We load up our Land Cruiser and bounce our way along hours of dusty and rocky roads to pitch camp in the sandy riverbeds that stream off of the Meto Hills. We build a massive fire, put the teakettle on, and pull out a guitar.
We are a bit of a strange group, but we dismiss our oddities by labeling ourselves as lovers of life. Don’t ask why we kids are so attached to our dollar-fifty-a-pair red Bata sandals, but we do everything in them, and Dad still can’t figure out why. (Last month I stalked to within 30 yards of a bull elephant in my good’ole red “malapa” as they call them in Swahili.) Dad’s got the typical safari look: hat, walking stick, binoculars (or “bins” as we call them.) My brother Leighton and his boarding school friend Evan are practically twins. With their red malapa, Casio watches, Maasai walking sticks, pocket knives, and beaded necklaces with a hippo tooth and a leopard claw on them, those two are set for all the adventure in the world (and fit the Missionary Kid fashion plate pretty well too). We boys savor the painful beauty of this thorny land by adopting a strange sense of pride in our scratches and scars; the girls opt out on the blood and instead adorn their hair with owl feathers. All of us, in our own way, savor the beauty of this land, and we love it not despite its desolation but precisely, I believe, because its desolation. Life here is beautiful, for it springs forth from the deathly clutches of waterless rock, and the flowers that bud are rugged enough to endure the drought, and the trees that grow tall have fought their roots downward with impressive perseverance. This is Tutali Gorge in all of its desolate beauty.