By Bernard Wainaina
I was in West Pokot the whole of last week.
I was there to write an article for ‘IFOAM’ about dairy farming and how the two warring neighbours -the Pokot and the Marakwet – have learnt to coexist and produce milk.
And I met the elders from Pokot and the elders from Marakwet and marvelled how distinctly similar they all are with their beguiling smiles.
They all looked wise and crafty and regal.
They all wear bad sweaters.
And they never ever raise their voices.
They speak like they just woke up – every syllable is an act of diplomacy.
I didn’t see one gun.
Or an arrow.
I didn’t see anybody smoke (it’s banned in Kaibichibichi and environ) and I didn’t see any drunkard.
You know how you go to Central Kenya and after every tree you find someone talking to himself in a near drunken stupor?
None of that in West Pokot, booze is banned at the border of these two tribes.
But even though relative peace prevails you still
sense suspicion in the air.
A generational suspicion.
But it’s there, suspended by good reason.
You smell it.
You feel it through the cold.
It stays on your jacket.
Anyway, so my minders reckon that I needed to speak to this widowed Marakwet lady raising children from the sale of milk.
We drive across the border of the two tribes
and get to this very humble home where we are
welcomed by this very unassuming woman.
The culture there is different.
The men rule.
The women follow.
None of the equality craziness of who did the dishes yesterday.
You know how it’s getting gradually difficult to
differentiate men from women because men now wear the same pants as women?
There the men stand out.
And they get their underwear washed for them, but only because they provide, consistently for their women,and families.
And they protect.
And they offer direction.
Even if it’s the wrong one.
We sit outside in the green lawn on this makeshift bench.
We are served tea.
It’s myself, the PR holding my hand in this trip, our transport coordinator (ahem, driver), a
Pokot elder, three villagers (one of them chewing on a blade of grass,I found that cool) a Marakwet elder and some village kids who are here to watch, perhaps hoping that
it’s a circumcision ceremony.
After my interview and the polite banter, in my eternal brilliance, I ask if I can see the cows.
I mean, it’s not enough that I had been served tea, I just had to confirm where the milk came from?
My gracious hostess, two gentlemen and one elder take me to the adjacent paddy next to the house where some Friesian cows were feeding.
The children, all of them follow us.
I take pictures.
I should have been content with just looking and taking pictures.
But I just had to touch the cow, perhaps to
confirm that indeed it was a cow and not a car?
And I suspect that one of the cows was in her hormonal stage,having a bad hide day.
Or perhaps it didn’t like my after-shave cologne.
Or my face.
Or perhaps when it touched it (on the thigh) it imagined I was a pervert because it lashed out with its right left leg and kicked me in the
I was startled before I felt the pain.
Have you been kicked by a cow?
I was sure the damned cow (and I use
that word as an insult in this context) had broken my thigh bone.
I had to look if I still had my family jewels intact,for the sake of my personal pride and dignity.
The kids guffawed.
Kids can be foolish at such times, they will laugh at anything.
The men grinned.
Nobody made a move to see if I was alive.
My most immediate reaction was to kick the foolish cow back because where I come from we don’t turn the other cheek.
But you can’t kick a widow’s cow now, can
So I acted like it wasn’t even painful.
I mean, I get kicked by a cow all the time in my line of proffesion, no big deal.
But deep down I wanted to cry.
I wanted to ask someone to look if I had broken something down there, but nobody did.
I was where men have been shot by arrows and bullets, where men have watched their homes burnt down with their families in them, I wasn’t about to start whining about a cow’s kick.
But I don’t remember that cow very fondly.
I hope wherever it is, its udders pain at night.
I hope its udders grew so big with milk it made it develop back pain.
I hope it’s getting bad dreams of it’s hoofs being boiled for dog food.
But everything happens for a reason and if you want to know the truth, I think all my sins here on this blog have been absolved by that kick, even though it wasn’t a kick to the ass.
West Pokot; A paradise lost
West pokot is the Gangster country of Kenya.
Famed for armed cattle rustling,but it is a beautiful country.
West Pokot is green like a co-wife.
It’s also cold.
Then there is the view.
My God, the view!
Wait, I can’t even call it a view.
A view is what you see when you look out
of your kitchen window and see the spot where the neighbour’s dog likes to piss on.
This is a vista.
It’s rolling plains of greenery relentlessly
unravelling and only disrupted, briefly, by murram roads whereupon donkeys amble by dutifully, pulling cart laden with whatever.
An occasional motorbike will zoom by,
carrying,wait, a goat.
A group of teenage boys stroll by,walking erect, bony knees punching the air, eyes shining with something that I imagined was valour.
Teenage girls carrying jerricans on their heads also amble-by, avoiding our eye contact.
And the kids.
Cute little things with old, gaudy and dirty sweaters stand by the roadside grinning with teeth white.
When was the last time you saw a merino sheep?
You will see those merino sheep in some parts of West Pokot,shuffling around looking like they are wearing expensive fur coats from Burberry.
In fact, merino sheep is the only farm animal that you look at and get an overwhelming urge to hug.
Ok, it’s just me.
You will drive by modest tin-roofed homes that stand shivering by the foot of hills, but with such charming chimneys from which smoke
curls in the air like the serpent from the book of Genesis.
We drive further inside up the highest mountain at a place called Tapach where it’s so cold and windy the trees grow frozen in one direction.
Like they all bend in one direction like it’s a Halloween set.
And the names of these places; Kamologon, Kaibichibichi, Kiptapar,Kapsoit and Koisungur.
They sound like the sound of women breaking twigs to stock a fire in a three-stoned stove.
What a working experience!
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