It’s a quiet mid-morning at Bunde Health Centre in Kisumu, when local farmer Alice Mwajuma brings her two children David, 5, and Dahzur, 2, for a check-up. Long antlered cattle wander down the earth road outside, stopping to munch on the occasional patch of green grass. Alice and her boys arrive on a boda-boda motorbike, stopping by a fruit stall on the road outside. The health centre is quiet and cool in the shade of large trees. Blue and white buildings sport graffiti art illustrating health messages, such as the six ante-natal care steps for pregnant women to take.
In September 2021, after a delay of almost two years caused by COVID-19, I finally made it to the peak of Mount Longonot. This is a 2,780 metre dormant volcano one and a half hour’s drive north of Nairobi, in Kenya. I was hiking with my friends Matthias and Sheila, who I first met in Malawi five years before. It was an overcast day, which kept the temperatures mercifully mild as we followed the steep path up the mountainside. Our first goal was to reach the rim. From here, we could see across the crater, which – unusually for a volcano – was filled with a dense forest, cut off from the outside world by steep cliffs. Its was unclear what wildlife was living down there, although we did see the occasional giraffe on our way up. Great gashes down the mountainsides traced the routes where lava had previously flowed and we found pieces of brittle pumice stone scattered amongst the ash around the crater.
Every safari in Kenya has its own distinctive feature. Amboseli National Park is characterized by the dramatic views of snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, which lies just over the border in Tanzania. It’s a photographer’s dream – you can capture a wide array of wildlife with the mountain rising out of the clouds in the background. Near the airstrip is the seasonal Amboseli Lake, which in rainy season also provides reflections. The park is just a 40 minute flight from Wilson Airport in Nairobi. Flying towards the mountain just after sunrise in a 12-seater plane is an experience in itself.
The focal point of Kaego informal settlement, in Kisumu town, is the boda boda (motorbike taxi) stop at the junction of the tarmac road and the earth track that leads through the settlement. Young men sit on their bikes under the shade of a wooden roof, waiting for customers. Washing hangs on clotheslines, criss-crossing the narrow side streets with bright colours. Schools are out and young children run between the houses, rolling old car tyres or playing with homemade balls made from plastic bags and string. Their cries and laughter mingle with the rumbling of motorbike engines.
At 7am the view of Mount Kenya from our holiday cottage was spectacular. The clouds that hide the mountain for most of the day were just starting to form, banking up behind the peak and starting to roll over the shoulder of the hill. The peak seemed higher in the sky than land had any right to be, with white snow lining the crevasses and reflecting the first rays of morning sunshine (I didn’t expect to see snow just a few kilometres from the equator). Far below, the rolling hills were silhouetted in shades of blue, their tree lined ridges marking them out with sharp lines like a theatre backdrop. A flock of small birds wheeled through the sky, heading towards a nearby lake. A deer grazing in the meadow lifted its head to look at me, briefly disturbed by the clicking of my camera lens, then returned to its own business.
It is early Friday morning at Garissa Referral Hospital, the main COVID-19 vaccination centre in Garissa town, where infection rates have recently been increasing. In an open-air shelter, with a wooden roof to provide shade from the harsh sun, two masked health workers set up a cool box full of vaccine vials and syringes, and a laptop to register people coming for vaccination. There is a long bench for people to sit while waiting for their shots, but it is mostly empty.
It is a brutally hot, dry and dusty day in Garissa town, in the arid region of North-Eastern Kenya, when Kaha Hassan brings her one-year-old son Sudeys to Medina Health Centre. Two consecutive rains have failed in the region and only a few scrubby bushes and skinny animals have survived. Goats with visible ribcages roam the grounds of the health centre, searching for something to eat. The morning sun beats down on the sandy ground, drying it out even more.
As the school day finishes in Lodwar, Turkana, a group of boys runs out onto a sandy football pitch between their classrooms. There is a flash of colour beneath their pink school shirts, which some of them peel off to reveal international football club shirts beneath. They run up and down the pitch with tremendous energy, gesturing at each other. Finally, 13-year-old Ezra, wearing an Atletico Madrid t-shirt, gets a clear shot at the goal. He lines it up and shoots. The ball swerves past the goalkeeper and lands behind the goalpost, kicking up a small cloud of dust as it lands. Ezra throws up his arms in celebration. But there is little or no sound from the players, all of whom are fully or partially deaf.
Sixteen-year-old Christine Aleper sits in a Grade 4 English class at Namoruputh Primary School, in Turkana County. It is a hot, dry afternoon and a sudden gust of wind blows dust through the open windows. Christine is much taller than the other children in the class, who range from 9 to 11-years old, and the only one wearing a blue and white school uniform. But the fact that she is learning English at all is remarkable, given her background. Standing by the board, her teacher, Hellen, explains the different types of articles – a, an, the – and when to use them. She asks for examples and Christina stands and reads out: “a ball, an apple, the sun.”
In August each year, 2.2 million wildebeest, along with hundreds of thousands of zebra and antelope, migrate from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya, in search of greener pastures. Along the way, they cross the Sand River and then the wide, crocodile infested Mara River. As the rains change, they do the same journey in reverse. These crossings are one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on Earth, as desperate animals fight for survival. After each crossing, there are a few less wildebeest.
This was something my whole family wanted to see while we were living in Kenya. But finding 2.2 million wildebeest in the Maasai Mara was harder than I thought. At 1,500 square kilometres, the Mara is vast, and the Serengeti is even larger. Finding the wildebeest at the exact moment that they decide to cross a river is almost impossible. But not quite.