Approaching the Ngurunit airstrip

In a few days, I’ll be leading a safari for St. Lawrence University. My friend Sarah, who will be joining the trip, arrived a few days early to visit Northern Kenya and see BOMA’s work. Sarah was a trouper. After a long flight from Chicago to London to Nairobi, she arrived at the hotel at 10:30 p.m. Our Safarilink flight was scheduled to depart at 8 a.m. the next day.

By the time we arrived at Wilson Airport, it was already busy. Wilson is also the departure point for humanitarian flights to Loki, Sudan and the now-infamous refugee camp for Somali refugees — Dadaab. We watched as supplies, medical equipment, food and aid workers were loaded onto two huge planes. Then a film crew arrived and another plane was filled. The aid business is also big business.

We waited on the tarmac, inhaling jet fumes and wishing for ear plugs. Finally it was our turn to depart. Our small plane had seven passengers and we touched down at two other airstrips — deplaning intrepid safari travelers to remote camps in the Samburu and Shaba region. As soon as we landed in Nanyuki, our bags were transferred to a smaller plane. We shook hands with the pilot, climbed aboard and strapped in — headphones and microphones at the ready so we could speak to each other. In minutes we were airborne, heading north.

This was only my second time to fly over northern Kenya, and I was struck once again by the raw beauty of the landscape. Fractured volcanic mountains stood in stark contrast to the vast open spaces of desert and scrub brush. But for the occasional circle of Samburu or Rendille villages, the land looked uninhabited. I was looking down on an ancient untamed wilderness.

The pilot buzzed the Ngurunit airstrip, checking for stray livestock or wildlife. As we flew over, I could see BOMA’s vehicle — Gumps — and the BOMA field team – Kura, Semeji and Omar. The landing was surprisingly smooth.  A group of women who participate in our Rural Entrepreneur Access Project (REAP) were there to greet us with songs. All were wearing the same bright kanga cloth – a sign of solidarity and relative prosperity. Sarah was adorned with necklaces and I could pick out the words “Mama Rungu” in some of the songs. Finally, I was back in Northern Kenya.