We had been living in Nairobi for some months and decided to get out of town for a weekend trip to the Ark. The Ark was a game lodge built high in the trees in the hills of the Aberdeen forest. Another, better known lodge in the area was called Treetops. At these lodges, animals would be lured to both camps by baiting. Spotlights would shine over the bait and the various animals would come to feed at night.
The Treetops Hotel was more famous because it was the place where a princess went up one night and came down a queen the next morning. In 1952, Queen Elizabeth II of England, then a princess, stayed at Treetops. During the night, her father George VI died---so the saying.
As part of the Ark package, we had lunch at a two story colonial house at a foothill to the forest. This was the rendezvous point for the tourists to be taken to the lodge. After lunch, the tourists visited a corral that had been erected adjacent to the house.
The corral was roughly a third of an acre in size and had approximately a dozen tribeswomen and men selling trinkets to the tourists. The tribesmen must have been Kikuyu as the Aberdeen was part of their ancestral homeland. The Aberdeen forest was also the stronghold of the Mau Mau, mostly Kikuyu fighters, who waged guerilla war against the British colonialists in the 1950s. I recall seeing domestic animal skins, beadwork and other tourist crap for sale. It was basically the same stuff we could buy any day at the Nairobi market. This was strictly a tourist trap and we didn’t buy anything.
There was a tribesman in his late sixties or early seventies who caught our attention, but his age was difficult to determine. He spoke no English and was helped by another, much younger man with interpretation. We were told he was a witchdoctor or shaman or Juju man---all the same nonsense.
The Juju man was wearing a traditional piece of cloth wrapped around his body and was totally unremarkable in appearance. There was no frightening mask or makeup or other theatric affects one sees in the movies. The interpreter was wearing Western style clothes: slacks and a button shirt. For about a shilling or two, we were told we could have our fortune read. While we knew it was all a scam to earn some money from the gullible tourists, we agreed. After all, the cost was only about 25 cents.
The Juju man removed a small leather pouch from his person and shook the bag. He then opened it and dumped the contents on the ground in front of us. The items I remember were bits of bone and stone and there were perhaps a dozen items in total. He spoke to the interpreter who in turn said that we had a child with a deformity. Yes, deformity was the word he used. He then cupped his elbow with his hand. We were bewildered and told him he was wrong. Michael was at home with his nanny and didn’t have any deformity. The interpreter asked if any of the family had a deformity and pointed to his leg. We replied no. The Juju man had struck out. The interpreter simply shrugged his shoulders as if to say “Well, maybe the old man doesn’t get it right all the time.”
We thought nothing more of the Juju man’s reading of his pouch contents. That is until my second son was born some years later. The delivery room nurse immediately brought to our attention the large hemangioma on his elbow---a collection of blood vessels. The pediatrician assured us that as he grew, the blood vessels would be absorbed and there was nothing to be concerned about. I didn’t tell him the story about the Juju man we met one day in Kenya in 1978.
Dick Avery is a Northern Illinois University grad with a BA in English. He got started in the investigative and security biz at a young age as a private investigator in Chicago and later moved up the career ladder and retired as the Director of Investigations for the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service. His many foreign assignments around the globe provide much of the material for his books.