Travelling by vehicle on the highway from Nairobi to Narok, Kenya, the first glimpse of the Great Rift Valley is staggering. Your eye cannot take in its breadth and its beauty. This is the panoramic road I travelled a few short weeks ago on February 19.
As we drive down the mountain on the narrow yet well-paved road, the valley opens up into a wide flat expanse that is harshly beautiful. There is no water here, although signs of flooding are visible in the deeply corrugated clay – but this is February and there is little rain. The grass is scorched; the trees are no larger than bushes. The sun blazes in the bright blue sky.
Bundles of branches with green leaves sit by the side of the road. The local people make charcoal and package it in the leaf bundles to market it. There is little commerce around here for locals; our driver, Eric, says multinational corporations buy or lease most of the land in the valley to grow wheat. The corporations farm with machines and spray with crop duster airplanes, so they don’t provide any local employment.
I catch my first glimpse of a Maasai man herding sheep, his bright red cloak blowing in the breeze. Later, passing through a small village, I see a man wearing jeans on a motorcycle roar past a group of Maasai women sitting by the side of the road in their traditional attire. My travelling companions don’t think anything of this cultural juxtaposition, although I find it amusing. (But then, they don’t think my first sighting of zebras grazing placidly by the side of the road is that exciting, either!)
As part of a team from Operation Eyesight, we are on our way to Narok District to review our trachoma and water projects. In a land where clean, safe water is in short supply, the boreholes and water points that Operation Eyesight’s generous donors have provided have brought newfound life to many communities.
Maasai women and children walk for miles each day, generic yellow plastic containers in their hands, to the nondescript concrete buildings that house boreholes. They line up patiently twice a day, waiting until the borehole administrator arrives to turn the generator on and start the water flow. (The precious water doesn’t run all the time as it would be wasted.)
In times of drought, there is a separate tap that flows into huge concrete troughs, where thirsty herds of cattle, goats and sheep jostle for position to drink. The tiny goats are so eager for a drink that they climb right inside the troughs.
As the tap is turned on, children wash their dusty hands and faces in the cool water, grinning at me as they shake their wet heads. Not only does it feel good in the heat, but they are learning to keep their faces clean, which helps prevent the agonizing bacterial infection of the eyes known as trachoma.
As I look out at the expanse of dry earth around us and hear the laughter of the children and the happy chatter around me, I am so proud to be a part of Operation Eyesight, bringing water – the source of life and health – to this and other communities here in Kenya. If you could see these happy smiles, you would know that our donors and supporters have truly made a remarkable difference to the people of Narok District, one that warms the heart as much as the sunlight warms my back.