Tag Archives: long-ago

Safari Rally

In 1988, I think it was, we went out past Ngong to watch the Marlboro Safari Rally. We waited at the checkpoint, where the cars had to stop and register.

I can hear the cars long before you see them, since they always remove their mufflers. It’s part of the tradition. I can hear the roar miles and miles away. Then, suddenly, they appear over the top of the hill, and around the corner, moving faster than I’ve ever seen cars move. They’re driving around 180 Mph, on unpaved dusty roads. Speed limits, such as they are, are suspended for the Rally.

In a mere few seconds, the car arrives at the checkpoint where we’re standing. The noise is deafening. As the car slows for the checkpoint, the people waiting there realize who it is. While most of the drivers these days are foreigners, this is is one of the few Kenyan drivers, and actually favored to do very well this year. The people crush around the car so that it has to come to a complete stop for fear of running over someone. The driver leans out the window, happy at the adulation, and irritated at the delay. He wants to move on, but wants to soak in the cheers of his fans.

The codriver hops out, quickly signs the log book, and gets back in. The driver screams at the people that he must be going, and revs the engine. People scatter, and he can move on. And, as quickly as he arrived, he’s disappeared into a cloud of dust.

The Rally used to be called the East African Safari Rally, and stretch over all three nations of British East Africa – Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Idi Amin’s reign of terror ended that practice. Then, later on, corporate sponsorship gradually changed the nature of the race. But it’s still one of the most untamed road races in the world.

I remember watching at the Mercedes service stop just outside of Kericho, and watching the cars roar in, have all four tires changed, and a full tank of gas, and roar back out, all under a minute. I remember seeing the famous Joginder Singh drive through there, and feeling that I was in the presence of greatness.

I remember when Suki Drews’ dad brought his race car to Turi, and let us look at it up close, and even get in it to see how stuff worked. I particularly remember the water straw that came down overhead so that the driver could drink while driving. And I remember wondering if he could pee while driving too, and how hysterically funny that seemed.

Every year around the same time as the Safari Rally, we would have the Dinky Safari Rally at Turi. But, of course, that’s a story for another time.

Mother Africa

I wrote this a long time ago, and recently rediscovered it. I’ll resist the urge to edit, as well as the urge to add commentary, and just reproduce it as I found it, written on yellow notebook paper from long ago.


I want to tell you about my mother. Her name is Africa. Perhaps I don’t look like her; indeed I have many brothers who do not resemble me. And there are many who claim to be her children who never met her. Many who claim to be her lovers who never slept with her. Many who write her love songs, but have never heard her sing.

She used to sing to me, as I fell towards sleep. Sometimes in the deep voice of the bullfrog, while the owl sang tenor. Sometimes the throb of the KR train on the tracks down the hill. And I remember that night, high on mount Kenya, when she sang to me – a beautiful sound. A sound that millions will live and die, having never once heard. The sound of total, uninterrupted, silence.

To the world, her name is Africa, and her face is black. To her children, she has many names, and many faces.

Her name is Congo, with the richest soil on earth, but where the people starve, because tilling the soil is not a noble profession. She is also called Sahara, where nothing grows, but the sheikhs can live like kings because of oil.

Her name is Cairo, an ancient city which has prospered for thousands of years, and produced great thinkers, rulers, and artists. Her name is Soweto, created in prejudice, governed by opression, but producing men who changed their world.

She is called Dar es Salam – the city of peace – and Bulowayo – the place of killing.

Some remember her as Shimoni, where her children became property, some as Liberia, where those same people became rulers again.

Her children are as diverse as her names: Haille Selasse. Shaka Zulu. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Idi Amin. Steven Biko. David Livingston. Tut Ankh Amon. Myself. And perhaps you … perhaps not.

She cannot be trusted, or predicted. She is always a mystery, even to those who know her. But though we have been apart for many years, I am still her child, and I will always love her.

100 year old lease deemed invalid

100 years ago, british settlers leased 1 million hectares from the Maasai people, for a period of 100 years. The lease ran out last weekened, and the Kenya government says that their claims are invalid, and that it won’t recognize the colonial-era lease.

I wasn’t even aware of this lease, as I’m sure most people weren’t. But it it seems that the Maasai people thought that it was something that would be honored when the time came.

I wonder how many other bargains like this were made in the name of future generations. In most of Africa, the Europeans just took whatever they wanted. The Maasai are one of those rare cases where the white folks actually were unable to suppress the local population, and so made some kind of financial deal with them instead. I wonder where I can get a copy of the text of the original lease.

Fellow Kenyan

This afternoon at Walmart, I saw someone with a Turtle Bay tshirt, and I asked him if he was from Kenya. This resulted in me getting a big bear hug from a complete stranger, because he had not met anyone from Kenya for many months. He said that he was “one and a half years old in this country”, which I find to be a wonderful way to express it. I could not immediately tell what tribe he was – I guess I’ve been away from Kenya for too long – but he said that he was from Nairobi too. And then we went our separate ways. Things to do, places to go. I wish I had time to sit down with him and have some chai and talk.


I’ve been listening to Early Days & Latter Days, which I picked up at Fry’s in Palo Alto. I guess I had forgotten quite how much Zep I listened to in high school and college. Lots and lots of memories in this music.

If it keeps on raining,
Levee’s going to break.
If it keeps on raining,
Levee’s going to break.
When the levee breaks,
I’ll have no place to stay.

I remember that being how we’d talk about the stress and workload, among other things. “If it keeps on raining …”, we’d say. And then, later, “All last night, sat on the leveee and moaned.”

Of course, Kashmir and Stairway have their own set of memories.

On a related note, I found that when I tried to play these CDs in the CD player software under Linux (whatever one that happened to be) it was unable to play it. Perhaps some kind of “copy protection”? Dunno. Worked fine one I ripped it to Ogg. I guess I’ll never actually listen to it from the physical media.

Imagemaps and 1993

The year was 1993. I was a grad student at UK, and I was putting up my first web site. I had seen image maps on other web sites, but I didn’t really know how to make them work on my own site. So, I poked around Usenet looking for useful information, and I used the rudimentary web search tools that were available at the time. Webcrawler, if I recall correctly. I found Vivek Khera, who had written something called imagemap.cgi, which was a server-side imagemap handler.

Of course, being a clueless newbie, I could not get it working, and had do bother Dr. Khera to help me get it working. I don’t expect that he remembers this – I’m sure I was one of a horde of clueless newbies that took up his time. But he helped me get the darned thing working, and was one of the many important forces that moved me on a path to webby stuff.

So, yesterday, I received notification that he had signed my GPG key, and I suddenly made the connection. We had met at OSCon, and I didn’t make the connection there.

So, a public Thank You to Vivek, and to all of the other folks that helped a clueless newbie 10 years ago. I would not be where I am right now (in a very cold conference room for an ApacheCon planners meeting) without your help.

The sound of coming rain

On Sunday, I went out to my parents’ house for lunch. I had the top down, but as I approached Wilmore, the dark clouds got darker, and I knew I just had a few minutes. I pulled into the driveway, got the top up, and was starting on the windows when I heard the rain coming. It sounded like a car coming down the road, as it swept down the road, and over the houses. And, sure ’nuff, just about the time I expected it to arrive, suddenly it was pouring, as I struggled to get the last few windows on.

It reminded me of rain coming in Kenya. You could see it coming. It would be bone dry, but you could see the rain coming like a curtain approaching over the hills. And you could hear it long before it arrived – the hissing, pattering sound. The curtain would reach you, and it would be pouring. Then, just as quickly, it would stop, and you could watch the rain travel on its way.

The rain in Kericho was very predictable. During the rainy season, it rained at 4 in the afternoon. You could watch it coming, and you had just enough time to get inside before it hit.

Say Anything

Yesterday I found Say Anything on sale, and snapped it up. Say Anything was one of our college movies, and, although I remember enjoying it a lot at the time (probably 1990 or 1991) I haven’t seen it since then.

The strange thing is, it’s not at all what I remembered. I seem to have forgotten the dark parts, remembering only the funny bits. (“I hereby surrender my duties as keymaster!” and “That’s my house! I live there!”) And not even all of those. How could I have forgotten the chicken?

On the same note, I tried to find a Lon Chaney movie yesterday. Any Lon Chaney movie. The man was in more than 150 movies, and is the very best known actor of all time in the horror/suspense/thriller movie genre. I could not find a single movie. It seems that if I want to see more of his movies, I have to trawl ebay and rare/used online stores. But it seems possible that almost all but his most famous movies (Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and maybe Oliver Twist) are unavailable at almost any price.

Mt Kenya trip: Addendum

I just remembered another incident that adds a certain something to the tale of climbing Mt Kenya. It was on the way down the mountain. Seems I was missing a little detail.

The car trouble actually started on the way down. We managed to get a hole in the oil pan of one of the LandRovers – apparently a rock had bounced up from the road and punctured it.

As we were waiting for a decision on what happened next, a crowd of kids started to gather. We were on the road between Meru and the base camp, and this is a very rural area. Seems that we were quite an unusual sight in this area. So, we all put on our mirrored sunglasses (hey, it was 1986!) and, all at the same time, stuck our heads up out of the sunroof. The kids fled, screaming in terror.

Yep, that’s all there is to the story. Kinda silly. But one of those things that makes the trip stand out so vividly in my memory.