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Living history through travel

West Pokot Cultural dancers entertain guest during the closing ceremony of the week long Inter-County games at Gusii stadium. [Sammy Omingo/standard]

From East Africa, Central Africa, South Africa, and West Africa, I have travelled and captured some of the places that made my history classes my favourite lesson.

Some of these places include Uganda’s Kasubi Royal Tombs, Nyero Rock Paintings, and the Uganda Martyrs Catholic Shrine. In Zanzibar, there is the Mangapwani Slave Chamber, Fukuchani Ruins, Spice Islands, Mtoni Palace Ruins, the Hamamni Persian Baths, and Stone Town.

From mainland Tanzania, history came alive when I visited the Olduvai Gorge, the Laetoli Footprints, and the Nasera Rock. In Ghana West Africa, there is the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park, and Independence Square, but the highlight of the West Africa trip is Timbuktu that caught my attention because the historical tales in class sounded like it was an imaginary city or a city in outer space.

I had travelled here on assignment, and though the visit was a short one, I had time to “live” the history of this West African city of Mali, a vital trading post on the trans-Saharan caravan route, and a centre of Islamic culture in 1400-1600. The historical and geographical places that have come alive in my travel escapades have me thinking about curating the experiences.

I am yet to “conquer Europe for places like those mentioned in the Crimean Wars, cities like Warsaw, The Canadian Prairies, the Aborigines of Australia, and the Alps in Switzerland (I saw their look-alike in Nord Kivu). So many beautiful historical monuments wait to be captured, meaning dreams are valid.

Back home, I am fascinated by names of some places that are so appealing, and sound romantic such as Mahari Mzuri, Mida Creek, Manda Bay, Timboroa, Chyulu Hills, and my latest discovery, Kacheliba in Kapenguria, West Pokot.

The name Kacheliba fascinated my imagination with my creative mind painting a picture of a ‘perfect destination’. I have always wanted to visit, but when opportunities presented themselves, I always fell back, because, alongside the beautiful images captured by my mind’s creative eye, another side presented a scary image – West Pokot is associated with many ugly things among them, cattle rustling, deadly diseases, hunger, anger (yes, anger), harmful culture among other negativities.

However, lately, I heard positive stories about Kacheliba’s beauty, natural landscapes, and lovely people, and that the little town that shares its name with the magnificent River Kacheliba, was now a melting pot of many cultures. I knew it was time to discover Kacheliba.

I arrived at Wilson Airport on a Monday at 6 am to catch my 7.30 am flight to Eldoret for my five-day visit to West Pokot. I was surprised to find the Nairobi-Eldoret passenger bay packed to capacity, an indication that Kenyans and visitors (who can afford it), are finding air travel a preference. Correctly so, because a journey that could have taken close to 10 hours (with stopovers), only takes 45 minutes.

Barely one hour after leaving Nairobi, we were driving along the Eldoret-Kapenguria Highway. Driver Farah acted as my official guide, and gave me updates because though I have been on this road twice, it felt like the first time – the highway was redone, a lot of development had happened, while other structures were coming up – beyond the new seemed to have vanished or vanquished by the new, and upcoming ones.

Two hours later, we were in Kapenguria, and driving through the town to my hotel, I am awed by how flourishing the town of Makutano has grown. The town is an attraction for its rich history, part of which is home to the Kapenguria Museum, a must-visit especially if one is keen to learn about the famous six and the colonial history in Kenya.

I spend my evening exploring the town and get to learn that the town is a cosmopolitan one, especially due to the many NGOs and CSO working in West Pokot. Amazingly, the town is well-planned and secure with many businesses, hotels, and other accommodation facilities. 

This is Kacheliba

The next day, I am up early, anticipating a relaxing country drive to Kacheliba, a name that sounds so charming. I am looking forward to finding out if the town that I have longed to conquer for such a long time will prove to be worth the travel. A few minutes later, after leaving the town of Makutano behind, we are driving on a smooth road dotted with sceneries of the most attractive natural beautiful rolling hills and landscapes. Interestingly, the phobia of insecurity caused by the stories earlier described seems to have been replaced with a tranquil peace.

Indeed, the environment is a peaceful one proven by relaxed happy residents going on with their hustles freely, and livestock too seems to be peacefully grazing on their own. At a stopover, I inquire from a mzee by the roadside about cattle rustling. He gazes at me and utters something unintelligible. I look at Farah, who shrugs, and beckons a young man to come interpret. He turns his gaze towards where we have come from and points to far-away hills. He then explains that bandits and cattle rustling occurs in the remotest part of West Pokot bordering Turkana.

After learning a few things about the Pokot people and culture, we leave to continue with our journey. Now I feel safe and relaxed, and when I remember the insecurity in Nairobi, I think of West Pokot insecurity as an exaggeration. 

Farah has another version of the insecurity, a version he is so conversant with having worked as a FAO driver in the so-called areas of insecurity in Kenya. “Sometimes these so-called banditry and cattle-rustling are issues that have existed between communities, and are more or less cultural issues, which sometimes have been exaggerated by criminal activities,” he says. He says that these insecure places are in small pockets.

I am carried away by Farah’s stories that I do not notice that the land cruiser has slowed down. Ahead of me, I can see the road passing through a section of an urban establishment with structures on both sides of the road. I stretch my eyes and see the most colourful blend of shades of colours – people (especially women and girls), the shops, the products on sale, all a blend of the colours of the rainbow. Farah parks the vehicle and advises that I take a walk, as I take in the beauty of the adorable town. It is 1 pm and Farah has to go for his prayers. 

As I toggle from reality to dream, Farah makes an announcement: “This is Kacheliba, and it is a market day”. I rub my eyes several times, as I try to focus on the rainbow scenario before me. I turn to my left and see the most stunning hill, standing majestically as if it is a watchtower for the glorious little town. Cutting across the centre of the town is the most beautiful “brown” river – this is the historical River Kacheliba. Surrounding the town are tens of rolling, and standalone hills that are so captivating, leaving me breathless. 

In a few minutes, I am walking down the busy street, interacting and having the most ingenious conversations with the locals. I get to learn a lot about the culture, of the West Pokot people, who from my experience here are humble and welcoming going by the number of people from almost every corner of Kenya who owns businesses in this town. 

It is interesting to note how hardworking Pokot women are – the drivers of households and business risk-takers. One such woman is Milkah Chepkemoi, 35, who owns posho mills, besides being a livestock farmer. Why are girls in colourful miniskirts, I inquire. I notice too, that she is in a colourful skirt, only hers is ankle length. 

“It is a sign that they are teenagers and are ready for marriage? I am sceptical about this answer, but then I remember ‘the harmful cultural norms’ description. Some things do not just fade away, they take time!

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