Gumps and the Defender at the base of the mountains in Ngurunit

The road from Ndikir to Ngurunit is one of the worst in the district.  Last November I drove this road in the dark, plowing through sand that was at times three feet deep.  The sand was so deep that it would come over the hood of the truck, necessitating the use of windshield wipers.  This time, we take a detour to avoid the worst stretches of the road but we still hit deep sand and our progress is punctuated by sickening bangs that shudder the entire vehicle.

The state of the roads in northern Kenya and the capacity of schools and clinics to educate and medicate are a barometer of the interest that the central government has for the entire upper half of the country.  While there have been nominal attempts to provide infrastructure (the Chinese recently built the first paved road in the region) northern Kenya is still regarded as a vast wasteland inhabited by economically insignificant populations of nomadic pastoralists.  The recent census of the region is still incomplete, but we know that at least 50,000 people live in the Laisamis and Karare region where BOMA works, an area larger than the country of Rwanda.

While we drive we pass out our finished water bottles to the wandering herders which we refill with local water.  Some of the herders are boys and girls as young as eight years old.  As we approach the village of Ngurunit you can’t help but notice the red paint slashes on most of the acacia trees, the result of local legislation that stipulates a penalty if a tree is cut down.  The outcome is a village that is a shaded glen of trees providing shade for the residents and browse for the many camels in the region.

We stop for lunch in the middle of Ngurunit at Kura’s Uncle’s house.  Ismail, and his wife, Amran, have 12 children, ages 25 to 2, and they now run a hotel in town, serving lunch and dinner.  Ismail gives us a warm welcome, grinning and smiling the whole time.  He is a curious and animated bundle, his energy fueled in part by his fixation on chewing miraa, a local stimulant.  His habit has darkened his few remaining teeth and it is hard not to look at him without staring at the large black holes in his mouth.  His warmth for his nephew, however, and for all of us, is heartwarming and we all feel very welcome.  Within minutes, warming pots of rice, ugali, stew and chapatis are placed on a low table.  One of Ismail’s sons brings a pitcher of water that is poured over our hands in a traditional hand-washing ritual.  The water is caught in a bowl under our clean hands.  Seated on plastic chairs in the dusty yard, surrounded by chickens and goats and the ubiquitous onlookers, we become temporary members of another hospitable African village.