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Reading ‘Vicious’ in Nairobi

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The book: Vicious, by VE Schwab

The place: Nairobi outskirts

Tomorrow I am moving to a more permanent Nairobi-based living situation, but the past little while I have been staying in the spare room of a friend on the outskirts of Nairobi, and – transport challenges aside – it has been pretty blissful. The house is on a compound on the edge of Nairobi Game Reserve, and every morning the place is full of warthogs shuffling through the long grass. The past couple of days I’ve been back to running again, and every so often I will startle a warthog which will then stand stock-still and stare at me for a moment before streaking off into the undergrowth. I don’t know why they’re so scared of me – they could definitely take me – but better that way around than the other, I guess.

It’s not always an African idyll. Though. A week ago, while the friend with whom I am staying was away in South Sudan, two of the dogs on the compound were poisoned, including one belonging to my friend. It’s the sort of situation that breeds paranoia and suspicion – the compound isn’t entirely secure, but it seems pretty unlikely that anyone would come through the gates specifically to poison a couple of dogs, and so it was probably an inside job. So yesterday the landlady decided to bring in a witchdoctor to get to the bottom of who was responsible. She’s apparently done this before, a few years ago when there was a series of petty thefts, and the witchdoctor made enough of an impression on whoever was responsible that the thefts stopped.

We all had to gather in the garden yesterday morning. The witchdoctor looked fairly unassuming, in black trousers and a rather trendy shirt, with a beaded stick and various other accoutrements. My Swahili is more or less non-existent, so my understanding was very patchy, based only on occasional whispered translations, but the process was straightforward: the witchdoctor cast a number of different powders into a bowl of shallow water, and we each had to come forward and lay our hands in the water, saying “I did nothing to cause this, so this cannot harm me”.

Nothing dramatic happened – no one collapsed, or went into a fit, or was identified definitively as the culprit – but I was surprised at how nervous the proceedings made me, despite knowing that I certainly was not the dog-poisoner, and the witchdoctor probably wouldn’t be able to harm me even if I were. (Probably.) My friends says that witchdoctors are masters of human psychology, and I was very impressed by the way this guy played the crowd – if I, with no background belief in witchcraft and only a tenuous link to Kenyan culture, was unsettled by it, I can’t imagine how the Kenyans present must have felt. (It reminds me of a story of my father’s, from when he was working in South Africa in the 1950s, where he saw a young man killed by a curse, due to the strength of his belief.)

Meanwhile, my friend went to the KSPCA and adopted a new dog, who was abandoned in the street outside Westgate Mall last September when the hawkers selling puppies on the street dropped everything and ran during the terrorist attack on the Mall. He is pretty great.

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This morning my friend Clare and I went to visit the elephant sanctuary in the Game Park, and cemented our status as platonic life partners by jointly adopting a baby elephant. Her name is Ashaka, and she was found stuck in a mudbank. Our adoption allows us to make an appointment to go and see her when she is being put to bed in the evening, which is surely the best thing ever?

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Written by Jess

July 5, 2014 at 10:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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