Words from Kenya

Upside Down Trees

In parts of northern Kenya you can encounter the curious sight of many upside down trees. They dot the landscape, as many of them upside down as right way up in places. Some areas of northern Kenya have been so dry for so long that there is little but dust to hold the roots of the trees in place. A strong wind pushes at the bare branches and worries away the dry soil round the base of the tree. Sometimes it takes just hours, sometimes weeks or months, but once loosened the result is nearly always the same. An upside down tree. The wind blows the tree over, the roots slip free of the dry sandy soil, then the wind flips it over like a tumble weed. Once upside down a better balance is ... Continue Reading

A Night of Gunfire in Isiolo

Last night people living in the areas immediately to the south and west of Isiolo town listened anxiously to more than two hours of gunfire. At around half past nine the first gunshots were heard to the south of the town, where livestock were being stolen. It is thought that close to 20 cows and a large number of goats were taken and then driven off towards the west. At first the gunshots were intermittent, it seems that the raiders were shooting to warn off any followers. Their path westward could be guessed at from the sound of gunfire as they went along. After about an hour the gunfire became more intense and frequent. The gunfire was coming from several different directions and ... Continue Reading

Pink Flip Flop Boat on Lake Turkana

One day, as I walked along the eastern shore of Lake Turkana, I came across this wonderful pink flip flop boat. Parents and older children often make toys for the younger kids from bits and bobs of rubbish. Cars made from plastic cooking oil containers, cut in half and with plastic lids for wheels. Or large plastic pot lids nailed to a stick and used for wheeling along. But this simple plastic flip flop boat, with a stick for a mast and a bit of plastic bag for a sail, is one of the most stylish rubbish toys I’ve ever seen. It was sitting all alone on the sand. I think it must have sailed off rather efficiently leaving it's owner far behind, and probably quite sad. However, I have no doubt ... Continue Reading

Drought and Conflict

The November rains failed over much of the north of Kenya. These were important rains, they would normally provide more than enough pasture to get through the short dry season, but not this year. Ordinarily livestock don’t need to move far from their home area during the short dry season; unlike the much greater migration for pasture witnessed from May to November, the long dry season. This year things are different, many animals have already had to move vast distances to find pasture. Some herds never returned home, leaving the young and the old, the people normally left behind when long migrations are necessary, especially vulnerable. The November rains also recharge shallow water ... Continue Reading

An Evening of Cattle Branding with the Laikipiak Maasai

It’s 6 o’clock, the late afternoon light is softly yellow and a hazy sun is dropping onto the western hills. The cattle are returning to the manyatta, peaceful and relaxed, there is still grazing and water for them at an easy distance here. They calmly make their way through the gap in the thorn hedge; the hedge, protection against wildlife, encloses the circle of mud huts that makes up this homestead. Watched carefully by the senior men, they pass into a second, inner, circle of thorn. Their own night enclosure at the heart of the homestead. The cattle have been herded home by 2 young warriors but they needed no direction or encouragement. They know where they are going and several of ... Continue Reading