Chance Encounters

By Hartley, Aidan | The Spectator, March 29, 2003 | Go to article overview

Chance Encounters


Hartley, Aidan, The Spectator


Laikipia

There I was, striding down the red-dirt road of Rumuruti under the jacaranda trees in my flip-flops on market day this week, when a Samburu fellow hailed me by name and said he had met me in Serb Krajina during the Balkans war in 1993. Now this is a hell of a thing to pull on a man after he's had a few ales and he's in the back of beyond in Africa, and I was twice as flummoxed because the Samburu had a face so terribly disfigured he was unrecognisable. His nose was crushed, his right eye was missing, his jaw was bent out of shape and ragged scars criss-crossed his face. We shook hands, except that he was missing most of his fingers, and decamped to the Buffalo Village hotel to discuss matters.

`We met in Knin,' the man told me over another beer. I suddenly remembered the exact evening. I was on a reporting assignment to Knin, a nasty town full of bearded murdering chetniks, and I was pretty miserable there until I ran into the Kenyan troops serving with the United Nations in Croatia. I got drunk with them at their battalion headquarters and the next day I left for Bosnia. My friend told me he spent a year with the peacekeeping forces there and then retired from the military when he came home. I wondered if his disfigurement was the result of war wounds, but though some of his comrades had been killed by mines or come home as paraplegics, he said he had made it back without a scratch.

`Next,' the man said, `we met in 1996.' He told me he was driving four steers across the plains on Laikipia near the ranch where I live when I stopped my car. Again, I recalled the encounter because at the time I was struck by the fact that he was wearing a UN Protection Force T-shirt in the middle of the African nowhere.

`And I think you know about me,' the man said. And suddenly it dawned on me that indeed I did. I had heard a lot about him. He is quite famous on the plains where we live, being the beneficiary of a large payout by the UK's Ministry of Defence in compensation for allegedly being blown up by unexploded ordnance left scattered around the bush of Laikipia by the British Army. …

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