Sunday, October 31, 2010

North Eastern Travels

I recently got the chance to travel beyond Garissa on a job field trip, and got to see a different side of the world. We drove all the way down to Garsen, along the Somali border towns (border like 20 km away for security reasons) and up all the way to Wajir and Garba Tulla for a week, G4S security escort with armed APs ;-) in tow.

Some interesting tit bits about this side of Kenya:
- We arrived just before 6 p.m. only to find a curfew in place due to clan fighting. Not exactly the welcome we were waiting to hear, and we had to search for a hotel room at record pace.
- Garissa is a larger version of Eastleigh, main mode of transport is Toyota DX, Fielder, Probox and Caldina. Useful models for transporting all sorts of things...
- Popular dish of rice, spaghetti and nyama in the down to earth local joints. Was spectacular watching one of the wariahs tackle it kwa mkono, mad skills kama mluhya na ugali!!!!
- Tarmac exists significantly around the main town centre, but there is where it ends. However, there are some road construction projects by NYS (remember the donated Chinese equipment) along the Bura - Garsen road and by the army towards Hulugho.
- Wajir is much smaller but seems to have major strategic importance for some superpower. I recall approaching the airport and it has a fully solid gate (can't see inside) and soldiers with gun detecting equipment (remember some trial in Nairobi) pointing their gadgets at us. Wonder why they can't get one of those for JKIA...
- Still wonder how Garba Tulla was ever ranked as a National School!!! I saw the town and it is so run down. Guess moving the district headquarters to Isiolo town was the death knell for this place.
- Got my first desert experience. So this is how Courage the cowardly dog feels in the middle of nowhere!!!

- Network coverage is scanty for YU and non-existent for Orange beyond Garissa town.
- Despite all this, aspects of rural development can be seen especially from CDF. Revival of TARDA irrigation schemes at Hola and Garsen is quite impressive, as well as rural electrification projects. And some army built suspension bridges are a spectacular sight. Water tanks for the settlements seem to be the most important aspect, as sorry sights of women and children with jerricans begging road users for water were quite frequent.
- Got to see the refugee camps in Hargaderra, Ifo and Dagahaley. NGOs have set up strong bases in these areas, and it was interesting to see local nissan mathrees with Somali number plates.
- Any talk of sending chiefs home should be silenced until counties can set up grassroot administration systems. Clearly rural Kenya is far from accessing basic government services without the provincial administration. And insecurity in that volatile area is more emphasized by that. As for Somalia, only peace will help sort out the refugee situation that has overwhelmed Kenya.

All in all, was a very eye opening trip. Basic needs like water and electricity should never be taken for granted. Guess governors for this side of Kenya will have a great opportunity to lift standards of living in the short term.

PS: On a lighter note, got to check out the famous place along the Machakos - Kangundo road (Lat 1.4263 deg South, Long 37.2401 deg East) that defies gravity. While I'm sure some technical explanation like spartial dispersion might explain it, was the most surreal feeling putting the Patrol on free at the bottom of a hill and it went up hill for like 15 feet!!!

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Monday, October 04, 2010

Magical Kenya


Call it Gaita or any other name, this is one of the most magical Kenyan events any local tourist should check out. I got the priviledge of attending my pal's (campus and now workmate) event. Being a cross-cultural union, the interchanges were mostly in Swahili. And boy were they well choreographed, you'd think these guys have been doing this for ages (actually they have).

After lunch, the guests are welcomed by the lady's family spokesman (let's call him Spokesman L) who asks the visitors to state their intentions. The guy's family spokesman gives thanks for the hearty meal then proceeds to state that their young man has been scouring the land and has seen "good things" in that part of the country, so has brought his kin to see for themselves.

Every exchange is coupled by hearty laughter and sniggles. Spokesman L politely informs the visitors that there are many "good things" in this land and they should identify who their young man is and which "good thing" he has seen. So the young man is called forward (he is wearing a suit - have never seen him in a suit) and points to a corner where the lady is seated. Of course Spokesman L informs him that there are many people in that direction, so he goes and picks her out and brings her to the front. Great cheers from the dude's side!!!

Spokesman L acknowledges the two and proceeds to ask the Lady if she agrees to be identified as a "good thing" which she does. More cheers from the dude's side. Then Spokesman L allows both to sit. He then proceeds to acknowledge that the lady has been identified as a "good thing", and SHOCKINGLY states that if there was nothing else on the agenda, the guests are free to leave.

Ieery silence follows. Spokesman D (for dude) interjects politely. He states that since the crowd is large and there are "children" about, a select few would want to meet with a select few inside for talks. The "selected" went inside for talks and we the "children" were left outside to continue with what it is we were continuing...

We overheard and saw sequences of singing, clapping and outdoor deliberations over certain pieces of paper then much later, crates of sodas were ferried in (something akin to white smoke) by the dude's family. Finally we had votes of thanks from both sides as to a successful event.

Nothing like a Kenyan cultural festival to whet the appetite for a local tourist. Only challenging issue was the miriad questions posed to my girlfriend as to when will people be visiting her home!!!

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