It is 4.30pm, and a large group of people are assembled at the offices of the Ewaso Ng’iro North Development Authority on the outskirts of Isiolo town.
We are here in solidarity for the Camel Caravan, whose focus is building peace bridges amidst warring communities that use the Ewaso Ng’iro River as a resource of their livelihoods.
It also creates awareness on the importance of conservation to preserve the river.
This is the 11th edition of the camel caravan, founded by IMPACT Director Mali Ole Kaunga in 2013.
During the trek, I would be interacting with the 15 communities of Dadacha Basa, Korbesa, Biliko, Bulesa, Gafarsa, Ireseboru, Malkagalla, Gambella, Kinna and Badana, Laikipia, and Nyahururu.
Our caravan of land cruisers and other four wheel-drives leaves at 5.30pm for Gafarsa village, 130 kilometres away, a drive that is made easy by my three witty companions – videographer Kenito, documentarian, Kathure (on the wheel), and the comical volunteer, Faria.
Halfway through, we have a breakdown, but I try to fix the damage in the middle of nowhere and total darkness before help arrives.
We are in time for supper, but before we do that we must pitch a tent, and I learn that this was going to be the order for the next six days – no luxury whatsoever.
We must learn what resilience means – living a hard life and developing a thick skin to every hardship encountered faced by the communities living in the arid and semi-arid areas of northern Kenya.
I learn from Trizah Eyanae, Programme Manager at IMPACT, that the over 200 participants will be living as one community during the six days of the 105-kilometre trek – sharing the same food, tents, mattresses, sleeping bags, and camping on the same grounds irrespective of one’s status in life.
This setting was a wonderful experience, providing a fertile ground for great interactions and fruitful conversations.
Early the following day at 5.45am, Trizah, who doubled as the MC, sounded the wake-up call. One hour later, after a simple breakfast of tea, bread, and an egg, we were ready for a tree-planting session, before the official launch of the 2023 edition of the Camel Caravan.
The first day took us through a wilderness trek of 20 kilometres, with a brief stopover for refreshment.
I kept up with the third group of phase setters, but threw in the towel at 17 kilometres, missing the target by only three kilometres. Our destination for the day was Malkadaka.
I spend the evening listening to a community dialogue drawn from communities living upstream, midstream and downstream of River Ewaso. The discussants were drawn from Borana, Kikuyu, Meru, Turkana, Somali and Samburu communities.
All agree on the importance of keeping peace and preserving Ewaso Ng’iro.
We camped for the night on the dry river bed. It had been dry for the last six months. Hardly 30 minutes after the rest of the team has left, ululations fill the air as Barambate community residents come running to the riverbank.
I rush to see what is happening. The river that was “dead” hardly eight hours ago, has come to life! It flows slowly but majestically to the delight of residents who have been holding vigil by the riverbank.
Our destination for day three is Barambate, a trek covering 35 kilometres. I was torn between taking this trek and taking a detour on another adventure to bring to life a geography lesson from many years ago - the Lorian Swamp where Ewaso Ng’iro drains. The latter won the day.
Unfortunately, the 196-kilometre long and 25 kilometres wide swamp covering an area of 231,000 hectares of swampy area is no more due to the effects of climate change and human activity. At the time of my visit, the swamp was completely dry.
I learnt from our guide Issa Boru that the swamp has shrunk from 150 square kilometres in 1913 to around 39 square kilometres. The story of pastoralists who have lost thousands of livestock due to the drying up of the Lorian Swamp, once a rich grazing ground, is captured through the Kombola Women Farmers, a group of 20 women who are now turning to agro-pastoralism as a source of livelihood.
The 20 women are part of many pastoralists who are now turning to agro-pastoralism, still depending on the flow of Ewaso Ng’iro.
As I leave to join the rest of the trekkers, I now understand why the camel caravan is such an important event.
On this day, I learnt another thing about resilience and sharing. I almost did not get a tent, but the message of being mindful of others, especially from other communities resonated so well – within minutes, I had a tent for the night.
Our trek to Gotu the next day was 26 kilometres through harsh weather and terrain. However, we were in for a surprise. Our camping site after three days of camping on hard ground and wilderness is at Camp Simpirre, a delightful facility in the middle of nowhere.
The focus is a talk by the founder of the facility Dr Hussein Adan, a museum tour, and an out-of-this-world cultural performance featuring various northeastern communities.
Day four was a 50-kilometre vehicle caravan through Shaba Game Reserve. However, due to insecurity, we drive through. We encounter elephants and armed Samburu and Turkana herders.
On day six, PS State Department for ASALs Idris Salim Dokota joined the caravan during the last two kilometres to Archer’s post, where he officially closed the 2023 Camel Caravan edition with an assurance that the Government fully supported it.
“Today, the Camel Caravan is synonymous with peace, conservation, and a rich cultural interaction of the more than 15 communities, while over the years it has evolved into a life of its own,” said the PS.