Retirement Talk

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Episode 372(057) Gun Control?

“We will kill; right here.” A soldier told me that on the banks of the Mara River on the Serengeti Plan in Africa. We had our guns stolen during the night and the anti-poaching unit had come to find them. The young soldier assured me that they would find the guns. That’s when I asked, “Will you take them to jail in Norok?”  His full response was, “No. No. They steal guns. We will kill; right here.”

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

Some retired folks become news junkies. They stay informed. They read New York Times; listen to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now; and  watch other news programs several times a day. Hours are spent consuming and discussing issues of our time.

I am not one of those people. I try to take my news in small doses. I do something else with my time. However, there are things in the news that grab my attention. One is the killing of people. I’ve always felt embarrassed and ashamed of all of the killing here in my own country. It never gets easier to accept.

All the murders, yet no one advocates for gun control in this country. At least not gun control as I came to understand it on that African plain many years ago.

In 1979 I signed up for one of the first EarthWatch expeditions in Kenya. We would be camped out in the Masai Mara Game Preserve. Hyenas’ were our focus. I was to be a driver – driving one of those land-rovers. We would be darting spotted hyenas;   taking samplings, placing a radio collar around their neck and locating them periodically with telemetry.

We had guns. We would shoot a wildebeest, put a chain around its horns and drag it around the plain in a circle with a single tree in the center. The single tree would become our shooting tree. We would chain the wildebeest to the base of the tree and place a shooter up in the branches. We would then back off; play sounds of animals feeding on a kill over our loudspeakers and wait for hyenas to appear. It was exciting.

We had guns for darting the hyenas and for shooting the bait animals. Law required that we keep our guns in a gun safe. The law also required that we keep the safe chained to a tree or bolted to a floor. If we lost our guns, or if our guns were stolen, we would go to jail. Let me repeat, if we lost our guns we were guilty of a crime. If someone stole our guns we were guilty of a crime. For either infraction, we would go to jail. It is called “gun control”.

We kept the guns inside the camp leader’s tent. Thus – not chained to a tree. One night while we ate dinner the camp anthropologist’s wife went to their tent to check on the baby. She had given birth to a son while on the study. She returned and asked if someone had moved the gun safe. It was gone. We ran to the tent. The canvas had been slit at the back and the gun safe was gone. They baby was still fast asleep.

We all realized the seriousness of our situation. Lawrence, the anthropologist, drove out on to the plain and played the car lights in all directions; nothing. I took my brilliant cop-shop flashlight that had four batteries and walked up a game trail along the Mara River - stupid thing to do. If I had come upon the thieves, I’m sure I would have been killed on the spot. I found nothing.

Lawrence said that he would drive to Kekorok and inform the anti-poaching unit. I was to take his wife as a guide and drive to the guard station on the boarder between us and Tanzania. “Tell the guard what has happened and to be on alert”.

It was midnight when we reached the guard station. The drive was slow and long with thousands of animal eyes forever being reflected by our headlights. It was midnight when we reached the guard station. It was a round, white adobe structure. The guard would not come out. We trained our headlights on the building and continued to call out his name. Eventually, he appeared dressed in a long great coat like soldiers wore in WW I. He carried an old Enfield rifle. He shinned his flashlight along the walls of his station. It had been shot full of holes only two weeks earlier by boarder marauders.

We related our story and he told me to take him to the local Masai Manyatta – or village. It is sort of like a fort; made out of sticks and cow dung.

As we were driving towards our camp and the local Masai Mayetta, I told him that Lawrence had gone to Kekorok to inform the anti-poaching unit. “Stop” he said, “You must let me out here.” There was panic in his voice. I asked if it was bad that the anti-poaching unit was coming. “Yes”, he replied. “They will beat people. Then ask questions.” I asked him what would then happen if they didn’t get the right answers. He responded, “They will kill. Then ask more questions”. I asked if they would find the guns. “Yes,” he said. “They must find the guns.” I let him off there in the middle of the plain in the middle of the night. He told me to pick him up at dawn at the local Masai Manyetta.

 I returned to camp and sat by the fire till near dawn. Then I drove to the Manyatta. I remember sitting alone in the pre-dawn hearing bells tinkling that were tied to cows from inside the Manyetta.  I saw a figure move behind my land-rover. A Masai warrior stood by my door. We exchanged “Jambo” meaning hello in Swahili. I didn’t know anything else. He had a spear and panga – or machete. He spoke. I couldn’t understand a thing. I remember that his ears were all filled with bones and gapping holes that were the tradition. Other bones protruded from his nose. Somehow we communicated our intentions, or perhaps we failed to communicate, and he disappeared into the Manyatta. The guard soon appeared and told me to return to camp and tell Lawrence that the Masai would soon be there to find the guns.

Within an hour I was again sitting by the camp fire when I looked up in disbelief. Coming single file down into our camp were a group of perhaps 30 Masai warriors. They were dressed in the traditional red and had covered their arms and heads with red ochre. They were armed: spears, pangas, bows and arrows, and war clubs. They talked in Swahili to Lawrence and then moved to the back of the tent where the guns had been stolen. They found prints. All but the leader left; hot on the trail.

I decided to walk over a little rise and then descend again to the Mara River where I squatted and threw some water on my face. I realized I wasn’t dreaming and it was an amazing situation. Then I saw the combat boots across the stream. My eyes followed them up to the anti-poaching unit soldier standing there grinning at me and clutching his military rifle.

This is where I learned about gun control. I asked him if they would find the guns. “Yes, we will find.” He said smilingly. "Then we kill," He went on to inform me that they will kill the thieves – on the spot. Gun control is practiced in Kenya; no trial, no lawyers, judges or jails. Registering your gun is not really constitute gun control. Not there.

Two big canvas covered military trucks were parked up on the far side of the stream. Several soldiers were sitting in the back. I returned to camp and again sat by the fire. Within minutes coming down the trail I had just walked came four big soldiers with guns and pangas. They were led by this little dandy of a guy dressed all in white – except for a colorful scarf around his neck. He had on a white shirt, pants, hat and wore a white, pearl handed revolver. He was smoking a thin, black cigar. He spoke to Lawrence. Then he spoke to the Masai and pointed to his watch. It was obvious that limits had been set. The guns were to be found - soon.

Within that time frame came word that the Masai had found the trail of the thieves and were tracking them across the plain. The four big guys dressed in green relaxed on a slope over –looking the camp smoking cigarettes and laughing.

Word came back – the guns had been found. The thieves had broken open the guns safe. They had taken the passports, the jewelry, and the cash. The guns were left in the safe. They knew not to take the guns. The Masai were happy. The anti-poaching unit drove out on the plain to confiscate the guns. Lawrence was not arrested. His study was halted for over a year.

My view of what constitutes gun control changed forever. Now, when I read of murders in our country; when I hear about resistance to registering guns, I recall that lesson learned in Africa. Obviously – no one is really serious about gun control in this country.

This is retirement talk.



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