After having enjoyed my stay in Suguta and Maralal my aunt decided to join me on my trip as she honestly couldn’t comprehend my thought process, why would I want to go to Lake Turkana or if I may use her words -nani huenda Lake Turkana? which means, “who goes to Lake Turkana.” I now had a converted backpacker and no, curiosity did not kill the cat.
While at Maralal, we asked the shopkeepers if they knew how we could then proceed on to Lake Turkana. The looks they gave us, the utter shock in their eyes once they heard our request to the immediate “No, we dont know” only added to my resolve. We finally found a lady who after several queries finally responded on what everyone was thinking or had pegged us to be, but were ashamed to say. She spoke to us like a worried mother and said, ” Wasichana wenye huenda huko ni wasichana wanaenda na wanaume wazungu ama wazee” which translates to,” the girls who travel there are those who are travelling with male foreigners or old men.” (Ouch). However, I think just seeing the look in our eyes, the backpacks on our backs and the lack of foreign or old men around us, seemed to settle her and she informed us that we would need to take a matatu/minivan to Baragoi and then ask around from there.
We were lucky to get the few available seats on the matatu which cost us Ksh.500 and would cover 102 km. At the bus stop we met with several ladies all decked in traditional Turkana regalia. I was excited and could not wait to arrive in Turkana and interact and learn the Turkana culture. The little I knew of Baragoi was that it is a dry area/ harsh terrain, the area faces banditry and cattle rustling and the area is dominated by the Turkana community. However, the extent of the security threat was made clearer when the matatu/minivan was boarded by several armed personnel as the vehicle needs to be escorted. Heart missed several beats but I was grateful for their presence.
The terrain is quite interesting and I was shocked to actually pass through various areas that were green and farming was ongoing. The landscape is beautiful as you move from savanna to bare land and seeing several communities and manyattas (homesteads).
We met several young men “morans” grazing cattle en-route and in some cases these young men were armed. My heart would skip several beats and I would remember all the insecurity cases we had heard about. This is one of the cases I would question myself, question my sanity and even question my choice of travel destinations. These men did not in any way threaten us and the most they would do was to wave at the matatu/minivan and continue grazing. We eventually made it to Baragoi with no incidence though we were tired, dusty and our bones rattled due to the condition of the road.
Things to do:
1)Interact with the locals in the environment
Our arrival in the area was met with a lot of curiosity and we could see people eyeing us curiously. We actually didnt get to interact with the locals as much as I would have liked as it seemed they chose to steer clear. Most wouldn’t even accept to take pictures or even engage us in conversation-they could not be sure of our intentions. The occurence of insecurity issues has also made the people living here to be very cautious and they all seemed to be on high alert.However, we are greatful for those we got to interact and engage with.
2)Learn their culture
I was able to learn a bit as regards to their dressing, homesteads, language and lifestyle.
Hello:Ejoka Response:Ejok -nooi
When greeting an elder, the younger individual bows their head slightly and the elder places their hand atop their head.
The ladies wear neckpieces that extend towards the top of the neck.This is achieved by wearing several layers of neckpieces made of wire braces that enable the neckpieces to stay upright.Their earpieces are also quite a sight,large,decorated and made of steel which made them look very beautiful. You will find the young girls having their hair dyed with red ochre and all ladies seem to have the same hair do that is more or less like the mohawk.Truly, Africa is the trend setter on all things fashion. For the married women, there is a metal ring that has a wooden block attached in the middle that is a sign that the lady is married.
They practice pastoralism and thus cattle is revered. The men will mostly be seen walking around with ekicholong which is both a seat and a head rest and polygamy is the norm. Their homes are also manyattas but are made more from reeds or what looked like reeds which are constructed by women.
Take time to walk around to get a better understanding of the area.This area is somewhat dry somewhat green. We were able to see lots of goats and camels but it was sad to walk thorugh a dry river known as “laga”. It was also disheartening to see the hand dug wells almost dry. This is the first time I saw containers that are used for distribution of reliefe food-sad,sad indeed.
There are two matatus/minivans daily from Maralal town with the last one supposed to leave at 12p.m.If you miss it, you will have to travel the next day. Kindly note, do not be in a hurry as cases of delay occur which in our case was 4 hours. Yes, we left at 4 p.m and sat in the matatu the whole time as once you sat the whole walkway was packed with luggage, you could not disembark. Make sure you buy your ticket early and have a head/face cover to protect you from the sand. Wealso discovered that Baragoi is the last stop for all PSVs on that route. We would have to find out the next point of action from there.
The stay in Baragoi was interesting and quite insightful. I really enjoyed seeing their cultural mix, observing the ladies working hard while adorned in their beautiful jewelry and the men congregating under the few trees around. It was sad looking at a major river what they call “laga’ being completely dry as well as some wells. The area faces lots of hardship from drought and starvation to the several cases of banditry and the effects are clearly indicated in the faces of the residents of this region.They seemed to be on super alert mode and very cautious of visitors. I hope that the next time I visit I will be able to interact more with the people. Move over to https://wangechigitahi.co.ke/2014/09/16/loiyangalani/ for the continuation of this amazing journey-Backpacking Northern Kenya, Nairobi to Loiyangalani overland.