Reaching the Rift Valley really is a scene out of a Disney movie. You are driving through the Kenyan countryside on one of the major roads out of town and suddenly the ground that had occupied you horizon gives way. As you approach this enormous geological rift in the earth, the view expands so that you see distant mountains layered in shades of hazy blue and the green floor of the valley far, far below. In reality, their are ridges and. Alleys within the great rift that stretches through this continent, but the scale is too large for the mind to absorb, and you see instead one overwhelmingly large indentation in the surface of our earth.
What struck me most about the Rift Valley, though, was that it did not leave me feeling small and in consequential as happens when one looks out over, say, the Grand Canyon or the volcanic fields of Hawaii. Even the precipitous drop from the escarpment is clothed in a gentle layer of living green. The Rift Valley is not a rift in the earth, but a cradle.
Picking up Caroline in the prosperous and bustling city of Nakuru on the way down, we descended to the floor of the Valley. We turned off the tarmac road past the town of Marigat. The road here is simply a winding trail along the red clay floor that shifts as drivers avoid the washed out ruts, cacti and acacias that proliferate here. Micah, Caroline’s husband, explains that there are three roads out that the village chooses between based on which are passable at the moment
It is no coincidence that the road is not paved here. Caroline and Micah are IlChamas Masai, a minority group within minority groups. The Kenyan government has been trying for years to create stability by distributing its power and resources beyond the Kikuyu power base. But the IlChamas were not officially recognized as Masai by the government and not recognized as Kalenjin by the tribe with which they were officially associated. The resources that come two the Kalenjin and Masai, the two dominant groups in this region, rarely make it down to the collection of sub-tribes here. Caroline and Micah both obtained masters degrees and have dedicated themselves to improving conditions here. The have a lot of work to do-the closest g
medical clinic is 18 kilometers, often by foot; the closest doctor is 40 kilometers. Girls and women are usually second class citizens throughout this area, and few people from the villages of either gender complete secondary school. Cattle raids and the attending violence still occur in some areas.
However, there are signs of improvement. Caroline serves as a community liaison and consultant with a variety of NGO and government programs that are working to resolve conflict, eliminate gender disparity and improve living conditions amongst the sub-tribes. For us, she pulls girls from these villages and finds them a place in one of the boarding schools here in Baringo County. I ask Juliet, a talented junior (and school prefect) whom we sponsor at Pewai, whether she refers to our coordinator as Caroline or Mrs. Lentupuru. Juliet raises an eyebrow and answers, “I refer to her as mom.”
Like the other students we sponsor here and at Mogitio School, Juliet is happy to be at school. She misses her mother, but she relishes life in a community that values her intelligence and celebrates her accomplishments. she wants to know about university scholarships-she will not be content with a high school degree.
In this region we are working with gender disparities off at are particularly severe and destructive. These communities are traditionally pastoral, and wealth is held in status and movable property (usually livestock herds) rather than land. A woman in and of herself has neither status, nor property. Juliet and her peers plan to be the next generation after Caroline’s to push their communities further into a future where women work side by side with men in the life of a village.
Small indications of that future are already emerging, but that is another post…