In the wake of a harsh reality that might befall lake Turkana and the tribes who’s livelihood is glued to it. It’s almost the same thing happening in the ‘small village’ somewhere in the north of Kenya, even worse is the fate of this village.
The Ethiopian government has a grand plan to harness the powers of the Omo river. With this great river that runs from Southern Ethiopia to Northern Kenya, a hydroelectric dam is to be built across the river by the Ethiopian government. So also the river is to afforestate the riverbanks with cotton and sugarcane by means of streams of water channelled towards the plantation, let’s just say ‘irrigation’. For men of change and development, it’s more than a grand scheme and honestly for the selected few, it means ‘more money rolling in the bank’. In fact anyone with such a river will carry out this exact scheme. But looking at the environmental and socio-economic effects of this project, especially through the eyes of tribes of the far Northern Kenya who have nothing but Lake Turkana. It is a bad idea.
‘This is how a profitable and good idea can turn out to be evil especially when there’s no intention to help those affected by the undesirable but often overlooked consequences of the idea. This is something that happens in everyday capitalism. ‘
Lake Turkana is a provider of life, food, water etc to these beautiful people who are hardly considered citizens of Kenya by both the government and the southerners. Building some 800-foot wall of concrete across this river, Omo means cutting these tribes out of life. River Omo feeds lake Turkana with water, so a cut from the north means lesser and lesser fishes for the tribes. The government of both countries seem silent towards the evil gradually coming to their people. Not even the protests or complaints can help.
In the ‘small village’ in northern Kenya. A little far from lake Turkana, it’s neither near the place called Selicho nor the village Ileret where the sound of bleating goats echo from. It’s a village consisting of a few people of the Daasanch tribe; a place where schools are over an hour and a half by foot, donkeys as the only tools for cruise or ride, no power supply and no cellular coverage.
What does happiness mean to the people of this small village? Especially when their existence isn’t well represented on the map or them being regarded as ‘others’.
As for Fanaka Hamisi (the name Fanaka means success and valuable while Hamisi means born on Thursday. Both are Swahili names) and his village people happiness means; food on the table, plenty of nile perches in the market basket, clean water, neighbourhoods safe of the light-fast bullets from the end of the poacher’s barrels, safer shelter etc. Sadness to them was like every moment and so synonymous to the word ‘forever’.
A man from the city with a whole lot of money recently acquired over 20 plots of land close to Fanaka’s village, in no time he started a sugarcane plantation. From a little bit of agricultural studies, sugarcane is a water-draining floral beast. In a village with dry land, it only meant their lake will be a drinking fountain to the sugar cane farm. The villagers had told the cane farmer about the evil of his agenda but he kept on promising the farm was to bring them better jobs. Upon all he said, not a single stroke of work brushed the energetic and eager hands of these helpless people. Day by day, the farm’s heavy demand for water kept shrinking the already over-fished lake. Meaning fishermen and fish sellers like Fanaka’s mother, Aisha Hamisi will all become one (jobless).
It was a very hot day in Fanaka’s village as usual. The sky so bright to look up to and the air so dry and harsh. The ground felt like the floor of a furnace. Too hot to set foot on but not too hot for the poor and young Fanaka to work bare foot on. He had to run errands with no shoes and also play in that horrible condition.
The little boy was made fatherless three years ago, after two bullets had drilled into his father’s stomach. The bullets came from a shoot-out between rival poacher gangs. They came as stray bullets to Fanaka’s father who was having a busy day on his farm. Since the departure of Fanaka’s father, life became nothing but a very harsh harmattan to both Fanaka and his mother Aisha. Her husband’s farmland was snatched by his relatives after his death.
Aisha moved into Kenya in the early 1990s from Somalia. She was one of those lucky enough to have fled the country as soon as the Somalian Civil War started. She lost her parents during the outbreak. She made it into Kenya via the north. She met Fanaka’s father who without hesitation befriended and married her till he died three years ago. Her husband’s death was of great grief to her. She and her son suffered a lot from her neighbours who saw her as an alien. She fed her son with the little money she raised from selling nile perches on a small scale. Soon Fanaka had to quit school since she couldn’t afford paying. So he helped his mother in the fish market; when free from duty he wandered around the vegetation and hills of the village, enjoying nature.
The Society of African Missions popularly known as SMA could have helped in their own little way. But it was a hard time trying to persuade the villagers about the need to put aside traditional religion and accept Christ, the Messiah. Just like the Jews expected a ‘Messiah’ who was going to lead in their war to be liberated from Rome. Such was the expectation of the villagers who’s minds were in the maze of paganism and atheism.
Despite the failure of SMA in Christianising the villagers, all wasn’t lost. Fanaka Hamisi as six as he was, was more like the new soul who had been won for Christ. Young, high spirited and intelligent, Fanaka believed in God and was fascinated by the nativity story and even the life of Jesus Christ. Women are known to have a stronghold on their child’s religious life, but Aisha was more of an atheist.
She stopped believing in God when their civil war started and she saw what evil religious men did then. She never discouraged Fanaka when it came to Christianity. She was in full support of her son. Always coming to defend her son, when a villager mocked her son’s faith.
‘To be for God, you have to be like a child.’
Even in the hardship Fanaka faced at this tender and delicate stage of life, he kept on believing in what the missionaries taught him. Although when his father died, he was stunned a little. But with his mother by his side who kept on telling him to believe what he always believed despite her own disbelieve. Fanaka rose strong again in his faith. Even in poverty and uncertainty of breakfast and dinner, Fanaka kept seeing the beauty of God in the trees and wildlife around him. He even told his mother twice how he heard God’s voice in the wind-blown whistling trees. A child with no experience, but some colourful images from a children’s Bible. Fanaka became a freak among the other children. Over time he had no friend. He also had a lot of unanswered questions with no one to help.
Christmas was near, but the supply of fish was as good as nothing. Thanks to the sugarcane farm.
It was almost sunset, Fanaka was up for another wandering adventure of his own. He usually spoke to himself while working in the forest admiring the birds around and plucking sweet smelling flowers.
With mud, sticks and undesirable things to play with, Fanaka never failed to derive pleasure from the nature around him.
The little and happy boy started his long walk deep into the remote highlands of Kenya. He was ready for a mini safari of seeing a herd of herbivores from afar.
A few kilometres in the forest.
There was a loud terrifying noise echoing round the highlands. It was the sound of agony. Powered by curiosity and bravery (sometimes termed as a child’s stupidity) Fanaka went further. The more he moved, the louder the sound grew. It was the sound of an animal in agony, the painful trumpeting of a baby elephant. The elephant was stuck in the muddy part of a small lake. The lake is usually a bathtub to soft bellied ferocious reptiles, crocodiles. But it was free today since at daytime the water is usually too hot and of no good to the crocs.
Wondering why a baby elephant is alone in this muddy wilderness, the calf had lost its mother to the ivory thieves. Just like how Fanaka lost his own father.
It was evident that the calf had been struggling for a long time, possibly two hours. Using its feet to wade off the boiling mud in the hope that it will walk out of the pool. Yet all its leg strokes proved fruitless.
As soon as Fanaka got into the elephant’s view, the struggling cute calf’s cry faded away slowly. Soon it became relaxed. Fanaka was on an elevated land mass, high above the pool. He motioned to descend down the cliff and help. Only for the elephant to cautiously trumpet, sounding a note of warning to the little boy not to risk entering the pool.
Reluctantly Fanaka sat on the mounted earth and kept gazing at the poor chubby creature who also maintained an affectionate eye contact with him. After a while the calf sat in the mud and kept watching Fanaka like he was her mother. The sun sank below the horizon and everywhere grew darker.
Two older boys of age 16 whom Fanaka knew from his village, were passing by. Fanaka approached them, if they could use their ropes to pull out the baby elephant. But the boys with a tone of ridicule, replied him ‘call your white God to help you’
A few minutes after they were gone, the calf started crying, waving it’s trunk towards the other side of the lake. It was not long when Fanaka realised the mud was getting cooler meaning the crocodiles will be back for some cold bath and probably have the elephant for supper. That’s more like a good way to end the day, if you are a crocodile. All these made the calf cry again.
Fanaka sang a traditional Kenyan song, this made the elephant feel a little poised, it was fully night time.
Now it occurred to Fanaka the need to go home, he knew for sure his mother will be worried. He reluctantly stood up to go home. Again the calf trumpeted in sorrow as he waved her goodbye.
A few metres away from the calf, Fanaka felt deep sympathy for the her. So he looked around for a tree branch or something he could use as a walking platform for the calf to walk on. But he found none. Back he went to the calf, at his appearance the calf beamed happily a little and sat upon its muddy throne. A flash of thought told Fanaka to run home and bring help, but he knew better than that. His mother won’t let him out of her sight the moment he returns.
A little longer but much colder, Fanaka began to shiver under his light weight cotton t-shirt and knicker. The temperature had dropped rapidly. The moonlight and it’s grey shimmering reflection in the lake were the only source of illumination.
Fanaka waited like help was coming, he’s waiting to an adult’s perspective will look stupid. To the elephant it was a noble and warm gesture. As for Fanaka he had no explanation except his unusual love for animals.
Soon he heard voices from the dark forest nearby, accompanied by bright yellow beams of light. The owner of the voices were talking about an elephant crying and they seemed to be looking for it.
Fanaka stood up with a pounding heart, loud enough to betray any bravery left of him. He had the feeling he was about to face some merciless ivory thieves. With some courage, he strained his eyes to make a picture of the incoming guests. To his horror, he could see the rough outline of six men and their rifles.
They soon came close and then Fanaka knew he was safe. The six men were rangers from Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. The conservancy can be found at the south of Isiolo town and north of Mount Kenya. It’s home to endangered species like the black rhinoceros, Grevy’s zebra and sitatunga. It also houses the big five (Masai Lion, African Leopard, bush elephant, rhino and African buffalo).
Someone who appeared to be their leader spoke in a silky tone to Fanaka but asked why he risked being here at this time of the day. Young Hamisi explained the situation to them.
‘Unpacking of the kits in their backpack, some rope knotting skills, burning some calories.’
In no time the Lewa patrol team safely pulled out the calf. She threw her trunk around Fanaka as a sign of appreciation and gazing happily at the men who helped her out.
The head of the rangers a young looking fellow with a chocolate brown skin and tall figure like the other five, asked what Fanaka wanted as a christmas gift for the bravery he showed towards an endangered species. Without hesitation, Fanaka politely emphasised on the need to help his mum with a job and his intention of resuming school. With a smile on his face, the head of the Rangers, Mr Alex approved Fanaka’s request with a hug.
Mr Alex and two other rangers decided to walk Fanaka home with the good news. While the other three took a different part heading to Lewa with the calf using their patrol truck.
The elephant made a loud cry and ran towards Fanaka, who stroked it’s head. She didn’t want to leave Fanaka. All six men and Fanaka felt that emotional moment. With a sharp judgement Alex said ‘Fanaka has to go with this cute calf. I believe she will be fine with him.’ All six men escorted Fanaka home with the elephant.
After a round of scolding from Aisha and telling how depressed she was searching the neighbourhood for her only son. She thanked the rangers and hugged her son.
Alex took the moment to explain what bravery her son exhibited and that she was being offered a better job in Lewa Community. With the good news Aisha said to her son ‘you believed in God, prayed to him and saw him in nature and he finally blessed you.’ Aisha burst into joyful tears and wishing she believed in the God of her dear Fanaka.
On this day, December 22, 2013 Christmas just got rosy for Fanaka and Aisha. Fanaka was thankful for the gift of a better life and a good friend in the elephant he selflessly saved.
This is the story of Fanaka, the friend of the white God, like the people around him said.
Not all Christmas gifts come in colourful wrappers. Fanaka’s gift came through his passion, bravery, hope and most of all God.
Be awesome to someone. Happy Christmas!!!!
Original story composed by VictorMaria Ajayi Abayomi
Published by Owls and Robins
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