|Beccy, Matt, Abby & me, plus others|
Spending up to ten hours each day travelling in a mini-coach with someone, is a sure fire way of getting to know each other. It also can exaggerate any mild, irritating traits anyone has, 'til they become nigh' on unbearable.
Like most people who live with Autism, our son Sam doesn't take too well to change, and I must confess as to having some major reservations before going on this safari. I guess I went along with it mainly because I knew how often in the past his three other siblings have had to "step down", in order to make allowances for Sam's limitations, and I reasoned this holiday was something long over-due to them.
He was younger than I'd expected, had a loud, booming voice, and spoke in an almost indecipherable accent which we all strained to understand. Acutely aware that we weren't the only ones to have pulled the short straw, I resigned myself to making the best of things, and tried to put a brave face on it.
Hubby and I went on this same safari on our honeymoon. Our guide then was a gentle, wise and amazing man whom we have kept in touch with down the years. We knew we would never be so lucky as to find another Lawrence, but the young man standing before me couldn't have been the more opposite had he tried.
It wasn't an auspicious start.
Driving us on that first day, Lynus had no idea that organised sing-along's terrorised Sam, but the others did. He'd probably never before encountered such a sullen group of unwilling kids in his life.
Another unexpected development for us was the installment of a two-way radio, this hadn't been around on our last trip. The piercing jolts of static that randomly screeched from it sent Sam in to an instant panic attack, and apparently it was against company regulations to turn it off. Understandable of course, there were good safety reasons behind it, but I began to dread what we were putting Sam through.
On one of our many stop off's I managed to pull Lynus aside, and explain a little about some of our family peculiarities. I hate doing that, it's as though we're looking for sympathy, which I absolutely detest. Most people can tell without my having to spell it out to them that Sam is very different from most teenagers. I resented Lynus for not picking up on this, for forcing me to state the obvious. Unreasonably, although I've never worked out why, it always makes me feel like I'm betraying my son, if I need to point out his difficulties.
Score two against Lynus.
But immediately after this Lynus switched off his gregarious clown persona, toned his voice down, and allowed the real person behind the jolly tour guide to gradually shine through. As everyone became more relaxed, we slowly started to glimpse the real man behind the mask, and the more we learned about him, the more we came to respect, admire and understand him.
His is quite a tale, and one I think is well worth the sharing of. I am ashamed to confess, at the time I believed most, if not entirely all of what he said, telling myself he was young and possibly prone to exaggeration. But as time moved on, I witnessed first hand, that honesty and trust truly are an integral part of his African village culture. My cynicism soon vanished.
(I do not include the cities in this, as just as in any other large crowded place filled with people who do not know each other, Cities all the world over are prone to engender mis-trust and suspicion amidst those who live there. Sure, at every stop on our travels we found persistent groups of people eager to sell us something, and the bands of children approaching us for pens and money were endless; they are punishingly poor, and tourists are fabulously rich. However, once outside the urban sprawl, things are very different.)
Whenever we left the coach, whether it be for a pit-stop, to tour the country-side, or to visit one of many far-flung villages, leaving all of our expensive camera equipment and luggage still on board, completely unlocked and with the doors wide open, I'd be thunderstruck. All those beggars and ne'er-do-Wells were bound to have it all away. Lynus simply laughed, assuring me, "It doesn't belong to them, it's safe."
And so it was.
Kicoo came from a small nomadic tribe and had eighteen brothers and sisters, not all of them from his own mother. His father had two families, as he had two wives. Each wife lived separately, in their own homes, as custom dictated. Kicoo grew to be a skilled warrior, able to hunt and kill with nothing more than a stout club and a deadly sling-shot.
Like any hot-blooded young man, this did not prevent him from having girlfriends, but he was careful not to spread his seed. Should he make a girl pregnant, he could no longer be allowed to continue as a warrior, as he would need to marry. In turn, this would bring a huge disgrace upon him and his family, since the custom dictated all men should remain warriors until the minimum age of thirty.
Kicoo often walked vast distances to visit with his extended family, and this is how he became familiar with Nairobi. He spoke no English, but he was fluent in three tribal tongues, and could easily get by in several more. Nairobi is known locally as "Ni-robbery", as it has high unemployment and a soaring crime rate. Initially, Kicoo felt intimidated by the crush of people, of how abrupt everyone seemed, and the noise and smell of all the traffic made his head hurt.
He had never before seen a ghost (white person), but he had heard lots about them, none of it good. They frightened him, and he found he would rather cross the street than to pass one.
Young men in Kicoo's village are eventually expected to take a wife, become an elder, and supervise the training and education of younger warriors. It is written in stone no one marries outside of their own tribe, and certainly not without their fathers blessing.
So how did Kicoo become Lynus?
Even the most educated and westernised of young men find it almost impossible to land the plum position that he presently holds, that is, working as a guide for a prestigious safari tour company.
It's a curious tale..
Kicoo became torn. The more he sampled of this alien world, the less appealing village life became to him. He loved his family dearly, knew his duties lay there, but he felt restless.
For the first time in his life he had glimpsed an alternative possible future, and it called out to him so loudly, it was soon all that he could hear.
Eventually he came to a hard decision, at the next given opportunity he felt he had to leave, and he would not come back. He could say no goodbyes, would need to go without any hint that he would not return.
It was hard to hide his grief on that last day. As he hugged his sisters, he looked down at their smiling faces and thought that his heart might break. His mother waved him off with various messages to pass along to her distant relatives, as she bid him a speedy return.
In his early twenties, Kicoo had already forged some easy friendships with the other young men he'd encountered along his travels, and they were more than happy to offer him the support and shelter he needed in those early days. He set about to learn everything he could about this new culture he found himself immersed in. His friends coached him for hours each evening, and soon he found a basic grasp of how to make himself understood in English.
Abandoning his tribal name, Kicoo became Lynus. His transformation was almost complete. Learning how to drive, within a year he found he could support himself by renting a taxi, ferrying tourists in and around the busy streets of Nairobi.
After a while, he met a girl and fell in love. When she became pregnant and gave him a son, his joy was almost complete. But as she was half-Egyptian, Lynus knew his father would never approve of this relationship, and it made the prospect of any future reconciliation with his family even more remote. This pained him, as he missed his parents, and worried about his siblings.
One day he happened to spot a young man he recognised. He was dressed in the tribal garb of his village, and was obviously passing through Nairobi on his way to visiting some relative or other. Delighted, Lynus called out to him, but to his dismay, his friend turned and fled.
Lynus chased after him; eventually able to catch up, he put his hand on his shoulder.
"My brother, what's wrong, don't you recognise me? Look, it's me, your friend Kicoo."
His friend was shaking, he knelt down in the road and burst in to tears. Finally, he was able to compose himself, confessing he thought Kicoo was a spirit. Everyone in the village believed he was dead, his family were distraught over the loss of him. Lynus, no longer Kicoo, felt ashamed. He tried to explain, justify his actions, but his words felt hollow.
Life continued, but Lynus no longer felt content. He fretted over the news that two of his youngest sisters were about to be married. He had witnessed first hand how many opportunities women in the city had, and longed to open their eyes to this. He knew how hard life would be for them in the village. Eventually, he decided he must rescue them.
Although he knew he did not dare to approach his village in person, he was able to smuggle a message through to his sisters, via his friend. His friend helped to smuggle them away, and Lynus (no longer Kicoo) met them halfway, bringing them home with him, to Nairobi.
If he had wronged his parents before, this last act far, far surpassed it. Daughters are a valuable commodity. A family's wealth is measured by how many cows they own. When a daughter marries, several cows can be demanded in payment. Lynus (no longer Kicoo) knew how deeply this act of betrayal would wound his family. It was a dilemma that caused him a great deal of grief.
His sisters soon prospered, learned how to speak English, and adapted to their new and strange environment. Lynus enrolled them in a secretarial college, and soothed himself with the knowledge he had opened up a much brighter and secure future for them. He continued driving his taxi, ushering the tourists to and fro.
One day, after dropping off a fare, he discovered an American family had left a fat wallet behind. Aside from containing several hundreds of dollars and a batch of travellers cheques inside, their passports were also there, as well as numerous credit cards. Lynus was poor, and this remember, is Ni-robbery.
He sought out his friends to seek their advice. Each and every city friend advised the same. "Take it!"
But Lynus (no longer Kicoo) had a problem. In his village, theft, taking that which is not yours, is akin to murder. It murders your most precious treasure, that which is held most dear, your honour.
He wrestled long and hard all night. This money would make a huge impact upon the lives of him and his family. It would be so easy. Who would know?
In the morning, he contacted the tour company's address he'd found with the wallet, and arranged for it to be collected.
His friends were outraged, called him crazy, what a fool they thought he was.
The tour company was also surprised. Who was this honest man? They contacted him and offered him a position. You have to understand, for every post they had available, more than two hundred people would apply. They had a minimum educational requirement which would have precluded Lynus from ever even filling out one of those applications.
They also had a strenuous six month training course that many failed to complete. No one under thirty had ever been recruited for this position before.
So this is how Lynus (no longer Kicoo) came to hold such a prestigious position at this early stage of his life.
But this is not quite the end of his tale.
I have an extra chapter to add about Lynus (no longer Kicoo), which if you think about it, makes perfect sense..
The highlight of our trip was an overnight stay at "Tree-tops", a lodge literally built in to the trees, overlooking a large, popular watering hole for all of the "big five" animals. It's where our present Queen was lodging, when she heard of the death of her father. We stayed awake most of the night, and had a wonderful view of some of the rarest creatures left to roam the wild. It wasn't until we were many hours in to our drive away that Beccy then discovered she had left her purse, with all of her precious savings in it, behind in the lodge.
It contained around a hundred pounds - money we thought she had lost for good, especially after Lynus later telephoned, to be told it hadn't been found. It was her own silly fault for not allowing me to keep it for her, and a valuable lesson for her to better look after her belongings.
At the end of our journey, as Lynus brought us to the airport, he told us to wait for him. He disappeared to talk with someone outside. When he reappeared, he had Beccy's purse with him, completely intact with all of her money. A chambermaid had found it, and through a succession of various drivers, it had been faithfully transported back to us.
A hundred pounds is the equivalent of around six months salary to her. Lynus reluctantly agreed to give the reward we forced upon him, to the chambermaid, and we have no reason to doubt that that is exactly what he went and did.
I have one more happy note to end on. Lynus confided to me before we left, he'd decided he would try to reconcile with his father. Before daring to return to his village, he planned on purchasing several goats and two cows, to send them on ahead as a peace offering.
I have absolutely no idea how it worked out, but I do have a really good feeling about it..