Tuskers, Ping Pong, and Spears

A travel memory from central Kenya, 1997

Photo by Daniel Kandie on Unsplash

Three six-foot-plus Samburu warriors sat at the bar, their left hands curled around half-liter bottles of Tusker. Their right hands caressed the shafts of long, lion-killing spears.

The bar was in Maralal, Kenya, which is where the pavement ended — about a days drive out of Nairobi. It was August and hot. The radio was playing Christmas songs by old country singers like Big Jim Reeves. 

I hadn’t expected that, and I hadn’t expected the bar to feature a ping pong table with the Tusker logo.

We tourists walked in and found at a table. I went to the bar to get beers and nodded to the Samburu. I received solemn nods in return.

A couple beers later, one of the warriors leaned his spear against the wall and picked up two ping pong paddles. He offered me one, handle first. 

I wondered if he would be upset if a snot-nosed white kid won. I would hate to get speared over ping pong.

I needn’t have worried. His reach and reflexes far surpassed mine. After a few games and a few beers he surprised me again by knowing the words to Marty Robins’ El Paso. So we sang along together.

In addition to being better at table tennis, he had a better voice.

©Copyright 2021 by Jim Latham