Northern Kenya, Pt. 1

In Postcards From..., Travel by David18 Comments

The black road leading towards the dust-shrouded sun is warming,
Flanked by a thousand citizens walking to work,
to school,
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.


  1. Pingback: Northern Kenya, Pt. 1 – news.iNthacity

  2. Pingback: Weekly Wanderings – Pierced Wonderings

  3. Photographer, traveller, social crusader and poet. You really do have the best job in the world, David!

  4. David,
    Thank you for taking the time to share your magnificent photos and inspiring words. I am reading your e-book, 20 lessons for Stronger Travel Photographs, so I’m especially enjoying your most recent travels. It’s a great and useful read.

  5. your words completely took me to Kenya! I have never been, but now I can picture it! Cannot wait to see/read more!

  6. The first part of this post you seemed to be channeling Ginsberg or Gary Snyder or one of the other Beat poets writing in the 50s about life on the road. Great read.

    I do have a question. I’m always reading of efforts to empower girls and women. Not just in Africa, but everywhere. Rarely, if ever, do I read of efforts to empower boys and men. What is striking to me is that amongst impoverished peoples, no one appears blessed with opportunity–male or female.

    In South America, where I’d lived for the last several years, there’s always talk of women suffering from the oppression of prostitution. There is no mention of what opportunities for similarly poor men in those same communities can do for survival other than engaging in petty criminal activities or joining paramilitary groups to support the drug trade–all potentially life threatening.

    Have you given any thought to this issue? Why are men the invisible gender?

    1. Author

      Well that’s a long interesting discussion, Graham, but in many places men are not the invisible gender. In many places they hold the power, culturally, and in many of those places the women are the forgotten or invisible ones. I can’t speak to your own context, but where we’re working in eastern Africa, it is the women – as a gender – who lack the opportunities for education, for employment, for self-determination, to do something that can raise the level of well-being for their families while the husbands are off doing the herding. It’s not a question of helping women and not men, it’s a question of helping those where the help is most needed. In this context, that’s the women.

      1. I appreciate your offering your perspective.

        “Off doing the herding” for the family doesn’t sound like too much opportunity “for education, for employment, for self-determination, to do something that can raise the level of well-being for their families.” It sounds like monotonous toil.

        Yes, it is a long interesting discussion. I think it would be great to see photos showing the beauty of men equal to time focused on the beauty of women though we’d almost all rather look at beautiful women.

        That said, I can’t believe I didn’t win the “20 lessons for Stronger Travel Photographs” camera! (sigh) Second place wasn’t too bad. I was sitting at a cafe in Thailand, reading the book, composing two photos I wouldn’t have taken there if I hadn’t been working on incorporating what you were saying into my photos. Thanks.

        1. So your implication is that if men were “empowered”, that would somehow automatically include women? That if
          men had better opportunities it would magically transform women’s lives as well? Wow. And we’d all prefer images of beautiful women. And you can’t believe you didn’t win. Sitting in the comfort of your idyllic existence as an observer throughout the world. All in the same post. Just wow.

          1. Kirk, why such ire? What you said was not my implication at all–was it your erroneous assumption? Other than my pleasant but hardly idyllic moment sitting in a Thai cafe, you know nothing of what good fortunes I’ve had nor what experiences I may have endured before sitting myself in that cafe.

            Living in Thailand, I’m personally aware of the hardships in SE Asia for men, women and children–just as for so much of the developing world. You rarely hear of the conditions men suffer. That is hardly making light of the plight of women. I have no idea why you should so object to acknowledging men also suffering the harshness of poverty.

            Emotional Scars Of Modern Slavery Run ‘Deeper Than Any Visible Wound’

            Personally, I try not to judge what others may critically think or say of me on issues where we may disagree–it’s just another opinion. But I’m gonna stick with the belief that overall, MOST human beings prefer admiring the beauty of women. Sorry you weren’t able to hear the jest meant about not winning the camera.

            I’ll just leave it at that. Wish you well.

  7. David,

    Beautiful woman, beautiful portrait, fabulous lighting. Wonderful, heart warming image. That’s why I follow you David…

    And yes, I agree with Scott, beautiful words.

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