We shouldn’t be here, that was my only thought as we sat uncomfortably in the dark interior of the now precariously tilted jeep. Doors firmly locked but windows open slightly to try and mitigate the dead, suffocating heat. The night had closed in, outside was blackness, relieved only by flashes of light from the fireflies as they left brief trails in the night sky. They put on quite a show, one we were in no mood to enjoy.
‘Are you okay?’ my husband asked. ‘Sawa, sawa’ I replied, meaning; I’m fine, A phrase we were all too familiar with. Far from okay, I was fighting the deep panic that was threatening to rise up and engulf me. How long has it been now? I asked. Nearly two hours he replied, don’t worry he’ll be back soon. It was almost two hours since our guide had set out on foot to get help. There really was little choice; we were stuck in a very remote area with no signal for the mobile phones.
There were others outside, we could no longer see them; just hear the low tones of conversation spoken in a foreign tongue of which we had no knowledge or understanding. They were local people who had started to appear this morning when we got stuck on our way to the lake. We had taken the scenic route, hoping to see animals on the way, first driving through a dry desolate landscape for a couple of hours until we came upon a surprisingly fertile area due to a narrow fast flowing river connecting considerable stretches of calm still water that lay in our path. We had to cross these and each time we plunged in we held on tight, heaving a sigh of relief every time the jeep successfully climbed out onto the opposite bank. Only two more stretches of water to go now, we could see the iron bridge we were aiming for over the tall grass surrounding the water. Unfortunately this is as far as we got.
They had arrived in two’s and three’s walking or cycling, wearing the traditional bright red of the maasai, adorned with beautiful hand crafted beads and jewellery, which they carefully removed, together with most of their clothing before wading in to help. Impressive looking spears stood to attention in the ground where they had been thrust, knives with their characteristic curved blade lying next to them. All morning the men worked on getting the jeep free, with no luck. Around midday a young woman passing through, stopped to rest. After paying her respects to the men she sat on the ground, erected an umbrella to protect her from the fierce heat of the African sun and began to feed the tiny baby she was carrying on her back. The men kept working. The afternoon wore on, my husband helped with the heavy work, I distributed water, everything was tried, every idea carried out, every suggestion explored, prayers were given up, the Jeep stubbornly refused to move.
Shortly before our guide had set out for help a discussion had taken place between him and the maasai concerning some sort of compensation for all their efforts. Although we couldn’t understand their words, body language tends to be universal and we had a feeling it wasn’t good, the situation was left unresolved. As the sun dropped below the horizon so did my hopes of getting out of here alive. So as we sat, in silence, listening to the high pitched buzzing sound of hordes of mosquitoes as they targeted any exposed piece of flesh, I stared out of the window into the blackness, barely breathing.
Suddenly there it was, two bright lights piercing the darkness, the headlights of the rescue vehicle, we were alive! It didn’t matter that without even a torch we had to wade knee deep through part of the river to reach it, carefully, slowly, feeling our way with our bare feet as we went. This was it, all we had to face now was the two hour journey back to our tent, in the dark over rough ground, and then we were safe. As we thankfully climbed into the cab of the pickup truck, a strong smell of beer and whiskey hung heavily in the air, empty bottles rattled behind the seats as we pulled away. I started to laugh uncontrollably; we had been rescued by a drunk driver! I really didn’t want to be here.