The Land of Footprints by Stewart Edward White
Appendix IV. The American in Africa. In Which He Appears as Different from the Englishman
It is always interesting to play the other fellow's game his way, and then, in light of experience, to see wherein our way and his way modify each other.
The above proposition here refers to camping. We do considerable of it in our country, especially in our North and West. After we have been at it for some time, we evolve a method of our own. The basis of that method is to do without; to go light. At first even the best of us will carry too much plunder, but ten years of philosophy and rainstorms, trails and trials, will bring us to an irreducible minimum. A party of three will get along with two pack horses, say; or, on a harder trip, each will carry the necessities on his own back. To take just as little as is consistent with comfort is to play the game skilfully. Any article must pay in use for its transportation.
With this ideal deeply ingrained by the test of experience, the American camper is appalled by the caravan his British cousins consider necessary for a trip into the African back country. His said cousin has, perhaps, very kindly offered to have his outfit ready for him when he arrives. He does arrive to find from one hundred to one hundred and fifty men gathered as his personal attendants.
"Great Scot!" he cries, "I want to go camping; I don't want to invade anybody's territory. Why the army?"
He discovers that these are porters, to carry his effects.
"What effects?" he demands, bewildered. As far as he knows, he has two guns, some ammunition, and a black tin box, bought in London, and half-filled with extra clothes, a few medicines, a thermometer, and some little personal knick-knacks. He has been wondering what else he is going to put in to keep things from rattling about. Of course he expected besides these to take along a little plain grub, and some blankets, and a frying pan and kettle or so.
The English friend has known several Americans, so he explains patiently.
"I know this seems foolish to you," he says, "but you must remember you are under the equator and you must do things differently here. As long as you keep fit you are safe; but if you get run down a bit you'll go. You've got to do yourself well, down here, rather better than you have to in any other climate. You need all the comfort you can get; and you want to save yourself all you can."
This has a reasonable sound and the American does not yet know the game. Recovering from his first shock, he begins to look things over. There is a double tent, folding camp chair, folding easy chair, folding table, wash basin, bath tub, cot, mosquito curtains, clothes hangers; there are oil lanterns, oil carriers, two loads of mysterious cooking utensils and cook camp stuff; there is an open fly, which his friend explains is his dining tent; and there are from a dozen to twenty boxes standing in a row, each with its padlock. "I didn't go in for luxury," apologizes the English friend. "Of course we can easily add anything you want but I remember you wrote me that you wanted to travel light."
"What are those?" our American inquires, pointing to the locked boxes.
He learns that they are chop boxes, containing food and supplies. At this he rises on his hind legs and paws the air.
"Food!" he shrieks. "Why, man alive, I'm alone, and I am only going to be out three months! I can carry all I'll ever eat in three months in one of those boxes."
But the Englishman patiently explains. You cannot live on "bacon and beans" in this country, so to speak. You must do yourself rather well, you know, to keep in condition. And you cannot pack food in bags, it must be tinned. And then, of course, such things as your sparklet siphons and lime juice require careful packing-and your champagne.
"Champagne," breathes the American in awestricken tones.
"Exactly, dear boy, an absolute necessity. After a touch of sun there's nothing picks you up better than a mouthful of fizz. It's used as a medicine, not a drink, you understand."
The American reflects again that this is the other fellow's game, and that the other fellow has been playing it for some time, and that he ought to know. But he cannot yet see why the one hundred and fifty men. Again the Englishman explains. There is the Headman to run the show. Correct: we need him. Then there are four askaris. What are they? Native soldiers. No, you won't be fighting anything; but they keep the men going, and act as sort of sub-foremen in bossing the complicated work. Next is your cook, and your own valet and that of your horse. Also your two gunbearers.
"Hold on!" cries our friend. "I have only two guns, and I'm going to carry one myself."
But this, he learns, is quite impossible. It is never done. It is absolutely necessary, in this climate, to avoid all work.
That makes how many? Ten already, and there seem to be three tent loads, one bed load, one chair and table load, one lantern load, two miscellaneous loads, two cook loads, one personal box, and fifteen chop boxes-total twenty-six, plus the staff, as above, thirty-six. Why all the rest of the army?
Very simple: these thirty-six men have, according to regulation, seven tents, and certain personal effects, and they must have "potio" or a ration of one and a half pounds per diem. These things must be carried by more men.
"I see," murmurs the American, crushed, "and these more men have more tents and more potio, which must also be carried. It's like the House that Jack Built."
So our American concludes still once again that the other fellow knows his own game, and starts out. He learns he has what is called a "modest safari"; and spares a fleeting wonder as to what a really elaborate safari must be. The procession takes the field. He soon sees the value of the four askaris-the necessity of whom he has secretly doubted. Without their vigorous seconding the headman would have a hard time indeed. Also, when he observes the labour of tent-making, packing, washing, and general service performed by his tent boy, he abandons the notion that that individual could just as well take care of the horse as well, especially as the horse has to have all his grass cut and brought to him. At evening our friend has a hot bath, a long cool fizzly drink of lime juice and soda; he puts on the clean clothes laid out for him, assumes soft mosquito boots, and sits down to dinner. This is served to him in courses, and on enamel ware. Each course has its proper-sized plate and cutlery. He starts with soup, goes down through tinned whitebait or other fish, an entree, a roast, perhaps a curry, a sweet, and small coffee. He is certainly being "done well," and he enjoys the comfort of it.
There comes a time when he begins to wonder a little. It is all very pleasant, of course, and perhaps very necessary; they all tell him it is. But, after all, it is a little galling to the average man to think that of him. Your Englishman doesn't mind that; he enjoys being taken care of: but the sportsman of American training likes to stand on his own feet as far as he is able and conditions permit. Besides, it is expensive. Besides that, it is a confounded nuisance, especially when potio gives out and more must be sought, near or far. Then, if he is wise, he begins to do a little figuring on his own account.
My experience was very much as above. Three of us went out for eleven weeks with what was considered a very "modest" safari indeed. It comprised one hundred and eighteen men. My fifth and last trip, also with two companions, was for three months. Our personnel consisted, all told, forty men.
In essentials the Englishman is absolutely right. One cannot camp in Africa as one would at home. The experimenter would be dead in a month. In his application of that principle, however, he seems to the American point of view to overshoot. Let us examine his proposition in terms of the essentials-food, clothing, shelter. There is no doubt but that a man must keep in top condition as far as possible; and that, to do so, he must have plenty of good food. He can never do as we do on very hard trips at home: take a little tea, sugar, coffee, flour, salt, oatmeal. But on the other hand, he certainly does not need a five-course dinner every night, nor a complete battery of cutlery, napery and table ware to eat it from. Flour, sugar, oatmeal, tea and coffee, rice, beans, onions, curry, dried fruits, a little bacon, and some dehydrated vegetables will do him very well indeed-with what he can shoot. These will pack in waterproof bags very comfortably. In addition to feeding himself well, he finds he must not sleep next to the ground, he must have a hot bath every day, but never a cold one, and he must shelter himself with a double tent against the sun.
Those are the absolute necessities of the climate. In other words, if he carries a double tent, a cot, a folding bath; and gives a little attention to a properly balanced food supply, he has met the situation.
If, in addition, he takes canned goods, soda siphons, lime juice, easy chairs and all the rest of the paraphernalia, he is merely using a basic principle as an excuse to include sheer luxuries. In further extenuation of this he is apt to argue that porters are cheap, and that it costs but little more to carry these extra comforts. Against this argument, of course, I have nothing to say. It is the inalienable right of every man to carry all the luxuries he wants. My point is that the average American sportsman does not want them, and only takes them because he is overpersuaded that these things are not luxuries, but necessities. For, mark you, he could take the same things into the Sierras or the North-by paying; but he doesn't.
I repeat, it is the inalienable right of any man to travel as luxuriously as he pleases. But by the same token it is not his right to pretend that luxuries are necessities. That is to put himself into the same category with the man who always finds some other excuse for taking a drink than the simple one that he wants it.
The Englishman's point of view is that he objects to "pigging it," as he says. "Pigging it" means changing your home habits in any way. If you have been accustomed to eating your sardines after a meal, and somebody offers them to you first, that is "pigging it." In other words, as nearly as I can make out, "pigging it" does not so much mean doing things in an inadequate fashion as doing them differently. Therefore, the Englishman in the field likes to approximate as closely as may be his life in town, even if it takes one hundred and fifty men to do it. Which reduces the "pigging it" argument to an attempt at condemnation by calling names.
The American temperament, on the contrary, being more experimental and independent, prefers to build anew upon its essentials. Where the Englishman covers the situation blanket-wise with his old institutions, the American prefers to construct new institutions on the necessities of the case. He objects strongly to being taken care of too completely. He objects strongly to losing the keen enjoyment of overcoming difficulties and enduring hardships. The Englishman by habit and training has no such objections. He likes to be taken care of, financially, personally, and everlastingly. That is his ideal of life. If he can be taken care of better by employing three hundred porters and packing eight tin trunks of personal effects-as I have seen it done-he will so employ and take. That is all right: he likes it.
But the American does not like it. A good deal of the fun for him is in going light, in matching himself against his environment. It is no fun to him to carry his complete little civilization along with him, laboriously. If he must have cotton wool, let it be as little cotton wool as possible. He likes to be comfortable; but he likes to be comfortable with the minimum of means. Striking just the proper balance somehow adds to his interest in the game. And how he does object to that ever-recurring thought-that he is such a helpless mollusc that it requires a small regiment to get him safely around the country!
Both means are perfectly legitimate, of course; and neither view is open to criticism. All either man is justified in saying is that he, personally, wouldn't get much fun out of doing it the other way. As a matter of fact, human nature generally goes beyond its justifications and is prone to criticise. The Englishman waxes a trifle caustic on the subject of "pigging it"; and the American indulges in more than a bit of sarcasm on the subject of "being led about Africa like a dog on a string."
By some such roundabout mental process as the above the American comes to the conclusion that he need not necessarily adopt the other fellow's method of playing this game. His own method needs modification, but it will do. He ventures to leave out the tables and easy chair, takes a camp stool and eats off a chop box. To the best of his belief his health does not suffer from this. He gets on with a camper's allowance of plate, cup and cutlery, and so cuts out a load and a half of assorted kitchen utensils and table ware. He even does without a tablecloth and napkins! He discards the lime juice and siphons, and purchases a canvas evaporation bag to cool the water. He fires one gunbearer, and undertakes the formidable physical feat of carrying one of his rifles himself. And, above all, he modifies that grub list. The purchase of waterproof bags gets rid of a lot of tin: the staple groceries do quite as well as London fancy stuff. Golden syrup takes the place of all the miscellaneous jams, marmalades and other sweets. The canned goods go by the board. He lays in a stock of dried fruit. At the end, he is possessed of a grub list but little different from that of his Rocky Mountain trips. Some few items he has cut down; and some he has substituted; but bulk and weight are the same. For his three months' trip he has four or five chop boxes all told.
And then suddenly he finds that thus he has made a reduction all along the line. Tent load, two men; grub and kitchen, five men; personal, one man; bed, one man; miscellaneous, one or two. There is now no need for headmen and askaris to handle this little lot. Twenty more to carry food for the men-he is off with a quarter of the number of his first "modest safari."
You who are sportsmen and are not going to Africa, as is the case with most, will perhaps read this, because we are always interested in how the other fellow does it. To the few who are intending an exploration of the dark continent this concentration of a year's experience may be valuable. Remember to sleep off the ground, not to starve yourself, to protect yourself from the sun, to let negroes do all hard work but marching and hunting. Do these things your own way, using your common-sense on how to get at it. You'll be all right.
That, I conceive, covers the case. The remainder of your equipment has to do with camp affairs, and merely needs listing. The question here is not of the sort to get, but of what to take. The tents, cooking affairs, etc., are well adapted to the country. In selecting your tent, however, you will do very well to pick out one whose veranda fly reaches fairly to the ground, instead of stopping halfway.
1 tent and ground sheet
These things, your food, your porters' outfits and what trade goods you may need are quite sufficient. You will have all you want, and not too much. If you take care of yourself, you ought to keep in good health. Your small outfit permits greater mobility than does that of the English cousin, infinitely less nuisance and expense. Furthermore, you feel that once more you are "next to things," instead of "being led about Africa like a dog on a string."