Alex falls with a thud as he slips into a hole.
He sits right on the flooded plains. We are not sure whether to laugh or lift him off the misery. His white t-shirt is quick to embrace the water, his trousers, well, was the first victim.
This is our third day in Marsabit County, Kenya. We’ve had two days in different parts of the county documenting stories around peace, conflict and its now apparent relation to climate change.
I am not new to Marsabit, but for my three friends, Manon, Emilie and Jerem, this is all new world. They travel from Brussels to join us for a week of capturing stories through Kenya’s humbling landscape.
We join my friends Alex, Vincent and locals to conquer this landscape that’s recovering from featureless past.
We wade through the flooded plains, occasionally slipping into the holes filled by murky water, or getting pricked by thorns beneath. The water flows from a temporary river that broke its bank and surged, spilling water into these plains that are daunted by tough thickets. You would never tell that the water is flowing- a few trickling sounds here and there sells out the motion. The water blankets as far as we can see, almost.
Our shoes hanging on our necks, folded trousers, and cameras raised high towards heavens, we wade like flamingoes new to a lake.
But after almost an hour of snail-paced wading, we make it to the other side to meet morans milking the ever wondrous camels.Have you noticed how sleepy camels really look like? I mean their necks are woozy making them look tired and about to crush from a burdened life that is the desert.
The floods I must say were highly unusual, for a county-one of Kenya’s driest. Marsabit is home to Chalbi desert- spans over 66000 square kilometres-bigger than Rwanda and Burundi combined.
So yes it was bizarre that the plains were flooded in the middle of November. But really, the country had been experiencing unusually heavy rainfall. “We no longer predict seasons here,” Ntaparian tells us. She is a woman leader who chuckles at the thought that she was elected as leader in peace committee. “You guys should actually clap for me,” she laughs. With her eighty-something-year-old mum, they give us such a warm welcome. To say that she’s a delight to have around is such a ridiculous understatement.
“Women here are the biggest losers of conflicts,” she says with a distant gaze. “We lose sons to stupid raids. “
Here in the North, conflicts brew in what becomes endless cycles of enmity.
Reason: Diminishing water and pastures.
Why? To feed their herds of livestock, in their thousands.
“They crawled up on a relative of mine and butchered him, he was a young boy,” She says. Life of schoolboy who was attending to a herd of camels and goats succumbed to the wounds.
“I do not really blame a community, no. These are few elements who spoil the name of communities.” she glances, almost in a whisper. Her Rendille regalia on her forehead dance to her gestures. She answers questions with so much deep thought.
Why does she think this is rampant, we ask.
“The rains have ‘migrated’ she says. “When we were young girls we knew that droughts would occur after ten years or even more. “But we’ve been having droughts every year, and are becoming more serious and hence more conflicts due to limited pastures and water.”
Well, it can only make sense as Lesimakaro, a reformed raider and peace ambassador tells us. He’s here for an occasion.
He joins elders as they wrestle a mountain of bull down. It’s game time and the bull knows it. Yet, his struggles are no match to the morans who in no time are bending over to drink raw blood tapped from the dead bull’s neck.
Drinks have been served, ladies and gentlemen.
The occasion is a big meeting organized for peacebuilding initiatives and to create environment agents to champion sustainable use of grazing areas. Here, the elders are the decision-makers. What they say goes, raw as is.
In the protocol of the north, morans execute what elders mutter to them in the shades of acacia. They listen almost deafly: Their concentration is of a higher calling than the snapshots that we are taking. But a meeting to raise awareness after an attack in nearby livestock market is important.
I love their regalia. Ostrich feathers on the heads, beaded chains and silver amulets on their neck hanging like painted worms with effulgent dangling head. Knives with visible traces of blood stick out of their tough stitched leather porches. The beautiful coloured neckpiece that hangs on their bare chest completes the moran look.
But really, life in the north looks simple, yet dictated by a strong complex mix of cultural practices that have been passed down for hundreds of year. The conflicts that visit the communities here are driven either by politics or competition for resources, we are told.
But climate change is taking a share as thousands and thousands of livestock- a precious livelihood here, is at stake.
Two nights ago, we killed scorpions and spiders that had made way into our rooms and as that week came to an end, we had experienced life in the North. But I had mostly learnt and appreciated life here.
We head back to buzzing Nairobi. But what a week for my friends. What a trip.
To my colleagues, Alex, Vincent and Wyclif, you are rocks!
Peter, Samala, the women and elders of Laisamis who continue to welcome us, we are humbled.
I send my heart to Manon.
And to Emilie and Jerem for wonderful storytelling.
We return with the outcome: The final documentary.