It took me a while before I could write all this down..
I had taken the rain with me to the south, or so it seemed. The people along the road reacted so happy, even though the rains came down heavily. And mostly so when I arrived in Moyale, the bordertown with Kenya. It made me happy too.
In a bizar sort of coincidence I bumped into a team from the BBC who were on their way to Moyale to report from there about the famine and drought in the area. And they took me along on their mission. I ended up spending three days with them and although these were intense because of the extremes in emotion we encountered visiting the local people, they were also heartwarming. And resembled nothing as to what I had imagined. For two years there has been no rainfall in this area, and when the rains did come most of the animals had already died or were so weakened they actually died because the drop in temperature that came with the rain.
The BBC took me along to a woman who’s eight months old baby had passed away that same morning. It was heart wrenching to see, and intensely emotional to be allowed there on such a tragic day. She had breastfed the baby up to five days ago. But then she became ill herself and was unable to feed the baby anymore. Because they had no money (her husband was an amputee and the cows had died long ago) she had tried to feed the baby with sugarwater. The father himself took us to the little grave and he was in anguish and in tears when we arrived.
The contrast: The contact with the BBC was heartwarming, the people very involved and two days we ate together in the evening. I did two interviews for the BBC radio and now they want to follow my trip on a weekly basis. Through them I also came into contact with two NGO’s that operate in the area. One works for peace the other in foodaid.
Hitting the road.
In the end I headed into North Kenya with two armed soldiers on my tractor. I couldn’t find any reason not to go. The contact with the local people and my whole feeling about the situation were too warm. For days there had been trucks stuck in the area, because of the heavy rainfall.
In the end I entered North Kenya with two armed soldiers on my tractor
The only reason they would let me go was because maybe I could help drag some trucks through the mud with my tractor. The whole first hour I heard the soldiers saying; ‘ Wow everybody is laughing!’ The bus that was stuck in the middle of a fast flowing river ended up being too much even for my tractor. Deep mud pools of at least fifty meters long, washed away “bridges”.. In one place some seven trucks had been stuck for three days. With some 40 passengers and not enough food. They had managed to ‘fix’ the bridge but were afraid to cross it in case they would get stuck and really block the road. When I had pulled the first truck across the bridge even I had tears in my eyes.
But the soldiers cautioned me that we would now have to move on. The trucks would have to help each other. They wanted me to get to a police post before dark. We took another five hitchhikers.
When we arrived in the camp I was so tired all I wanted was to go to sleep immediately. But I was introduced to the ‘head’ of the camp. (A young boy really.) And he started to ask all sorts of questions: What are you doing here, where are you from? I thought ‘Oh no, not now please!’ But I answered his questions politely. Allright I thought, five minutes..Ten minutes later there was a bottle of vodka on the table, a soldier had been sent out for food and the conversation became increasingly interesting and hilarious. I sat talking until two at night at that little table under a shrivveled up tree next to a baracks in the full moon light. I learned what sound a hyena makes and heard the Kenian music on a tiny old radio. The boy who was the head of the camp, Mozes, talked me into staying a day longer. ‘You have to talk to the local people and hear their stories’ This suggestion turned my whole itinerary upside down and gave me a very personal insight into the lives of different people in the area.
Moses: inspector in the army. The reason for his choice of profession: money. He was studying at the university of Nairobi but when his father passed away there was no one to pay for his tuition. Instead of taking over the farm of his parents he chose a more ‘independent’ profession. The only option with a near decent salary was the army. Because of his intelect, friendlyness, and technical knowhow he soon moved higher up in rank. Now he risks his life to save cattle.
(In the north of Kenya, most all of the people live as nomads of their livestock. And because of the drought of the last years they have fought with increasing intensity over the last resources and have taken to stealing each other’s cattle. Because of ‘import’ of cheap guns these fights have become more deadly.)
I see in his confrontation with me also the bitterness of the situation. So little choice when you have to survive. And his fight with the consequences of his choice and increasing cynicism because of the daily reality. For the first time I can identify myself with someone who really wanted to study and make a different life for himself. This boy is not in the right place here. No matter how ‘good’ he is to ‘his’ boys. So much intelect and capacity should not be in this place. I would like to do something for him but what? In the next three days I hear him out a little about what his own whishes are. He says he would like to buy a generator for his village (in the north) that lies on a river. With the generator they could use the water so much better for irrigating the fields. This way I would be able to do something for my village and not just be the person they have ‘given up’ on. He has devised a whole scheme how the first farmer could pay of the generator in stages with the hopefully extra yield from the land. And this money could go into savings for the next generator or towards a child that could then go and study like he once did. He is thirty years old.
The village and the refugees.
The next morning I am taken along to a group of huts just outside the village. Nomad huts of twigs and branches. The people that live there invite me into their midst and then all come and sit around me. Mostly women and children. Their story: six months ago they fled here after the village they lived in was attacked. From one day to the next they lost everything they had. All they could take was the clothes they had on that day. The village offered them a place where they could live. They couldn’t get the huts free from rain. (Black earth, no leaf on the trees, only just now there is hints of green again) Their cattle have died or have been robbed from them. All they can do is await the monthly food transport. Every family gets one sack of corn flour a month, that’s it. If they had some cows they could sell the milk and from there rebuild their lives. They can’t stay here forever.
Another refugee village 4 kilometres along in the bush has a similar story. They came there some nine months ago with only 320 cows. They had fled to that place but were still very ‘rich’. Because of the drought and the lack of food for the animals they had lost all their livestock. Only a few goats remained.
One of the women has a baby on her arms with such thin arms!
Two days later I leave again. A lot of conversations later about the rain that only sometimes falls (albeit in large quantities) from the sky. If you were to preserve that one cloudfull of rain that washes away in that river heading south in small lakes or water tanks… (or am I being too naïve..)
Two other soldiers on the tractor. I stop twenty kilometres down the road for cigarettes. They have none. We go to the police camp at the edge of the village. Nearby is a school. The head master comes up to us, and starts to explain. This man is clearly traumatised and in need to vent his story. He was giving lessons in the school. It was examtime. While explaining the rules of one exam he saw the school being surrounded by people from the surrounding hills. Immediately he ordered all the childeren to flee. The whole school swarmed out. He ran after eight older boys in the direction of a house, their house. While they were running he realised they were being followed, and being a little older and wiser he didn’t follow the boys into the house but made for some bushes. From there he saw the boys being killed one by one. Then the attackers walked to a little hut opposite the house and shot at the woman and her three children. Two died, the mother and one of the children were severely wounded. During the story the teacher (who is clearly trying to free his feelings of guilt in speaking about the story) takes me to the huts along the path. Later he, the brother of one of the boys and the concierge take me to the mass grave where a hundred people are buried. Mostly women and children. The men were in the field searching for water with their livestock. The tour end back at the school where I am shown children who have all been maimed one way or another by spears or bullets. A totally unexpected story..
Later that day I found out this was the tour Moses had planned for me. (He had questioned me if I really wanted to know about the situation here) The situation here seemed slightly more complex beneath the surface of stories. The refugee village I had visited before was made up of people from a different tribe who had lived peacefully before in the attacked village. Chances are they knew about the attack being planned but did not did not tell any of the other villages. The day of the raid they all fled their village out of fear of retaliation.
For me both groups are innocent, up to a certain extent. Even though they are from different tribes all they fight for here is the scarce resources; water and food for their livestock. If they would have those they would have no need to fight. There is no oil in this area, no diamonds so the government (yet another tribe) sees no reason to help out in this region. The teacher spoke of two tribe representatives in parliament who should be spoken to about their bad policy for the region. Unfortunately, and by grave coincidence, this, unbeknown to us was what was happening at that same moment.
We continue on a very bad road again and I feel sorry for the soldiers on the back of the tractor. When we stop for lunch in the roadhouse there is a strange silence and atmosphere. We are told there was an accident in Marsabit, the village I am heading to. A plane has crashed with fourteen representatives of the country on board. Six of them died. Exactly the six ministers that represented this northern region. They were finally going to have talks about peace. Now this seems farther off than ever. The people whisper…
(Now even more, now the rain has started to fall, the fighting will continue because everybody wants the most fertile lands…) to be continued….