Samburu County is located in the Northern region of Kenya and is dominantly occupied by the people of the Samburu tribe/community. They are dominantly pastoralists and thus revere their cattle very much. They are a community that has remained loyal to their culture and as such you will find them dressed in their traditional regalia as well as practicing their culture. My decision to delve into this region which doesn’t fall into the usual “tourist” areas especially for backpackers was guided both by the urge to solve a mystery as well as satisfy an adventurous spirit as highlighted here https://wangechigitahi.co.ke/2014/09/16/backpacking-northern-kenya/. As I started my travel, there was limited information on what to do or see and thus I didn’t even have a to do list. Below is what I enjoyed discovering when I visited Suguta Marmar and Maralal town as well as the dark side. I really recommend more people to traverse this region and experience it for themselves.
Things to do in Suguta Marmar:
1) Walk around
Most people in the town can at basic communicate in Kiswahili language with the educated ones also speaking in English. Walk in the market area and get yourself a pair of their locally produced/designed foot wear referred to as “Nginyera” that are pocket friendly.
The unique thing about it is that they are custom made as you wait. One’s foot outline is drawn and cut from a truck tyre thus confirming their strength and durability, the straps and outer layout are then hammered in with small nails and soon you can wear your shoes.
I particularly love mine and highly advise you to get a pair, the terrain there will not be friendly to your fancy sandals or shoes. I highly recommend you ask your designer to place the “raised tyre flap ” on the side like mine, it prevents your ankles from hitting each other 🙂 trust me, it is very handy. For those who wish for a softer feel, feel free to wear them with socks preferably black or dark colored
2)Interact with the culture:
The young men or recent initiates known as Morans are also a sight to behold. They have their hair in some sort of braids but since this was a hot and dry season, they had covered their heads with handkerchiefs to prevent their hair from getting dirty(who said only women care about their looks.)
The women wear colourful neckpieces known as shangas that are made from beads and are very beautiful. They then bedeck their shoulders with colourful lesos, their arms with beaded bracelets, their ears, their feet-basically ,they are very well adorned.
I was privileged to make friends with a lady called Wangechi (no we are not related and she is Samburu) who was willing to show me around her village. I highly recommend making friends with one of the locals because in the villages most only speak the local language -Samburu and thus having a translator enriches the experience even more. Feel free to purchase some of their jewellery
They live in homes known as manyattas which are made from mud and cowdung and sometimes wood and are made by women.I was actually impressed at how some of these homes are very beautiful once you enter. They can be spacious and some are like modern homes with different rooms and compartments.
Learn basic words from their language.
Hi- supa pronounce soba.
I am well-Aye
The younger one always bends their head slightly when greeting an older person and the older person lays their hand on the head in greeting/blessing.
Thank You-Ashe Oleng
The Samburu are pastoralists by nature and thus keep lots of cattle and goats. The more cattle one has, the more wealthy he is. As you walk around the area ,you will find boys and young men walking long distances in search of pasture. They drink both goat and cow milk and this was my first time to drink tea prepared with goats milk-not too bad, just felt lighter/thinner that cow milk.
The women and men do not interact much unless they are family or well known friends. The young morans cannot and will not stay or hang around women and thus if and when morans enter the house, the women have to leave-Fact. I experienced this first hand when a moran entered one of the homes we had gone to visit. Immediately he entered, all of us who were women in the house left so hastily, I couldnt comprehend. And no, we did not sit outside, we left the whole homestead and went for a “walk” to the neighbouring homestead quite a distance away. I later asked why and was informed that since he was a moran and wanted to cook a meal in his mothers kitchen, we had to leave as it is an abomination for women to see a moran eating. He had just returned home from what they call “kuenda fora” in Kiswahili which means in search of pasture for six months.
3) Visit Samburu National Park:
This park is one of my favourite National Parks in Kenya. I had previously visited this park as highlighted on https://wangechigitahi.co.ke/2014/05/30/kenya-samburu-national-park/ though I approached it from the Isiolo entrance. National parks never offer a surety of seeing the expected wildlife,but, on our visit there it felt like the animals were falling over each other to see us, or was it for us to see them. We saw lions mating, lions attempt to attack an elephant calf and the furore that follwed, to having an elephant refuse to move infront of our truck, to having baboons raid our tents for food as we were camping in the park, to seeing a wide array of animals.I would thus recommend all to visit it and even as we approached Suguta Marmar on this trip I got to see giraffes, buffalos, and elephants staring at us from the fence.
4)Visit the local schools
I am very passionate about education and children and thus whilst there, I visited Suguta Marmar primary school. Children are so innocent and it was so much fun interacting with them, playing with them and understanding how school life is for them. Here, is one of the instances that showcased the harsh sad reality of the area. I met many students and parents who shared that they do not necessarily take their children to school to learn, but to have a meal for the day due to the “Free food programme” offered to all students there by the government. I came face to face with children in their hundreds walking around bare feet on the hot, harsh terrain and with threadbare clothes since their parents and guardians could not afford any due to the high level of poverty in the area. Due to banditry, many women have been left widows, many children orphans, work opportunities are few and poverty levels are thus high.
I spoke with young girls who were not necessarily keen to study hard because they knew they would soon be married off or had the notion that boys are better at education. Many couldn’t comprehend that I, a female like them had actually studied all the way to University, I wasn’t married yet I was over 20years, I was working and could travel long distances as per my life choices. It was interesting engaging them on what they wanted of their lives, mentoring them and inspiring them that Girls can do it, girls can be anything they want to be, that all students boys/girls should work hard if they are to improve their lives and that of their families. I came face to face with student teacher ratio being high and lack of teaching and learning resources that I am not sure how the teachers or students manage. Yet, the children here smile and laugh and play and engaged me in lots of conversation you would almost forget the challenges they face. Feel free to contact me if you would like to partner with me on some of the projects I initiated there after this trip and still support to date or to be directly linked with the school. Let’s make these students keep smiling 🙂
5)Mary Immaculate Girls Rescue Center
This is a Girls rescue that is run by the Catholic Church through the Mary Immaculate Sisters. This home is a refuge to so many girls rescued from the social evil that is “child brides” and “FGM”. Yes, these ills still happen and are rampant in Kenya even though they are all illegal. As I sat and listened to these girls share their tales, my heart honestly shattered. These were babies and young girls, yes they had some as young as 4 years at the time who had faced such attrocities that I honestly cannot even start to comprehend. Some of these girls had previously been wives, wives to men of all ages -some old enough to be their great grand fathers and no, their task wasnt only to clean their houses but to fulfil any and all roles expected of a wife. These girls talked candidly about a life to date I still cannot fathom. How men can opt to take the innocence of these girls, take in child brides or what I best classify as “Rape-over and over again” after them also undergoing “Female Genital Mutilation” is beyond me. To my governement, more needs to be done, stiffer penalties to all the culprits should handed down and not what I call “slap on the hand”. What they do to these girls is something that will be with them for the rest of their lives and I believe the penalties should be similar-to last with the culprits for the rest of their lives. This rescue center offers a haven for these girls who have faced various forms of abuse. Feel free to contact me if you want to partner with me in some platforms that we support or to be linked directly with the Center -Any and all help will be appreciated.
The area faces several attacks of banditry and cattle rustling . The saddest thing about it is that these attacks are normally armed attacks. This has resulted in most of the women here being widows, children being orphaned and poverty levels being rife. I met children with gunshot wounds when they get caught up in the cross-fire that sometimes comes in the form of shots fired at their mud/thatched houses. Again I ask the government to intervene and make these areas safer for these families living there as well as the communities to do away with cattle rustling culture forever as many innocent lives are lost as a result.
This house was built in 1959 and is where the first President of Kenya-Mzee Jomo Kenyatta served part of his detention. This is also where he wrote his famous book “Facing Mount Kenya” . It has been well maintained by the Kenya Museums and is free to visit. Please wear sports shoes if travelling via public means to this place because the distance from the buspark to the house is quite far and the terrain rough,rocky ,sandy and the house is practically up a hill . The visit is however well worth it.
Since I was backpacking overland from Nairobi to Maralal, this is how I got there. I boarded a matatu or minivan from the Nuclear company from Nyamakima stage(it is in Nairobi downtown) with final destination Nyahururu. The matatu ride cost me Ksh.400 for a three and a half hour ride. Once in Nyahururu, I waited for a matatu/minivan from the same bus company heading to Maralal and that cost me Ksh.700 for three and a half hours through a very harsh terrain. Honestly, by the time we arrived, all my bones were rattling, I was exhausted and the cake of dust on my body a reflection of the journey. From Nyahuru you can also get a bus. I would highly recommend if starting your trip from Nairobi,start early as you do not want to arrive at Nyahururu late and find all the vehicles gone or even arrive late in Suguta Marmar or Maralal town. From Suguta Marmar, my means of transport was the below blue truck with benches acting as seats-new mode of travel for me.
From Suguta Marmar to Maralal, the last vehicle leaves at 7 .am and the last one leaves Maralal at 4pm,kindly do not be left by either because there after you will be stranded.
I would definitely highly advise everyone to actually travel to Samburu county and visit Suguta Marmar and Maralal . I intensely loved the chance to interact with the Samburu community, their culture and made lifetime friends. The area also managed to demistify the place for me and I hope I have done the same for you.As with all places, there is always the good and the bad, but good always wins . I was happy to have a chance to actually see and hear about it live, to be sensitized on the issues other Kenyans face, to share the same with all my readers and others and to have an opportunity to be part of the solution-even if in a small way. Again, if you would like to be involved , let me know and we will make it happen. Go on, pack your bags and head down to Samburu County, I actually had a really hard time leaving. Move over to https://wangechigitahi.co.ke/2014/09/15/baragoi/ for more on this Northern Kenya expedition that then saw us move next to Baragoi.