Friday, March 24, 2006

Kenya - "The Last Town"

Isiolo, Kenya
The drive from Mt. Kenya to Samburu is fantastic, I love this part of Kenya, best appreciated from ground level, though most visitors tend to fly over, missing so much of the heart of Kenya.
The paved road leads north through Nanyuki, Timau, and on to Isiolo, the “last town”, where the pavement ends. The town is divided down the main road with Muslims on the west and Christians on the east. Although still a full day’s journey away by dirt road, the next frontier beyond town is the border to Ethiopia. Throughout the day, Ethiopians and Somalians arrive into Isiolo with truckloads of goods, and camels, to trade.
The town hosts a regional market where livestock is bought and sold, along with other necessities of food, clothing and bangles…yes, bangles….plenty of bangles “for a cheap price”. The street is crawling with people. There are nomadic Masai herdsmen in red, Muslim women draped in black, privileged teens in school uniforms, vendors in traded western t-shirts and baseball caps, and tiny children in nothing. A city boy bikes past with a goat in his basket heading to market. A vibrantly dressed woman prepares the bananas to hang in her stall just so. Mothers tote babies wrapped in swaths of color. Muslim women cower behind veils. Christian women daunt their baubles. And in the street, they all mix, mingle, and co-exist; blind to tribe, nationality and religion.
This is life. Everyday life in the town of Isiolo, and we pass slowly through as the vendors harass our vehicle and the children dare a curious glance. Our white minivan and white skin are as much of a spectacle for the people of this town as their lives are for us.
Just beyond the livestock market, the road becomes dirt and the mud hut bomas start to appear in small clusters. More nomadic goat herders, more wayward children, more babies peeking out from swaddles on their mothers backs. Skinny legs…knobby knees…begin to prevail. These are a different people with beautiful features, not so beautiful dispositions.
They are the Ethiopians and Somalians. Some have traveled the entire day clinging to the top of a truck piled high with goods and covered in tarps. Some have journeyed even longer by camel with only trinkets to trade. Some have been here too long and will never make the journey home. Not so many smiles here. No waves. No broken English efforts. No words at all. But they will watch us and look at us, turning their heads as the minivan passes. What eyes. What a gaze….absolutely penetrating. They stare right through me, and wonder about my life as I watch theirs from behind my glass. I cannot tell if they detest me or admire me. Perhaps it is both. I gaze back with my green eyes, wishing if only I had more time…a week…a month…a year…a lifetime…to spend in Isiolo.

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