Finding Freedom in a Turkana Desert

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The white goat next to me was looking at me with sympathy. Am serious. Its hollow eyes were staring down at me with a clear 'poor guy' look.

I was sitting cross legged, leaning on the rough metallic walls of the truck. In the center of the truck were nearly thirty goats that were being transported from one remote Turkana village to another even more remote village. I was on my way to Kaikor to lay the groundwork of a work camp for international volunteers. Together with me was Samuel, the then Director of Kenya Voluntary Development Association, where I was volunteering at the time.

My pale eyes were struggling to stay open. I raised my dusty right hand and placed it on my equally dusty forehead. It was almost as if it was in an open air oven. My fever was sky high. All my joints felt as if someone was hammering them into pain with every passing minute. It didn't help matters that the truck had to make its own road as it roared on. There was no road or even footpath, so we were just romping along the wide, cracked and angry desert terrain. It was by far the bumpiest ride that I had ever experienced in the twenty-two years of my life.

Strangely, even though I was under the attack of malaria and sitting on the truck’s hot, dusty floor next to anxious, bleating goats, I felt free. Where else can you sit cross-legged next to an army of goats? Here, there was no etiquette to adhere to. I could just be myself. It is no wonder that Samuel my colleague was actually sleeping in the midst of the bumpy ride and bleating goats. His balding head was resting on his arms that were in turn resting on his knees. Every bump would throw his head an inch higher, so it was as if he kept nodding in his sleep. At one point, a large black goat with sharp horns approached him and surveyed him, wondering who could afford to sleep in such circumstances!

After a ten-hour ride from Lodwar, we finally arrived in Kaikor village, the venue of the forthcoming work camp. It had taken us ten hours to cover a distance of 160 kilometers! This was by far the slowest, yet most exciting road trip that I had ever taken.

Every bone in my body creaked as I stood up and descended from the truck. When I set foot into Turkana for the first time ever, I felt free. It was dusk and in the far distance, as far as my pale brown eyes could see, there was nothing but rocks, sand and the occasional thorn tree. I felt like taking a walk into this inviting desert and spending the night under a thorn tree. But all I could do at that time was to slither into a traditional mud-walled Turkana house and attempt to sleep in the midst of my malaria.

My head disappeared into a thin, bare mattress that was soon absorbing liters of my sweat. The only sound I could hear was the whistling nighttime breeze that was surprisingly cold.

The following morning, I did what I had wanted to do the previous evening. Despite my aching joints, I trudged towards a thorn tree that I could see in the distance. I was wearing akala, the open sandals that are made from car tyre. My sleeveless green top was still spotless but I knew that it would be quite dusty within minutes. Although it was only 9AM, the sun was blazing, the heat stifling. It didn't help that my fever was still high and I hadn't taken any medicine because the nearby Kaikor clinic had run out of malaria drugs.

Sweating profusely, partly because of the fever and partly because of the heat, I leaned on a lanky thorn tree and looked around me. Rocks. Small, rocks and big rocks. They dotted the sea of sand that was everywhere. It felt as if I could walk for months and see nothing but the rocks and sand. There would be no television to steal my attention and no internet to devour my time. I would be free from all mechanical things and just lie in the bosom of nature.

I would even be free from time itself.

I bent low and picked a small smooth stone. I knew that scattered for hundreds of kilometers all around me were such small stones. Some of them were smooth like a baby’s skin while others were rough with pimples all around them. I scooped two such rough stones and squeezed them into the palm of my right hand. It felt as if they were squeezing me back. At that moment, it was just me, two small rough stones, a thorn tree and the embrace of a desert.

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