What started off as a normal assignment turns into an epic road trip that leaves this writer in awe of Kenya’s northern frontier
Barry Silah @obel_barry
Life in the desert can be challenging, but one town in the heart of the northern frontier is dispelling that notion. A short while back, I had the rare opportunity of visiting Marsabit county for the first time on assignment.
The trip may have been long, but the hallmarks for me were the scenery that bossed the environs. With three of my media colleagues, we left on a cold Thursday afternoon in an Isuzu D-Max van.
Notwithstanding the drive, which had a few problems, the team was excited in an anticipatory mood. It was a four hour ride, which saw us cover the serene and lush greenery of the area. However, in between, we encountered a bout of cold breezing the air prompting our driver Jerry to switch on the heater.
We took a detour at Isiolo town after a winding 273 kilometres on the road. Checking into Rahma Hotel at around 11pm, located conveniently some 300m off the main road. Seeing as everyone was tired, the four of us freshened up, had a quick dinner and we were off to bed within the hour.
Six hours later, we were up and about. After refuelling, the three-hour journey began. Excitement was in the air as we whizzed through the arid terrain on silky smooth roads.
Especially spellbinding were the hills in Samburu county. Covered in unique foliage and garnished with natural rocks, they were a sight to behold.
Encountering an army unit from the nearby barracks and traditional Samburu women and men in traditional garb were some of the highlights of my trip north. It was interesting getting in contact with pure virgin nature in its organic existence hundreds of kilometres away from the capital.
We savoured the beauty with our eyes, camera lenses and minds. We got glimpses of desert life when we saw dried up lakes and wandering antelopes looking for pasture; a dejecting feeling seeing for ourselves the effect of global warming in an untouched corner of the country. We finally sauntered into Marsabit and I admit I was caught flat-footed.
A desert surprise
I always had the notion that arid areas were constantly hot but alas, this was different. The town located in a valley, is almost surrounded by a forest. It was actually quite windy and so we had to get warm gear. My half-puff jacket was definitely not going to be up to the task and I had to buy me a Maasai shuka to assist in keeping the fierce cold at bay.
Our host Fatuma Adan, a Peace Campaigner and Advocate, was awaiting for us at her office in the County Capital, Saku where our assignment was to begin after a briefing. Of course we were teetering on the edge of starvation after deciding to skip breakfast at Isiolo due to time limitations.
Following our meeting with staff of Horn of Africa Development Initiative (Hodi,) which Fatuma runs, we had to beg leave for a meal at the nearby Chicos Hotel run and designed by an Architect only known to us as Boru.
Indeed, after short pleasantries, we ordered for our meals, which included goat meat, chapati, rice and dengu so that we actually sorted our hunger situation.
The one thing we noticed with the people of Marsabit was their hospitality. Very kind hearted, but also reserved in equal measure. We noticed during our three-day stay that at least 14 ethnic communities lived together in the county, which comprises four constituencies; Laisamis, North Horr, Moyale and the headquarters Saku.
So many positive things are now being bandied about this area following years of conflict along the borders, particularly between the predominant Borana, Gabbra and Rendille communities. Personally, I was impressed by the co-existence that now exists between people who initially hated each other. Programmes from several non-governmental bodies alongside intervention measures have made Marsabit a model town where business is thriving and life is good.