We jokingly call him Lepilal the
Lion Killer. But it was no joke what happened to bring about the name. Lepilal
Lonninis is his real name. He is 19 years old. He was herding cows as he often
did quite some distance from home. A lion slowly approached his herd of cows.
Lions are abundant in the area, but they more often hunt wild animals. Still, Lepilal was cautious. The cows couldn’t defend themselves. Lepilal was their
only defense. And he, dressed in traditional Maasai warrior fashion, had only a
spear in hand and a short sword at his side.
The lion was determined. So was
Lepilal. The lion approached the herd slowly and deliberately. Lepi1al called
for help, but the wind and distances between him and the other herders masked
his voice. The lion threatened. Lepilal stood his ground and threatened back.
This back and forth sparing went on for what seemed to him like an eternity, but
was -he guessed -maybe 45 minutes. Finally the lion attacked. Lepilal’s spear
went into the chest and out the side of the lion. But the lion grabbed Lepi1al
by the throat, crushing his windpipe and tearing it open. The lion died shortly
after. Lepilal staggered towards the nearest group of fellow herders, unable to
shout, barely succeeding in stopping the bleeding.
"Mike Sierra this is Loliondo"
crackled the radio.
I, Mike Sierra, the radio phonetic alphabet for the letters MS (medical service)
is our call sign. Flying Medical Service was being called by Wasso
Hospital in Loliondo in the northern part of the Serengeti plains,
a full day’s drive from us, one hour by airplane. "We have a Maasai
warrior badly injured," the doctor explained. "We can’t handle the situation
here. Can you take him to Nairobi?"
We could, of course. The expenses of the aircraft were small compared to
what the hospital bill would be. Who would pay? The hospital said they couldn’t.
Well… I didn’t know. In the end, we paid the bill from Flying Medical Service
funds and from gifts given to us for poor patients.
Almost a full month later, when I
was letting Lepilal out of the airplane after reaching home again in Loliondo,
he asked me what it all cost. I told him he owed me 84 cows or 42 wives.
His choice. He laughed, but then said quite seriously: "It may take time,
but I’m determined to pay this back. I have five bulls that I am taking tomorrow
to sell in Narok." I believe him. I told him he was alive because of people he’d
never met. He had a new chance at life. He should try to make it a good one.
Don’t we all, each in our own way?