December 1, 2011

Roaring ahead

Within 4 hours of taking off from the Marsabit landing strip, I was wearing blue jeans and drinking a beer. Yesterday I brushed my hair and listened to Madonna on the radio. My return to western-style modernity is roaring ahead full-throttle!

Regarding my fellowship experience, I've prattled on about transportation and village visits, but after all this time, I'm not sure I've painted a very vivid picture of Marsabit itself.  A lapse partially due to not having any town photos until our last day, and partially due to my half-hearted attempt to at least minimally veil our exact location from the general blogosphere.

Marsabit is a small town, nestled at the base of a national park, surrounded by craters, which serves as the focal hub around which the large Marsabit District of northern Kenya revolves.

At the base of Marsabit National Park

The turnoff to town from the main road

To call it a hub, however, I hope does not imply visions of any centralized wealth.  The majority of locals are uncommonly poor, and almost everyone depends on foreign aid food for survival.  During drought they spend 12 hours or more seeking water for their households.  Women earn money by fetching bundles of firewood larger than their own bodies and carrying it on their backs for miles to sell.  The streets are a bustle of people, goats, markets and, in places, garbage.

But there's something exciting about this area, something vibrant.  Walking down the street you will pass Boranas with head scarves and Samburus with brilliant beaded necklaces.  The forested park that rises above the town is shrouded in sleepy mist throughout the morning and is backlit by the evening sunset.

And commerce.  Every small town in the world seems to have a lowest common denominator of goods and services available for purchase: produce, butchery, and hair salons.  Anywhere you go.

Kiosks on the main road into town

Best Lady

The town center also has an extensive open-air market for beans and grains, scooped from burlap sacks into rows of ancient tin cans.

Beans and grains market

Pure white coconut?

And a few specialty shops:

Dry cleaner confusion

And there it is.  A town that may soon feel like a dream within a dream.  Back at my desk in Nairobi, I almost wonder if I ever left. 

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