I met him in Lorian, a little island in Lake Turkana. He was dressed in an orange t-shirt, jungle green slacks and those shoes that look like a cross between sneakers and sandals. He carried himself with a quiet dignity, a young man with an old soul. He was talking to a bunch of guys I was with, telling them about the cultures of the El Molo, the Gabbra, the Rendille. Then he smiled. It was a genuine, almost shy smile; a smile that reminded me of a good friend of mine. I saw that smile and found myself smiling a little. Then he looked at me, and we both looked away almost instantly. Two strangers with nothing in common so far, nothing but life and current location.
He kept talking to the guys. I stood there and listened, contributing some, then much, as the conversation got interesting. He excited them (grown men by the way), with stories of polygamy, and courtship El Molo/Rendille style. Excited them with tales of how it was ok for a man to have many girlfriends and wives, as long as he took care of them. He excited me with his smile. His name: Abdi. Age: 25. Height: about 5ft 8in. Languages: seven. Striking feature: dimples.
Abdi’s an interesting guy. Born and brought up in Loiyangalani, one of those small towns in Northern Kenya that nobody ever talks about, and which I’d never heard of before I decided to Tembea Kenya. But he doesn’t look like a guy from the bunduz. He doesn’t even sound like it, with his slightly accented English. He looks like he’d be right at home in south C or any other middle class neighbourhood in Nairobi. I can picture him dressed real sharp, in one of those tailored slim fit suits that can do no wrong. A Rendille businessman.
I find out later that he’s a graduate of Catholic University. He’s also the curator of the Koobi Fora Museum, in Sibiloi National Park. He’s the guy who takes tourists and researchers round, regaling them with stories in this laid back way that only men who know what they’re talking about can do, men who don’t feel like they need to prove a point because they’re self assured. He probably needs to be like this because he’s holding a position usually held by people who know so much about history and fossils, because they were an active part of it and are about to become it. And it’s sexy as hell!
He’s a man who looks like he doesn’t buckle under pressure. Stoic, like an experienced African warrior. He’s a mine of information. A smart guy rather than a smartass. And he has passion so deep if you kissed him you’d probably taste it. It’s a passion so true, so pure, it gives off a vibe so endearing even the men in the group seem enamored by this guy who they’d probably bump into on the street and not apologise to.
He’s telling us how in his culture, once a guy spots a girl he’s interested in, all he has to do is give her a bead. If she takes it, she’s his, and courtship begins. Seems like a small gesture right? Something so simple a guy could have girls all over the village wearing his beads right? It would be, if only beads were not so highly valued. If getting a simple bead didn’t in some cases mean having to sell a much-valued goat. If getting the goat to sell to buy that single bead didn’t mean raiding a neighbouring community, risking your life for the girl who carries your heart in her hands.
It’s an interesting story, told by an interesting guy. A guy who reveals he once sold a goat to buy a bead, though he does not once mention being in a relationship, or being married. I wonder who he gave the bead to. I wonder what the bead looked like. I wonder whether she took the bead, and whether she smiled shyly and held it in both her hands, or flirted outrageously and batted those ridiculously long eye lashes I saw on girls that side (and which I would maim for!). He looks like a man with good taste, and the man ladies in the village go weak in the knees for. But I don’t ask, I don’t want to appear intrusive. And he doesn’t tell.
Then he says he has one bead left, and he offers it to me. I smile. I almost blush! (But I’m a G, and only Mr. Nice Guy can make me blush) Then he smiles. And that smile lights up the place, and his dimples show themselves; dimples so perfect you don’t even want to take a picture, because the picture won’t capture the emotion behind the dimples, behind the smile on his face, or the smile in his eyes.
But beyond the dimples (though if you see them you’ll probably find it a bit hard to concentrate on anything else), Abdi is a man with a plan. A man who gave up working in Nairobi after six months, to go home and do something that would help his family, his community. A man who shoulders responsibility like it was built to rest on him. A man who I see becoming my friend, not because of his dimples (though they help a lot), but because I think I can learn a lot from him.
So to Abdi, may you achieve all you want to achieve. And keep smiling; those dimples could open doors for you.