Pressing for time


October 3, 2011

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    Unfortunately, the water in this pond is too salty to drink. Photo: Bija Gutoff/Mercy Corps Photo: dscn3706.jpg
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    Photo: Bija Gutoff/Mercy Corps Photo: dscn3720.jpg

All day long, as the heat swelled to a punishing bake, gray clouds teased a promise of rain. But no rain came. In Wajir town and the surrounding scrub the landscape is parched: red sand, broken branches, piles of white rocks. This seemingly forgotten region of Kenya, just an hour by plane from the busy commerce of Nairobi, is withering without water.

We drove about 15K, bouncing along a dusty one-lane track — veering off every now and then to give right of way to a top-heavy bus or truck — to the pond where our friends had seen 30 giraffes the other day. As we pulled up, parked, and got out to walk around, the only animals were a skinny fox, a few pelicans and a pair of storks.

A body of water! On approach, the pond seemed like a miracle. But up close, it wasn’t so inviting. Too salty for people to drink, it’s used for washing cars. An outdoor utility sink. It was sad to see so much garbage in a place that could have been a lovely oasis. But here, where people are struggling just to live, putting effort into creating and maintaining pretty places just isn’t the mindset.

On the way back we did spot one giraffe, far off. It was stunning to see him at home in the wild. He was impossibly tall, bending down to snatch leaves from a tree that an animal with a normally proportioned neck would have to climb a long way up to reach. He might have even been comical — if he didn’t seem to be pressing his native landscape so hard to win a little more time. Further on we passed another giraffe that, sadly, had lost that fight.