African Camp Fires eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 275 pages of information about African Camp Fires.
individual has one or more of them; even the tiny children with their ridiculous little sun helmets are followed everywhere by a tall, solemn, white-robed black.  Their powers of divination approach the uncanny.  About the time you begin to think of wanting something, and are making a first helpless survey of a boyless landscape, your own servant suddenly, mysteriously, and unobtrusively appears from nowhere.  Where he keeps himself, where he feeds himself, where he sleeps you do not know.  These beautifully clean, trim, dignified people are always a pleasant feature in the varied picture.

The Somalis are a clan by themselves.  A few of them condescend to domestic service, but the most prefer the free life of traders, horse dealers, gunbearers, camel drivers, labour go-betweens, and similar guerrilla occupations.  They are handsome, dashing, proud, treacherous, courageous, likeable, untrustworthy.  They career around on their high, short-stirruped saddles; they saunter indolently in small groups; they hang about the hotel hoping for a dicker of some kind.  There is nothing of the savage about them, but much of the true barbarism, with the barbarian’s pride, treachery, and love of colour.


[8] Native farmlets, generally temporary.

[9] White cotton cloth.



To the traveller Nairobi is most interesting as the point from which expeditions start and to which they return.  Doubtless an extended stay in the country would show him that problems of administration and possibilities of development could be even more absorbing; but such things are very sketchy to him at first.

As a usual thing, when he wants porters he picks them out from the throng hanging around the big outfitters’ establishments.  Each man is then given a blanket—­cotton, but of a most satisfying red—­a tin water bottle, a short stout cord, and a navy blue jersey.  After that ceremony he is yours.

But on the occasion of one three months’ journey into comparatively unknown country we ran up against difficulties.  Some two weeks before our contemplated start two or three cases of bubonic plague had been discovered in the bazaar, and as a consequence Nairobi was quarantined.  This meant that a rope had been stretched around the infected area, that the shops had been closed, and that no native could—­officially—­leave Nairobi.  The latter provision affected us; for under it we should be unable to get our bearers out.

As a matter of fact, the whole performance—­unofficially—­was a farce.  Natives conversed affably at arm’s length across the ropes; hundreds sneaked in and out of town at will; and from the rear of the infected area I personally saw beds, chests, household goods, blankets, and clothes passed to friends outside the ropes.  When this latter condition was reported, in my presence, to the medical officers, they replied that this was a matter for police cognizance!  But the brave outward show of ropes, disinfectants, gorgeous sentries—­in front—­and official inspection went solemnly on.  Great, even in Africa, is the god of red tape.

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African Camp Fires from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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