On May 4th 1980 I was in Lodwar in Northern Kenya. For my final excursion on this 3 month journey in East Africa, I was making my way to Lake Turkana. Lodwar was the hub for northwest Kenya, though still a small town.
A few days before I had had breakfast on coffee and croissants at the Thorn Tree in Nairobi; then I changed money and lugged my bag to the Uhuru Highway. Hitching presented no problems, with the proviso that if the ride that came needed to be paid for you paid for it: that was the African way. The first ride was from an English teacher of agricultural economics at the University and took me just out of town. The next ride was longer and took longer to come, from a grey-haired German with scarred hands driving a Land-Rover not too well, going with a Sikh to rescue a broken-down truck in Gilgil. The final ride to Nakuru was from an English couple with their daughter in a little Daihatsu 4WD. In Nakuru, one hundred miles from Nairobi, I was unsure what to do next; there was rain around and I thought about staying. I had coffee and looked for hotels in the market area, but they were scruffy bars or expensive so I wandered to the west, met an American teacher my age hitching on the way out and he offered to put me up in Elburgon, which turned out OK, nicely spontaneous. We got a bus through attractive country, very fertile compared to the drier parts of the Rift Valley I'd seen before. We ate viazi (a potato dish) in a little cafe, and walked to his house through a wooden shanty-town where he said he'd seen a body one day. He gave me the address of the Education Ministry in Nairobi where he'd got his job and this gave me a second possibility for teaching in Africa.
Next morning I set off quite easily from Elburgon without stopping for food. Rides were slow at first. A British settler took me a little way to a place called Tari just past his farm in his ancient Land-Rover. The countryside was pleasant and heavily forested, hilly. I began walking and eventually got a matatu to Molo where I waited around in the matatu park for a ride on to "The Junction" outside town. At the junction I began hitching again after a breakfast on two eggs and a Sprite. First a Dutchman, working seven years as a technical school advisor, took me to the Kericho turning and then a Land-Cruiser on to Kitale. I was sitting in the back and so saw the Mau escarpment from the back through intermittent rain, OK but uncomfortable, as the driver went very fast. At Eldoret we went out into some sort of suburban farm, and later after a market town we went fast on back roads which was pretty but still uncomfortable. Eventually at Kitale I got some food, mboga (vegetables) with meat and bread and started looking for a hotel. I was still wandering unimpressed when a young Sikh, doing his A Levels, took me to the Sikh temple which was fine. I rested and set out rather late for a walk outside of town. Coming back, I looked for maharagwe (bean stew) with no success and settled for mandazi (the universal African doughnut) and a very early night, being asleep by 8.30.
|Pokotland: My picture|
In the morning I found a truck going to Lokichar and it worked out fine. The early journey was exhilarating and the people in the truck good, like the old Turkana man who got on at Kapenguria. After that there was the great descent into the Rift Valley through pines and tropical trees, really beautiful, and past Pokot villages. Lunch at Ortum was only chapattis and then we carried on along the Turkwell River where I was told people panned for gold. Eventually we came out of the hills into the scrub desert with fewer and fewer trees, the people now Turkana rather than Pokot. In the scrub were gerenuk gazelle and flights of Namaqua doves. The long wait in Lokichar was OK, friendly and interesting Turkana walking through. Finally there was another truck under the stars to Lodwar with a load of steel bars and a drinking crew.
At the cross-roads was the Hotel Mombasa, a pure bit of modern Africa, a few rooms behind the bar, cramped, hot, smelly, buggy, noisy and the bar girls had dubious morals. I spent much of the next day outside trying to get a lift to the lake. In a quiet period I wrote in my notebook:
It's hardly a tidy sort of town, and not the wild west I've heard described. But it does have a character of its own. Sandy roads strewn with pebbles and bottle-tops, the edges marked out with larger stones. The houses and shops are spread out, concrete blocks and tin. One street has a sort of boulevard laid out with new trees in the middle and larger ones further down.
Lodwar: My pictureBut it's the people that make it - The Turkana, sitting round in little groups, eternally waiting, often in little circles, walking round and looking into shops, talking. The men with their stool and stick and sheet draped over one shoulder. The women with heaps of beaded collars, maybe a key chain suspended, sometimes a sheet or blanket draped across the chest, sometimes a piece of cloth, bangles especially on the upper arm. But there's no set pattern and many wear partial western dress. Some still look strange to me, women with the head shaved except for a strip which is braided, men with a circular haircut, some young ones, maybe moran, braid it too. Some men with lower lip plugs, small circular ones in metal or wood. Some women wear lots of earrings or a large shell-type thing in the necklace. They show only a little interest in me, mainly when I have the camera out. Other people around are often Somalis, few Africans from the south, occasional mzungu. Women with skirts made of skin, lip plugs, sticks, cross pendants. It's free-form decoration. People look different from the Maasai, darker, poorer, not so proud. The Turkana, whether male or female, are champion spitters. Some old men have become beggars, asking "paise", or trying to sell circular bangle knives or other artefacts.
|Outside Lodwar: My picture|
|Near Kapenguria: My picture|
View Kitale in a larger map