Leaving Nairobi we drove through the area where, after the 2007 election battle between incumbent president Kibaki of the Kikuyu tribe and his opponent Odinga of the Luo tribe, there had been serious political violence. The road was smooth but the atmosphere in the Matatu was heavy. We were off to Kakuma refugee camp in North Eastern Kenya to visit a project called Film Aid International.
The next day, sitting in Kitale market next to boys chewing khat, I observed the market coming alive; a woman setting up her orange stall, traders hawking, a trailer balancing leaking paint tins. I was apprehensively eyeing up the Eldoret Express bus as its roof was stacked higher and higher with boxes. Soon after we set off a preacher clutching his bible started shouting blessings from the front of the bus, a blood vessel throbbing in his neck. These buses are known for their share of robbery and accidents.
As we passed through the Pokot territory the Turkana passengers were noticeably relieved as there is occasional violence between the two tribes over access to water and grazing resources.
The country was getting wilder as we entered the bush . We saw traditional huts and members of the Turkana tribe with their traditional Mohicans, red robes and beaded neck rings. The men would get on the bus with their spears, some carrying AK 47s.
After spending the night in Lodwar, capital of Turkana County, we caught a taxi to our final destination, the Kakuma refugee camp. En route we had a puncture and had to stop at a Turkana camp. I felt like I had stepped through Mr Benn’s changing room, through the pages of National Geographic and into a world of tribal warfare, goat herding and fantastic customs. I was keen to learn more.
We arrived at the Kakuma refugee camp in a part nicknamed Hong Kong because of its diverse community of people from different regions. The Film Aid staff showed me their edit for a film raising awareness of Kenya’s FGM law. That evening we screened information videos followed by a feature film, Dr Doolittle. All of the different nationalities, men, women and children formed a semi-circle to watch the films projected onto the side of the film aid truck.
We left on the overnight bus to Kitale. It was like being in some kind of spaceship hurtling through a meteorite field surrounded by the visions from another world, flying along the rough roads. Looking out of the window I saw a tall illuminated tower like a giant crucifix which I was told was the site of the newly discovered oil fields on officially recognised Turkana territory, disputed by the Pokot. I hope the oil curse does not start a new conflict as the Pokot and Turkana tribes “have been killing each other over goats for years” as someone casually remarked.