Today I have a very fascinating blog post for you all from Dougie Arnold about the magic of Kenya, which is where his new book, Tusker, is set.
Title: Tusker Author: Dougie Arnold Publisher: Clink Street Publishing Published: 19th March 2020 Format: Paperback Source:: N/A Add It:Waterstones. Goodreads. Summary: The sudden and violent increase of elephant poaching in the remote Kenya game reserve of Uwingoni threatens its very existence. Those who have devoted themselves to the protection of its precious wildlife seem ill equipped to deal with this new menace.
However, the arrival of two young people with no experience of Africa might just prove a turning point. For the first time in his life Harry feels he has found somewhere he really belongs and something he can fight for and believe in. Ana, a journalist escaping the horrors of a different war, brings a fresh insight into the battle against poaching as she struggles with her own internal demons.
They soon realise they are up against forces far more powerful and brutal than they could ever have imagined. Foreign investors driven by greed, corrupt government officials and religious fanatics with no boundaries, draw them deeper into a web of evil.
Half of all the net profits due to the author will be used to help organisations committed to elephant conservation.
The Magic of Kenya
I never thought it was possible to fall in love with a country but that was before I went to work in Kenya.
On my very first drive from the airport I had my initial sight of wildlife, as we saw the silhouettes of several giraffe in Nairobi Game Park which runs amazing close to the city. That evening as lay in bed, my mind already a whirlwind of images and thoughts, the sound of lions roaring seemed so close they might have been in the garden. Indeed ten years later we did actually have two young male lions in the garden but that’s another story.
The Banda School was a special place to work, partly because all the staff were lovely, whatever their role. However, it was also because children came from a wide range of countries and yet everyone got on amazingly well and there was always that feeling of fun and happiness in the air.
If school was great, the weekends and holidays were even better. We immersed ourselves in the wildlife of the country. If we got away early on a Friday we could get to Lake Nakuru for example, one of the Great Rift Valley lakes. We would take our own tents and camp. Way before first light the next day we would be woken by animal sounds. As we took that early morning drive, hippo would be be in amongst the water buck, frequently wallowing in muddy channels and the lake itself was often pink with, at some times of the year, literally hundreds of thousands of flamingo. Rhino would give us that short sited, somewhat irritable look as they crossed the track just in front of us and on a lucky morning those with the sharpest eyes would pick out a leopard’s tale dangling from the branch of a tree along the way. That was all before breakfast, indeed before most people in a Western town or city would even have considered getting out of bed.
If we had more time, because it was half term for example, we might venture up to Mt Kenya, a mountain on the equator yet with snow on its peaks. There were log fires at night, stunning views and rich Afro-alpine mountain vegetation to walk through on the gentler slopes or more serious climbing for those budding mountaineers.
The other great African mountain of course is Kilimanjaro, just inside the Tanzanian border. On my first visit to Amboseli National Park I remember cooking early bacon and eggs over an open fire gazing at its distinct white flat top while not three hundred yards away a large herd of elephants almost ambled by, kicking up the early morning dust.
Sometimes we would head to Mombasa, steeped in history with Arab dhows still in the old harbour and then either head north to Malindi or south, using an ancient ferry, to Diani. Unspoilt palm lined sandy beaches seemed to stretch forever, with an offshore reef that offered up its remarkable beauty to anyone who had remembered to bring a mask and snorkel.
On the return journey to Nairobi was Tsavo National Park with its thick vegetation and herds of buffalo and elephants, many covered in the distinctive red dust of the area. The park it split in two by the railway originally built to Uganda over five years at the end if the 1800’s. To help you imagine size, Tsavo is only just smaller than Wales!
Occasionally we ventured to somewhere extremely remote where we had to have all the supplies we needed to last for days. A fond memory is of time spent on the western shores of Lake Turkana, 250 kms long and the largest desert lake in the world, in an almost forgotten, arid wilderness.
And then of course there is the world famous Masai Mara Reserve, host to the great migration, one of the planet’s most stunning spectacles. With rain ripened grass come huge herds of animals from the Serengeti. There are well over one and a half million wildebeest alone, quarter of a million zebra and almost half a million varied gazelles. They are all grazing and endlessly on the move. It is a sight and indeed a sound you cannot begin to appreciate until you are in the middle of it and one that will live with you always.
Of course there are the Kenyans themselves. There are forty two different tribes in the country with unique languages and cultures but the common bond is their friendliness. Despite the fact that many are extremely poor, their generosity of spirit is often humbling and they genuinely do go about their day with smiles on their faces.
My initial contract in Kenya was for two years but I stayed fifteen! I taught in four schools, one of which I set up from scratch, spent two years helping to run a game reserve, gained a pilots licence and just immersed myself in the beauty of the country, the people and its wildlife.
My novel, Tusker, with its central theme of elephant poaching, was only published last month. One of the things I have enjoyed most from those who have read it is that they say they can really feel, breathe and almost touch the country and experiences I have described. When you love a place some lines simply write themselves. Despite the horror of the poaching itself, Kenya truly is the most magical place. There are a host of wonderful people who dedicate their lives to the protection of its stunning wildlife and their precious environment. I remain optimistic that they will overcome the evil of the poachers.
About the Author
Dougie Arnold worked as a teacher in Kenya in four different international prep schools, the last of which he set up from scratch. Half way through his career there, he took time out of education, gained his pilot’s licence and helped to run and market a game reserve on the edge of Rift Valley, an amazing experience that will always stay with him. On returning to the UK, he was the deputy head of a leading London prep school before taking early retirement to become a story teller. The influence of Africa is at the core of his work. An illustrated children’s book, Invisible Us, was published last September and received excellent five-star reviews. Dougie lives with his family in South West London.