As per the Turkana Local Government website recommendation, I visit Kenyatta’s cell (where the British imprisoned him). We then drive through ‘the gate’, a rocky gorge carved out by a river.
The lifeless landscape has unfathomable beauty: each half-dead tree is a different colour ranging from black through to silver, green, blue and red.
Nothing is permanent. The rocks, febrile trees, and termite mounds look like they may fall or collapse at any moment. The dark mud smells wet and unstable. The Turkana cut the sparse trees for firewood and to make charcoal.
A child holds out his hand for money. I look away. I think I hear him spit.
We’re stopped by a man next to some bomas [housing compounds] near Nariokotome. He expected the World Food Programme car yesterday. It has still not come.
Eventually we arrive at Nariokotome mission. The white missionary is barking instructions at a Turkana staff member. She makes him feed her dog whilst she sits idle.
She has many questions for Ekai and I. Who are we? What are we doing here? We’re just tourists, I say. Could we have some lunch? I’ll happily make a donation to the mission. She talks to a girl. It’s possible, she says. She sits whilst the puppy is fed. She seems very dissatisfied, though about nothing in particular. She
She eyes us intently. What do I do in England? Does Ekai own his car? Which company are we with? As I am an independent tourist. What do I hope to see?
In between the questions we sit in a silence I find uncomfortable. After a few minutes, though under her burning gaze in the scorching heat it feels like an hour, she goes inside.
Ekai and I sit together, largely in silence. I think this is companionable silence, but I’m not sure. I edit photos on my iPad. He watched. After a while, Patricia (we know her name by now) shouts ‘come get your food’. Is she taking to me, I ask Ekai? No, he says. She is.
At the table she is much more friendly. She jokes with Ekai, but he hardly responds. He’s a shy soul.
One of her Kenyan team goes to London every year looking for churches and schools to connect with. She’s very chatty and friendly. The others are shy. I give her my address, phone number, and email. When she’s next in London I’ll happily drive her up to Sheffield and help her make connections in local churches.
After lunch Patricia refuses to accept my donation. Have Ekai and I caused Patricia to soften? Or was my first impression unfair?
We drive for some more hours. I hope to find basic lodging at Kalokol beach, but there is nothing. We find a guest house in town with no showers and a fetid hole-in-floor toilet.
I leave Ekai and walk into town. Children crowd around me. I feel claustrophobic. I want to be left alone. But a muzungu cannot go unnoticed here. I try and find the guest house. The entire town seems to be following me now. Their bodies are very close to mine. A Turkana woman touches
me on the upper arm, hard and repeatedly, asking for money. I’m losing patience. I’ve lost the guesthouse.
The thing is, I can’t get back to the guesthouse. I’m lost. Lots of people keep shouting at me to ask me where I’m going. I’m responding angrily now. I’m lost. Two boys on a moto keep driving past me very close, trying to shock me, and then laughing when they succeed. I feel a combination of anger and frustration that I can only describe as hate.
A girl, who I later learn is called Damaris, approaches. Unlike the others, she is smiling rather than laughing. I trust her immediately. She leads me to the guest house with the whole school, though one of the school girls raises a large rock. Perhaps they’re as scared of me as I am of them.
Why am I bleeding, they ask? I look down at my leg. It’s from where I fell. I pick a cactus spike from the wound. I begin to relax again. At the guesthouse, the children ask for money, but they are polite when I decline. My faith in humanity is restored.
In a dark hut we watch TV. There are adverts for chartered helicopters. A nineteen year-old asks me for £1.50 for a bottle of hard spirits. We share it. I do not know what alcohol it is. I cannot finish my large plate of dinner. He eats my leftovers using my dirty knife and fork.
On TV, the presenters of the Churchill show dress up in white robes and walk on water on lake Victoria, before magicing loaves and fishes. We all laugh. Kenya had a fine tradition of satirising the powerful.
After this there’s a more serious Swahili drama about land disputes and title deeds. With the people on opposite sides with their children in love with each other. It’s like a Kenyan Romeo and Juliet. There’s even a rich Romeo abroad who the father proposes his daughter should marry instead of his accuser’s son.
Everyone in the TV room, including me, stinks of sweat. The nineteen year-old I bought spirits for has three children because of alcohol.
The lodge is £3 a room. Its the cheapest place I’ve ever stayed. There’s no mosquito net. It’s hot. The fan doesn’t work. I have to stand in human faeces while I piss in the fetid toilet. I mustn’t touch the soles of my shoes.
I pocket as many valuables as I can and wear them in my sleep. In the morning, we eat a basic breakfast and leave before the rain arrives.