Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Kenya Calling – Prologue
I am Kenya bound in less than a week. The obvious conclusion most of you would draw is that I am going there to climb Mt Kenya, Kilimanjaro and jump into Lake Victoria and Turkana and perhaps try to put my head inside the jaws of a hungry lion, if only to see what happens! I have already done all of these before, well may be not the last one, yet.
While not intentionally, but providentially some or all of the above may happen, but this trip to Kenya is vastly different than my previous ones. I would be there for more than two months, spending most of my time with the wild animals and with the people who-often selflessly-are trying their best to keep the animals wild. It’s an exciting project I would be working on and gaining immense on ground experience in wild life behavior, habitability, man-nature conflict issues, and myriads of other. While there I would be writing regular posts and filing my stories as and when possible to access the net. You would be able to follow my journey through my stories and pictures till I eventually get eaten up by a lion or trampled beneath the foot of an elephant (good riddance most of you would happily sigh). Each of my subsequent posts would come with a title as if chapters of a book. So to begin this book, let me first give you a brief introduction to the main perpetrators of this endeavor (which is paramount in understanding the whole thing) and also introduce you to the main theme.
My present Kenya trip materialized because Providence decided to place a man at around 26,000 ft (within the death zone) on the great North Face of Mt Everest in the year 2004 literally at the spot where I had collapsed with my last breath and had thought I would never get up again. To cut an extremely long, complex and horrific story really short, when I lay there grasping the air for few molecules of oxygen, while slowly but surely being buried under the snow that fell from heaven like the Niagra, I had absolutely no doubts in my mind that it was my last few moments of this life. Visibility was less than the length of my outstretched arms and every feature of this magnificent landscape was blurred and blotted out by the white curtain. I was sunk to my waist, sprawled upon the snow like a sacrificial offering to the gods; which in a way I was.
Suddenly I hear a human voice, echoing and reaching my ears through the cacophony. Soon a human figure, looking more grotesque like an alien, materialize out of the white shroud and drags me inside the comforts of a warm tent filled with the aroma of good food and fluid. That was Ian, the British climber who was there sitting out the weather before making a summit attempt.
Ian in those days made living as a golf-pro in Switzerland. In my next trip to Switzerland I stayed with him and there he introduced me to his friend Sandy Gascoigne, to whom I was drawn instantly. During my travels within the country I stayed at Sandy’s place as well for few days and my stay with her was one of the best memories of that trip. Apparently we couldn’t be more different. She is beautiful, while I am distinctly ugly, she is a champion international level swimmer and I can barely stay on the surface. But we had a common thread of being passionate about what we believed in. After few more adventures, Sandy disappeared from my horizon and then several years later I got a mail telling that she now lived in Kenya working in a ranch along with someone, who too responded to the name Sandy.
Meanwhile, after quitting the Navy earlier this year, I started working on some grand plans of mine, which were ridiculous and improbable as always. Drawn out of my work on global warming, climate change, wildlife and sustainable initiatives, I conjured up a project where I wanted to travel and study 12 countries in the world about these issues and perhaps write a coffee table book on each of the nations. The grand vision being that through these extremely diverse and ecologically fragile countries I could show that the entire planet was being affected by the actions of each one of us, irrespective of who we were or where we lived. So it is time now to think of the planet as one and create a world without boundaries (a theme I have often professed) where we try to save humanity rather than an American or Indian or British. Great calamities of natural order unite human species and the issues I wished to cover and explore were the greatest natural calamities that man can expect to witness.
My project would be a peaceful battle against evil. Even if half the world is full of greedy people out to destroy our planet, there was no reason why the other half should give up and accept it as destiny.
To begin this ambitious project I made a pilot plan for New Zealand, Iceland and Peru. These countries topped the list since they are small, I know them well, have amazingly diverse flora and fauna and vast tracts of mountains and glaciated regions.
Suddenly literally out of the blue I got a mail from Sandy some time thereafter that she was visiting Delhi for a seminar. Despite my attempts to not be in civilization for more than 10 days at a stretch, I happened to be in Delhi when Sandy arrived. She visited me along with her friend Sandy and I realized she hadn’t lost any of her previous radiance and exuberance. We went out for an evening walk in Lodhi Garden following it up with sumptuous supper.
It was amazing to connect with her after all these years and we quickly discovered that we had much more in common than we had previously realized. As she recounted what she had been doing all these years and listened to mine, eventually I confided her with my grand project. Sandy immediately saw the potential and promise in what I had thought of and without a second thought invited me to come over to Kenya and begin my project with her resident country instead. After she left, we kept our correspondence and ideas bouncing back and forth across the oceans and the idea gained momentum and solidity with every passing day. In between I disappeared literally from the face of civilization on two expeditions. While I was gallivanting in the Himalayan echelons, Sandy kept up her part of the deal relentlessly, making contacts, talking to people and giving realistic shape to our common idea.
With her taking care of things in Kenya, it soon started raining lions and elephants and one day I found myself visiting the Kenyan Embassy and obtaining the visa. Now my bags are still unpacked and in complete disarray as always but I am more than ready to go. I am excited, tingling with anticipation since I know so little of what is going to happen and also that I know so little of the things in which I am going to be involved. I have no idea of my destinations, neither what I am supposed to do once I reach there, if I reach at all.
All I know is that Sandy will be there at the airport to receive me with her signature smile. And that it will be a grand adventure so keep checking back for more updates and stories as the days unfold. And hope like hell that the protagonist will continue to stay alive. Adios Amigos! Or may be now I should say it in Swahili: kwaherini
P.S. the accompanying picture is courtesy open source information ethics through internet