The cool breeze smells of smoke, under a crumbling concrete Jesus with abnormally big hands, alone in a sort of Christian park on top of one of three small mountains that mounds Lodwar, the biggest city in Turkana Land, an arid region of north Kenya. Another of the tiny propeller planes that dropped me here is taking of in the distance, above a peculiar mixture of corrugated steel shacks, half built concrete frames and traditional Turkanian spherical palm leaf huts - traditionally built by the wife while the husband shepherds the goats.
I love these secret quiet spaces in cities, the massive wooden church in Kiruna, the abandoned 19th century military buildings in the Red Fort in Delhi, the hidden beach in Alter Do Chao, with dead trees out in the water, river boats rushing in a distance, and one very anxious bird warning others of my approach. Although, I wish there was a cafe here with wifi where I could sit and do some work. Work with ‘my shit’, the term that more and more imply the strange digital limbo where I mainly just cmd+tab various applications without actually getting anything done. Earlier when I tried to check my email the power was out citywide so my cab driver took me to the only internet cafe with it’s own generator.
I walk back to my hostel through the dusty city and every kid shouts ‘How are you?’ at me, an echo of bright child voices following me past carpenters and metal workers in roadside workshops, repairing office furniture, crafting gaudy bed frames, or welding large mean-looking gates with spikes on top. A bunch of young girls ask me where I’m from, after deciding I’m from Germany they ask me what the best grammar school in my country is?
People acknowledge my existence with a cool nod, young boys on scooters yells something and laughs, but otherwise no one seem to mind a lone Swede meandering through the bustling dusty market streets, why would they. There is commerce everywhere, no place to rest, no space un-monetized, in a way an ideal neo-liberal urban landscape, the shopping mall - just like any European city a few hundred years back, before parks and promenades countered productivity with the for the pious ever so aggravating concept of idleness.
My neighbour in the Naiwotorong Guest House in Lodwar is a weathered Alaskan gold miner, using his old drilling skills to find water for the poor communities in the dry Turakanan wilderness. We talk on the plane back, he says that when encountering a problem, one third of the world reacts with fixing it, while the other two thirds react with wishing it goes away. I cringe when I realised what division he means. He talks about genetics, how cultural shift happens so slowly, how white people are problem solvers, maybe not by nature but by a culture that has long since been coded into our very dna, in contrast to other cultures. I counter with the differences between the perspective on authority and community in the east and the west, how capitalist industrialism is based on the trickster mentality inherent to our Abrahamic religions, how China never embarked on their possible industrial evolution in the 8th century not because they didn't have the knowledge but because they simply didn’t need to, people were happy as they were. He listens, and politely ask me what’s the difference between that and his geneticised culture?
I argue that even though these cultural shifts might be currently geneticised in some way, who will ever know, any discussion about these matters need to take class into account as the main driver for motivating and enabling progress. We agree on this.
Even though his views might render him such he isn't racist or even conservative. He is a pragmatic, matter of fact, realist, applying the skills he once used to enrich himself now to a different end. Helping poor communities get water without expecting anything in return. Befriending the locals, seeing how things and people here work, applying his levelheaded Alaskan mind to it; realising it aint working and then trying to change it. “They have a saying here in Kenya that 9 is close enough to ten, which is certainly true when you’re an artist or a maybe even a farmer - but I’m an engineer, if you give me gears with the wrong dimension my equipment is going to break and then I’m not going to be able to drill your well, and then you wont get any water, that’s a fact I can’t back away from.”
Waiting in the chill dark outside the reception for my cabdriver, there was a bat sleeping hanging from the ceiling above my bed. A detour through the dwindling streets still asleep, corrugated steel gleaming in our headlights, the occasional sleeping man, always his traditional Turkana walking staff firmly vertical in the right hand, a crazy old woman shouts something unintelligible that my relaxed driver laughs was not in any tongue familiar to him.
We're going to pic up his friend, who knows the part of the desert we’re going to better than him and who will act as our guide. The drivers all laughed yesterday when I showed them my hand-sketched map of my intended destination - the very birthplace of Industry - but to my relief no one discouraged me of going although they claimed there was absolutely nothing there.
The guide is eager, talkative and lovely, we discuss relationships while the sun rises a purple sky over dusty flatness, indifferent camels meandering past silhouette trees, car parts littering the roadside, the road itself in such bad shape that we more often than not drive beside it, zigzagging through the dry bush to Bob Marley on the stereo. As a dedicated catholic he is ashamed to admit he has two wives, the first his real love, the second the outcome of a drunken mistake, she became pregnant, and old traditions compelled him to marry her - traditions he'd rather see eradicated, but to which he has to abide lest she'd be ostracised by her family.
I tell them about my polyamorous relationship, they ask in one voice the obligatory question of jealousy and I give my standard reply that “no, it doesn’t go away, you just deal with it, incorporate it into your relationship and deal with it together, allowing your love for your partner to flow out into their love for others and so on.” We all laugh at how cheesy it sound, but I insist its truth.
The Bob Marley cassette has been repeating for hours now and the conversation ebbed out. The landscape is absolutely flat, the mountains previously in the distance now long gone, an never-ending bush with stereotypical African trees, a few stubborn palms and the odd spherical turkana huts spread out towards the horizon, all roasted by an evil sun. Lone silhouettes in traditional turkana clothes slowly hike the roadside, heads crowned by brightly yellow plastic barrels, on the daily 3 hour commute from the village to the well and back. Stern old Turkana men with their walking staff across the handlebars cycles past on gorgeous 50s bikes, batting us a suspicious eye. Goats everywhere, quite small, not minding the sun, often not seeming to belong to anyone in particular.
A big old oversized truck appear in front of us, stopped before a tree trunk over the road. Around the tree a couple of dozen people in all ages wait silently, arms crossed, watching the truck. It’s a road block, the villagers demand a toll fee to remove the tree and let the truck pass. They tell us the fee is 100 Kenyan Shillings, around €1, and we pay using mPesa, the local mobile based payment system. With a satisfied grin and howl the driver speeds the 4x4 off the road, past the truck, up a small bushy hill next to the blockage and down on the other side, to a choir of amusement from the village kids, all jumping up and down clapping hands.
A few adventures later, among others involving a delicious lunch of goat intestines and me impersonating a friend of a famous archeologist to persuade a security guard to let us pass, we reach the site. It is a few meters wide and couple meters deep hole in the ground in an otherwise featureless landscape, dry bushes and trees, a few goats in the distance. A spot that to my geologically and archeologically untrained eye seem no different than any other spot we have driven past today. But this is the birthplace of industry.
This hole revealed the oldest man made tools in history, a number of stone knifes and hammers buried in the Turkanan mud for 3.3 million years. This is the place where the first of our forefathers realised that they were able to extend their bodily capabilities through the use of external prosthetics, the moment we stopped being animals and started to become something else - creators, gods if you will.
It takes me around half an hour to get the shots I need, and afterwards the others are eager to escape the scorching heat. But I can’t just leave? This place, if spatial locations at all are to be sacred and memorialised, ought to be the most sacred place of all? Even if it’s just a piece of dusty desert I ought to at least commemorate it somehow, meditate? run around screaming?
Not feeling in the right company of doing this, I instead take a much to long take of almost unusable windy sound whilst I sit in silence trying something akin to a prayer. Then we leave, and go to swim in the 40° warm waves of Lake Turkana.