Where Pupils Dodge Buffaloes And Crocodiles to Get to Class
Poverty, crime and calamities such as floods might sound scary to many Kenyans upon whom life has smiled favourably -- but as a young boy from Marafa village, Chara, such experiences were the cocktail on which I was weaned.
If it is not the harsh climate ushering in acute hunger claiming scores of lives, then the rains and floods that routinely follow displaced thousands and claimed their fair share of lives.
The picture would be incomplete without the sporadic clashes between the pastoralists and farmers, who turn on each over farming and grazing rights. I vividly recall the Shifta (bandits) menace that started many years before I was born in 1982 and continued unabated for many years.
The Somali bandits would attack hapless villagers, leaving a trail of devastation and destruction. Inevitably, government forces would materialise long after the bandits had left and turn their wrath on the same poor villagers still nursing injuries and losses arising from the Shifta incursions.
Village elders, among them my grandfather, would be paraded and ordered to surrender non-existent firearms while being accused of harbouring the Shiftas. But like the flow of the brown, muddy waters of the mighty Tana River which was only a few kilometers from my village, life had to continue.
Going to school in Tana River was a worthwhile experience driven more by the children's deep desire to get an education than the government's wish to provide it. Many schools in the county are made of mud walls and grass thatches. I was enrolled at Nduru primary school in 1990. For the next eight years, I walked 15 kilometres to and from school.
Bringing education and health services closer to the people and improving the road network are some of the key challenges the new county leadership must overcome.
Due to the nature of his work that saw him transferred so often, my father, a policeman, had taken my elder brother to a boarding school at Tarasaa trading centre, 150 kilometers away, leaving me under my grandfather's care.
Each day, I would wake at 4am, take a cup of tea prepared by my grandmother and in the company of my grandfather, brave the morning chill on my way to school. His company was a comfort; a bulwark against the lingering danger posed by buffaloes that roamed the area.
During the rainy season, the walk to school was a herculean task as we had to wade through flooded sections of the path where crocodiles lay in wait.
Although my grandfather showed a keen interest in his grandsons' education, it was not so with our sisters and aunts. Thanks to the community's rather retrogressive viewpoint on the role of women, the girls were left at home to prepare for their future roles as mothers and homemakers.
As an Orma boy, herding cattle was part of my calling and this I did enthusiastically after school hours and during weekends. Under my grandfather's tutelage, I learnt such indispensable skills as knowing the animals by their skin colours to identify them in a large herd out in the pastures. I also got valuable insight on how to assist a delivering cow.
I completed my primary education in 1997, the same year that the El-Nino weather phenomenon came calling, leaving in its wake devastation on the local road network. Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination invigilators could not reach our school due to the impassable roads so we had to walk some 25 kilometres to Golbante primary school to take the exam.
The poor state of roads returned to haunt me after I got admission into Hola Secondary school. Already two weeks late and with the fear of losing my chance bearing heavily on us, we embarked on the long walk to Hola, a distance of nearly 150 kilometres.
We arrived in Hola two and a half days later tired to the bone after the journey during which we endured heavy rains, floods and the constant hazard of wild animals. The harsh climate of small and dusty Hola Town later forced us to move to Kipini secondary school, closer to home, where we completed our education.
One thing that remains clear in my mind is that my birth and upbringing in Tana River County was not a condemnation but admission to a school with valuable experiences on how to face and surmount the challenges that life brings our way.