Everyone I asked about how to get to Lake Turkana from Suguta Marmar had the same response, “Nani huenda huko” which is swahili for, “who goes there?” I thus opted to proceeed to Maralal town hoping to get help there seeing as it is a big town. After several failed attempts, we found a lady who was honest enough to tell us why no one was helping our pursuit. She spoke to us like a worried mother and said, ” Wasichana wenye huenda huko ni wasichana wanaenda na wanaume wazungu ama wazee” which translates to,” the girls who travel there are those who are travelling with male foreigners or old men.” (Ouch). However, I think just seeing the look in our eyes, the backpacks on our backs and the lack of foreign or old men around us, seemed to settle her and she informed us that we would need to take a matatu/minivan to Baragoi and then ask around from there.
We were lucky to get the few available seats on the minivan called matatus and we would cover 102 km. At the bus stop we met with several ladies all decked in traditional Turkana regalia and I was excited at the prospect of living among them.The little I knew of Baragoi was that it is a dry area, harsh terrain, the area faces banditry and cattle rustling and the area is dominated by the Turkana community. However, the extent of the security threat was made a reality when the matatu/minivan was boarded by several armed personnel, as the vehicles need to be escorted. My heart missed several beats but I was grateful for their presence.
The terrain is quite interesting and I was shocked to actually pass through various areas that were green and farming was ongoing. The landscape is beautiful as you move from bare land to savanna and back to bare land. We met several young men “morans” grazing cattle en-route and in some cases these young men were armed. My heart would skip several beats and I would remember all the insecurity cases we had heard about. This is one of the cases I would question myself, question my sanity and even question my choice of travel destinations. These men did not in any way threaten us and the most they would do was to wave at the matatu/minivan and continue grazing. We eventually made it to Baragoi with no incidence though we were tired, dusty and our bones rattled due to the condition of the road.
Interaction with the locals
The occurrence of insecurity prevalence has made the people living here to be very cautious and they seemed to be on high alert. Our arrival in the area was met with a lot of curiosity and we could see people eyeing us. I didn’t get to interact with the locals as much as I would have liked because of this but, I am grateful for those who shared their life with us. The below lady was amazing, she took time to share with me about their culture and even allowed me to enjoy being dressed up like a Turkana lady, forever grateful.
Fashion is important
The ladies wear neck pieces that extend towards the top of the neck.This is achieved by wearing several layers of beaded neck pieces made of wire braces that enable the neck pieces to stay upright. For the married women, there is a metal ring that has a wooden block attached in the middle that is a sign that the lady is married. Their earpieces are also quite a sight, large, decorated and made of steel which made them look very beautiful.
You will find the young girls having their hair cut off on the sides and braided to look like a mohawk, with some having red ochre applied/dyed on it. Truly, Africa is the trend setter on all things fashion and mohawk was definitely borrowed from the Turkana.
They practice pastoralism and thus livestock ranging from cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys and donkeys are revered. The men will mostly be seen walking around with ekicholong which is both a seat and a head rest and polygamy is the norm. Their homes are called manyattas but are made more from reeds or what looked like reeds which are constructed by women.
Take time to walk around to get a better understanding of the area.This area is somewhat dry, somewhat green. We were able to see lots of goats and camels, but it was sad to walk through a dry river known as “laga”. It was also disheartening to see the hand dug wells dry. This is the first time I saw containers that are used for distribution of relief food, sad, sad indeed.
Donkeys are the main means of transportation here and carry everything from firewood to water.
Baragoi is indeed a place with many secrets and I hope I have demystified it a bit. I hope I can return and hopefully this time, the people will not be weary of me. I would like to learn more about their culture and live more among them. I am however happy to have experienced what I did especially their culture.
There are two matatus/minivans daily from Maralal town with the last one supposed to leave at 12p.m. If you miss it, you will have to travel the next day. Kindly note, do not be in a hurry as cases of delay occur which in our case was 4 hours. Yes, we left at 4 p.m and sat in the matatu the whole time as once we sat, the whole walkway was packed with luggage and thus we could not disembark. Make sure you buy your ticket early and have a head/face cover to protect you from the sand. We also discovered that Baragoi is the last stop for all PSVs on that route. We were then advised to head to Loiyangalani from there and thus for more of this escapade, check out:
Suguta Marmar and Maralal :http://wangechigitahi.co.ke/exploring-suguta-marmar-and-maralal/
Challenges faced: http://wangechigitahi.co.ke/challenges-of-backpacking-northern-kenya/