’t want to offend me.
grateful he couldn’t see me… hoping he couldn’t see me.
I didn’t want to offend him either. “You speak English.” Very
broken, very literal English. It was a shame my profound use of
sarcasm would never be used here.
grateful. Thank you for allowing me to stay.”
“I am grateful nonetheless.” I had so many questions. Like what
were the names the elder man had called me, who was Kafir, and why
was I his ghost?
then. My questions could obviously wait. Figuring if there was a
bed for me, I’d have been shown to it, so
I assumed I was to sleep on the floor. I sat down, edging my back to
the wall. I pulled my backpack under my head and curled into a ball.
I closed my eyes, not aware of how tired I was, though my mind was
still pedaling a thousand miles an hour.
hell was I doing? Did I really just fly to East Africa, and walk for
the better part of a day across the Serengeti? Did I ask the Maasai
warrior wielding a spear if I could stay? Was I really lying in the
dirt, on the cold hard ground, in a hut with a man I didn’t know?
the urge to laugh out loud, then I blinked back tears.
crawled over me, like a slow mist with spindly fingers, wrapping
around me and taking me under.
* * * *
I woke to
a large hand on my shoulder, shaking me, and a whispered, urgent
voice saying words I couldn’t understand.
I sat up,
my mind in a fog, my heart hammering. The vivid dream of Jarrod’s
smiling face swirled through my conscience, evaporating like smoke
until it was gone. I tried to keep it close, I tried to tell him to
stay, but it was too late. Damu was in my face, his hands on my
shoulders, and from the concern on his face, I realised I must have
been having a nightmare. It was still dark in the hut, though early
morning light shone through the door opening. If African summer
mornings were anything like Australian summer mornings, I’d guess
it was about five a.m.
dream,” Damu said.
I said, my voice croaking. “Did I wake you?”
his head and moved back away from me as far as the space in the hut
allowed. I could see inside the hut now, though only barely. There
were no windows and certainly no electrical lighting, so it was still
dark. The hut was no more than six feet by four―I’m sure I could
touch the walls with my arms outstretched. The ceiling was about five
feet off the ground, made from what looked like sticks with mud. The
walls were the same, though from my very brief online research
I knew the Maasai made their huts from sticks and cow shit.
Which would probably explain the smell.
the hut was divided into two areas: a bedroom and a kitchen, if they
could be called that. There was a bed of sorts, which looked like an
old inch-thin mattress on the dirt floor along one wall. On the
opposite wall there was what I assumed was
a kitchen. Well, there was a bowl on the floor and an old dirty
bucket, and there appeared to be a mudbrick fire pit in the corner,
where I imagined some food was cooked.
was an image used to describe basic, almost ancient living, this
could be it.
Yet, I was
here to learn, to observe with an open mind, not to judge.
my hand through my hair, suddenly feeling the ache in my back and
neck from sleeping on the ground. “Thank you for waking me,” I
said to Damu. He looked at me warily, and I could only assume my
dreaming―or nightmares, as they tended to be―had scared him.
nodded toward the door. “No be late.”
I said, kind of crawling to the door. I had no idea what I wasn’t
to be late for or where I was to go, but I had no option but to put
my trust in Damu. Only when I was outside could I stand up to my full
height. Every vertebra in my back cracked with satisfaction when I
stretched, but then I took notice of where I was.
was breaking over the manyatta. The sky was light blues and pinks,
the air was cool and fresh, and I still could hardly believe I was in
Tanzania with the Maasai. There must have been twelve or fifteen
other huts all close together up on end of the enclosed village, yet
the hut I’d slept in, Damu’s hut, was removed from the other
huts. I wondered what that meant but dared not ask. There were animal
pens within the walls of the manyatta, filled with cows and goats,
and some Maasai, wearing their traditional red shukas, were tending
help but smile. I was smiling, truly happy for the first time in so
long. It felt strange on my face.
Damu said. I turned to find him pointing in the opposite direction,
toward the huts. “Come.”
then I noticed Damu. I’d only seen him in the darkness. He’d
guided me in the darkness by kindly taking my arm, and I’d slept in
his hut, but I hadn’t yet really seen his face. Until now.
at a guess, six foot three inches. His skin was a deep, dark brown
and perfectly smooth, his head shaved to the scalp. He had eyes the
colour of onyx, and when he caught me staring, he smiled. He wore the
traditional red shuka, though it was open through the chest, and I
could see he was thin and muscular, without one ounce of fat on his
body. His earlobes bore white and red beads. He wore a string of
necklaces made from wooden and black beads, and bracelets which,
unlike his necklaces, were of bright
colours, and he had a wooden club holstered in his belt. He really
was a very striking man.
I felt a
strange calmness around him. Which was absurd, because I’d never
noticed any such thing before. Some people always gave off angry
vibes or nervousness, but I’d always assumed that was from how they
calm beside him, a gentleness, which surprised me.
As we went
around the back of the first hut, we came across a small child. I had
no clue whether it was a boy or a girl―it
truly didn’t matter―who wore
westernised clothes. Well, a long shirt, five sizes too big, that had
holes and stains, and little sneakers. As soon as the child saw us,
they stopped, looked at me with something akin to horror, then let
out a scream.
his hand out, speaking rapid fire words I couldn’t begin to
understand, but the child’s mother quickly appeared, along with
several other women, and snatched up the child.
now a line of six women staring at me, all wary but curious. They
wore dresses of red and blue with dozens of brightly coloured
necklaces. They had shaved heads and long drooping earlobes filled
with beads like Damu’s. Other children hid behind their mothers,
peeking at me, then quickly hiding again. I had no clue what they
were saying, but I knew a scared kid when I saw one.
sure what the cultural etiquette was in this scenario, but I wanted
to reassure them. So I bowed my head and smiled, aiming for friendly.
turned and scurried away, ushering their children before them. Jesus.
I looked up at Damu. “Did I do something wrong?”
at my side like a poor kid designated to show the new kid around at
school. “No white man.”
blanched. “They’ve never seen a white man before?”
his head and he smiled. “Women, yes. Children, no.”
God. No wonder they were scared. I must have looked like an alien or
my arm and pulled me along. “Come. We not be late.”
a meeting, of sorts, around the fire that had burned last night. The
entire Maasai tribe was there. They were
split in two groups: the men, and the women and children. Some
of the men had shaved heads, some with long
hair in tight braids that were held in ponytails by metal clasps.
They sat on the ground with their spears and long sticks, with
military discipline. They all wore the traditional red shukas and
were―there were no other words for it―a formidable sight. The
women sat on the ground too, the babies
strapped to their backs and the small children jumping and clapping
happily around them.
like I’d woken up on a movie set.
A group of
men, who I could only assume were the tribal elders, sat at the
front, and the angry warrior from last night was
the first to see me.
He stood and thumped his spear into the dirt, yelling fierce words in
entire tribe stared at me. The children cried out and ran to their
But it was
the small elder, the oldest of all the tribal leaders, who stood up
and called for calm. He was the same man who called me the ghost
of Kafir, the same man who said I could stay. He motioned for me
to come forward, which I did obediently. He wore a headdress of beads
and feathers and held what I first thought was a stick with a tuft of
hair sticking out the end, but I realised, a little belatedly, it was
an animal’s tail wrapped with twine of some sort. I couldn’t tell
if it was a zebra tail or a warthog’s or a lion’s. God, I had no
idea. What I did know was that from the
headdress and utmost respect from his tribe, this little old man must
be what the Maasai called their ‘diviner.’ Before I knew
differently, I probably would have called him a witchdoctor.
then I noticed Damu had come forward with me. He stood by my side,
facing the elders with his head bowed. I took his cue and did the
diviner pointed his tail-stick thing to the tribesmen
who sat to my left, and gave them what appeared to be an order.
Without a murmur, they stood and filed out. Then he did the same to
the women, and they left, taking the children with them.
the elder said. He spoke to him in Maa, then he shooed him away with
his hand. Damu hesitated in leaving me, but
the diviner repeated his order, and Damu backed away. I didn’t see
where he went. I didn’t dare look.
diviner smiled, revealing a few missing teeth, and
he seemed friendly. He had a kind face, and I liked him. “Sit.
Sit,” he said.
right where I had been standing, and the
diviner sat with his back to the wall of a hut with the other elders.
The angry warrior stood for a moment longer, no doubt to remind me of
his status, and subsequently, reminding me
talked a little amongst themselves, and I realised this was a trial
of sorts. My stay here was still being decided. Maybe even my life. I
just sat there, staring at the dirt, and waited.
only when they spoke in English that I looked up. “White man,”
one of them said. It wasn’t a racist comment, it was merely an
observation. I nodded my acknowledgment and looked at each of them in
turn, hoping it would show my respect. Of course it allowed them all
to see my different coloured eyes, and they started talking amongst
Kafir!” one of the men cried. “Eyes of Kafir.”
dreams,” the diviner told them.
talked amongst themselves some more. All the while the angry warrior
never took his eyes off me. “Where you come?”
from Australia. A city called Sydney, in Australia,” I answered.
wife, no children, no cattle?”
come here for wife?”
Even if I wasn’t gay, finding a partner was the last, last, last
thing I wanted.
at me, like my life and intentions were unfathomable.
So I said,
“I want to help you. I want to live here and help, be a part of
help our people?” the diviner asked.
into my shirt pocket and pulled out a wad of notes. It was probably
fifty thousand Tanzanian shillings or about thirty Australian
dollars. I had more money stashed and figured buying my way in for
thirty bucks was money well spent. I held out the money. “For your
this was a good thing. They were pleased, even the angry warrior
seemed mollified after he’d snatched the money from my hand. So,
while I was in their good graces, I needed to know some names.
Diviner and angry warrior were apt and all, but hardly polite. Not
that they’d made any attempt in asking me my name―I guessed they
I kept my
head bowed. “May I ask your names? I would like to know what to
another brief meeting amongst themselves, the diviner nodded.
warrior’s name was Kijani. And the other elders were Makumu and
Mposi and Lomunyak.
I put my
hand to my chest. “My name is Heath Crowley.”
Kasisi said. “You are Alé.”
men laughed, but they nodded. “Alé. Alé.”
then. So apparently my name was Alé. It sounded like Ah-leh,
and I had no clue what it meant. Probably Stupid White Man,
but as it meant they’d accepted me even as an outsider, I just
smiled and nodded.
Kijani pointed his spear to the left. “Damu. Go to Damu.”
something funny about that, repeating “Damu and Alé” as they
laughed. I didn’t care. I took my leave with a bow of my head.
the warm African sky, I shed my name of Heath Crowley, along with my
old life, and for the briefest moment, it was the lightest I’d felt
in over twelve months. From that day on, I wasn’t Heath anymore.
There was no dark cloud hanging over me, there was no all-consuming
heartache, there was no devastating loss. I was Alé.
And I went
in search of Damu.
coming out of his hut with his bucket in hand. “Damu,” I called.
“Kijani said I was to find you.”
me a hard nod. “Yes.”
English wasn’t great, but I was grateful he spoke any at all. I
knew English was common in Tanzania, but I hadn’t realised just how
difficult it might have been if they spoke none at all. I had to make
an effort to learn more Maa words. I doubted I’d ever be fluent―it
seemed so fast and very foreign, but I was determined to at least
try. I motioned to his bucket. “Where are we going?”
was quiet, his whole demeanour was placid. “Water.”
course.” I looked around, seeing nothing but thorn fencing, mud
huts, and dirt. “Where do we go?”
over the thorn fence and started to walk. Of course I followed, and
as we went through the small gate, we headed in the direction he had
nodded. Outside the kraal was something else. When I’d arrived the
night before, I couldn’t see any of my surroundings. Now it was a
perfect summer day: the sun was still hovering over the horizon and
the sky, well, I’d never seen a sky so big. The landscape was flat,
undulating to low rolling hills on the horizon. The grass was
knee-high and browning off, a sign of the blistering heat. There was
a line of greener trees to the west, and in an otherwise dry
environment, I assumed the thriving vegetation meant water.
have assumed right, because we headed in that
direction. There were some women walking a few hundred metres
ahead, their laughter carried when the wind blew towards
us. Damu and I walked without speaking, and yet, I didn’t
mind it. It was a peaceful silence.
still wearing the clothes from yesterday, and I hadn’t eaten since…
I couldn’t remember. The plane flight from Sydney?
what do you eat for breakfast?” My voice sounded loud in the
silence. Damu looked at me, confused, so I broke it down and put my
hand to my mouth. “Food?”
yes,” was all he said.
then. So maybe there would be breakfast after we got water? I had no
clue. Now that I’d thought of food, my stomach growled in protest.
If Damu had heard it, and I assumed he had, he said nothing.
walked the rest of the way in silence. It must have been a kilometre
away, and as we neared the small river, the women who had been ahead
of us were walking back. They carried plastic containers of water,
and their chatter and smiles died away when they saw me. They spoke
in passing to Damu, pleasantly enough, but
it got me thinking…
other males had gone, herding their cattle. I’d seen them off in
the distance―not only the cows and goats, but the striking tall
dark figures draped in red were pretty hard not to notice.
As was the
man beside me. So why wasn’t Damu with them?
you told to look after me?” I asked, not knowing if he’d
understand. “Did Kijani make you mind me?”
me cautiously but stayed quiet as he approached the edge of the
river. Just when I thought he hadn’t understood me, he said,
“Kijani make you responsibility for me. I do what Kijani tell me.”
his broken English, I understood him just fine, and I was right. Damu
was my babysitter. I couldn’t even be offended. I’d much rather
spend my days with Damu than Kijani, the spear-wielding warrior with
anger management issues.
can’t have been good for him. My presence had taken him from his
daily work with the other men. “I’m sorry.”
gaze shot to mine. Was he
shocked at my apology? “Why you be sorry?”
after me is not what you want. I trouble you?”
no,” he said, then stepped down the muddy bank and waded into the
water. He filled the bucket and left it on the bank, then went back
into the water downstream. He washed his face and cupped his hands in
the water and drank.
I sat down
and pulled off my sneakers and socks, pulled up the legs of my pants
and followed him out. The water was cool and a little muddy, and I
paused, wondering if I should drink unboiled water, but considering I
hadn’t had anything to drink since my flight here, I drank it
anyway. And it was good. I hadn’t even realised how thirsty I was.
standing in the cool water for a minute or so, I guessed now was as
good a time as any to start with the dialect. “What is your word
smiled. “Water. Enk-áre.”
I repeated. The ending sounded a little similar to the name Kijani
and Kasisi had called me. “What does Alé mean? The elders called
me that. The leaders, that’s what they called me.”
almost smiled. “Milk.”
“Because I’m white?”
an unapologetic nod and walked out of the water.
enough, I thought. The Maasai people lived the way they had for
thousands of years, almost untouched by time and what we called
“progress.” Being politically correct to a strange white man was
not on their cultural radar. Nor should it be. I understood there
would be very few similarities between their world and mine long
before I’d set foot in Tanzania. It was half the reason I came
here. I wanted no reminders of the world I’d left behind.
waiting for me on the river bank, so I quickly got out and pulled on
my socks and shoes. He waited patiently, and I made a mental note to
be more aware of those around me, their
ways and practices.
my wet feet now uncomfortable in dry socks and shoes, and I wasn’t
really looking forward to the walk back. “Why is the village so far
from the river?” I asked. Then I corrected my phrasing. “The
manyatta, why is it so far from the enk-árê?”
as I’d finished speaking, I swatted a mosquito on my arm, making
Damu laugh. It was a contagious sound, but then I had to swish
another mozzie from buzzing near my face. “I see why.”
Yellow… Yellow?” He looked unsure of his wording.
Yellow… Oh shit. “Yellow fever?”
Damu said with a bright smile.
hell, I certainly didn’t want malaria or any other mosquito-borne
disease. Even though I’d just gulped mouthfuls of river water.
Shit. I’d had a dozen different shots before I came here, but
still. “Water make me sick? Enk-áre make me,” I pretended to
laughed, which wasn’t too comforting.
I boil water?” I asked. Then something else occurred to me. Damu
had his water, what the hell was I going to drink. I pointed to the
bucket he was now holding. “Ah, your water. Where is my water? I
didn’t bring a container or a canister.”
looked at his bucket. “My water, your water. Responsibility is you
allow me to carry it,” I offered, holding out my hand.
Responsibility is you to me.”
I was his responsibility for all things.
and headed back the way we’d come, and I had to jog to catch up.
His long legs strode much quicker than mine. I wondered how much I’d
slowed him down already.
mals,” Damu said. “Also why we build great far from river.”
mals? Oh. Animals? What kind of animals?” Because truly,
Australia had some scary critters, but we sure as hell didn’t have
lions and hippos and rhinos.
laughed at my expression. “Animals need water like we need water.”
there lions here?” I asked, given he’d not freely given up what
kind of friendly wildlife we could encounter.
He pointed one hand further to the west. “Serengeti. Some here.”
nodded. “Yes. Wildebeests come. Many wildebeests.”
Because if the odd lion here and there wasn’t scary enough,
stampeding wildebeests kind of was. I shook my head, dumbfounded that
I was in a real life game of Jumanji. “Do you see elephants?”
furrowed, so I made a trunk from my arm and made some lame elephant
noise. It just made Damu laugh. “Il-tomíá.”
repeated the English word and seemed happy with this exchange, so I
kept asking questions. “Giraffe?” I pretended to elongate my
neck. “Long neck. Giraffe.”
grinned, his white teeth a stark contrast to his skin. “E-mára.”
And as we
walked back to the manyatta, we swapped the names of relevant things:
all the animals I could think of, trees, birds, day, night. I didn’t
expect to remember them all but the conversation was good.
speak good English,” I told him as we neared the familiar thorn
fence of the manyatta or kraal. “Did you go to school?”
he replied. “No school. I learn by others.”
was self-taught. “Do you go to the towns?”
his head. “No. I not leave.”
answer with words, but his silence told me all I needed to know.
Jesus. He’d never left the manyatta in which he was born.
are you?” I asked.
didn’t answer and the look that crossed his face was one of
confusion. Did he not understand my English? I tried rewording my
question. “How many years are you?”
his head. “No.”
know if he didn’t know what the answer was in English, or if he
didn’t know what a year was. I had to think more laterally. I had
to forget what my culture had taught me and
look at it from Damu’s perspective. “What are your seasons here?”
I asked instead. “Where I’m from, we have summer.” I waved my
hand at my face like a fan to imply it was hot. Then I pretended to
shiver and rub my arms like I was cold. “And winter. And we have
spring, when the baby animals are born, and autumn when the leaves
seemed to understand. He practised the names of the seasons with me
and it was very clear he liked to learn new things. “We have
nkokua, means the long rains,” he said. “Oloirurujuruj
is the drizzling season, and oltumuret for the short rains.”
really did live their entire lives around the land. “Three
seasons,” I said, holding up three fingers. Damu nodded. “We have
happily, and I couldn’t help but like him. Well, the very little I
knew of him. “What is your wooden club?” I asked, nodding toward
the weapon tied off in his belt.
He pulled the wooden club out and held the handle end. It looked like
a short, golf driving club or even a wooden human thigh bone. It was
smooth and about forty centimetres long. He pulled it back and
motioned to throw it, almost like a boomerang. “Mposi not want it.
Say it not good, but I have it.”
the fact he only had it because someone else didn’t want it. “You
throw it?” I asked. “At animals?”
and stopped walking. He put the bucket down and pointed to a tree
about thirty metres away, then motioned to the low branch.
branch?” I asked. It stuck out at about ninety degrees, lower than
the other branches. “Wait,” I said, putting my hand up in a stop
signal. I ran over to the tree and pointed up above my head to the
branch in question, but also to a discoloured knot in the branch. I
wanted to see how good he really was.
and waited for me to come back to him before he aimed. He walked back
about ten metres, simply felt the weight of the rungu in his hand a
few times, pulled it back over his shoulder, and taking a few long
strides in, he launched it at the tree.
And he hit
it, right at the part I’d pointed to. Perfect aim.
speechless. “Oh my God!” I cried. “You got it!”
He let out
a laugh but hurriedly went to retrieve it. He checked it for damage
and seeing none, he slipped it back in his belt.
still staring, not quite believing what I’d just seen. “Remind me
to never make you angry.”
no,” he said, waving his hands.
hoping he meant he wouldn’t ever throw his rungu at me, and so we
talked the whole way back to the kraal. I wanted to learn as much as
I could, and Damu was very patient with me. “You have many
questions,” he said as we neared the thorned acacia fence that
surrounded his village.
annoy you?” I asked. “Like mosquito?”
laughed and as we walked back in through the gateway, we were met by
Kijani. Damu’s laughter cut off abruptly. He stopped walking, and
he put his head down. Kijani barked some order at him, and from what
I could tell, Damu was in trouble for being late.
slowed him down,” I said, then realised all too late that it was
not my place to speak.
glared at me with fire and ice in one look. He didn’t speak to me,
but rather he murmured something low and threatening to Damu instead.
If Damu was responsible for me, any anger I caused the warrior leader
would fall back on Damu. I wouldn’t make the mistake of speaking
out of turn again.
snapped another order at Damu and Damu grabbed my arm and quickly led
me back to his hut. Only when we were inside, in the absolute
darkness of his home, did I find my voice again. “I’m sorry if I
caused you trouble. I won’t speak out of turn again.”
burned as they adjusted to the dark, and I strained to see. I was on
my knees because of the low ceiling while Damu crouched easily. He
carefully put the bucket of water in the corner opposite his bed,
then mixed a white powder with water in a small bowl and handed it to
me. It looked like glue paste. “Eat.”
probably the most hideously disgusting looking meal I’d ever eaten,
but I was starving hungry and very, very grateful Damu had given me
food. “Thank you.”
my hand. “No. This hand. Never that hand.”
I bowed my head. “Sorry.” Jesus. I had so much to learn, but I
was grateful I’d not offended any of the leaders or, God forbid,
Kijani. I had read somewhere it was taboo to eat with your left
hand―it was, after all, the hand used for wiping one’s arse.
Apparently. But I’d simply forgotten. As I ate the ground oatmeal
goo with the fingers on my right hand, I briefly wondered what would
happen if I’d been left-handed…
down half of the porridge and held out the bowl with the remainder.
had adjusted, and I could see the smile on Damu’s face. He nodded
at me. “Eat.”
want him to go hungry, but wasn’t going to argue because I had no
idea when I would eat again. He was obviously waiting for me to
finish using his one and only bowl, yet even in the darkness of his
hut I could see the confusion on his face. “You offer me the food?”
course.” I mean, seriously, he’d
offered it to me first. I was just being polite. He’d given me
shelter, water, food, and conversation.
used the name I was given, which was now, I assumed, my Maasai name.
“Damu has kindness.”
was instantaneous, his teeth gleaming in the darkness. I held out the
empty bowl. “Do I clean?”
that, whether he didn’t understand or if he was just in a hurry, I
wasn’t sure. He simply added more ground meal and water to the bowl
and ate his breakfast.
it was a good time to freshen up the best I could, so I rummaged
through my backpack for a clean shirt. I rolled on some underarm
deodorant and, peeling off my shirt, pulled the new one on. When Damu
was done eating, I followed him outside and he pointed to one of the
houses. “You this way.”
blindly, wherever he was telling me I had to go. We walked to one of
the far off huts where there were ten or twelve women sitting on the
ground in a bit of circle. Each of them was busy, either stringing
beads or weaving threads, and their conversation stopped as we
to them, words I couldn’t understand―though I think I heard the
name Kijani―before he turned to me. “You be here.”
So Kijani had said that I was to sit with the women. I nodded,
indicating I understood, and without another word, he walked away. I
stood there with twelve women staring up at me, their faces neutral.
They didn’t seem to hate me, but they weren’t exactly welcoming
either. I knew it had to be me who bridged the gap. I found a place
in the dirt, shaded by the hut. “May I sit here?” I asked,
patting the ground. Some spoke in Maa, but others nodded and I knew
without doubt, if it weren’t for Kijani’s instruction, I wouldn’t
have been welcome.
have been truly bizarre to these women, even a little frightening. So
I gave them a smile and put my hand to my chest. “I am Alé.”
this made them laugh. I’d just called myself milk. But their smiles
were contagious, and it seemed to break the tension because they went
back to their conversation like I wasn’t even there. Except for one
woman who nodded at me. She had a shaved head, beaded earlobes, and
from the number of necklaces she wore, I gathered she held some kind
of rank and respect amongst the women. She wore a red tartan dress,
had bare feet, and sat on an animal hide. She was smiling at me now.
“Kafir. Eyes of Kafir.”
I put my
hand to my eyes. “I have two different coloured eyes,” I said,
using two fingers on the number and pointing in turn to each eye. I
didn’t know if they all spoke English, so I hoped they understood
what I was saying. “Who is Kafir?”
spoke in very broken English, but I was very grateful she was even
speaking to me. “Kafir roam our land. No kill him; he protect us.”
guy protected them so they didn’t kill him. That was nice. The
women started talking again as they continued with their handiwork,
breaking out in laughter and song as they made bracelets and clothes,
and it truly was a privilege to watch. They were such a happy people.
They literally lived with the barest of things, such primitive means,
but to this outsider, they seemed content.
I tried to
imagine the women I’d known in Australia, and even the men, living
like this, and the idea was comical. Most of the people I knew
thought they wouldn’t survive without Wi-Fi, the latest model
phones, and their morning hit of over-priced, over-rated “organic”
beside me finished a strand of white beads. I nodded toward it. “Very
laughed again, and I didn’t even mind that they were laughing at
me. One of the women across from me picked up a single strand of
string. “Alé make beads.”
at her. “Can I?”