Kalashnikovs and a sip of cow pee

A post from Joel’s and my andventures in Maralal, Kenya

After the hardships of lake Bogoria we were tired of camping and checked in to a hostel for the equivalent 3 $/night. One of that standard feature beds with mosquito nets (with holes of course), and a bulb in the roof and also in the area there is usually an opportunity for toileting in the classic hole-in-the-ground or cleaning in a laundry shed with a tub of water . After a good night’s sleep in actually quite clean beds , we jumped on a pair of motorcycle taxis that would take us forward over the mountains towards Maralal where we would visit Nic

Me (Wilhelm) and Nicolas in Maralal

Wilhelm and Nicolas in Maralal

holas, a friend of Wilhelm visited two years earlier. The idea was that we would take a shortcut over the mountains instead of going a long detour back.

The motorcycle drivers reluctantly agreed to take us to the mountains and after discussing the price for a while , we took off . We went across the savannah on sand roads full of potholes , acacias and livestock. Every now and then the motorcycle skidded on the loose sand but the driver always managed to steer it up in the end. However, one of the drivers got a phone call and  after some discussion afterwards, the motorcycle drivers decided to refuse to drive us the planned route over the mountains to the town of Nyahururu . The reason was that an armed angry mob had blocked off the road a bit up in the mountains and their motives were unclear. Rumours said that it started with a killed policeman in the mountains and this prompted his fellow tribesmen to take up arms and block the road. Our planned shortcut became a detour and as usual we had to squeeze ourselves into a sweaty minibus instead and go back the way we came to Nyahururu where we had to stop over the night, due to a delay of 5-6 hours.

The road that took us from Nyahururu to Maralal was in terrible condition and in the rainy season Maralal often becomes completely isolated. Partly this is due to the big piles of crushed stone covering the roads, which is the big export resource of the town. Virtually all the stone is broken and crushed into gravel by hand since the poor infrastructure does not support any transport of heavy machinery. Before going on the road a pastor read us some psalms and blessed our journey for 30 minutes…how lucky we felt! While we arrived safe and sound, as the  Europeans we are we can’t help whining a little bit on the four hour delay.

In this part of Kenya the firstborn son inherits all the things from the family (house, car, etc.), the second born inherits money and the third born nothing. To get your own wife and family, the man must pay the woman’s parents in the form of livestock (about 4-6 cattle). If you have neither the money or livestock , it becomes virtually impossible to raise a family, and you’ll become dependent on relatives for your livelihood.

Wilhelm’s friend Nicholas found himself in this situation of the third born since many years ago. He lost his parents early in the disease, and he lived on a couch with his older brother Francis who already got a family with five children. Without any opportunity to obtain higher education , he could not get any better-paid jobs. Nicholas says that he used to work as a stone-miner , a strenuous and low-paid job.

Joel and Nicolas next to the small house that the motorbike financed

Joel and Nicolas next to the small house that the motorbike financed

For one ton stone that he cut and crushed , he earned about 5-7 dollars. It took him about a week of hard work. In 2010 Nicholas invited Wilhelm home to his brother , where he lived for free and was offered a food and company for five days. Due to the hopeless life situation Nicolas found himself in, Wilhelm decided to do something and bought a motorcycle for him. Not as a gift but as something which he could use to earn money with as a taxi driver . Unfortunately, the plan did not work , and he had problems with the police right after Wilhelm went from there. Also Nicholas family were unable to help him to get the last important thing: a driving licence. When we visited, Nicholas had sold the bike and for the money, he had built his own house. In addition, he got halfway to start his own business.

The view from "viewpoint", with the lowland where the Pokot people live

The view from “viewpoint”, with the lowland where the Pokot people live

Nicholas took us together with a friend of his on a hike to show us the local wildlife and let us greet with the isolated Pokot – a people living in a remote and steep valley. We started off by walking towards a place they called “the viewpoint” early in the morning and after a 25km walk arrived just in time for sunset. Kenyans are extreme time optimists and Nicolas is no exception who claimed this would just take a few hours. If you get a time estimation you may always multiply it by three to get more realistic estimation. The lookout point where we set up the tent must be the worst blow hole throughout Kenya…. The night was ice cold in the tent and we had to snuggle eachother to keep warm. But the worst was it enough for our two Kenyan friends who despite our invitations to the tent, opted to sleep on the concrete inside something similar to a court house which the tribes in the area use to have peace negotiations.

A dwarf mongoose (Helogale parvula)

A dwarf mongoose (Helogale parvula)

The day after it appeared that Nicholas could not go on hiking down the valley as planned . The people who lived down there were Pokot people and Nicholas tribe Turkana was apparently in war with them and therefore it was not safe for Nicholas to go down. Something Nicholas didn’t really know himself. Instead, we followed the guides Seketi and Beko down the valley to show the way down the steep mountain sides and the remaining streams of water with good water quality.

With kalashnikovs by the mountain side

With kalashnikovs by the mountain side

A loud gunshot was heard echoing between the mountain sides while hiking along the ridge. A youngster with a kalashnikov came running along the mountain edge. He had spotted a “mountain goat” (actually a mountain reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula)) and tested their luck by firing a shot. Safety might not have been one of the thoughts tumbling around in his head while shooting. His shooting later led to large fight on the market at “the viewpoint”. The kids who were on their way to the missionary school did not dare to climb up from the valley when they heard the gunfire. The Pokot’s was very upset that someone were shooting on the market-day, which is supposed to be a peaceful day. They do not have much contact with people outside their inaccessible valley except when it comes to trading and theft of livestock, and the market days are uncommon.

A mountain reedbuck (Redunca fulvorula)

A mountain reedbuck (Redunca fulvorula)

The hike down was demanding on the legs and the pebbles rolled well in the steep mountain slopes. On the mountain side, we saw baboons and mountain reedbucks but down in the valley there was to our disappointment not much wildlife since they get outcompeted by the domestic livestock .

Walking down the mountain sides

Walking down the mountain sides

As usual, the availability of water was our Achilles heel. To carry more water than for a whole day is difficult. But we had great confidence that our guide Sekethi would show us a stream of crystal clear water… a bit too great confidence. When the late afternoon was approaching, our last liter of water was finished and our heads were spinning. But according to Sekethi a stream of water was close. And then…there it was..a mud pool. And that would be fine by us – we are not that picky – but when we saw a herd of cattle simultaneously pee and poo our happy cheering disappeared. We walked upstream as far as they could to get better , cleaner water, but the water looked pretty much the same everywhere in the puddles with cowshit everywhere . Without a choice , it was just to put our parasite killing pills in the waterbottles and let them do the work to quench the thirst with what we had. We continued down to the tiny village where we bribed the village elder with chewing tobacco and sweets to spend the night there with with his permission. The kids were watching us and playing behind the trees in the sunset and the people of the village came to greet us. However, the high concentrations of cattle (and therefore cattle poo) and the intense heat lead to extremely high concentrations of flies…and this was quite annoying for us, but most of all…the Pokot’s patience with the flies seemed was beyond our understanding. If I get a fly in my face, I chase it away. It’s a reflex. It itches. It’s uncomfortable. The Pokots seemed so used to this that many of them litterally wore beards of flies. Flies were walking in and out of their mouths as people are walking in and out of IKEA. This was very strange to us of course…but on the other hand all we did that evening was to smack our faces red so I guess the Pokots have their reasons.

Good water quality, eh?

Good water quality, eh?

By the small wooden houses in the pokot village

By the small wooden houses in the pokot village

Because the wildlife that we previously were told would be rich in the valley, now was seemingly non-existent and our water resources highly inadequate, we found it necessary to call the trek off and start on our journey home . We caught lizards on the road, drank large quantities of livestock-poo-water, ate a nice lunch with a big group of workers tying to improve the mountain path and learnt how to make toothbrushes from twigs. The steep forested mountainside led us back to Nicholas who was waiting for us.

Between Nicholas house and Maralal are water holes and where usually people put out salt. Since salt is hard to come by on the savannah that will lure of wildlife to  drink there. Although poaching has escalated tremendously in the neighborhood lately we finally got to see quite large amounts of wildlife, mostly zebras and gazelles. We went on a snake hunt on a rocky knoll in hope of seeing a puff-adder but without success, which according to our family was just as well.

Nowadays it’s unusual to come across dangerous animals around Maralal. As a kid, Nicholas had often had to stay home because there was too many elephants on the roads. The positive thing is that the deaths caused by wildlife in the area has declined. The latest incident was according to Nicholas a year ago with a hyena that attacked and severely injured an elderly man. Can’t help thinking that we are a bit spoiled in Sweden…

The time in Maralal was rustic but nice and to see Nicolas progress in living standards surley made Wilhelm happy. The hike was tough and if we didn’t learn enough from our problems of dehydration and waterstocks in lake Bogoria – we hopefully learned more from this experience.

/ / Biotrotters

2012-02-21

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