When an adventure coupled with a good course come calling, you can only faithfully answer to the call. It is in this spirit that Tom Mwiraria, Nickson Kibuchi and I, like the three musketeers are visiting Lgoss primary school in the Northern part of Kenya after a successful book drive.
The real adventure begins from the Nyahururu – Maralal ride. The vast lands and spectacular hills envision true adventure – zebras grazing, antelopes with their horns proudly in the air, children bathing at water pools, shrubs and bare land punctuate the ride. I’m not good at quick math and cannot tell the distance of the ride but hey, Google is always here for all of us and it says about 158 km. The whole journey cost us about nine hours, by road of course.
After a couple of hours from Nyahururu through the rain, we finally arrive at Maralal, a small hillside town lying peacefully in Northern Kenya. The ride to Lgoss primary school is rather short. Still, we do not escape a few misfortunes. We are totally crammed in the matatu! See, there are about one or two matatus plying this road (Maralal to another small town, Poro) so it has to carry everybody. I’m tempted to ask my neighbour, ‘Hey, does this matatu transport goats too?’ I however do not for jokes about animals may not augur well.
Children run off to the road and even wave at our matatu as we ride along, it is no doubt eventful. What I witness goes against my expectations of a rough, sun-scorched cracked earth. The place is totally covered in green. We are lucky to have visited during the rainy season and at a time when crops, including maize have sprouted, we are told.
Everything reminds me of Corinne Hofman. Did I tell you about her? Check out this book, The White Maasai (review coming soon). You picture that moment when you are at someplace where one of your favourite reads has been set and it’s almost like déjà vu? Yes, that feeling. I almost ask around for Lketinga (refer to The White Maasai).
We are grandly received by Phenny Aketch, an awesome being and Lucy Moraa, the head teacher (I’ve not seen a ‘cooler’ one). Tea is instantly served. What a generous welcome!
Faces full of anticipation timidly look at us, probably harmonising the visitors they’d been waiting for and what they have for them. We introduce ourselves and our mission. They listen on keenly, their minds trying to process all these information. They mention that they, too, want to study and go to university. It’s amazing they know names of universities. They ask what they can do to achieve all that. Did I mention that only girls ask me questions?
They have something in store for us; a Samburu song and one in Swahili. Of course you can only enjoy the cultural richness in the little ones shaking their heads in the true Maasai style.
The Swahili one goes something like this;
‘Nataka kusoma niwe rubani…niendeshe ndege Kenya mzima.
That is not too much to ask now, is it?
I’m seated there listening to their beautiful songs and thinking of just how far they can go. They have most likely not seen or touched the surface of tarmac. We are lucky; the roads are getting cleared up. For some reason, I’m disappointed by all this ‘lucky’ talk. I wanted the ‘real experience’. You know, like the real experience of a surprise visit to someone (of course I’m not just talking about anyone) and you can get them in their natural habitat? Yes, that one.
We make a pact with the girls that nobody is dropping out of school to get married. They are wowed by the books. They are eagerly opening them and rushing through the pages; each clearly soaked in the words and images. I get that feeling of how worthwhile this was. It is priceless!
The village and Morans
The journey would be incomplete without a walk through the village so we do an evening one. Mwalimu Nyaga and Safari, a candidate take us around. I like Safari. He’s got the air of someone who knows more than he has seen; the undoubtedly smart kids you can only pray get opportunities out of the village.
The homesteads almost look the same across the village. I would easily get lost but Safari assures me that we are on the right path. The homesteads are quite a walk from each other. Although we managed to convince the children, whose major problem is maths, that it is all about addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, I cannot even estimate the distance from one homestead to another myself.
The next morning, we’d still do a lap. We find ourselves at a grave digging ceremony at an open field. An old woman had ‘rested’ the previous night and there was no need of disturbing her remains, taking them all the way to the mortuary. Death and burial are events that happen in a very close range of time. So there, a grave is dug, a coffin brought and a goodbye to a well lived life is said. I’m cautious to go near the place since I can only see men. Did I mention that men and women don’t mix? Of course they do but hardly ever in the open.
They beckon me and what follows are handshakes. Since they are all older, I settle for younger looking Moran; tall, ebony and well…his name is Mike. He looks all handsome in all those adornments. He shows me pictures of him and fellows fully bedecked with ochre painted hair ready for a Moran dance. Wrong timing for us, he says.
We have a little chat about things.
“When we need anything, we don’t wait for anyone to do it for us, we contribute among ourselves.” That is powerful, I think. No wonder they are indifferent to what happens down here – court cases and all.
‘‘What happens when a lady gets pregnant and you are not married?’’
‘‘Here, you do not impregnate someone’s daughter and run away, never. The lady is escorted to your home and even if you run away, you will still come back and find her.’’
In this community, the punishment for cheating is not worth the pleasure, banishment is the word. It does not end there; the husband takes the kids you give birth to. Nevertheless, a man is allowed to marry as many wives as the cows allow.
‘‘Nyinyi watu wa Nairobi mnafikiria hapa vita tu?’’ He challenges me. There is no defence to that. I’ve seen so much warmth and peace among these people that war is unthinkable.
More tea is brought. There’s too much tea, everywhere. I almost feel high on it and want to say no when an elder offers me a cup. But you do not turn down offers from elders. So much blessings can be passed through a cup of tea. By the way, I know someone who’d move here just by the mention of tea. I will not mention a name but my friend Douglas Logedi will still insist I’m talking about him!
Back to the school, the sun is setting now, clouds hung low beyond the horizon you almost feel you could reach out and scoop some, like foam. Night falls with an exaggerated darkness. It cuts across all vastness outside. The sky is dotted with stars, black and white. I’m jealous of this peace. I want to get lost in this vastness but I change my mind when the thought of an elephant emerging from the forest beyond crosses my mind. It has happened before, we are told.
We have to pause our youth chat at the sight of sufurias of food making their way to the table. So much of it, there’s actually ugali, yeeeah! And of course lots of meat amid other delicacies.
‘‘Hapa ni Samburu, ukipata chakula kula.’’ We are warned that you are not sure how long that will last.
We retreat to a Manyatta, to Phenny’s foster family. Now I know why there is so little kindness among city dwellers. They seem to have left most of it in the villages. We sit in the darkness, warming ourselves and our clothes with a jiko. It is freezing cold. No, we don’t want to commit suicide. You can trust the ventilation in a Manyatta. We chat about life, about womanhood, our plans, about life in Samburu, about everything. See, Phenny is one of those souls you meet and it’s almost like you’ve been friends for a long time.
Outside, the cows loudly chew cud. You can hear the silence of the night between pauses. I was hoping to sleep on a cow hide, but no, there’s a bed complete with a mattress.
Sunlight through cracks on the walls usher us into a new day in this land. A night at the Manyatta is quite interesting, to say the least. You do not complain that the mattress is too thin, or that there is no washroom. You enjoy the manyatta experience. You shower on one end of the corner of the room and God, I totally love it.
The sound of a vehicle can be heard miles away. People by the roadside flag us down hoping to get a means to Maralal town, and save themselves the trek. We ride to Nyahururu in a Double Cabin.
The bumps on the road keep us swaying and bumping into each other like ‘Emali Town Choir’, as Tom says.
Every once in a while, we have to stop to let goats, cows and donkeys cross the road. They are proud; these animals. You should see how camels proudly take their time to cross the road as they give you this look, ‘you are in our hood, haraka peleka kulee, Nairobi.
Thank you for contributing. One book can change a life.
You should listen to Nick speak Swahili-Maasai and Tom, well, is the epitome of a travel buddy.