"Ex Africa semper aliquid novi", quoth Pliny the Elder. There is some debate about what he really meant, but most likely he meant trouble. In this sense has the phrase been used most often since but I hope to reverse the trend and on these pages bring you the exciting, novel and curious out of Africa.

And wherever I am I hope to remain,
Ex Africa Semper Yours,

Monday, 7 September 2015

Goatville - Ruko

Day 2, Thursday 27th August (continued)

Goats. Again. That sneezing and farting, and stomping. Lots of stomping. Before I managed, blurry-eyed and disoriented, to get my bearings, there were already goats everywhere: next to my head, nibbling on my bag, sniffing my toes. Even treading on the still hot ashes (seems like they don't have many nerve endings in the hooves but maybe that's all animals). In any case, there were hundreds of them and it was highly confusing.

Goat invasion
Behind the goats followed a Pokot family. Little boys with twigs for goat whipping, girls with jerry cans and finally two grown up boys, one carrying a bow and arrows, the other with a mobile phone blasting music.

They greeted me wearily and squatted some distance away, casting shy glances. The goats kept swarming around me. It was a highly awkward social situation.

One of the older boys was the first one to break the ice. He was also the only one who spoke anything but Pokot. They were from the village at the top of the hill, he said. They came to water the goats and give them dawa. They had 500 goats. So could he borrow my panga?

Japuan (back) and her sisters
As the boys busied themselves with herding the goats into an improvised kraal, the girls set about me. They didn't speak a word of Swahili, not even as much as to tell me their names, or maybe they were just shy. In any case, they were happy just to sit by and watch me. The eldest was sporting a fine bead necklace, to which she affixed a small plastic mirror/hair brush. She kept gazing into it, admiringly. Rightly so for she was very pretty. Her hair was died with red ochre and she had ornamental earrings. Her clothes, however, were modern and tattered.

Her name is Japuan, said her brother. That means one that was late. She is 16 and she is already circumcised. She is almost ready to be married. Was he married, I asked? Not yet because he is the one who went to school. He was in form four and wanted to be a doctor. But his older brother was married and already had goats of his own. That was the boy with bow and arrows. How many other siblings does he have then? Oh, about 24. My father has four wives. That explained all the goats...

The girls fetched water from the lake for me and the boys helped me boil it. They asked why and I felt silly saying that I think it's not so good to drink otherwise. They were understanding though. Ken, for that was the name of the oldest boy, explained to me where to go next. He warned me that the village I wanted to spend the night was deserted and it was dangerous to stay there. He suggested I stay at the Ruko Conservancy.

Ken (front) poses with his older brother's bow
I had heard of this place before but I had assumed it was an island. It was a site for a most unusual exercise conducted by a group of dedicated conservationists from the Northern Rangeland Trust - they translocated a couple of Rothschild's giraffes from Naivasha, where they were facing a rapid loss of habitat, to Baringo, where this endangered species was originally from and where it was hoped it can live in peace and attract tourists to the new conservancy. It was good news that the NRT was now managing the place as I have known and valued the work of many of the people who worked there.

The burning road
I decided that sleeping there would be preferable to staying at the village of ghosts and set on my way. Again, I've made the mistake of setting too early. At 3pm the heat was still oppressive and the white road reflected the blinding light staight into my eyes. The going was uphill and slow and I couldn't last my usual 45 minutes of continuos walk without stopping to drink some of my freshly boiled, hot lake water. No matter how much I drunk though I felt like more. My mouth was parched, breath unbearably hot and my shoulders raw from sunburn and the chaffing straps of my rucksack. It was not that much fun.

After another bend in the road, rather unexpectedly, I stumbled upon a shop again. This centre was bigger with not one, but at least four tin shacks and people in a couple of groups milling in various shaded bits. I collapsed in a sweaty heap in one of them and asked for some Sprite.

I was in luck. The owner of the shop, a businesslike woman by the name of Marilyn - apparently there were very many Marylins, of both sexes, in Komolaioni all named after a white midwife who used to work there - also worked as the radio operator at the conservancy. She said she'd call ahead to let them know of my coming and found me a guide to take me through a 'short' - a local Kiswahili word for a short-cut - for on the road it was meant to be a further 8km and down the pathways only 4km.

Leaving the hills behind
The guide turned out to be a Pokot girl, aged 13. I might have been hallucinating a little by that point but to me she seemed like a some kind of a little sprite, so gaily and nimbly she pranced ahead, surrounded by song and fragrance fair. In all fairness, the fragrance might have been that of a fruit chewing gum that she constantly munched on and the song was emitting from a little held-hand radio she was carrying, but it was a little otherwordly anyway.

That radio was quite something. It the seize of a smart phone, solar powered, and well worn. It was a gift from their pastor and it emitted only one station: the Pokot language sermons and religious songs. That's 21st century proselytising if I ever saw one. Rosalyn, for such apt name my elf-guide had, would sometimes translate bits of it. "It says here that Jesus is as sweet as honey. Did you know that?"

Rosalyn was entertaining in many ways. She would stop and point out things to me. Sometimes I wouldn't quite understand what she wanted to say but I remember the bit when she pointed at neat little holes in the ground and announced gravely that goat-killing dudus (bugs) live there. Goats pass by, the dudu lurches out and there is nothing you can do, the goat is dead. Somehow, after my recent encounters - I had little sympathy for the goats.

At one point she stopped, switched off her radio and knelt down in the sand to examine barely visible (to me) the tracks traversing our path. She then turned towards the bush and in a high-pitched voice yelled a name. And lo and behold, from beyond the shrubs a little boy came running. A brother. She told him to tell mother that she'll be late home. I was impressed.

Sometimes the bush would clear a little
The road we were on was beautiful and I wish I had not been so tired when on it. I would have really enjoyed it otherwise. First it led steeply downhill - we were now leaving the northern hills and descending onto the flat alluvial plains by the lake - winding and well-shaded by tall shrubs closing their branches overhead. Then it levelled out and led through pretty bush, not too thick, with nice open patches where many paths crossed. I would have been hard pressed to find my way there but Rosalyn would pick a path out of many with certainty at all times. It was home to her, and ever so often we'd meet her friends on the way - girls and boys her age who would shake hands with me and greet me casually as if they had known me for years and we had just met in front of our local Starbucks. Or little totos, that would run screaming down the road, only to stop a few meters further and look on curiously. "They think you are a jitu, a man-eating giant", Rosalyn helpfully explained.

As is the way with guides, Rosalyn kept repeating that we are almost there. I was fading fast, ever stumbling on the invisible roots and stones. The worst bit however was a path of white sand, fine as chalk and equally as asphyxiating - it made one slip and rose in billowing clouds with every laboured step, coated my skin in grime, got to my nose and made me sneeze, got to my eyes and made them water. "It's a path made by goats," said Rosalyn. Of course, it was. It's always the goats...

Finally, the steel gates of paradise loomed in front of me. We arrived at the conservancy headquarters as the light was fading. It was time to part with Rosalyn, and if I weren't so tired I would have probably been quite sad to part with her. I hope she does well and becomes a policewoman like she wanted to.

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