“It's not down on any map. True places never are.” Ishmael: Moby Dick
As I drove beneath the increasingly thick shade; a broad leafed canopy of tamarind and elais palm, ironwood and ebony, teak, Bombax, and mahogany let fleeting glimpses of blue sky and sun dapple the narrow red murham clay road. There was no specific place marked on the map, no x marks the spot, such as Pygmyville or Pygmyton to set our compass on, and to add to the hopelessness was the forest they lived in was so impenetrable, dangerous and large, and them so wee.
To my chagrin were the reports I had, first hand, on the circumstances of the area where I was to find the rain forest inhabitants monikered Pygmy. Erastus Hakizoomwami, an Ethiopian friend, who was my fierce ping pong adversary and whose shazam-slam could only be countered with a deft, and illegal spin on a cunning service to keep the game close, gave this second hand report from his uncle John who had been a porter for big game hunting expeditions in Semliki and locales adjacent to the Ituri forest . He contended that there were enormous Boa constrictors that hung from their tales, suspended on branches, waiting for an unsuspecting pedestrian(porter?) or stray antelope to crush in its handsome leathery grasp and swallow whole. I hoped he was exaggerating, but he went on...
The leopards are numerous and stalk and crouch up, and about the trees, it was being impossible to go very far without seeing one. The ants appear and disappear, suddenly in armies that cover and obliterate from sight the thick mosses and centuries old leaf litter, and in such great numbers that you can not travel on foot for very long without them covering you with waspish bites. They have to be wrestled away with the fingertips, singularly, or one at a time, to loosen their hungry mouths bulldog grip on your skin. But even worse than that are the giant “Sokas,” gorillas who live in the high woods, and woe to the person whom they find alone for they run up first accosting them, before biting their fingers off one at a time, and then spitting them out, just as fast.
I was beginning to get a little skeptical but remembered the numerous warnings I had gotten from friends and acquaintances concerning the unpredictable and serious flaws in etiquette that I may encounter from these wild Pygmys that also charged my young imagination, fertile as any Alpaca compost. Khanji Patel was a trusted friend, an asst. physics teacher, whom I often went about with. I had introduced him to the ambrosia marijuana and its wonderful feeling of ecstasy it introduced, he enjoyed it and found, previously unbeknownst, cannabis was used in the Hindustani religion as a tea on special feast days.
He warned me that any sudden gesture could be misconstrued as “flipping them the bird” in their sign/body language vocabulary. They were easily ticked off and had meter long reed arrows that had deadly vegetable based poison tips. He related that whenever there was fight break out involving a Pygmy, and another African, some one would always die, usually the other African. In consequence, people didn't mess with them cause it was common knowledge they had a “chip,” and they only fought to the death.
So we were all only half hearted I suspect, Per, Hillary, James and myself; looking for some sign of them as we proceeded in angst. I maneuvered the car around a series of short bends, and as the road was uncoiling itself into another straight-a-way and through another ominous tunnel of branches and vines, I spied a large mahogany tree, six feet broad in the bole, had toppled over and was blocking the road. Its shallow roots splayed and exposed created a large round vertical piece of natural art. But as I slowed the Peugeot down to stop, I saw another vehicle, a Toyota Land Cruiser through the myriad of green that had been heading in the opposite direction back toward Semliki Flats Lodge, surmising its destination by the time.
A white man reddened deeply by long years spent in the equatorial sun, but whose skin adamantly refused to brown and belied his English heritage to me, stepped out of the cover of a mahogany branch and the Orchidaceae's vines that covered the tree , furtively squinting at us in the somewhat now blinding but relinquishing sun.
He was in his thirties, and his sharp, steely blue eyes and fearless demeanor were reminiscent of a hero. The thick cotton khaki shorts and shirt, the Outback Tilley he wore over his blond hair, his shining mojo, all made him seem as if he had just stepped out of a spaghetti western movie at the Grand in Fort Portal, with sixty recent notches ( in the time it takes to watch a movie) on his belt, or Nick's to an already pock marked barrel.
To add to his aura he was holding the largest rifle I had ever witnessed, an elephant gun it was, its' bore looked large enough to garage a Morris Minor.
As the African sunset fast approached his identity dawned on me suddenly. We had met; I recognized him to be Lionel Hartley, the famous fifth generation African and professional sportsman. A man's man of the sveld, whose immense flatness and long dry savannah grasses were often wind swept into endless yellow waves like on a golden sea.
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