Peter Bell

Name ID 1231

See also

Cole, Sonia Leakey's Luck
Page Number: 112-113
Extract Date: 1935

The man who mended the clutch

After this brief reconnaissance [to Laetoli] they returned to Olduvai to find that the pool which they had been using for their water had turned to mud and become the property of a resident Rhino, who used it for his daily ablutions. Worse still, in order to keep the wallow moist he urinated into it freely. More inviting water supplies were available both at the spring at Olmoti and at Ngorongoro, but petrol was too short to be used for this purpose. They tried to collect rain water off the roofs of the tents, forgetting that the canvas had been impregnated with insecticide; there were dire results, and all the party were violently ill after drinking the water. By this time they were also running short of food. Sam White and Peter Bell were due to return to England, and the lorry taking them back to Nairobi was to bring much needed supplies to the garrison at Olduvai; but it never returned.

For the next fortnight Louis and Mary's diet consisted almost entirely of rice and sardines. An even greater hardship was the lack of cigarettes, and they had to resort to picking up fag ends scattered round the camp. When the lorry failed to appear after two weeks they set out to look for it. At one point they had to turn back as the road was in such a terrible state, and they spent the rest of the day helping to extract Indian traders' lorries from the mud. Their reward was a little flour and sugar, but they were still very hungry. Next their own car overturned in a gully, and they spent a whole day trying to extricate it with a plate and some spoons. (The lack of proper tools seems curiously uncharacteristic of Louis, who was usually so efficient.) Watching their efforts was a crowd of supercilious Masai warriors who considered it beneath their dignity to do any manual labour. It was just as well that Louis did not try to press them: almost at that very moment the District Commissioner at Narok was being murdered by Masai for ordering them to help with road work. Louis and the Masai treated each other with mutual respect, and many of them had cause to be grateful for the treatment they received at the clinics he ran at Olduvai.

The lorry turned up just in time to pull the car back on to the road - its delay had been caused by clutch trouble. (By a curious coincidence the man who mended the clutch at the Motor Mart in Nairobi became Mary's nearest neighbour at Olduvai thirty-five years later: he is George Dove, a 'character' with magnificent waxed moustachios who ran a delightful little tourist lodge at Ndutu, some thirty miles from Olduvai, in the early 1970's.) The car itself was in far worse condition than the lorry had been, with the whole of the bodywork damaged, but amazingly it was still able to run. Louis and Mary returned to Olduvai to pack up before setting off for their next target, a place called Engaruka.

Extract ID: 3126