Asacho, my favourite uncle recently told me my humble beginning and what really happened moments before I was born. He said here in the north, people lose their minds because of the scotching sun! The sun shines on everyone and only the brave shine under the extreme heat. When conditions are deplorable he said, survival becomes inevitable and this turns out to be adaptation. According to my uncle, the natives on this northern part of Kenya are a tough generation.
My dad, Wepesi was riding his favourite bull at a lightning speed! His hands firmly gripped on its horns. Behind, a makeshift bed tied to the rear part of the animal was tagging along, leaving behind dust such that you could hardly see anything but the heads of both my dad and the animal. This animal and the makeshift bed is the local ambulance! But you only see these scenes during medical emergencies. In this instance, dad was rushing mum to the local district hospital, some 40km or so away and a journey of approximately 3 to 4 hours on the back of the bull. Mum was pregnant with me and she had had labour pains from the wee hours of the morning and her condition was worsening. You could see the gloom on my dad’s face, though he was still determined to get mum to the hospital. That was why he was riding the bull like a rodeo.
Finally, dad brought his bull to a halt at the emergency entrance of the district hospital. Matatizo, Wepesi’s wife was covered in dust making her look like she had been swimming in a river with murky water. Her lower section had blood, she had been bleeding and by the look on her face this did not augur well. She was tired, weak and she needed medical attention urgently. Suddenly, the unexpected happened - I came tumbling down right from my mum through the makeshift bed and onto the dusty ‘murram’ road. You could see the relief on my dad’s face. He was scared yet exhilarated. He rushed on quickly and lifted me. I was now crying. He held me next to his chest and whispered, “Ngao … why have you tormented your mum? Please, be a blessing to this region and the entire nation.” Surprisingly, I am told, I stopped crying immediately. Next, he turned on to mum and also whispered gently, “Matatizo, finally you have given me a boy, no more will I harass you again with childbirths.” Unfortunately, mum did not make it due to the large amount of blood that she lost. She died and was buried the same day according to traditions.
In this part of Kenya, like any other African society, animals are held in high esteem. Cattle are the preferred lot though goats outnumber them. Here, cattle have numerous uses; their meat and milk for nourishment. Their hide for functional items ranging from musical drums to stools. Also, their horns are functional; every evening after meals, people gather around and horns are blown. Loud drum beats liven up the predorminantly docile vast open dry hot desert countryside. With energetic music playing, the elders sip their drinks from well crafted horns. Unlike in regions with agricultural potential, cow dung is rarely used here. Sometimes it could be of use when plastering the huts though most of the locals prefer twigs that they intertwine intricately and finish off with grass. All these uses together with the makeshift ambulance role that cattle are used for make them the most sought after animal in this region. With cattle, one has wealth and their usage is exponential making them a form of exchange. Therefore, many dowries are still paid in the form of cattle.
I grew up with the knowledge that life here revolves around cattle. From birth to marriage, cattle plays a key role. I also grew up knowing that although mum was dead, my survival was because of cattle. For cattle in honour of my mother, I Ngao will live and die for. This is my story and this is my life...