Words from Kenya

An Isiolo Story

Crazy Isiolo Goat

“Have you heard the story?” That is how people normally start. A story in these cases is really a news bulletin, passing on the latest information about a local event. However this translation into English as ‘story’, a word that can imply a work of fiction in British or American English usage, is telling. The ‘story’ is normally at least some part fiction and in some cases is little but fiction.

The spread of modern technology, such as mobile phones, hasn’t change the accuracy of the story much but it has change the speed at which the story (or rather stories, there is always more than one version) is spread. You would think that you would have a good chance of separating truth from fiction by comparing the stories, seeing which elements were common to them all, and that can work. However, sometimes a piece of fiction is just so good it gets picked up and used in all the stories.

In most cases though the bulk of the story is true, just with differences in the details, and this is still the only way that local news gets shared in most parts of the north of Kenya. Press coverage of local events is patchy, generally confined to only the most dramatic of happenings and often far less accurate than the stories. For some reason there appear to be very few journalists with good contacts in the north and many local stringers have a notorious bias. Consequently locals still rely on stories for the local news even when they have access to news media and journalists reports.

This is one such story from this week, an example of the local news that is passed around the villages.

A man from Killimani (an area just to the west of Isiolo town) was killed while he was herding and his goats were stolen. He was an old man and they weren’t his goats, he was the shepherd for someone else. He was a Somali (the tribe of each person involved is an essential ingredient in all the stories). Five men came and stole the goats and drove them all the way to Kakili (a area to the south of town). This is where trackers and the police found them. But not all the goats were there, only the skinny goats. The thieves, two Turkana, a Meru and two Samburus, had loaded the best goats, the fattest ones, into two cars and they had been driven away. Car tracks had been seen. The theives were caught (though not the fat goats) and are currently in the Isiolo police cell (this is not a common outcome).

Many trackers here are excellent at what they do. They live up to all the stories I have heard about great Native American or Aboriginal trackers. So I wondered if the trackers had been able to tell what kind of cars had been used. A ‘traditional tracking meets CSI’ kind of thing. But the person who gave me the story didn’t know about that. In my minds eye the fat goats were loaded into Toyota Proboxes, the ubiquitous local taxi, responsible for many deaths as they are poorly maintained, badly driven and always crammed with at least 13 people. With local packing you could get a lot of fat goats into a Toyota Probox.

I have now heard several versions of this story and unfortunately there is one aspect that all agree on, and I feel likely to be true. The old shepherd was indeed killed. He wasn’t shot though, by far the most common type of death for herders caught up in a livestock raid, he had his throat cut.

This kind of story, this type of news, is one of the most common around here. The stealing of livestock, with or with out death (though often with), is what would be the regular headline on a local paper. If any village had one. Where I grew up, in Scotland, the local paper ran stories about the prizes the local children had won at school, or what the amateur dramatics group was putting on at the village hall that week. Here the news is how many livestock were stolen, who died and how. The local version of the ‘..and finally’ or ‘in other news’ item is the amount of fat goats that you can fit into a Toyota Probox.

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