The word bubble got a whole new meaning when covid struck in 2020. Before then, I used the word lightly, maybe when buying bubble gum for my baby sharks or descriptively when bursting someone’s bubble. Over the last two years, humanity has done a lot to create and remain inside a bubble. Bubbles became safe spaces that kept the coronavirus outside. Though the virus often burst the bubble and folks still got infected.
This week my photography took me to Samburu county, a place I have never visited before. I got a gig to go capture the effects of an initiative by one of our big corporates on the people in that county, specifically in the area of health care. When my client called me and said Samburu, the adventurer in me got excited.
I left home at 6 am on Monday with my camera gear packed in my Subaru and off we went. Again God bless our past presidents Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta for the effort they put into connecting this nation with good roads. It was a pleasure to drive on the Nyeri Nyahururu road, onward to Rumuruti and finally into Maralal. In addition, the effects of devolution are clear. Maralal is a small town buzzing with activity with most essential services found there. May our new hustler administration devolve development further to sub-counties and even villages.
My client and I got to Maralal at about 2 pm. It was a long drive and a bit nervous in some parts I must admit. Some sections were quite deserted and that’s when all those bandit attack stories we see in the media started haunting me. My buddy had told me to carry water to give out on the road as that’s what most people crave, including armed locals. Water is currency there.
Thankfully, we arrived with no incident and found our host at the referral hospital waiting for us. He and a colleague then got into my car for us to visit a beneficiary of the pediatric services that are offered at Samburu hospital with the support of the sponsor who sent us there. A short distance from the hospital got us onto a rough road that we were to drive on for more than an hour. Along the way, our two hosts would tell us tales of wild animals showing up as they walked on the road and how the previous night this lady could hear a hyena trying to enter her boma.
Part of me silently hoped for an elephant or lion to appear so that I can take that shot but that fantasy was killed when our host said that we are now in a war zone. I asked her what that means. She replied that we were in a conflict-prone area between the Pokot and Samburu. The fight is always for scarce resources and the ambushes are often sudden. So I asked her how they cope with such uncertainties and her response was shocking. She said they are used to the sudden change of circumstances and if you get caught up then maybe that’s the day Sir God has asked for your file.
How can you live alongside death like that and still function well? Sally (our host) told us that just the week before she was walking home and met with two buffalo in a nearby thicket. She was too close to run so she stood still. The buffalo sniffed hard as if to release steam while getting ready to charge. She had accepted her fate at that moment. Luckily some paper bag she was carrying was ruffled by the wind and that sound scared the buffaloes away. That was her chance to run back home.
We arrived at the manyatta safely despite the horror stories along the way. We met this Samburu mum of seven kids with her daughter of five kids. Yes folks I did the math right. Her daughter was the one with a sick baby whose being treated courtesy of the foundation we were representing. My client conducted the interviews as I took photos of the family, homestead and anything that could tell their story of survival.
What struck me was how jovial this family was. The kids were curiously happy to have us there and their grandmother (who was probably my agemate) was full of energy and stories. she narrated the difficult journey they have been on taking care of a sick child with another twelve of varying ages. They walk long distances to access healthcare and the drought is threatening to wipe out their source of livelihood. Top that up with the insecurity in the area. Talk of the odds being stuck against you. The song, “Me against the world” by Tupac Shakur qualifies to be their national anthem.
After our shoot and story collection, we were fed with the tastiest goat stew and chapati followed by tea dessert. I have always loved the taste of tea brewed over firewood. Smoky sweet. Just as we were about to leave the family gave us four eggs each to carry with us. Their generosity was too unreal. How can you be so kind as to share the nothing you have? And do it so enthusiastically. While accepting my eggs, the lady told me she was to give me a full live jogoo to take home but it was killed by some wild animal at night. Her goats had also been reduced to about fourteen from over fifty due to the ongoing drought. Life is truly hanging in the balance for many folks out there
With all that difficulty she and her family were happily giving us the little they had. And that’s when my bubble was pricked. I think of where I am and what I have yet I endure sleepless nights worrying about stuff. These folks have surrendered without necessarily giving up. They wake up in the morning happy to be alive and have something little to eat then go into the day to face insurmountable challenges. Only a divine belief and contentment would keep you smiling while living a such tough life. I realized I’m deficient in that and that was my lesson from Samburu.