The women of Nortern Kenya
Slipping and sliding I drive up the Marsabit hill. It is getting dark and I, my soldiers and my dog are tired. The red earth is dangerously slippery, the incline steep and the police post where we arrive deserted. Everybody is at he airport tending the disaster. I take the soldiers to their camp where they have to hand in their weapons. Then they will escort me to a place where I can sleep. Pf it takes long and I’m very tired, I’m hungry. A lot of soldiers talk around me
The don’t look to dangerous, do they?
No hotel room going in the entire town I’m told not much later. We walk through the dark streets of Marsabit, or slip and slide is more like it. The soldiers want to go to their local watering hole-bar-hotel, one keeps nagging about money in an irritating way. There is one portion of fries that I can have. No we have to share I say. Before I can tell the soldier has drowned the fries in chilli sauce, ketchup, salad, and other mess. ‘Thanks for asking,’ I say. Oof I’m so tired it’s starting to show in my mood. Someone is sent of to find me a hotel room. I end up spending the night in the same greasy-fries-hotel between the used-up condoms on the ground, thanks.
The next morning at the police post everthing is in a hullabaloo. To think that there might be any arranging of an escort for me in this chaos seems unlikely. I have to wait until the big boss is back from the airport. ‘Are you the girl with the tractor?’ ‘Yes.’ “Would you tow one of our 4×4’s, it’s around the corner?’ ‘Ok’. I might as well make myself useful today. And whaddayaknow, it almost seemed I was going to tow the car that was carrying the kerosene they needed for the rescue-helicopters. The moment we want to leave another 4×4 arrives that can carry the fuel. That would have been a good story. Not much later I get my escort and I’m all surprised. Out of Marsabit today after all.
A soldier, a tractor, a doggie and a girl. The soldier is one of the real McCoy looking types and that he survives the day is a miracle in itself. The road is torture and I bump and lunge over big nasty rocks. The people are colourful in the African best wow! After an hour the soldier wants to buy quat/mela for himself: he says he’ll fall asleep without! All right, he’s cool. I chew sugarcane to keep myself awake. The doggie, ah well he just sleeps.
Another nightly overlay at an army post, I’m allowed one of the soldiers’ beds. They also cook for me. ‘You don’t have to worry about your security’, they say one after the other. (There must be a reason you’d think..) But not so for the doggie! There must be at least 15 other dogs at the army camp, and especially the smallest bark with such ferocity at Kosovo that he hides under the bed and refuses to show himself again.
The road to Isiolo is long, yet another soldier on the back. We drive until all of a sudden a big army truck stops next to us, in the middle of nowhere. In the front is a stern looking black soldier wearing a black beret. He motions to park my tractor in front of the truck. My heart starts to beat a little louder. I‘m guessing it is something else but it looks like I’m about to be fined something hefty! From the open back of the truck about 40 soldiers look at me cheerfully and curious. Hello. Kosovo also seems surprised.
I park my tractor and look behind me. The soldier exits from the truck and calmly walks my way. He shakes my hand and says, ‘How are you?’ The dog and me look at each other befuddled: ‘Is this who I think it is?’ We exchange a few more polite sentences when it slowly dawns on me that this really is Moses. The guy who showed me all those things, who I drank vodka with till deep into the night. ‘You have come so far with your tractor’, he says. ‘Now I know you’ll make it to the South Pole’. ‘Boy you look different without your baseball cap!’ (His appearance now makes me not say this out loud.) Very formal we make an appointment to meet that evening in Isiolo. (I don’t think I’ll eeeeever make it.) I try to read his eyes. They shine. He seems genuinely happy to see me. We shake hands, and he’s gone again, back into the truck. I stay behind dumbfounded.
But the doggie goes nuts when he sees the truck drive away. He begins to bark and wants to get out of his basket, he whines. ‘Look will you, that’s the guys that gave us all that meat, you can’t just let them go can you?’ Wooooeeeoeoeoeoeoeoew!!
The soldier on the bumper looks at me: ‘What’s with him?’
Kosovo keeps barking and whining while the truck disappears in the distance. I’ll never catch up with them. Kosovo is out of control so I stop and release him. Maybe he needs a toilet stop. The moment he hits the ground he starts running like a madman. After 20 metres he looks back and makes a funny gesture with his head. As if he’s saying: ‘Come on you idiot we have to get after them!’ ‘We can’t just let all that meat get away.” I get on my tractor and drive after him. The doggie runs barking and playful in front of, and around us. I can’t control my laughter and I only stop because I see the soldier look anxiously around us. Oh yeah this was dangerous territory. Come on Kosovo, back in your basket, we have to hurry.
It is the perseverance of the soldier that gets us into Isiolo that evening. First he says; you can forget about that. But he also gets a taste for the pursuit we are in. In the dark we ask for a hotel, street children around me asking thousands of questions. I park the tractor, find a sleeping place, want to start to park the tractor safely in the garden, and all I hear is: ‘click-click’.
Nothing. No engine starting up. I look if anyone has pulled a wire but can’t find anything. While we stick our head around the tractor a guy comes up to me. ‘Do you have a problem?’ I look up surprised; It’s Moses. Wow you have timing, and how did you find me in this big place? ‘It must have been,’ he says laughing. I’m impressed.
We can’t get the tractor started. I say goodbye to my last soldier and let Moses lead the way to a hotel. A bit upper class after all those army barracks I think. That evening we drink a beer together, after I decline offers from a drunken Unicef man and a teacher from an army school, who makes up these things? It is great to catch up, I like this guy.
It is almost Easter and I drive in the direction of Nairobi, somewhere soon the equator should cross this road. Totally unexpected I see a sign that says Equator, not 20 metres ahead. Uh-oh, now I have to take pictures and such I assume huh.. I stop in protest and musingly mock from a distance, the engine purring lightly. (They had to push me out of Isiolo; I’m going to have the engine checked in Nairobi I call out after my first ‘jumpstart’.) Next to me down a small incline a woman is working the fields. After a minute or so she starts to smile as if guessing my dilemma. Ok here I go. I drive up to the sign and stop again. Stall-stall…this is a legendary moment. A woman comes up to my tractor and within a minute I’m talking to the whole village (souvenir stalls around the sign). ‘We saw a lot so far, but we never saw somebody like you travelling on a tractor! A woman! Come come, you have to talk with us, shut of that tractor, and tell us your story. Yes but.. We’ll push.
So that’s how I can now say that I have witnessed the water North of the equator spiralling clockwise and the water South of it anti-clockwise. And… on the equator itself straight down the hole. Bizaaaar (take a small container, hole in the middle, add water, look how it flows into a bucket beneath, voila l’evidence! Strange…..)
I the end I was pushed over the equator, and as a gesture I started right on the equator. After that I felt like a new person. Would the water in me also turn in the other direction? And yet that milestone, I’m halfway. If I were to turn around now I’d be out of my mind, I can’t go back now, I have to go on!
Crossing the equator and find snow in the same day, this I had not anticipated. As a present to myself, but also to give myself a chance to let go of everything that has passed the last few days, I climb Mount Kenya with Easter. A little harder than expected but so very beautiful. In the middle of the night (3 o’ clock!) I start the trip with an old guide. The moon shone clear as anything over the mountains, the snow capped peak seemed to emit light, and above that the stars…
I climbed the last bit with a snow axe, in the approaching sunlight.