The features reporter on one of Kenya’s TV stations is interviewing an old man siting on a low wooden stool. He wears a battered hat that was, seemingly, once red. In the background, a grass thatched hut, then nothing for miles. The man's fingers, looking as tired as the rest of the body, hang limply from the hand that rests on his knee.
Man: This is the worst drought I have seen in my life. I have no water, no food. I wish I owned a bicycle, at least then, the nearest water point would not seem so far. The next rains, if they ever come, will not find me. (He gazes at the sky, as if pleading with some higher force, then drops his head)
It last rained here in March, and even then, the milliliters were not anything to write home about. The drought situation in Kilifi County down at the coast is dire. There is no end in sight.
When you read Bessie Head’s ‘Looking for a rain God,’ man’s will to survive against the forces of nature tug at your heart, when nature remains merciless and unrelenting even after the main character’s family sacrifice their children in order to appease the rain god. Surely, is the rain god on vacation? Is he/she deaf?
As I watched the hour long feature, my mind wandered to March 2015. I was on location in Samburu County up north, on a work trip. The rivers had dried up. It was survival for the fittest. I captured the following images at the Samburu National Reserve, where the Ewaso Nyiro River had succumbed to to scorching heat that still wouldn’t relent, in spite of the damage it had already done.
The cracking belly of the Ewaso Nyiro River in Samburu, Kenya
I stood there, wiling my feet to listen and feel for some water. To draw some from underneath...
Elephant tracks…they had been here too, looking for water…
…as had the goats (notice the elephant dung)
And lions too
The elephants often do the digging, but man had beaten them to it this time. The Samburus keep huge herds of cattle, a symbol of their wealth. They will therefore do everything possible to keep them alive during these prolonged droughts, including digging up small waterholes on the dried belly of the Ewaso Nyiro. The thorns keep other wild animals at bay, but not the elephants. An elephant can drink up to 500 gallons of water a day. The humans were lucky to find any left for them and their livestock.
Babies born during the drought have a 50/50 chance at life. They depend solely on the mother’s milk for survival. Mother must feed well to produce sufficient milk, basically eating for two. How can this be, when there is barely enough for one? She will feed her infant till she can’t, and only then, will she give up. Until then, she will roam the vast lands till she finds an oasis of comfort.
Today, with the people of Kilifi, Samburu and other parts of Kenya starving to death, we look to THE rain God and pray, “Please, Bring us rain.”