Northern Kenya, Pt. 1
The black road leading towards the dust-shrouded sun is warming,
Flanked by a thousand citizens walking to work,
to anywhere but here.
Nairobi wakes to birds and dogs and the honking horns of every car and bus
That soon will choke these roads.
And we, today, head-fogged and time-lost from half a world away,
Are heading north, half-drunk on jet lag, dust, and diesel,
And the memories of friends to whom we now return.
The road to that reunion takes us past mango trees ripe with fruit
And acacias hung heavy with the nests of weaver birds
And everywhere the soil is red and stains what it touches,
Indelible like Africa herself on my soul.
And every couple miles there are rows of market stalls,
Cobbled together by necessity, sticks, and twine,
And huddled-about by laughing women who would just as soon giggle
And gossip, as sell you the mangoes they’ve piled high
Like the bicycles that labour past, so laden with goods,
Chickens, charcoal, a hundred yellow water jugs,
Balanced impossibly by riders who’ve done this so often
They’ve long forgotten the physics that elsewhere would forbid this.
School kids litter the sides of the road with colour,
Their bright uniforms changing every few kilometres,
Their ranks broken now and then as a boy chases a goat,
A donkey, or some long-suffering and much-too-ribbed cow.
Everything is in motion, a swirl of colour, against the muted dust.
Days later that colour is in in the beads of the Rendille,
The pounding, leaping dance of the Gabra women,
and the once-Scottish plaid of warriors driving their camels.
Our nights are spent under endless starry skies,
The only lights for a thousand miles from the fires of herders
Who sit under a blanket of darkness pierced by the holes in the floor of heaven
And wait for the God that walks those floors to spill some water
On this too-dry land.
Over the next couple weeks I’ll talk about the assignment in northern Kenya from which I’m still returning. Almost two weeks in the heat and dust of the Chalbi desert, the cedars of Mount Kulal, and the dark, smokey huts of the nomadic pastoralists I’ve visited and photographed in this region for the last 5 years, all of them wrestling with a changing climate, tightening drought cycles, in an already forbidding place.
The work I was doing was for the BOMA Project, a group working to empower women among nomadic pastoralists in northern Kenya. These women they work with are beautiful, enduring women, and they bring to mind and heart, when I can’t be with them, my own beautiful, enduring women – my mother and Cynthia. It’s work I adore, with people I come close at times to revering, and I can’t wait to unpack a little of it for you. There were so many times, driving the 2500 km we put on the vehicles, that I remember saying, I have the best job in the world; we should all be so lucky to do work we love so much. Still, it’s good to be heading home.
It’ll take a while to download and process the images (8 x 64GB, God help me!) and get them to the client, which is the first priority, but while the computer in the studio grinds away I’ll drop images into Instagram, post a few blog posts, and try to make up for my absence.