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Chapter One

"And So It Begins"

Even in the predawn light, Daniel Kyango was a man on a mission.

“Let’s go, kids,” he shouted up the stairwell. “We’ve got a 3 and a half hour drive in front of us! Keisha (Sidney, to her friends and family) was the first of the Kyango children to appear at the top of the stairs.

Original artwork by Billy Appleman

“Sidney, where are your brother and sister?”

“Papa, they are still getting dressed.”

“OK you tell them that I am going out to feed Zap and the other animals, and we will be leaving here in 15 minutes, with or without them!”

Daniel grinned to himself as he pushed open the back door. He knew that the Kyango household would have little chance of getting organized for the drive to Nairobi airport in just 15 minutes. From experience, it would be closer to 30 or 45. Daniel would be satisfied if it was under an hour.

For in fact, they were in no particular rush on this Saturday morning. Edward’s plane from Brussels was not due in until 4:30 that afternoon. Edward, Daniel’s friend from his University days in Oxford, had made this trip from London (and now Brussels), to Kenya for the year-end holidays for 15 years now. In fact Jomo, their eldest son, now fast approaching his sixteenth birthday, was as a child quite certain that Kris Kringle and his uncle Edward were one and the same!

This day trip to Nairobi would give the Kyango clan valuable time together. Daniel and Monicah, whose profession it was to host tourists and city visitors all year, would today delight in turning the tables around. Their family would be seeing the wonder that is Kenya through ‘visitor’s’ eyes. The drives to Nairobi with their 3 children, Jomo, Lulu, and Keisha, always seemed to summon some sort of adventure. Daniel mused on what this day would bring. It was perfect timing, actually. With school out for winter holidays, and their Harambee Lodge now closed to the public until the second week of the New Year, the Kyango’s had the next 3 weeks free from any obligations. This was a time to visit among themselves, and with those - who over time - had become their extended family. The family, which from many points around the globe, would soon begin to make their way “home” to Kenya for the holidays. Edward, Daniel’s oldest and closest friend, was the first.

Surely Monicah would want to put together one of her legendary picnics for the clan along the way to the airport. They usually stopped outside the Nairobi National Park reserve to for a leisurely, mid-day meal. This reserve, just outside of Nairobi and its 2 million human inhabitants, was Daniel’s favorite. Where else on this Earth did zebra, wildebeest, hyena, giraffes, and lions run protected and free, just a few miles from a large, capital city? Last year, Monicah set down her fine array of buttercakes, sandwiches, chocolates and Earl Grey tea at a highway rest stop overlooking the park. Just as they were seated, Sidney’s squeal of delight alerted them to a large and stately procession of bull elephants coming to a halt at a leafy marsh, less than 300 yards away. Unhurried, with a fresh breeze offering a pleasant contrast to the noonday Equatorial sun, members of both the human and animal kingdom feasted silently. It was a memorable occasion indeed!

Yesterday, just past noon, the last of the lodge visitors had checked out. About 2:30, the 3 Kyango children excitedly burst into the kitchen, wearing what best could be described as their “winter recess” smiles. Schoolbooks and backpacks were flung quickly in the bedrooms upstairs, along with their handsome but constricting gray school uniforms. Goodbye - for now at least - to the Jomo Kenyatta Preparatory School, with its rules and exams and discipline. Hello holiday fun! In no time at all, all 3 were bounding downstairs dressed for play. The ebullience of the children was infectious. Monicah knew better than to ask about homework assignments, or how the children thought they fared on their pre-holiday exams. There would certainly be plenty of time for that later. However, she was their mother, and queen of the roost. They would be together for the next few weeks, back in her school. Monicah called to them, as they seemed to bounce towards the door.

“Hold on, dear children of mine. Before you rush off willy-nilly to the 4 winds, let’s spend a few moments together. Are you all heading to the river? Now, you know I won’t have Sidney swimming there on her own.”

“But Mama, I’m old enough to do that on my own,” Keisha (Sidney) replied.

Sidney was a charming, sunny, and precocious 5 years old. (Actually she was 5.76 years old, if you asked her. She had recently mastered her new pocket calculator, and daily she excitedly computed the exact fraction of that day, as she progressed towards her 6th birthday). Now, no one would argue with the fact that Sidney possessed many unique, and even magical, skills. But swimming was certainly not one of them. Anyway, at 5 years old (or even 5.76!) she just was much too young to swim alone.

Their mother (as mothers often do) had correctly predicted their plans. There was a small river that crossed through the Kyango rangeland property. It was part of a huge water system that flowed into Kenya from the Mount Kilamanjaro Mountains to the south in Tanzania. The river’s cool and rich waters were a magnet for many of the herds, flocks, and prides of animals that crossed rhythmically across southern Kenya. The river’s “customers” also included the Masai tribe, which spent part of the year in this region. Other regulars were the employees of the lodge. Their lunch breaks provided a welcome opportunity to blend into the waterway’s timeless beauty. Oftentimes they were accompanied by some of the lodge’s more adventurous seminar participants and guests. And of course, the Kyango clan. All communed with the river, though each in their particular way.

At a point about a half a mile from the lodge, the river, called Kiljama by the Masai, bent there into a gentle curve. A small delta of sorts had developed there over time. The river broadened, and right at the point of the curve, split into four small tributaries. Some thirty feet to the left of the delta, a 5th , more muscular branch This parallel slender rivulet, about six feet wide, ran under a shade-rich thicket of trees nature had provided. Some 40 years before, the children’s grandparents had added five oak saplings in a semi-circle on the Kyango side of the river. Though the oak tree was not native to the region, all 5 trees had thrived. This combination of nature and the Kyango ancestors had created a fabulous place to sit or snooze or take an unhurried swim. The “swimming hole” was the children’s favorite hideaway.

“Don’t worry Ma,” Jomo interjected. “We talked about this on the bus ride home. I’ll be going with Sidney to her “splash-a-bout”.” That’s what Lulu and Jomo called Sidney’s eager attempts at swimming. “Lulu will meet us there later after her run. We’ll all be coming back together before dark.”

The stern look in Monicah’s face was replaced with a broad smile. “All right then. Off you go. But make sure Sidney stays in the shallow water of the delta.

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