You might have read or heard about it as I do. Meanwhile, the whole story remains as a mere narrative in my mind. I have to go and see it myself. I will also let you know the truth. I have organized my team to start a journey to Kajiado county; a pastoral land. Rumor has it that the area is very dry, some parts of it showing no sign of life. Let me go and confirm this for you.
My team is ready and we therefore have to start the journey. We are properly equipped with cameras, notebooks, pens and other equipment. We want to capture everything that will give us the true picture of the situation in Oloitoktok district. Our journey begins in Nairobi and ends in Oloitoktok in Kajiado county. It is a journey of at least three hours.
We are along the famous Mombasa road. The road is famous for the traffic jam usually experienced in odd hours. The road is always busy with large tracks coming from Mombasa and Nairobi making life difficult for people in a hurry like ourselves. We meanwhile have to endure the jam because we anyway have to get to Oloitoktok.
A two hour drive along the Mombasa road lands us in Emali. The town seems to be growing very fast. New constructions are coming up and business is thriving. The town is strategically located to target motorists from Mombasa and Nairobi. Hawkers are milling on the highway to trade their fruits, vegetables and grains. It is a busy town with every sign of life being portrayed, although the temperatures seem to be hotter than in Nairobi.
A few meters from the town center is a diversion which connects us to the Emali-Oloitoktok road. It is a distance of around 100kms. It is not far for us because we have to get to our destination. The road seems to be very fresh and well maintained. A chap we meet on the way tells us that it was tarmacked during the former president Kibaki’s tenure. Thank God he did it. We are told that the road used to be rough and motorists could spend nights on the road during the rainy season when their cars got stuck in mud.
There are very large tracks of land along this way. I am not sure who owns them because there is no single homestead I have spotted so far. There is no sign of life here. These lands are extremely dry. Although the road seems to be very smooth, there are a very few vehicles on it. There is no sign of vegetation in the lands; only some few malnourished shrubs where a few birds are hanging from. The birds seems not to know the situation of the area; they are busy making their sweet melodies. This is the only thing that makes us realize that life can thrive in this area.
I wish somebody built even a single hut to give this area a wonderful sight. “How can a road stretch of more than 70kms lack even a single filling station?” This is the question I am asking myself. But then, who can risk setting up a multi-million filling station in a place that seems like nothing can survive? The place is extremely dry. The more we drive, the more the aridity status of the area intensifies. My urge to get to Oloitoktok now escalates. I just want to reach this place to see how the condition is like.
After a long drive along the road, we are surprised to see a herd a cattle crossing the road, at about 400 meters from where we are. We have to speed to get a glimpse of the passing cattle. We slow down to let them cross. I used to hear that you should never knock an animal from a pastoral community. This might deny you a chance to continue living. You definitely understand what I mean here. These people value their animals more than themselves.
The cattle looks emaciated; there is no sign of life in them. It is only skin hanging from their skeletons that show a sign of life in them . We are not able to communicate with the herdsmen due to communication barrier. They can only speak in ‘Kimasai’, none of us comes from the Maasai community. As we continue with our journey, we can learn that the situation remains the same all the way. Abandoned large tracks of land looking brown. Or what is the color of soil? Don’t worry, I am color blind, but you definitely get my point; No vegetation. So all the stories I have heard about this region are true? I conclude.
An almost one and a half hour drive lands us to Kimana in Oloitoktok district. Its late and we have to spend the night here. We have a lot of work to do tomorrow. Since we do not own any house here, we have to look for a lodging. The town seems to be thriving business wise. We cannot lack a place to spend the night.
Its morning and we have to do what brought us here. The early morning sun rays feel awesome on my skin. I have already started enjoying life in Kimana. I can now see old and young men wearing ‘shukas’ with sandles on their feet, beaded bracelets hanging from their neck. From where I come from, ‘shukas’ are worn by women. Anyway, it’s their culture. I have to respect it. You can’t stop looking at them, they look funny, don’t they?
It is very early in the morning and the town seems to be very busy. It is a beehive of activities with people moving from one place to the other. We meet an old mzee holding a rungu in one hand and a jerrican in the other hand. I greet him but he does not seem to understand a word I said. I am not shocked. He might not be understanding any other language apart from his mother tongue. We meanwhile need to talk to natives of Kimana in order to get a clear information of the water situation in the area. We are not losing hope.
We come across a middle aged woman, a baby hanging from her shoulders. On her back is a “Ngunia”- I am not sure what it contains. I greet her and she replies in Swahili. My heart is now full of joy. We can at least communicate. She tells us that she comes from Kimana and this is the place she calls home and this is the place she lives with her family. She tells us that Kimana is a very nice place to live in but water scarcity is a nightmare to residents.
There are no sources of water that one can drink without having to boil it first. It is contaminated and therefore not healthy for drinking. I ask her where she gets water for domestic use and she tells me that in Kimana, water is not classified-the water they drink is the same water they use for other purposes like cleaning clothes. Herself and other people of her status fetch water from a nearby river. They have no option. She tells me that even though there are some vendors who sell water, most of the time she cannot afford to buy it since her income is very low. I ask her where she is headed to and why the town seems to be too busy; people thronging in from all directions. She tells me that it is Tuesday, and market day in the town, Kimana. She has also come to sell bracelets. It is from this business that she earns a living. Before she leaves, she tells us that waterborne diseases are very rampant in the area and other places like Oloitokitok town.
Our interactions with different people we meet in the town proves to us that water is indeed a problem to many. They are all talking the same language of water scarcity. Even though some of them are running well established business units, they cannot forget to mention to us the challenge water scarcity poses to their lives.
It is around 10:00am and the town is becoming hotter and hotter. It is like the sun has tilted downwards. I am no longer enjoying the sun rays. We now have to cross over to Oloitoktok town where we are told that its condition is almost the same as the one at Kimana. It is about 15kms distance from Kimana.
A few minutes drive and we are now standing at the heart of Oloitoktok town. The town seems lively. Business is going on very well. You can hardly realize the problems residents here are going through unless you talk to them. The town is also hot. From where I am standing, I can see the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro; the sight is awesome.
We have come across a mango vendor. We have to talk to her. To get her attention, we have to buy some mangoes. She only introduces herself as Tabitha. She comes from Akamba community but Oloitokitok has been her home for over 15 years now. She came here in search of ‘greener pastures’.
Tabitha is very talkative. She cannot stop laughing, making our interaction interesting. I have picked one mango, ready to get it peeled. To my surprise, she goes ahead to peel it even before cleaning it. She tells me that ‘ I cleaned it yesterday.’ I am shocked! But why?! It should be cleaned just before peeling it! Anyway, I cannot force her to clean it. The stories I heard before might have been true. There might be a reason why she has opted not to clean it.
I ask her where she gets water to clean her mangoes. She tells me that water scarcity in Oloitoktok is a thorny issue. There are no sources of water. She gets water from water vendors in the town. She has to buy this commodity and the price is not that friendly. She tells us that she knows of only two sources of water. One is a borehole drilled at the DCs place and the other one is a dam in the forest; on the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The dam is kilometers away and therefore not an easy task to get water from it. Many people therefore opt to buy water from the vendors.
When I ask her of the location of the borehole, she does not seem to know where it is; all she knows is that the water vendors go for water at the borehole. She tells us that the only problem they have here is water and things used to be a bit tough before the borehole was started.
A few meters from Tabitha’s kiosk, we come across a tuktuk loaded with jerricans of water. The owner introduces himself as Sakunda. He tells us that he uses it to supply water to the residents. He informs us that he usually gets water either from the borehole at the DCs place or from the forest.
“The cost of water here depends on the distance covered and the capacity of the jerricans used. For example; 20 litre jerricans of water goes for between Ksh 15-20”, says Sakunda.
To our surprise, he is the only water vendor who uses tuktuk in Oloitoktok town. The rest of the vendors either use donkeys or bicycles. He tells us that the business offer him some good returns since he can navigate the region properly by use of the tuktuk-this is his advantage over the donkey and bicycle vendors.
Sakunda tells us that, even though the borehole is there, water is still a problem in the town and the surrounding areas. The water is not enough for the residents. He also says that when there is no power, he cannot distribute water to his customers since water pumping requires electricity. He tells us that he is on his way to the borehole site. He gives us directions to the site and assures us that it is not far from the town.
He tells us that we will see donkeys headed to the direction and we should follow them. We have spotted a donkey and decides to follow it. To our amazement, it leads us to a homestead in the interior parts of the town. We have spotted another with its owner, jerricans loaded in the cart it is pulling. It must be headed to the water point, I assume. A young and energetic man is the owner of the donkey and introduces himself as Samuel.
We ask him where the borehole they get water from is and he offers to accompany us to the place since he is also headed there. Step by step we walk, discussing this and that. Samuel tells us that he has been in the water vending business for over nine year. It is the business that he depends on to sustain his family.
He is an interesting guy you cannot stop enquiring more and more information from. He tells us that the borehole was drilled by the national government but was later sold to an individual when the government was “unable to run it”. This is the reason why the water is not being sold at the DCs place. It has been conveyed by use of pipes to a place far from the DCs place; where water distribution center has been set.
For Samuel, water vending business is booming in the area since the place is dry. There are no streams or rivers that can serve people with water for long. The area receives very short rains around October and the water collected cannot serve people for a whole year. He tell us that, “If water problem in Oloitoktok can be solved, then residents here can enjoy life like Nairobi people”. A few minutes walk leads us to the water distribution center. Here, we meet other young men loading water to their donkey carts and other others on motorbikes. The story of water scarcity in the Oloitoktok is being shared by every person at the water distribution center.
Our journey to this region ends in Ngama, a few minutes drive from Oloitokitok town. It’s an arid land. The soil is hot, you cannot step on it barefooted. I can feel its hotness inside my shoes. Residents here also share the same story.-water scarcity. Some of them depend on borehole water delivered to them by water vendors who use donkeys to ferry it. The vendors get the water from Illasit, a few kilometers from here. Those who are not lucky enough to afford coins to buy the water, have to get the commodity from a spring in the area; they call it “Karima”. It is located down a valley.
At the spring, we meet 2 young men; Lemayian and Sabore. They have come to fetch water. Lemayian seems to be a bit interactive and we therefore decide to talk to him. He tells us that the water comes from the rocks around. Its origin is Mt. Kilimanjaro. The water was trapped by a catholic bishop in1997. Lemayian explains to us that even before the construction at the site was done, people used to fetch water, they had to collect it from the ground. The pathways were very slippery and one could easily fall.
The bishop tapped the water in such a way that, people can now access it before it flows to the surface. For Lemayian, the spring is the only sources of water he knows. He tells us that he uses the water to do all the domestic chores including drinking and cooking. The spring offer people a ‘cheap’ source of water since they get is free. Lemayian tells us that there are people who walk for over 4kms to get the water. Before we are done with our interaction, Lemayian tells us that if somebody taps the water through pipes and takes it to places where people can access it easily, many people would benefit from it.
We have concluded our first trip to Oloitokitok, Kajiado county. To this far, we can prove that water scarcity is a problem that has to be addressed very fast to save lives in this region. The Kajiado community has expressed fears that if the problem persists, the cases of waterborne diseases might not end any time soon.
Our next trip kicks off soon. This time round, it will be aimed at trying to remove the log in the ‘eye of Oloitoktok’. Everything has been set. I won’t disclose it now.