Across the Rift

We needed the break from routine, to escape from our skins even. Life had become stale and our eyes, focused on too many things, had stopped looking up; cast down, watching carefully each step, not taking flight. So we woke at dawn, left behind the cool foothills of Meru, still shrouded in cloud, and raced over the dry dusty flats, past the Monduli Hills, through Maasailand. This side of the mountain falls in its rain shadow, camels and dust devils exist out here, Maasai, but not much else. Neither of us spoke, we didn’t need to make sounds to fill the vast silence, it’s this that makes a companion worth travelling with.

We climbed the Escarpment up into the Ngorongoro Highlands, could see that the ‘short rains’ had already arrived. Where they fall, everything changes almost overnight; sudden splashes of colour to wake the landscape from its slumber. At the top of the Escarpment we stopped to ease cramped limbs, gulp the fresh air into our starved lungs. We looked way out across northern Tanzania, Lake Manyara, Eyasi beyond; the heat haze starting to build up, shimmering jewels of colour and possibility.

We turned left into coffee country and J’s eyes lit up as they always do. I wonder if coffee talks to him in his dreams, so attuned is he with its needs and cycles. Long days have been spent on his own farm now, replanting on the contours of the land in Kilimanjaro’s folds, starting from scratch almost but I know it makes him happy again.

We were on our way to see a friend who lives right at the end of a long line of farms, straddling the curve of the highlands. Beyond him there is nothing but bush, elephants come in on night excursions, buffalo creep in to scare the unwary. The view from his farm has no rival, it is endless and watching the light changing over far-off mountains can absorb you for days and make you forget there is anything else worth doing. It allows you to be still, to turn yourself off until you are doing nothing but breathing.

That night we sat on the hill up behind the farmhouse, huddled around a fire to keep our feet warm. The night was very black with only a fingernail sliver of moon lighting the highlands and the lights from the onion trucks flickered like fireflies as they went up and down the distant escarpment. I lay on my back listening to quiet male voices talking of things like coffee prices and behind me two Maasai askaris whispered away in Maa. Time, when it has no place to go and no agenda, just drifts and it could have been hours or days that we stayed there; the grass around the fire was soft, the warm light drawing me in and I suddenly felt very very tired.