Aidan Hartley Aidan Hartley

The healing power of sweat

Credit: RapidEye


In one of Kenya farmer Karen Blixen’s short stories, a character says: ‘I know of a cure for everything: salt water… Sweat, or tears, or the salt sea’. After two months on the Indian Ocean shore since Mum left us, I set off on the two-day drive back to the farm. At dawn in Tsavo I had breakfast watching a young leopard, and passed a herd of 400 buffalo, many elephant, kudu, giraffe and buck. In four hours on the back roads I saw just one car. I reached the Nairobi highway, overtook scores of juggernauts and then diverted along the track following the Selengei river, where Ernest Hemingway used to hunt, passing very few cars until I arrived in town towards evening. Unlike elsewhere, Kenya’s cities throng with life: crowded markets, gridlocked traffic, busy bars and shops. Early next day I zigzagged through the wacky races of Nairobi rush hour, fleeing north towards Mount Kenya, left the tarmac again and for three hours passed more great wildlife herds until, at last, covered in sweat and dust, I reached our farmstead with cattle, dogs and a cold Tusker.

‘I think your father’s hoping he’ll never have to hug anyone again.’

The entire roof of our home had been ripped off. It’s the hot, dry season and a few days before my return a team of thatchers — led by a short, noisy man called Bashora Dadi — had begun knotting thousands of makuti coconut fronds to the roof, replacing the thatch Bashora had done for us in 2006. All his people are Waata, whose ancestors were famous hunters, using long bows to shoot arrows tipped with deadly desert rose poison into elephants. Bashora calls his job ‘fighting’, or ‘a war’, as in ‘today we are going to fight your roof’.

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