Two weekends ago I had the chance to stay in northern Kenya with the Rendille tribe, and I can honestly say it was the best weekend of my life. Our group stayed in posh huts in the village called Korr (where people from world vision and such stay and host conferences at in the village) and spent the first evening visiting one of the nomadic clans called Uyam. The Rendille people survive and thrive in the middle of the scorching desert. Temperatures while we were visiting probably reached around 105 degrees fahrenheit; everyone naps in the heat of the day, and when the full moon is out they stay up all night.
the journey to Korr can take anywhere from 13 hours to 2 and half days by land vehicle, but we got to arrive in style. Our group compromised of 14 students, Jeff (our director), Asaaska (his wife, who grew up in Korr), Leilah (their 6 month old daughter), and Jeff's parents. 18 total, dispersing perfectly between a 13 and a 5 seater plane. We got to arrive in style to Korr. I rode the five seater plane to the village, and it was the experience of a lifetime. The smaller planes don't go as high so we could see all the beauty of Kenya during our 2 hour journey. We flew over all of Nairobi, lush forests sprinkled with waterfalls, Mt. Kenya, and mountains beyond mountains. The smaller plane had an alternator issue about halfway there so we made an emergency landing at a private game park nearly landing on top of 3 zebras in the process. This private park also happens to be the place where Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton.
there is some electricity in Korr (and none in the nomadic villages), so cameras aren't a common place thing. the way to ask someone if you can take their picture in the Rendille language is to ask if you can take the shadow of their soul. the concept of a photo is strange to someone who hasn't been exposed to visual media their whole life... or didn't grow up with a dad taking every opportunity he could to document your life. the kids are marveled by our photos. it started off with all of us sitting at Jeff's family's hut in Uyam, then the children slowly came and surrounded us. I brought pop rocks to share, and most of the kids thought they were gross and spat them out. Later in the evening I shared some of my water with the kids that had surrounded me and it was an eye opening experience. The kids literally trampled each other to get a drop of my water and one kid started bawling. It broke my heart. The little I tried to do backfired on me. Because we were staying for the weekend, the family hosting us bought loads and loads of water bottles so we didn't get sick from the well water. The kids in Uyam(and everywhere we traveled that weekend) loved our bottles and were full of such joy when we handed an empty one to them.
life in Rendille is defined by gender. Beings in Rendille according to importance: men, camels, women, children. As a man you have a few stages in life: child, warrior, husband, elder. As a woman you have two: child, wife. Each has their specific role in society to make it run smoothly. Women take care of the home (even building it), raising and educating the children (mostly by story), and feed everyone (milking the goats, but only virgin men milk the camels). The men take care of the camels, provide protection, and are the leaders of the tribe. Every evening they go to the nabu to pray to god called waakh; the nabu also serves as the democratic center of the village. Only men are allowed to enter the nabu. There is no figure head or leader in the Rendille tribe, they live in a truly democratic society. Women are not allowed to speak to the men to voice a complaint about the tribe. In order to voice a concern to their husband, it must be done inside the hut, the woman seated, head down and she must start by saying kamur, meaning my lord. The Rendille have been living like this for the past 400 years, but recently global warming has expanded the desert and made firewood more scarce and women must walk many kilometers for water. The village of Korr has 3 wells dug by Asaaska's grandfather after World War II. The village is much more modern than the surrounding clans' semi-nomadic existence. Her family lives in a house, not a hut, with electric lights throughout their compound. My personal favorite part of staying in Rendille was meeting the newly weds. The women are stunning-- decked in beads and headdresses. Some girls get married as young as 11 years old, or usually from age 15-18.
I watched this goat get slaughtered and ate it for dinner!
on our second afternoon we went on a grand adventure to the mountains in search of the sacred camels. The camels are so sacred they get their own day where no camels may be slaughtered and must rest (much like the christian sabbath, but for animals). On our way to the water hole we saw not one, but two herds of camels. One of them was ALL BABY CAMELS. My friends Tyler and Max are working on a documentary about camels and the Rendille, so I pitched in to some of the camel b-roll. We got out of the bus to film the herd of baby camels; while all of the other babies ran away from me, one came right up to my camera. It started getting close and I thought, "wow this is so cool." but then it stuck its nose right up to my camera and pushed past it and nuzzled my cheek. IT WAS MAGICAL. Unfortunately nobody snapped a photo of that moment, but my footage goes from filming a camel, to filming the ground with my squeals in my background. After that magical moment, we went to God's best water park. A waterfall that flows over smooth rock into a refreshing swimming pool. It was a dream come true in the 100+ weather.
the second evening we had a bonfire in Korr and spent the night dancing with warriors.
Dancing is purely for entertainment in Rendilleland and it involves a lot of jumping and upper body movement. Women's feet don't leave the ground and they try to get their beads to bounce the highest with this weird neck thrusting motion.
At first it was the most awkward thing I had ever done in my life, but after a while I was lost in it. The same squeals of joy I uttered when I was nuzzled by the baby camel came back tenfold dancing with warriors, women of Rendille, and a bunch of wzungu. We danced all night, into the wee hours of the morning. I spent some of the night with one of the newlyweds, holding her hand, dancing without words because neither of us spoke the other's language. I felt like our spirits connected in some strange foreign way in the middle of the night in the middle of the desert. I hope to go back one day and perhaps dance again.
ps, nebeya is a greeting that means peace.