Suguta Marmar and Maralal towns are found in Samburu County, which is located in the Northern region of Kenya and is dominantly occupied by the  Samburu tribe/community. My decision to delve into this region which doesn’t fall into the usual “tourist” areas especially for backpackers, was guided both by the urge to solve a mystery as well as satisfy my adventurous spirit. One of my foreign readers had queried on the safety of solo, female backpackers travelling in Kenya and it hit me, I didn’t actually know, as I had never traveled solo in Kenya. My conscience wouldn’t be clear if I responded with a generic response as all my articles and information are about my actual, personal experiences. My brain thus conjured this amazing albeit insane plan that I should attempt to backpack via public means, solo, overland from Nairobi to Lake Turkana in Loiyangalani. I figured, if I successfully completed this expedition to the harshest of areas in Kenya, it would be a great gauge/dip stick on the rest of Kenya and I would demystify Northern Kenya while at it. My first stop was thus Suguta Marmar and Maralal.

  As I started my travel, there was limited information on what to do or see and thus I didn’t even have a to do list. Below is what I enjoyed  while visiting Suguta Marmar and Maralal town as well as the dark side.

1) Walking around 

Most people in the town can at basic communicate in Kiswahili language, with the educated ones also speaking in English. Walk in the market area and get yourself a pair of their locally produced designer foot wear, referred to as “Nginyera” that are pocket friendly.

The locals in Samburu County, Kenya
The men dressed in shukas and traditional shoes in Suguta Marmar, Samburu, Kenya
With traditional Kenya shoes in Samburu,
Wearing my new custom made shoes, “Nginyera” in Suguta Marmar, Samburu, Kenya

The unique thing about them is that they are custom made as you wait. One’s foot outline is drawn and cut from a truck tyre, thus confirming their strength and durability. The straps and outer layout are then hammered in with small nails and soon you can wear your shoes.

With traditional Kenya shoes in Samburu,
Wearing my new custom made shoes, “Nginyera” in Suguta Marmar, Samburu, Kenya

I particularly love mine and highly advise you to get a pair, the terrain there will not be friendly to your fancy sandals or shoes.  I highly recommend you ask your designer to place a “raised tyre flap ” on the side like mine, as it prevents your ankles from hitting each other, 🙂 trust me, it is very handy.  For those who wish for a softer feel, feel free to wear them with socks preferably black or dark colored
2)Interacting with the culture:

a)Dressing: The young men or recent initiates  known as morans are a sight to behold. They have their hair in some sort of braids, but since it was a hot and dry season, they had covered their heads with handkerchiefs to prevent their hair from getting dirty. The men also adorn jewellery on their bodies from earings, bracelets and body chains.

A Samburu Moran in Samburu, Kenya
Samburu moran has his hair covered to protect it from getting dirty in Suguta Marmar, Samburu, Kenya
A samburu moran with jewellery, Samburu, Kenya
A Samburu Moran decked in bead jewellery across his body in Suguta Marmar, Samburu, Kenya

The women wear colourful neckpieces known as shangas that are made from beads and are very beautiful. They then bedeck their shoulders with colourful lesos/shawls, their arms with beaded bracelets, their ears, their feet are all well adorned.

Samburu women jewelley, Samburu, Kenya
Jewellery is an important element of the Samburu culture, don’t I just blend in, Suguta Marmar, Samburu, Kenya?

I was privileged to make friends with a lady called Wangechi who is Samburu and was willing to show me around her village. I highly recommend making friends with one of the locals because in the villages, most only speak the local language Samburu and thus having a translator enriches the experience even more. Feel free to purchase some of their beautiful jewellery

A samburu lady in Samburu, Kenya
Wangechi sharing her culture with me in Suguta Marmar, Samburu, Kenya
Samburu lady in Samburu, Kenya
The earring symbolizes that the lady is married in Samburu culture, in Suguta Marmar, Samburu, Kenya

b)Homes:

They live in homes known as manyattas, which are made by women using  wood, mud and cowdung. I was actually impressed at how some of these homes are very beautiful once you enter. They can be spacious and some are like modern homes with different rooms and compartments.

A samburu house, known as a manyatta in Samburu, Kenya
A samburu house, known as a manyatta in Suguta Marmar, Samburu, Kenya
A bed in a manyatta, Samburu, Kenya
Their beds are made of dried cow hide on a raised platform in Suguta Marmar, Samburu, Kenya

c)Language:

Learn basic words from their language.

Hi- supa pronounce soba.

I am well-Aye

The younger one always bends their head slightly when greeting an older person and the older person lays their hand on the head in greeting/blessing.

Thank You-Ashe Oleng

Good Bye-Lesereni

d)Lifestyle:
The Samburu are pastoralists by nature and thus keep lots of cattle and goats. The more cattle one has, the more wealthy he is. As you walk around the area, you will find boys and young men walking long distances in search of pasture. They  drink both goat and cow milk and this was my first time to drink tea prepared with goats milk,. It wasn’t bad, just felt lighter/thinner than cow milk.

Livestock in Samburu, Kenya
Livestock are very important to the Samburu Community, in Suguta Marmar, Samburu, Kenya
Holding a kid in Suguta Marmar, Samburu, Kenya
Holding a kid in Suguta Marmar, Samburu, Kenya

e) Interaction:

The women and men do not interact much unless they are family or well known friends.  If and when morans enter the house, the women have to leave, Fact. There was one incident where whilst visiting a homestead in a village, I got to see the sharp disparity between men and women. The son of the lady whose home we were in, returned from grazing their cattle, a practice called “kuenda fora”. He had been away for over six months and when he entered the home, all off us hurriedly left the compound without a moments notice. It is only later I was explained to that, it is taboo for females including his mother and sisters, to see a moran/initiate/warrior eating.Thus as a lady,  keep your distance from the men unless you have one who is your friend, who can then introduce you to the others.

Women in Samburu, Kenya
Women making jewellery in Suguta Marmar, Samburu, Kenya

3) Visit Samburu National Reserve:

This park is one of my favourite National Reserves  in Kenya and can be accessed from Suguta Marmar. I had previously visited this park as highlighted in http://79.170.40.46/wangechigitahi.co.ke/the-suprise-that-is-samburu-national-reserve.  National parks never offer a surety of seeing the expected wildlife, but, on our visit there, it felt like the animals were falling over each other to see us, or was it for us to see them. We saw lions mating, lions attempt an attack on elephant calves, an elephant refusing to move in front of our truck, to having baboons raid our tents for food as we were camping in the park among others.I would thus recommend all to visit it and even as we approached Suguta Marmar on this trip I got to see giraffes, buffalos, and elephants staring at us from the fence.

A lion at Samburu National Reserve, Samburu, Kenya
The King of the jungle, strolling in Samburu National Park, Samburu, Kenya

4)Visit the local schools

I visited Suguta Marmar School and the interactions were true eye openers. I met students who didnt necessarily want to be in school but, attended so as to access the free food offered by the government to school going children here. I met ladies who didn’t see the purpose of school as they believed the only duty of a woman is to get married, and young at that. I met boys who saw little value in education as they were looking forward to inheriting their families wealth. I met girls who had been rescued from early marriages and other forms of abuse who now called Mary Immaculate Rescue Center their home. I also met students who wanted to break from this norm, to read, to get beyond secondary and university, to improve their lives and that of their families as a result of investing in their education, but didn’t know how. This led to the inception of “Be a Friend of Suguta Marmar”, a community based project that I started and run in this place. Our objective is to empower the students to study via provision of school amenities, as well as sponsoring their education. We partner with the Rescue Center to provide clothes and basic amenities to the girls, as well as offer mentorship. If you would like to partner with us, feel free to contact me.

Students of Suguta Marmar Primary School, Saburu, Kenya
Students of Suguta Marmar Primary School, Saburu, Kenya

6) Security challenges

The area faces several attacks of  banditry and cattle rustling .The saddest thing about it is that these attacks are normally armed attacks. This has resulted in most of the women here being widows, children being orphaned and poverty levels being high. I met children with gunshot wounds which they got when they got caught up in the cross-fire, that sometimes comes in the form of shots fired at their mud thatched houses.  I ask the government to intervene and make these areas safer for the families as well as the communities to do away with cattle rustling culture forever, as many innocent lives are lost as a result.

Maralal Town:

Kenyatta House:

Kenyatta House, Samburu, Kenya
Kenyatta House, Samburu, Kenya

This house was built in 1959 and is where the first President of Kenya-Mzee Jomo Kenyatta served part of his detention. This is also where he wrote his famous book “Facing Mount Kenya” . It  has been well maintained by the Kenya Museums and is free to visit. Please wear sports shoes if travelling via public means to this place because the distance from the buspark to the house is quite far.  The terrain is also unfavourable and the house is practically up a hill . The visit is however well worth it.

Inside Kenyatta house, Samburu, Kenya
Inside the house of the first president of Kenya, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in Samburu, Kenya

Transport:

Since I was backpacking overland from Nairobi to Maralal, this is how I got there. I boarded a matatu or minivan from the Nuclear company at Nyamakima stage in downtown Nairobi, with final destination Nyahururu taking about four hours. Once in Nyahururu, I waited for a matatu/minivan from the same bus company heading to Maralal and took about four hours to Suguta Marmar. Honestly, by the time we arrrived, all my bones were rattling, I was exhausted and the cake of dust on my body a reflection of the journey. I stayed over in Suguta Marmar for a few days before moving on to Maralal town. In this case, my means of transport was the below blue truck with benches acting as seats, a new mode of travel for me. They however now have minivans/matatus plying the route and the road has been done, thus travelling there is much easier.

Transportation to Marala from Suguta Marmarin Samburu, Kenya
My transportation to Marala from Suguta Marmarin Samburu, Kenya

I would definitely highly advise everyone to  travel to Samburu county and visit Suguta Marmar and Maralal . I loved the chance to interact with the Samburu community, their culture and made lifelong friends. The area also managed to demystify the place for me and I hope I have done the same for you. As with all places, there is always the good and the bad, but good always wins. I was happy to have a chance to actually see and hear about it live, to be sensitized to the issues other Kenyans face, to share the same with all my readers and others and to have an opportunity to be part of the solution, even if in a small way. Next up, I was advised by the locals to head to Baragoi town as I continued to attempt to get to Loiyangalani. For more on the Northern Kenya exploits, check out:

Baragoi:  http://79.170.40.46/wangechigitahi.co.ke/discovering-baragoi/.

Loiyangalani: http://79.170.40.46/wangechigitahi.co.ke/demystifying-loiyangalani/

Northern Kenya:  http://79.170.40.46/wangechigitahi.co.ke/9-things-they-do-not-tell-you-about-northern-kenya/

Challenges facedhttp://79.170.40.46/wangechigitahi.co.ke/challenges-of-backpacking-northern-kenya/

Lake Turkana Festival: http://79.170.40.46/wangechigitahi.co.ke/marsabit-lake-turkana-festival/

Comments

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  4. Wao what an epic adventure and very admirable considering the travel arrangement you used and best of all enlightening Kenyans to tour there country first for there is alot to see and venture in at the same time. Really like the guts you have Wangechi!!! God’s Speed!!!

  5. Pingback: Backpacking Northern Kenya | Wangechi Gitahi

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