Importing ants in a backpack

The magnificent trip to Africa was ruthlessly coming to an end. The worst part was yet to come – four flights in a row, two all-nighters, two heavy backpacks, hassling in the checkpoints and last but not least – the temperature decreasing with every flight.
We were freezing to death already in Dubai where the temperature was 20 degrees Celsius, not to mention the overwhelming sleepiness which got me on the carpet of the airport.

We seeked redemption in endless drinks on Emirates. Dizzy from Bailey’s and cold from the toes, we found ourselves in London in the morning. The sterility was shocking. Tidy people and actual streets.
On a train from Gatwick to the city centre, I opened my backpack and… Good-bye, sterility! Hello again, Africa!
The bag was filled with little ants, walking all over my things. Import-ants. Living goods straight from the wild heart of Africa. Now available in the fashion and finance capital of Europe.
Oh well, I closed my bag again lightly startled, for what one cannot witness, does not exist.

A dreadlock in my hair, a drum under my arm, Berit in her slip-ons, tanned under the sun of Africa, we entered a fancy lingerie shop office on Oxford street, to meet a friend. From one extremity to the other, no kidding. If only those office girls would have known what kind of men I had scrabbling in my bag… I could already imagine chicks in stilettos jumping on chairs, hands with fake nails up high.

Before getting on our next flight, I made an ultimatum for the ants – a life on the grass in front of Standsted airport or death on a flight to freezing Estonia. The guys made a smart choice and picked the first one.

The first week in Estonia was devastating to our brain working on hakuna matata mode and body used to the 35-degree heat.
I remember sitting in a lecture on financial management and couldn’t get it – they are talking about divident policy and capital structure when there are lions outside and a herd of cows must be taken home from the savanna by evening. I remember a question arising with every minute that why people choose to live in this poor cold weather.

Until now, I can see pictures of the sunset in Zanzibar when I close my eyes, a wild geyser, the ancient rainforests, a stunning waterfall, the romantic savanna, lizards, cockroaches, elephants, giraffes.
This seems like an amazing dream, yet so real, so full of life in its absolute glory.



Berit, how much humanity is there left in you? (with a numb, distressed voice)
Eughuhh… (barely audible groan resounded with Malindi in the background)

Sacrifice for a human experiment 

We were the test group of a human experiment last night. The experiment was to see the human tolerance to physical pain. We were thrown around like Jews in the Second World War.
First, we were forced into a metal box which was constantly shaked back and forth. It was cold, dirty, dusty, there were holes in the floor and the windows were broken. The noise was intolerable.
The people who sold us this “adventure” in the Monster, claimed it was a bus.

The square seats’ mats were snagged. The windows lapsed constantly open so cold wild would blow in. Lots of packages were in the room around us that fell to the ground every now and then. The roof was full of different things no use for us.

I held a tiny chick in my hands, only two days old, who had never hurt a soul in this world but still had to bear 10 hours of the gauntlet of sufferings with us.

Culprits: Monster, the coolies who had sold us the bus tickets, and the roads of Kenya (= a bump after the other).

At first, it seemed funny. Then annoying, then unpleasant, then appalling and in the end, we were in physical pain! Only wish in our jolted minds were this thing to stop. Nothing else mattered. No! This pain has to stop! We would have asked to leave the bus, only if we weren’t in the middle of a remote desert, among hungry lions…

The chick felt sick in a couple of hours. The poor thing was so cold, the only place she would survive the trip to Tanzania was under my arm or bosom. The chick pooped in my hand every 10 minutes. I shaked the poop off and put the little one back where she was, until another dropping.

A coolie who didn’t seem to give a damn, sat next to us at some point, chewing his Khat and glancing at our bags. The pain and poop were joined by fear.

Living ghosts

A moment came, when I didn’t feel human anymore. I became a robot who couldn’t really comprehend what’s happening, what matters in life, who I am and what is my purpose here. I was Winston Smith in 1984 by Orwell, trashed numb. I love you.
I looked out the window – the bushes of the savannah, gray in the moonlight, turned into corals and algae, reaching out towards me vigorously. The mountains projected a black silhouette to the background.
There was only one point where I felt elation in this saga of sufferings – when I saw Big Dipper, hanging above the mountains. Upside down.

To make the situation even more absurd, we were asked for additional payment for the tickets. As it turned out, Monster would take us not farther than the border. What!? We were tortured in this Monster the whole night like Jews in a gas chamber. I wanted to punch those Mombasa coolies, the bus driver and all the other coolies out there. I kicked Monster out of anger! And hit my toe…

When we reached the checkpoint in the morning, we put our foot down. Even if it’s the end of the world, we’re not getting on that Monster anymore. It worked – a coolie fetched us a matatu.

 And then…

With a stripe.
A police officer in a clean light blue uniform.
Clean streets.
A doll world, like the 1950’s America.

And, illuminated by the holy light of sunrise through a morning fog, we saw the snowy peak of Africa – giant Kilimanjaro. A divine revelation.

The chick was shocked, shivering and squeaking like a cellphone alarm. It took half a day to get her back to life.

We couldn’t figure out what happened next. A white man in a jeep appeared from somewhere. We were taken to a house where four people were sitting behind their computers in a circle. We couldn’t understand anything. „This is your room” was where we collapsed.
Half dead.

Warm shower à la Africa

In the morning, we wander outside the village yard and climb down to the valley. For the first time in Africa, we have the chance to take a warm shower in the morning in a place, of course, least expected – a tiny Masai village. Or, to be precise, near the village, under a hot waterfall.

Joseph is waiting for us behind a hill when me and Berit relish under the warm geyser, water coming deep from the ground. Dramatic nature surrounds us, completely remote. A couple of antelopes are sneaking in the bushes on the other side of the canyon. Only the sound of a singing bird cuts into the silence. When we arrive back to the village clean and happy, Anna serves us chapati, fresh from the oven.

Our friends show us the ethnic women clothes and decorate us with Masai apparel. Later, Seret introduces us to his bow and teaches us to shoot it. A couple of arrows are lubricated with deadly poison, that’s why we’re not allowed to touch them. As for the less deadly, no matter how hard I try, they still don’t fly too far…

Seret is Daniel’s sweet apprentice. When he doesn’t quite understand what I’m asking, he forms a fine apology: I’m not really getting your question properly.

The greatest values in the culture of Masai according to Seret:

  • Family.
  • Livestock – cows, sheep, goats and donkeys.
  • Elders in the community. One’s age is very important and the youth have to stand for the quality of the elder’s being.

The loo

The whole village share one lavatory, or, to stick to the reality – a stinking loo (a shit house would be the most accurate definition). It’s not too hard to go there in the darkness at night, but Berit still loses her appetite when she thinks about her visit there in the morning (those horrible worms…). When I saw her reaction, I decided to skip my turn. 

Seret and Joseph accompany us for about 10 kilometers on the dusty roads of the savannah, towards civilization. A family of giraffes gallop in the bushes not far from us, zebras wander on top of a hill. As for us – we walk with guys with stick legs and red gowns who both have killed a lion.

First, you have to catch the lion’s eyes, Joseph instructs. These words and the depth of his eyes haunt us of for a long time.

Prostitution at Malindi beach

Malindi beach. Bloody hot. We land in a hotel that prohibits prostitution, alcohol and homosexualism.
The beach itself is rather unpleasant. The tourists are not allowed to leave the hotel territory, and for a reason. After the first day of sitting back on the strand and ignoring all the beach-boys, we agree to pay for the club ticket and escape to the deck chairs.
It doesn’t get better in the restaurants, either. A loud Italian lady with a modest Rastafari sit in the next table. An old man is having a conversation with a local woman wearing flamboyant make-up in the background. Three Italians parade to another table with local babes on stilettos right behind them. Half an hour later, the restaurant can be divided exactly into two colors and genders. As an illustration, a Kenyan woman heading to the ladies’ room just kissed her date and is now scrubbing her lips with her arm. We discover we’re the only ones who are not involved with prostitution in this restaurant. This is a true Italian sugar daddies’ paradise.

About a short skirt
When the temperature reaches 35 degrees outside in the shadow, all our cultural tributes towards Muslim women are replaced with short lace skirts. The kind of skirts that flitter in the wind and don’t do too great job covering out bottoms when reaching for a sweet in the ice-cream truck.
Terje suddenly feels someone pulling her skirt. And not upwards, like she was afraid, but as much towards the ground as possible. Terje looks back and sees a woman whose black burka covers her completely, except her frown and a disapproving gasp.

Done by the impulse
When John persuaded us to kill a chicken for dinner in Nairobi, I had another wish – to have a chicken as a travelling buddy. This kind of wishes are not too unrealistic in Africa. You just have to be in the right hotel in the right time, where the Muslim woman who adores you keeps a zillion bright yellow chicks for some farmer every Monday in a back room, snatches one and secretly gives it to you. Easy!
In short, when we got back to our room and I opened my hands, a yellow ball looked at us, cawing. Not older than 12 hours. Terje wanted the chicken to be named Malindi.
When I get back from the shower in the morning, a bunch of people are in our hotel room. The hotel owner’s son brings the chicken something to eat, the receptionist pokes holes in a soap box, the electrician is cutting a plastic bottle into a drinking cup and even sawdust is found somewhere. When we ask a Muslim woman, how to handle the chicken, she hands us a brochure Broiler Management.

Life in a Masai village

When entering a low-lying hut from a narrow door, we cannot detect where we actually are at the first moment. The hut is full of smoke and completely dark. Someone sits us somewhere and only then we realise where we are.

A small fireplace is looming in the middle of the shallow room, a young woman with a baby is working on something. There are bowls and tin cups on the floor. A man sitting next to us starts to explain in which room people live, with a root hanging from his mouth.

The Masai people are very hospitable, hence the guest bed we’re sitting on, every family has one. The children (and the wife) sleep in the next room, a Masai in the third one. From the stack of rugs on the children’s bed a small dirty face is looking out, flies flying around him. There are lots of flies here, soon even I feel them making my skin tickle.

The hostess flushes the pot, still on the floor, still with a baby in her lap, and makes tea for the guests. The men smoke and try to tell us the story of their village, in slow, a bit stiff English.

69 people live in the village called Olkarian Maasai Culture Center, in 17 low squared huts – manyatas – built from cow excrement, standing in a circle. These are the women who do the construction work, bring firewood, drinking water, grow the children, cook. The children have to watch the herd. They start with pasturing the sheep. Growing older, they move to watching goats, when they hit their teens, they start pasturing cows. The Masai believe that they own all the cows in the world. The ones in Estonia, too. True story.

Usually in the age of 15, a very important turn take place in the life of the Masai youngsters – circumcision.
Women, too, are still quite often circumcised. The tradition originates possibly from the time when men had to take long war expeditions. To avoid women’s lust, their clitoris is cut off. Orgasm? Heh. Yes. The Masai woman was not made for pleasure.

One of the most important goals in the life of the men is to marry as much women as possible. To do that, one must first get as rich as possible to be able to feed all the families.

Our new friend Daniel’s grandfather had 13 children. And the granpa’s last words to his grandson was that he must own enough cows to marry lots and lots of women. Daniel has 64 aunts-and-uncles. Daniel has managed to marry only one woman so far – Anna, 21 (on the picture), they have two children.

Conversations goes more and more interesting. We’re discussing the endless differences between Masai people and Europeans, drinking milky tea and chewing Khat. Khat is a plant that has an amphetamine-like effect, it causes excitement and gives energy. It is grown only in the middle of Kenya, but it is sold all over the world. Our friend Daniel is a self-taught anthropologist. He doesn’t have a degree, but despite that, he has given some lectures in universities. Colleges in Paris and Vienna are expecting him in the spring.

The Masai people, living only in Kenya and Tanzania, are divided into age groups. Every group has an elder. The future leaders are usually chosen early from the young ones. The elders are on top of the ladder in the village. Our village has 5 elders. It is told, that Masai men reach a very old age thanks to a special diet. Up to 130 years, which beats even the last Guinness World Record…

The main components for the diet are blood and meat. They drink warm cow blood. When celebrating, the blood is mixed with milk and cow urine to get a shake called Mursik, which is said to decrease the cholesterol levels.

A child enters the room, stands in front of each person and waits them to touch his head. As do we. The children have to go to school 20 kilometres from home, which explains why they got home in the dark. Every morning, they start their struggle on the path of education. When all the children have reached home in the evening, the leader steps through all of the huts to ask the men for blessing as a sign of a safe return.

One person goes to the market far away every Wednesday and Saturday to buy clothes, metal, flour, rice and fruits for the village.

We walk around the neighborhood with Joseph in the evening. He shows us the hidden merits of the forest and soon we realize, how much essential for life one can easily find from the nature. For example:

  • Leleshua – a light green plant used as deodorant. Just put the twig under your arm!
  • Acacia whistling tree – toothpicks, the green fruits are used as appetite enhancers. The plant whistles in the wind.
  • Ilbibi – a flower with an orange blossom – crush the leaves and leave them in water for 15 minutes, drink  – reduces liver pain.
  • Lobai – a bush with thin green leaves – boil in water, drink – treats syphilis.
  • Ilmisi – chew the twig, you get a toothbrush. Berit tried. It works.
  • If you boil Aloe roots with corn and honey, you get the aforementioned Muratina – the Hallucinodrink that really gets you there.
  • Mtulele with Leleshua – boil their roots in water to get a special magic drink that enhances men’s capability way more than Viagra!

Joseph shows us how the Masai dance, sings and jumps. The Masai people believe that they have descended from the heaven. If they jump really high, they might be able to fly back.

A conversation with a man we ran into in the bushes of the savannah:

  • How are you?
  • Ee-ee. (=fine)
  • Is everything alright in the village?
  • Ee-ee.
  • How are the elders?
  • Ee-ee.
  • How are the cows?
  • Ee-ee.

We sit in the dark smokey hut until late night and discuss philosophy. We drink tea and listen to the grasshoppers, which is interrupted by a couple of mobile phones ringing. The village doesn’t have electricity nor plumbing but all the men have a cellphone. They go to charge the batteries in a few kilometres away factory.

The Masai men are happy (couldnt generalize it to the women). They live in harmony in the middle of wild nature. In peace and love. Every young warrior has to kill a lion before marrying his first wife. As it turns out, our friends are trying to modernize the culture from the inside. They have been involved in communicating to people to stop circumcising women and killing lions for a year and a half now. Still, even in our village, there’s a girl whose beautiful headdress gives away her recent circumcision.

Late at night, we fall asleep in the leleshua-scented bed and realize that is one of the most comfy ones so far we’ve had in Africa. The roosters singing and children crying. We need quite a few minutes to realize what’s going on around us – we are waking up in a small village in Africa with no electricity, there are thin people in weird clothes working around us, flies are walking on the faces of children and all the men have killed a lion with their bare hands.
Anna is already busy in the room, a tired look in her eyes. She didn’t smile once.

On our way to Hell we ended up in Heaven

After saying goodbye to our beloved family, we traveled from one matatu to the other, until the two of us – white women with huge backpacks and no clue where they were – found ourselves in the middle of flower plantations, fields and pastures, with the mountains far beyond.

oon, a young man waved at us. We had the chance to settle at a YMCA camp in a house for 17 people, but just us living there.
That was the first time Berit told me about her dream to travel with a chicken. The chicken could have a rope tied to his foot and follow us everywhere that way. But that comes later.


For the last safari had really bit into our budget, we bought our dinner from a local market. That was exactly like from a movie. All of the children from the village were shouting at us on their high-pitched voices: How are you! How are you!

Walking on the volcanic ash amid the spices and vegetables, every moment seemed worth capturing, like a film strip of a good movie. We couldn’t even focus on one thing. Someone was fixing rusty bicycles, someone was selling salad, the other was smoking fish, third one peeling potatoes and making French fries. We bought French fries for 0,20 € for ourselves and for the price of 0,25 € to a hungry local lady.


In the next morning, we had a walk to the Hell’s Gate national park. That’s one of the few parks where people are allowed to walk among wild animals. So we strolled amongst zebras, giraffes and goats, enchanted by the dramatic landscape under the burning sun. After three hours of walking, the sun didn’t seem so amazing anymore. On the last 5 kilometres, we were lucky to get a ride from a lonely jeep driving through the deserted land, worn out from the heat. We were standing up in the back of the station wagon driving through the dusty roads of Africa, with the wind in our hair and our skirts fluttering.


We reached a place where the tricky road down to Hell’s Gate should begin. A Masai stepped to us suddenly, offering to be our guide. Of course, we thanked him and said no, on budget as we were. We’re trying to get to Hell on ourselves.

A minute later, we realized that it’s not that easy after all. You have to climb on one side of the stream that has carved a crack to the cliff, and then on the other side. Every now and then we couldn’t have been able to proceed if we wouldn’t have known the secret stones to hold on to. The Masai was smirking at our stupid self-confidence, said he doesn’t care about money and followed us sneakily to give us tips on the road.

We tried to ignore him but soon, we realized that we are those dumb city girls with no clue in the wild nature. So he followed us until we became friends – he’s called


We climbed the rocks in the bosom of the Mother Nature, in the depths of the volcanic cliffs, until it got really exciting. Sinister clouds rose in the sky and a heavy shower started to pour down on us. We were soaked wet with a few seconds, our feet were covered in mud, the rain was pouring on red ground. Voluptuous nature was growing about ten metres higher, down there were only me, Berit and a thin man in a red gown with a huge knife.


One moment I feel the ground getting surprisingly hot under my feet. Steam is reeking out of the ground. I put my hand into the water falling down a cliff which explains everything. This is a volcanic hot shower. I feel the hot water falling on my back, I look around and can’t make the difference if this is reality or a dream – the picturesque nature, the air energized by the rain, the warm rocky ground and the deep brown eyes of a triber looking at me. This is not reality. This is a fairy tale.

When the rain had stopped and we had entered the Hell’s Gates our new friend asked as to come and visit his village. It was just up there, a ten minute climb. And why not stay for the night – it’s late and the YMCA camp is 20 kilometres away.

„First, we need to know something,” Berit tries to inquire. „You are not going to eat us, are you?”
„No,” Joseph laughs.
„You are not going to make soup out of us? Not even using a single hand or leg?”

We weren’t too convinced when we made it to the top of the hill, where we could see a real Masai village. 17 huts. 69 people.

A day with a Kenyan Family

We reach back from the safari. Nairobi again! Those observing stares again! And meeting the family we know again.

Wait! Still, something is different. With the family. A rank stench of perfume welcomes us together with the family. The hostess has clothed herself in Sunday outfit and the boys are wearing fitted shirts. The family spends their Sunday in the church, from 9 AM to 6 PM. When we ask, what do they do there the whole time, Susan answers enthusiastically: Oh, there is so much to do! Sing and pray!

Tired from the safari, me and Terje decide to have a lazy day and just watch, how the locals spend their free time:


1. From the day we got there, John has been telling us that we have to kill a hen for dinner. To get fresh meat. At first, we thought John was joking, he just wants to shed blood under the eyes of mzungus. Later on, we learn that he actually meant we have to slaughter a chicken, because it’s too brutal for him. More of a women’s job… That’s how it goes, daily. A guy sits next to us in a matatu, with a screaming chicken in a plastic bag. I joke: Today’s dinner?

No, for tomorrow.
Who’s killing it?
My wife, of course.

2. When coming back from the grocery store, I watch tiny Susan carrying a huge plastic bag on her crooked back, barely getting a hold of it. Obese John is walking behind her, with a wide smile to his face, holding something light. What a lout, I think to myself, and help Susan with the bag. A minute later, I glance at Susan again, and what do I see? Little Susan carrying a smaller bag on her back, and John is now whistling a tune, walking behind her with hands in his pockets.

3. 5.00 – 9.00 AM. Susan wakes up and prepares a three course breakfast.

9.00 – 10.00AM eating
10.00 – 12.00 AM Susan does the dishes, washes the clothes and around the house
12.00 – 3.00 PM time to cook a four course lunch
3.00 – 5.00 PM eating, cleaning up the leftovers
5.00 – 7.00 PM cooking a six course dinner
7.00 – 8.30 PM eating and cleaning up the kitchen
8.30 – 9.00 PM an evening shower and going to bed

What does the husband do? Sits behind the table, with his belly hanging over his belt, eating fruits and telling Susan busy in the kitchen to bring him dessert.

Other activities

1. If we have a stereotype of Africans as uneducated banana farmers, then Africans sure have a stereotype of mzungus, too. People don’t work in the Land of Mzungus, they don’t have fields, they don’t get their hands dirty. None of us has probably ever seen an animal apart from a teacup poodle. John decides to change that.
Come and see, how people live in Africa, says John, rolling his eyes in a very exotic manner and smirking down to us. He drags us to a bean field, exactly like my grandmother has in her backyard, and starts to school us: These are beans. They grow into a green ball of food the size of your thumb. He demonstrates, how to pull them out of the ground and is convinced that we could not do it. We pull the beans out of the ground for about ten minutes just to please him. John offers us to take the vegetables we picked with our own hands to Europe, ignoring completely our attempt to explain to him that we have vegetable growing in our gardens, too.

2. Sunday is the day for laundry. We ask water and soap from Susan and go to the yard to do laundry. John rushes there to see the miracle with his own eyes. Quick, someone get the camera, your friends couldn’t believe this!


Everybody in Kenya want to do good. If you’re not involved with volunteer networking, there’s probably something wrong with you. You must have a heart of stone. You are bound to go to hell. Let’s see, how people do good in Kenya.
1. John goes to the church to sing on Sundays. We drive pass the church, which turns out to be four tin walls surrounded by stone walls. We ask for an explanation. Susan, the biggest fan of volunteers, radiates when answering:

A group of helpers came from America and started to build a church. Next year, they’ll come back and will build some more. 

We check the construction – three rows of bricks tossed on top of each other. Susan’s euphoric talk makes us suspect that a bunch of Miss Americas came here for the sake of world peace. Instead of hiring some local homeless for cheap and finish the church construction. Instead of promoting education and distributing ideas, American volunteers are offered the jobs every local could handle.

2. Susan and John go to the orphanage to donate on Sundays. Generous, isn’t it. Selfless, some might say. We decide to join the family and buy a couple of kilos of fruits from the market for a dime. We get a warm welcome. 50 children of chocolate look at us with their brown eyes and chants: Hello, hello, we are happy to see you. God bless you. But for some reason, John isn’t happy.

Do you know who I am?
Do you know who my wife is?

The children answer yes obediently. John tell them to sing the thank-you song couple of times more. And to know his name. John the Great Helper.
Terje has to make a speech. She talks about the cold weather and the importance of education. We write our contacts to the guest book and leave to the sound of grateful chanting that John wanted to hear. It was about time to go home to eat.

In the Matatu

For the first time during this trip, we can browse the town on our own. Finally! In fact, we are so pleased with our freedom we don’t even notice it’s getting dark. It’s probably hard to explain this to an Estonian, but in Nairobi, being alone in the dark equals suicide. We are talking about the city where the locals prefer to take a taxi instead of walking.
We get a ride with a matatu. But the matatu doesn’t leave it’s spot before it’s full of people. And the matatu-coolies are responsible for getting the matatu full of people, for there are many competing vehicles.
We sit in the bus and watch the matatu-coolies have catched someone going to Roisse. The dispute on which bus should the woman take, gets bad. One is pulling her from the one sleeve, the other from the other side. When a helpful bypasser saves the woman from the coolies, the men indulge in a fight. But our time is running. It gets darker and darker. The bus must be get full soon! We wave to he pedestrians invitingly who, when noticing the showpieces, fill the matatu in a second. When we reach Roisse (Nairobi’s suburb), it’s dark outside. But there’s no John anywhere. Only the pitch black street, black people and a gas station. Fortunately we are clever enough to persuade someone in the gas stop to help us with our mzungu charm and get home safe.

(the picture is taken from the backseat of the matatu)


On the first night, when we go to wash our hair, Susan is very surprised. You wash your hair at home? And do your own hair? It turns out, that they let only the professionals do theirs. A professional, who asks 0,30 € for a hairdo. That’s how Susan gets her hair done in a beauty shop (on the picture) 3-4 times a month.

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