A Boyhood in Africa

Africa in the early 1960s as experienced by a young ex-patriot

Archive for September 2015

Bud’s Tree House

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BudsTreehouse

Bud’s Tree House was in a tree not too dissimilar from this.

While my family resided in Nairobi we befriended another American family who hailed from Texas. I’ve written about this family previously in other posts. They had a son who was a couple years my senior with whom I shared some adventures. Once we attempted to climb Kilimanjaro and another time we were lucky not to be eaten alive by swarming safari ants.

Bud built a tree house way up in a very tall tree. The house his family rented was on a large plot that was situated on the side of a very steep river valley. Unlike the valley the river was tiny, little more than a nasty grey stream of slow moving puss-like liquid that smelled like a sewage treatment plant. Not all of Africa’s rivers are as the Nile.

The trees that grew on the valley sides were really tall, at least 150 feet in height. But with the exception of the top most thirty or forty feet, their branches had all been cut off by servants who removed them for use as firewood. The servants typically only cooked one thing, a ubiquitous concoction of dense white cornmeal commonly called Posho (or in some circles Ugali). They were thoughtful enough to cut the branches off about a foot or so from the trunks so that they could utilize the stubs that remained to climb up to remove the branches that remained still higher up.

These stubs were adequate to allow Bud access to the canopy foliage as well. So, over a period of a couple months, Bud managed to set himself up with some rather nice digs atop an especially tall tree. It was way the hell up there, the base of that tree’s canopy at least 100 feet above ground. The tree house had several levels with the lowest perhaps ten or fifteen feet up into the canopy. There was an intermediate level a few feet above the lower level and an observation deck set amongst the topmost branches that Bud had trimmed to accommodate it. The various components, odd bits of lumber, a few bent nails and old rope, were more-or-less attached to the tree with some, though minimal, vigor. None of these levels were, well, level, as most had a decidedly unnerving slope to contend with. I don’t know if she was aware of it or not but Bud had managed to requisition some smaller pieces of the family’s furniture to take up there as well. He even jury rigged a block and pulley setup which allowed him to bring up supplies for extended stays.

I think we’d only known each other for a few weeks when he first spoke of his treetop abode. Naturally as soon as I learned of it I had to check it out. I had no idea what I was getting myself in for.

We walked from the house down the valley side to get to the tree’s base. The first few feet up that tree were pretty easy but then, once up about fifteen or twenty feet, the lack of foliage made the height daunting. About halfway up it got really difficult to keep climbing but Bud encouraged me by warning me not to look down. As long as I kept my focus on climbing things were OK. Eventually I got to the foliage where climbing got easier as there was more things to grab onto.

And then I looked down!

It seemed as though we were up about a mile. I spent a couple hours up there checking out the different levels and admiring the view from Bud’s “Observation Deck”. The intermediate level was equipped with a canvas canopy to protect Bud from rain. He had a small bookcase up there which contained a few of his most favored titles. There were some eating utensils and a small kerosene lamp. It was great!

And then it was time to descend!

It was really hard to descend without looking down and Bud had to talk me down the whole way. When we finally made it back to the ground our fathers and about half a dozen servants were waiting. Boy was that a relief!

But then, as nightfall approached, we came up with a truly brilliant idea: “Let’s spend the night up there!”

Awesome! Spending the night atop a really tall tree obliges some logistical preparation. Bud’s mother fixed us some sandwiches and we filled a couple canteens with water. We scrounged around and managed to locate a couple old sleeping bags. Bud’s father let us borrow his binoculars. Once assembled we set about to getting all that stuff up the tree. Bud scurried up and manned the block and tackle while I stayed below to secure things into a makeshift net. After a few minutes all was where it was supposed to be.

Except me!

Now it was my turn to go up that tree. It was a little easier this time because I was somewhat more familiar with layout to the branches and by that time the sun was already setting. I had to hurry because the sun sets really fast at the Equator. When I finally got to the top it was almost dark.

We talked story for a while and marveled at the night sky from the deck. We ate the sandwiches and drank some water. Then it was bedtime, time to roll the sleeping bags out on that deck. There was barely enough room for one sleeping bag let alone two, and if you rolled the wrong way you risked falling off into the night. No matter, after talking story for what seemed like a long time we descended into a deep slumber.

I awoke a few times and recall being somewhat disoriented until I remembered that I was in a tree but then realized that I had to relieve myself from atop that tree, an action not contemplated during the rigorous planning exercise that preceded our adventure. So, after some thought and trepidation, I decided to just relieve myself harmlessly into the night! Ha! Good thing it was only a No. 1 as I’d no idea how to handle a No. 2 from such dizzying heights!

The last time I awoke the sun had already risen and it was time to descend and return to the house for one of Bud’s mother’s excellent breakfasts. This time getting down was made somewhat more difficult because the branches were wet with the morning’s dew.

I never went up that tree again. I wonder if any remnants of Bud’s treehouse still remain after all the interceding decades.

Written by GW Abert

September 6, 2015 at 15:14

Posted in Uncategorized