Dertu Redux 1: Following the Nomadic Pastorals, Banished Fish Brothers and Ditch Diggers from Nairobi to Dertu, Kenya

Almost a year ago we went to Dertu, Kenya. Jess was going on a follow up visit of sorts this week and I figured I'd go along for the ride. Here's some of what we saw along the way this time around.

Bus to Garissa


cart man in Mwingi

Cart Man in Mwingi


another roadside attraction



mosque and bicycle



styling man on roadside

man on roadside


jacaranda and roadside stalls

Jacaranda stalls


Guys that fixed our puncture in Mwingi

fixing a flat in Mwingi


brick chiseler and water man in Mwingi

cart man Mwingi

The Ditch

A new development since last year is that they are building a ditch from Thika (outside of Nairobi) to Garissa. Almost 500 clicks long and 4 feet deep, all by hand. Supposedly to lay fiber optic cable. It was pretty incredible to see them, an endless line of men, digging with pick and shovel.

ditch supervisor measuring ditch depth

Ditch Supervisor


video montage of drive from Nairobi to Dertu


approaching Garissa

approaching Garissa


Garissa, Kenya

As you get into north-eastern Kenya, it gets hotter and drier. The elevation is a lot lower than Nairobi. It becomes predominantly Muslim, and the people mostly of Somali origin. It's really a different world than Nairobi. There's also a big river, the Tana, otherwise there is very little water. Garissa is the main town in this region, right on the Tana river. We stayed at the Nomad Palace, same as last year.

market in Garissa

Garissa market


donkeys in Garissa market


Garissa market


The Banished Fish Brothers

Somali Kenyans have a number of food taboos, which is a challenge for Jess. They basically live solely off their camels, cattle, goats and sheep (the latter two collectively referred to as "shoats"). They have little interest in farming, so don't eat much in the way of vegetables. They also don't hunt. In more recent years, they have started to rely more on food aid to supplement their diet. At least the "pastoral drop-outs" or nomads who have settled into communities like Dertu. The Dertu team leader, who met us at the Nomad Palace for dinner, told us some interesting stories and anecdotes about their food taboos. This is the same guy, an Ethiopian Somali Kenyan, whose father killed three lions, by necessity, with his bare hands. Or rather with poison darts from poison that he concocted. He killed the lions by climbing up into a tree and waiting for them with his poison darts. He took off all his clothes so he wouldn't smell human. It was okay that he smelled like a wild animal or "a baboon," but any article of clothing would give him away. Now that killing lions is illegal, such traditions are no longer being passed down. Anyway, the story Ahmed told us was about two brothers in his community:

One year there was a flood that formed a lake that trapped a bunch of fish. Two brothers decided that they would catch the fish and eat them. The problem is Somalis (away from the coast) don't eat fish. A meeting was held with the village elders and it was decided that these brothers would be banished from the village for eating these fish. The two brothers lived outside the village eating fish until the lake dried up. (At one point, Ahmed, being a curious lad, snuck out to see these brothers for himself and try this fish for himself, though he kept this secret). Once they ran out of fish, the brothers sent a messenger into town to ask if they could come back. Another meeting was held and it was decided that they couldn't let the brothers starve. They decided that after a few weeks, once the fish smell was gone from their systems, they would be allowed to return to the village. They sent a messenger out to smell their skin, and once the fish smell was gone, they were allowed to return.

The Road to Dertu

The next morning we woke up early to head out to Dertu. This year the road wasn't nearly as bad and it only took us about two hours (instead of five). We saw a lot of animals, besides the usual camels, goats, cattle, etc., we saw lots of birds, ostriches, wart hogs, kudus, geranuks, dik-diks and giraffes.

giraffe in the shade on way to Dertu



donkey train carrying water

donkey train


Somewhere along the way we crossed the equator into the northern hemisphere. Though there was no line or sign telling us so.





(c) 2008 Derek White