On Tall Tales


A common trait to the Kenyan is the ability to produce a facial expression and tone exactly half-way between sober and farce. This is a gift not previously observed by this writer in his interaction with humanity. One might suppose this to be an unsettling thing to experience, and so I find it to be. However, if you are willing to listen to what the person will say in this state, and to simulaneously entertain reality and fantasy, the results can be worthwhile.

This method of Kenyan communication is usually employed in the relating of an unlikely event or a cloudy history. In my travels I have met several men purported by their peers to be in excess of 120 years. Most recently I was introduced to a donkey which ‘has 100 years’. I have heard the phenomenon of static electric shock being related to the state of the moon. I have been told in all seriousness of a man who could outrun a giraffe and jump over a lorry.

When hearing such a thing, it is the common reaction of a western mind to cast a dubious gaze at the purveyor of such information. The western mind, however, has no response to the facial expression the Kenyan is wearing at this point. His huge smile tells you he is in fact pulling your leg, but his eyes look straight into yours while he sticks to his story.

Moreover the longer you stay in Kenya, the more your concept of what was possible becomes eroded. Consider the following. I found myself relaxing in the shade with a group of young Rendille men when a funnel of dust formed nearby and came rushing towards us. As it grew in ferocity I decided to seek shelter. I was prevented by a young man who piqued my interest with his claim that now I would, “see the miracle”. Just as we were about to be thrashed by the miniature tornado, several of the young men began hissing and making a scolding motion with their index fingers. I am here to tell you that funnel of sand took an abrupt right turn around us, then resumed course. Call me a believer. (wink)

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