We spent a little time visiting the Iraqw (pronounced “eeraku”) people in Karatu. Despite the similarity in name, they certainly weren’t related to the Iraqis. Having no idea what other indigenous people there were in the Crater area, we followed along when Muba left us with our local guide. We started off in one of the villages, really a series of ramshackle wooden huts with smouldering hearths smoking up the dark interior to keep the bugs at bay. He gave us a little lecture on Iraqw history – that they had arrived here hundreds of years ago before the Maasai and were farmers living off the rich brown soil of the area. There was some tension between them and the Maasai. It seemed like the two tribes compete for land, one wanted it for farming and the other for pasture land. The Iraqw naturally feel resentful that their more famous countrymen seemed to be given more concessions and government help when they were the ones who were willing to change some of their customs according to government direction. They were especially disgruntled that they had to use less wood for their houses as the government was concerned about deforestation. They roofed them with metal instead of the traditional wood. We soon emerged from the hut and next thing we knew, the local guide said that he was being summoned by the village elders and had to leave. He left us in the charge of his 20 year old son, Selestine.
And off we went on our walk through the valley that was just at the back of the village.
It was a very easy walk across very brown earth. It was very dry and only the oldupai plants seemed to be growing in profusion.
I don’t understand where all the water came to carve out this valley as it was so dry. I kept wondering whether water would suddenly gush out and wash us all away like in those crappy made for TV disaster movies.
It was pretty cool to look at all this stuff about erosion and all, so many years after learning it in geography class. I kept thinking of my friends doing geography. Tricia and Serene, these pictures are for you!
Another weird thing was how pretty the weeds are here. I asked about this lovely pale yellow flower and whether the cows eat them. Selestine dismissed it as a weed. End of story. I guess a 20 year old has other things on his mind.
Such as girls. We stopped for our packed lunch at a tired little gazebo inside the grounds of a convenience store/cafe. By now, we were heartily sick and tired of boiled eggs and passed ours to Selestine. He hungrily tore into his own packed lunch. (Muba had passed the guide’s box to Selestine and got a day off – he later told us he enjoyed some ugali, something like polenta, and beef stew at the local cafe.) I’ve never seen anyone beat DC in wolfing down a leg of chicken. To be fair, DC was still sick and he was probably giving Selestine a chance. Selestine then charmed the two girls at the cafeteria by giving them the boiled eggs and chocolate bars we didn’t want.
We also went to visit the Iraqw school. It was such an eyeopener to see that the entire primary school was divided into just two classes – upper and lower primary. The students crammed themselves behind the desks and it’s still a mystery how they learn in such a mixed class. The head mistress showed us what they were learning and there was a question and answer session where they asked where Singapore was and whether we had any farmland. The students were astonished when DC told them that we grow crops by suspending them in the air and spray water with fertiliser at the roots. It was starkly different reality for these students, with their fates tied so closely to their reddish brown earth.
Then we went past the brick factory. Here’s where the local earth gets pressed into bricks, dried out and then stacked up.
The hollow at the bottom is then filled with wood and the bricks are fired in this self-provided kiln. It’s a pretty cool concept.
We then visited Selestine’s house where his mother served us typical lunch fare of beans cooked with maize. It was tasty enough, mainly because there were more beans than tasteless starchy white corn, but the flavour became incredibly monotonous very quickly. It was hard to imagine that this is what they eat three days a meal, every single day. No wonder Selestine bolted down his chicken and boiled egg so quickly!
Selestine’s father then sang us a few songs, fiddling along on his traditional string instrument with Selestine on the drum and his wife and neighbour accompanying him in dancing and backup vocals. They soon pulled me up and I shuffled awkwardly along. Leave a comment if you’d really like to see the video. It makes me cringe, but at least the song is rather interesting.
And then Muba pulled up in the van and plucked us back to Endoro Lodge for the evening.