At 6 am, our group leaves in two vehicles. I am driving Gumps with Semej and Omar, Kit, Chip and Corwin. Kura has David, Maina and a dozen other passengers under canvas in the back of the Defender. We will drive from Korr to Loiyangalani through a semi-desert land that is lawless and wild. If we are lucky, it will take 5 hours. After a traverse of the Kaisut Desert we will head towards the Mathews Range and a drive through dotted scrub that hides amazing populations of ostriches, antelopes, hyenas, lions and cheetahs. We will also criss-cross a land of ethnic conflicts and livestock-raiders. Eventually, we will make our way over the rocky escarpment onto the barren, moon-like landscape around Lake Turkana, the Jade Sea.
Semeji and Omar take this stretch seriously. We make frequent stops to check that the vehicle is running smoothly; Omar is attentive to every rattle and pop. Semeji sits up front with me, AK47 at the ready. We also pick up an additional security man armed with a G3, Semean, who will ride with Kura. Sometimes this seems over the top, yet most of the time it is reassuring that we have the ability to defend ourselves in a place where no policeman dares.
We stop frequently to visit with BOMA Mentors and businesses and David gets a chance to take some wonderful shots. Corwin perfects what is now referred to as “doing a Corwin” –a climb out the back window instead of negotiating the scramble from the back seat to the passenger side front door. Semean spots a pair of cheetahs in the shade of a dry river bed and everyone sees the pair except me, my opportunity squandered as I focus on backing up the vehicle on the pot-holed gullied track.
As we near the lake, the hot desert wind slams the side of the vehicle. The land is now a barren rock-strewn landscape peppered with occasional bare twisted trees. In the distance you can see the cloud-topped summit of Mt. Kulal. Finally the Jade Sea comes into view and it is as stunningly green as I have ever seen it.
At the Palm Shade, our home in Loiyanglanai for the next two nights, we are welcomed by Gigi, the cook, and Mama Sarah, who assigns everyone their huts. It is a full camp and our group is relegated to the outer wing of thatch and mud buildings that sit under the blazing sun, turning them into ovens. Kura graciously gives up his traditionally assigned hut, under the shade of a doum palm, to Kit and Chip. The drive has taken us over 8 exhausting hours and Chip insists that I accept a medicinal dose of Dr. Cuervo after the long drive.
After another lunch of cabbage, stew and potatoes, we make a quick trip to town to visit with a few of our businesses. We are joined by Benjamin Latarobo, one of two BOMA Village Mentors for Loiy, and his brother, Makombo, the curator of the Desert Museum. As usual, we are accompanied on our walk through town by the village touts, most of them slightly drunk, who make their best pitch on buying local treasures like Turkana dik-dik belts and fantastic geodes. Despite these “charming” interludes, Kit and Chip get a good sense of the diversity of businesses in Loiy – from the only petrol dealer in our district (Umoja Petroleum) to dried and fried fish businesses. Two of the local Turkana women who maintain a hut kiosk in town also have a dried fish business and we give them a ride out to the warehouse where the fish is stored by a local cooperative, waiting for the once a week lorry that will sell the fish in Kisumu.
I rest in my hut before dinner but feel overwhelmed by the three hats that I am now wearing – a donor host, a photographic director and the founder of BOMA who must make every attempt to recognize and encourage as many of our businesses as possible. The line of people who want to see me grows as the night goes on. The regulars, like the man with one leg and Julius, tragically smart and alcoholic, are ever present. Add to this those who need medical care and school fees. All are in genuine need but I hate that my choice is random – I can’t help everyone and so I pick a few without knowing who are the most deserving. Kura senses my frustration and exhaustion and points me in the direction of my hut. The mornings are always better.