Grindrod’s malaria warriors reach Somali border

Oct 26, 2005
Author: P&S

Burned brown by the equatorial sun a team of journalists have just returned from the 14th century Stone Town of Lamu on the North Kenya coast. With them they bring the good news that modern day National Geographic Explorer Kingsley Holgate, his wife Gill and son Ross together with their Grindrod African Rainbow Expedition team have succeeded in their One Net One Life journey from Durban South Africa to the Somali border. Traveling in a convoy of Land Rovers, Yamaha powered inflatable boats and a hand built 35 ton Swahili sailing Dhow, the objective of the expedition has been to distribute mosquito nets to mothers with infants in remote rural areas where there are no regular health services. With their love for Africa the Holgate family are using adventure to highlight the need for Malaria Prevention in an area where for every minute of every day and night a baby dies from the deadly bite of the anopheles mosquito.

The story is best told from the scribbled notes taken from Kingsley’s journal

It’s good having Bruce Leslie, the young KwaZulu-Natal boy, who survived a brutal stabbing whilst trying to stop the theft of one of the Yamaha outboards, back with us. Loaded with life saving mosquito nets he and Ross have just driven the mud splattered Land Rovers to the mainland village of Mokowe in the mangrove swamps of the Lamu Archipelago. They pay off the camouflaged armed askari, a necessary precaution against the Shifta bandits from nearby Somalia, and use the rubber ducks to carry bales of mosquito nets out to the ‘Spirit of Adventure’ Dhow anchored off the old Muslim Stone Town of Lamu. The Muezzins calls to prayer are endless, it’s the start of Ramadan, the heat burns down in the narrow streets where the donkeys have right of way and the only vehicle allowed is the District Commissioner’s Land Rover. Tomorrow we leave for the Somali border.

Thursday 13 October

With the terrifying sound of tearing wood the Spirit of Adventure grinds to a halt. We’d hired a Bajuni Arab from Lamu to show us the way and now the idiot has run us aground. We climb overboard our massive dhow sitting on jagged rock, and when you think we’ve come all the way up the coast to have this happen to us with less then a hundred km’s to go to our final destination – What a blow!!! Our captain, Mohammed the Brave ties a long rope to a mangrove tree. We pack sand bags under the hull to keep her level. We check the damage – SHIT – There are big ragged chunks out of the keel - nothing we can do. We buy some fish from a passing fisherman and Lumbayi cooks up a meal. And so we sit out the heat under the brown stitched tarpaulin. Music from our old sound box plays Kilimanjaro – The words quite apt “I’m sitting on the top of Kilimanjaro I can see a new tomorrow………………………” The Lamu Arab prays to Mecca from the island of coral rubble that has become our home. Will the next tide be high enough to float us off? It’s NOT!!

Friday 14 October

First light and the tide is pushing. Wild shouting and confusion from the Swahili crew as at full throttle on the Yamahas we use the inflatables to pull us free. Pate Island on the right, direction Kiwayu, it soon becomes apparent that the Lamu Arab doesn’t really know the way and to make matters worse he’s already politicking with the crew telling them it is far to dangerous to continue North into Somalia – So why the hell did he take our money and agree to come along in the first place? I explain that our objective is to reach the Kenyan side of the border and not to go across but I can tell from the glum faces of the crew that the damage has already been done. We anchor off a white sandy beach near the village of Ndau. All night we hear whispers as the crew mumble to each other.

Saturday 15 October

“We’ll surely die” says the Lamu Arab. The gap is far too dangerous to enter. Many dhows have gone down, there is a jaggered rock in the entrance and a massive man eating shark that cruises the channel, big enough even to devour this boat, planks and all. The crew listens to him wide eyed. He is referring to the dreaded Mlango wa Tano – the fifth door and the entrance from the sea to the village of Mkokoni. We stop and ask the rag tag crew of a fishing boat – Yes! It can be done they say, go to the south of the rock and hug the point. Good luck Safari Njema - and so we decide to give it a go. We head out into the deep blue and soon the ratchet screams as a large johadiri (Yellow fin Tuna) is brought on board. Musa has the knife out, in seconds the fish is skinned, cut into chunks and thrown into the pot for the evening Ramadan feast. It’s neap tide and not ideal as our creaking old 35 ton dhow with its 200sq metre lateen rigged sail surfs down the swell through the swirling white water of Mlango wa Tano. Ross races ahead in one of the ducks and motions us through. There is no time to be afraid and as I move in to assist Alli Gunja on the tiller we slip past the jagged rock with just a few meters to spare. Ross shouts in the wind “keep her straight” fearing she will broach sideways in the swell. The crew tightens the sail, with a sigh of relief we are into the calm and anchor off the village of Mkokoni where the chief is delighted to receive mosquito nets for moms with babies. That night Mohamed the Brave delivers a bombshell. He will travel no further toward Somalia even if it means forfeiting his wages, swimming to shore and making his own way back to Mafia Island off the Tanzanian coast. They had met a man in the village who had told them that to go any further would be signing their death warrants – Yes said the Lamu Arab and his son, we to will go no further. I glanced at the rest of the Swahili crew they shook their heads – No, no further!
Sadly for the first time on this entire journey not only did we have a rift between us and our wonderful crew but it seemed we had a bloody mutiny. With just 47 km’s to go our African Rainbow Expedition with its wonderful One Net One Life campaign has been hijacked by frightening stories of Somali piracy. We are devastated!

Sunday 16 October

We pay the Lamu Arab and his son off - of course they come up with all the hand to the breast Inshallah Safari Njema we are together bit. I am glad to see them walk up the beach, the fleas of a thousand camels be on them. But we are damned if we will fail. With our hearts in our mouths we leave on the high tide. Mashozi, Bruce, Ross and a delightful Mkokoni man by the name of Obo. Traveling by inflatable boat loaded with fuel, emergency supplies, and mosquito nets we make a dash to the frontier town of Kiunga. Flat out between endless islands and mangrove channels the area is beautifully pristine. Obo knows every inch of this incredible coastline and the afternoon’s low tide finds us sunburned and battered paddling over the reef into Kiunga just a few kilometres from the Somali border. We are met by unbelievable friendliness, few foreigners come this way. Senior Chief Jamal and District Officer Mutua endorse the Malaria Prevention scroll of Peace and Goodwill we are carrying up the East Coast of Africa. I explain that our clear objective is Durban to the Somali border. Chickens are slaughtered at Mr Dick’s restaurant, which is really just an open fire under a tree. A driver and two armed askaris arrive in a battered Land Rover TDi. At break neck speed we race for the border. There is no customs or immigration here at Ishakani, just a shot out village half destroyed by shifta bandits and an ancient coral pillar said to have been erected by early Portuguese mariners. Ross treats a man who’s been rifle butted by Somali’ whilst in the shade of a tamarind tree all the mums receive mosquito nets. Mashozi is presented with necklace strings of cowry shell beads. Malaria is bad here and they are extremely grateful. The bearded chief dressed in his white robes thanks us in Swahili and carefully writes a simple note in the scroll. Our African Rainbow Expedition from Durban to the Somali border has succeeded and thanks to all the support we have had for the One Net One Life campaign we have been able to save lives.

Monday October

Back on the Spirit of Adventure we break open a bottle of Captain Morgan, slaughter a goat and make peace with the crew. We will head for Lamu to re-caulk the planks and paint the hull with shark fat. With water barrels filled and the sail stitched we’ll wait for the Kas Kazi wind to arrive as, supported by the Land Rover convoy loaded with mosquito nets, the Malaria warriors will head south for THE GRINDROD RETURN OF THE RAINBOW EXPEDITION



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