A day of rest was all we needed.  I felt better and Kura was ready to move.

Mama Rungu and Kura in Gumps, racing across the Kaisut Desert. Photo by David duChemin

It is hard for people who have left villages like Korr to then return home.  The cultural expectation to provide support and money to others is overwhelming.  At each village we visit, it does not take long before a group gathers, mostly men, who sit on the ground at a respectful distance.  Kura tells me that many of the former residents of Korr never come home, the pressure is too much.  But Kura, as BOMA’s Operations Director, travels to the region once a month.  And each time he comes back poorer, handing out small amounts of money in equal shares to those in need and to those who are just persistent as hell.  He finally tells one of his cousins, “Look, I am not an ATM machine.  I cannot give you money every time I come to Korr.”  His cousin leaves, clearly not happy, but the name for Kura sticks.  For the next few days, we call Kura ATM.

The camaraderie of travel encourages nicknames and Kura is not the only one so anointed.  Omar, who has on occasion eaten a few packages of Plumpy Nuts, the malnutrition food distributed to at-risk children, is duly crowned. The fact that Omar is rail-thin makes the name even more meaningful.   David is Akeno, a royal sounding Rendille name, and Corwin is Korweya, meaning from Korr (they obviously want him back).  A few years ago, I was dubbed Robeya, meaning green, by the people of Korr, as my arrival in Korr always seemed to precede a downpour of rain.  Semeji remains Semeji.  I guess you don’t give the guy with a machine gun a nickname.

During our drives, Corwin has spurred on multiple conversations about weapons, ironic for a man who comes from a Mennonite pacifist family.  I talk fondly of my first BB gun, given to me by my Dad, and Corwin tells us about the time he made a bazooka out of a golf bag.  All this conversation fuels the testosterone for our race across the Kaisut Desert.  It comes down to Akeno driving the Defender with Korweya and crew (including Maina the mechanic) vs Robeya, ATM, Plumpy Nuts and Semeji.  All the trash talk about Land Rover vs Landcruiser has come to this.  Game on.

Well, sort of.  Not two miles into the desert the Defender wobbles.  Game off.  A slow leaking flat on the right rear tire has the vehicle fishtailing through the sand. Maina breaks out the compressor in hopes that this will solve the problem.   Game on.  ATM and I take off, but not before David snaps some photos of us racing across the hard-packed clay and sand.  We keep going, dust flying, careening between the random stands of young acacias, screaming to a halt under the Mama Rungu tree.  Duly dubbed after my first attempt to cross the Kaisut which resulted in two exploded tires and a day sulking under the tree, this is the location for our traditional team photo. We wait.  No Akeno.  No Defender.

After a good while, ATM and I decide to drive back along the track.  Semeji and Plumpy Nuts and our assorted other passengers stay at the tree.  We drive for almost 20 minutes.  Uh-oh.   Finally we come upon the Defender, cocked to one side as Maina attempts to change the tire in the soft sand.  Maina gets the tire fixed enough so that the vehicle can make it to Loglogo for repairs.  But the game is off.  “Felt like driving a tractor,” says Akeno.

As consolation, Semeji takes us behind the Mama Rungu tree for a little target practice with the AK47.  This also leads to some very incriminating photos.  But it keeps the adrenaline flowing