The pride we find in the jungle has no men in it. They are god knows where doing god knows what. One of the lionesses raises her head above the green, towards a hill. Something must have caught her curiosity, we imagine, and as soon as she starts walking away, our theory is confirmed. She does not sprint. She treads softly, often stopping to make sure she is not caught. The moment the other queens of the pride notice she is onto something, two join the hunt. They sneak from the left and the right and as we peer through the binoculars, we see a wild pig in the distance. Oh, it is on! It is not every day we get to witness the stuff we see on Planet Earth live. I glance to the right to the other tour van and everyone seems to be animated, especially Struan. He has never seen a lion with his two eyes, unless there is a screen between them. He is lucky because on his first ever safari, he gets to see a kill happen.
The wild pig spots the hungry lionesses and scurries away. The pride has not eaten in days, the tour guide tells us, and so they do not have the energy to chase. It does not help that they also have cubs to feed. We were rooting for them. Anyone who has ever had to feed a child understands. I mean, pigs are great, but think about the women and children.
Just as a collective aki woishe moan emanates from the van, we notice one of the lionesses walking uphill. The other two fall in formation again. It is incredible how they do not need to make a sound to coordinate an attack. Human beings we are so inadequate. We need coded languages and someone to say “Alpha, this is Bravo Team. We are going dark.” into an over-over so that we can see through simple operations like capturing Osama. Lionesses, however, operate through natural Bluetooth. One sees a prey and the other ones automatically receive a message saying, “OK Ladies, now let’s get in formation. Then we slay!”
Our eyeballs are trained towards the direction the lionesses are heading. There we see a family of warthogs happily trudging along. The rules of watching game is that you do not interfere. If you love warthogs, that is fantastic, but you cannot go warn them ati they are in danger. Same way, if you are Team Nala, you cannot cheer them on, blow vuvuzelas or start commentating like those Radio Jambo peeps who like to score even when the match is in halftime. Here in the Masai Mara, you keep silent thi! All you can do is watch. Struan brings the lenses to his face and edges closer to his seat.
We are all cheering for the lions here. Silently, of course. That is how cold the jungle turns us. We find ourselves hoping that a family is destroyed. Because if the lionesses succeed, the consequences are damning, however way you look at it.
The lionesses squat and wait with patient persistence. The hogs malinger downhill, talking about whatever the hell it is hog families talk about on Saturday afternoons. Unfortunately, their stories are cut short by a big brown cat with demonic eyes. In panic, Papa hog is the first to take off. How rich. Branches right and he is gone. Mama Hog goes the opposite direction (such a dead beat), while Baby Hog – confused as to whether to follow mom or dad – pauses for a second to consider, then decides to go back how they came.
The lionesses charge on. Of course the elder hogs are too fast for hungry lions so the cats focus on their best bet. The young’un. And at that moment the whole crowd in both vans throws its hands in the air. Those queens of the Mara jungles lose our respect immediately. The baby? Why couldn’t they pick on someone their own size?! Have they no shame? Twitter must hear about this.
We take only comfort in the fact that at least baby warthog died immediately. It did not suffer in its final moments. It was out in seconds.
A 40stroke, air cooled 124 cc engine comes to a halt at the foot of the Sankara Hotel and I get off. I return the helmet and a 200 bob to my chauffer, and as the bodaboda leaves to join the rush of Friday evening Westlands traffic, I dust my midnight blue jacket (it is the only one I own and wear for events like this), consider myself from head to toe one last time and walk in hoping my nerves are invisible to everyone else. A girl dressed in black and towering heels takes me to the lift and then presses the 7th floor button.
I did not get to hang around Struan Grant Ralph at the Glenfiddich tasting hosted at Sankara rooftop, simply because he was the center of attention. You could tell he was the point zero of all the gravity in the room, meaning everyone was attracted to him. Everyone wanted a selfie, and he was way too gracious. I simply watched him from across the room, a Scottish teenager in hand (we are talking about whisky here please). Next to me, stood Vinnie. Or Captain, as he is known to Kenyans on Twitter. The one man who takes male grooming too seriously. I mean, if politicians took Kenya as seriously as Captain takes his image, we would be a first world country, hands down. Dude walked into the event with…let me not even pretend to know what Captain was wearing. All I can say is that there is a way in which he wore that suit (and a bag whose containing state secrets) that reminds me a lot of the way Struan held his whisky. It drips of confidence and panache.
If I say I did not feel way out of my depth in that event, I would be lying through my teeth. Let me be honest here. I am a beer person, so you have an idea of the kind of person I am when drinking. We do not really mind when and where our alcohol was made, or much less, its age. Sure, it would be great to know the bio data of our drinks, but that is not the first thing that comes to mind when handed a drink. It comes to the table and the only thing we care about is if it exhales when the bottle top is removed. Also, we have the luxury of options; either drinking straight from the bottle, or pouring it into a glass, depending on where we are and who we are trying to impress.
But whisky folk fascinate me. When they talk about their drinks, you might think they made a callout for applicants for a highly classified job vacancy. They know when it was made, the weather at the time, the name of the farmer who planted the wheat, his favorite colour, his wife’s maiden name, the type of wood used to make the cask that matures the whisky, and exactly how long it stayed in there stewing itself into what it is currently. That is some CIA level background checks. Struan Grant Ralph, being the Glenfiddich Global Ambassador, has all these receipts. I guess it comes with the job description.
Speaking of which, watching Struan speak and work the crowd that night, I found myself wondering exactly what it means to be the face of a brand like Glenfiddich. I imagine the actual face must be important. You look at Struan and there is no doubt what kind of alcohol he drinks. What with the well combed perfect hair, folded to one side like an expensive piece of purple. Then there is the mane. Oh! The mane! It covers almost his whole face – running from the side of his head, down to the chin, around the mouth, and then soars up again on the other side. But the trick is not just in having the beard, but how you wear it, (every male adult has one – except me, sigh). So that it is not just facial hair, but rather bursts of awesomeness oozing through the skin. I wonder how Struan balances that. Not his beard. The beard and talking about whisky, that is. That the crowd was not distracted by it when he spoke about whisky says a lot about, well, how good he is at talking about his Glenfiddich.
I guess it also helps, if you want to be a Glenfiddich ambassador, to have grown up in Speyside, North Eastern Scotland. Somewhere along the shores of River Spey – the ninth longest river in the United Kingdom. While this river is not renowned for its length, and our God is a fair God who gives and takes, it’s shores take the crown for being the motherland to one of the finest whiskys in the entire world. The Glenfiddich. The world’s most awarded single malt whisky in the history of single malt whiskys.
I see you guys pretending to know exactly where Speyside is, do not be shy, ask Google.
The Speyside is where Struan calls home. That is where he fell in love with the spirit world. The drink, not the ghosts. He worked as a bar tender then went to college to study something to do with chemicals, and now he walks around the world, spreading the gospel of whisky. His favorite, the 12-year-old Glenfiddich. That is how he ended up in Nairobi. He had just come in from London and from there, he heads over to the Far East. Not a bad life, eh?The following morning, an iron bird lifts us off from the Wilson Airport. We watch with tired eyes as Nairobi becomes smaller and smaller the higher we go. By the time we hit the clouds, the city below is nothing but a vast, unending spread of boxes and lines. The last thing I remember about the flight is us cutting through the white balls of cotton hanging in the sky.
I am awakened by the sound of wheels touching the earth, outside a strange kind of welcoming party, made up of tall necks and black and white stripes. The Masai Mara.—
The rains come down hard shortly after the lionesses and the cubs have fed. The safari is cut short and we find ourselves back at Angama Camp. With the heavens tearing up in lightning and skies leaking around us, we sit at the dinner table for our last meal together. Struan serves each of us a round, no more than two fingers of liquid gold. It is a drink made for moments of celebration like this one. When two countries enjoy their best exports; Scotland with her single malt and Kenya with her bountiful wild.
He swirls his glass, then brings it up to his nose, and as he draws in the scent of a drink old enough to vote, I wonder whether it reminds him of home. And if it does, whether that is a good thing. I wonder whether he misses the Speyside or if he feels at right home here with us. We lift our glasses up facing North and recite Struan’s remixed version of the Lord’s prayer in thanksgiving to the people of the Valley of the Deer who make this drink.