It’s a beehive in my head. Well…isn’t it always?
But this is different. Usually, the energy trickles all the way to my pinky toe. Not today though. Today it feels like someone packed me in a sack, tied a knot at the top and tossed it in the back of a groaning rickety truck with the potatoes!
In a manner of speaking, this is kind of what happened!
Ours wasn’t a rickety lorry. But on that bumpy road to Baragoi, it might as well have been. We churned so much, I think my breakfast turned to ghee. It was hot, so we kept the windows open. Rolled them up each time a vehicle approached with a cloud of dust. Four windows and four passengers…let’s just say the response wasn’t always timely. Lots of dust settled in my hair. Going by the observations of the others. Of course, they couldn’t see their own hair!
What we all saw, was endless road. I didn’t realize there were so many different versions of the question “How much farther?”
Thankfully, the spirit of adventure got the better of us. Amid the gaps of silence and the cracks of laughter, Samburu sprawled on before our eyes.
There were stretches (or blips) of road that had been selectively leveled – the way the car glided smoothly over them…sheer bliss. Then there were stretches of road, rough like you wouldn’t believe. Then there were spots of road, so rough they brought the car to a near stop.
We knew instinctively, that these were the black spots. The crevices where armed morans lurked patiently in wait. Nerve racking moments, if ever there were any!
There were moments when we stuck our phones out of the window to snap pixels of memory. The scenery before us was that beautiful. There were moments when the driver slowed down and we shuttered away. Then there were stretches when he simply shook his head and drove on.
“People don’t stop here.”
We knew not to ask for an explanation.
“On your left is the Suguta Valley.”
“Where the -?” Someone starts to ask
“Where 37 police officers were ambushed and killed. Yes.”
The fear in the car is now palpable.
“But the exact spot of the ambush is far from here.” He adds quickly.
Relief buoys open our chests. We amble on, neck on neck with the infamous valley. Signs of life are few and far in between. Flocks of animals running amok – seemingly without shepherds.
“Just hit a goat and see what happens.” The driver remarks.
Sure enough, we find dotted along the lonely road, sprinkles of shuka-clad morans. Sometimes lone; sometimes in groups of three or four. Sometimes leaning on sticks; sometimes seated on rocks. They seem harmless. But for a small detail- the AK 47 rifles hanging from their shoulders or resting passively by their sides. Harmless. Almost.
The journey continues, the sharp breaths and the stark beauty continue too. We vow to take better pictures on the way back. Finally, the annoying question begets an affirmative answer
“Yes. We are in Baragoi.”
Nothing could have prepared us for this deceptively quiet town. The air is so beautifully fresh. The food is delicious. The people look on curiously as we stroll past. We look curiously at the wooded slopes just beyond the town. Numerous battles have been fought there, numerous lives lost.
We retreat reluctantly to our rooms. The taps are dry, but the lights are on. For a scary moment, I notice movement just outside my scanty curtain. I freeze, my eyes glued to the window.
“It’s just a shaking tree branch!” I heave. The night is poised to be long.
In the morning, we visit the monument erected in honor of The fallen Officers. A fresh unit of Officers has just arrived. They are dressed in full body armor; one cannot help but stand in awe of them.
“It is not easy but we do it.” The Commanding Officer tells us. The conflict pits friend against friend. Age mates. Neighbors. But during a raid, they suddenly become the Pokots VS the Turkanas or the Samburus. Sworn enemies.
“Is there hope that the conflict will end?”
“There is hope.” He says. “Change is slow, but change is coming.”
I look at him. I see his brave smile. And I believe him. I have to believe him.
There is hope. There has to be.