At the last stop of our tour, Jim Armstrong met us at the Nairobi airport at 8:30 a.m. on October 6 and took us to the downtown Hilton Hotel.
Jim said that we were originally booked at a more interesting hotel close to the University; however, because of student unrest, the University had been recently closed by the government. Jim thought it would be safer to stay downtown.
It was a little unnerving to find that in our hotel room there were several unpatched bullet holes in the wall. Definitely not up to what one usually expects from a Hilton Hotel.
I had a very busy schedule for the remainder of the day. Jim had thoughtfully arranged it this way so that we would have time for a one-day visit to the Masai Mara Game Reserve.
I went to the Library of Congress office where I met and had lunch with the staff. It was a small office with a small staff. Jim’s responsibilities included the coverage of the publishing output from most African countries. His main problem was to ferret out and acquire the small African publishing output. This was a problem for which I could be of no help. Jim was pretty effective at it. He and his wife, Helen, had previously served as Peace Corps volunteers somewhere in West Africa. I’ve forgotten which country.
The rest of the day was spent in making several courtesy calls and attending a large dinner reception at the Armstrong home that evening.
The next day, Thursday, Helen took us on a quick driving tour of Nairobi National Park on Nairobi’s outskirts. This was a wonderful experience, being the first time that Pat and I had seen wild animals outside of zoos. We traveled with our mouths open in disbelief. So many animals – wildebeests, giraffes, zebras, monkeys, and more.
As we began our drive back on the same road, we saw, in the distance, a log in the road that hadn’t been there an hour earlier. Helen asked
“How can that be? There are no trees around here.”
As we got closer, we found that the log was an enormous python, about nine inches in diameter. We sat there in the car for several minutes watching it. It didn’t move. Probably it had just eaten and was digesting its meal. Even Pat, who is terribly afraid of snakes, was in awe. She said that it was because it was so big and could not move fast. Neither Pat nor I remember but we think that to get it out of the way, Helen got out and gave it a nudge.
After leaving the park, Helen took us to the Wilson Airport where we took a Sunbird Aviation flight to the Masai Mara Game Reserve where we were to spend the night at Governor’s Camp. Pat, never a happy flyer, was in fright as she saw the small Sunbird plane. We flew over the Olduvai Gorge in the Great Rift Valley, which is an important prehistoric site, sometimes called “the Cradle of Mankind.” Even if nervous, she was both thrilled and scared at the same time. She dug her fingernails into my thighs.
As we approached the Camp’s small concrete runway, the pilot explained that we had to buzz the pad to scare off the elephants. Pat was not happy. After, circling, we landed, spreading what Pat calls elephant “potty.” I have another name for it.
We were picked up by a driver with his jeep and, before taking us to the camp, gave us a tour that detoured by the river where we saw our first hippos.
Arriving at the camp, we were dropped off at the main tent for coffee and tea and for a talk about safety.
“Do not leave your tent without an armed guard,” they warned.
Beside the main tent, there were perhaps ten small tents in the camp. When we arrived at our own, which was big enough for two, we unzipped the front to enter and, once in, zipped ourselves in – creating our own little jail-like haven. The tent was very comfortable with two cots and a sit-down toilet with a wash basin at the end. Sure ‘nuf, there was a claxon which we should squeeze to summon the armed guard.
About dusk, as the claxon horns began sounding, we squeezed ours also. Time for dinner. The tents began unloading a motley group of people. It was an interesting, if not stately, procession of hungry people – all wary of our surroundings.
Dinner was adequate and welcomed. As expected, it was not haut-cuisine.
The procession reversed itself as all went back to their tents at the same time – much like well- behaved children.
Sleep was uneasy. Utter silence, interrupted by animal sounds from where we knew not – nor, could we name.
At sunrise, when claxons began sounding all round us, we were ready for breakfast also. Unzip, exit, zip back. By now we knew the routine and the reward was food.
After breakfast, we all mounted our assigned jeeps for a wonderful drive through the open plains to see a wondrous array of exotic animals. Today we added to our vocabulary, elephants, ostriches, baboons, hyenas, buffalos, lions, cheetahs, etc., etc.
Too soon it was over and we had to return to the landing strip where we had another exciting experience, even if different.
As we got on the plane, the pilot, who looked like one would expect a British adventurer to look like – young, handsome, tan, and with a long red scarf wrapped around his neck.
In the plane’s cabin, there was no separation between the pilot and his four passengers. We could see as he turned the key to start the right engine. The sound that we heard, “rurr, rurr,” was not reassuring.
The pilot said
“Damn that engine, it never wants to start.”
Pat was about to die.
He got out of the plane and gave the right propeller a couple of turns, after which it started to the chorus of relief from the four passengers.
He tried the left engine which started without complaint.
Off we went, again spreading elephant “potty” on all sides.
We knew when we were approaching the Gorge for the plane began shaking – in all directions at the same time, it seemed. It was exciting to look out. The rift is clearly evident and one sees one of the wonders of all geologic formations.
On our last day in Kenya, Jim took us to Lake Nakuru, which is about a two-hour drive from Nairobi. We didn’t have time for exploring the wonders of the area. We did have a rowboat ride and saw thousands of cormorants diving for their dinner. As Pat started to drag her hand in the water, Jim warned her that Lake Nakuru, as most African lakes and rivers, was cursed by schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia or snail fever) which is a parasitic disease that can be caught through any skin leison – even a hang-nail.
This unbelievable trip that we were finishing here in Nairobi, was made possible by Public Law 480. The funds used for my expenses were Indian rupees. This law was a win/win law that benefited many people and many countries.
Among many of the recipients benefitting from the portion of the PL-480 monies (which we referred to as “funny monies”) that Congress made available to the Library of Congress were: The Library of Congress and its collections, over 100 of the largest research libraries in the United States, all publishing related activities of participating countries, and many LC staff members – including ME.
Most of all, we owe everlasting thanks to the grain surpluses produced by the American farmer.