The valley

Editor's note: Upon returning from her trip to Kenya earlier this month, Abby wrote the following reflection. Read also the prequel to this post, Modern times, ancient stories.

I’ve never been in a place so desolate, so barren. Sand and scrubby trees stretched for miles. We drove for hours without seeing another person, save for one herdsman begging for water in 105-degree heat. When I stepped out of the car, the sand burned my feet through the soles of my shoes.

Two weeks ago I traveled with a World Vision team to Turkana — a marginalized, isolated territory in northwest Kenya’s Rift Valley. When you arrive there, the locals tell you, “You’ve left Kenya.” They don’t consider themselves part of the country, feeling ignored by their government and the outside world as they suffer through year after year of drought and hunger.

The mainstay of the nomadic tribe that lives here is their livestock — goats, sheep, cows, and camels. These animals not only provide food and clothing, but also income, societal status, and even the ability to start a family. If a man wants to marry, he must pay a dowry of livestock to the woman’s parents.

Drought in this part of the country is common. But this year’s drought has been particularly crippling. Many animals have died from lack of water and pasture, and some of diseases. Compounding natural factors are cattle raids from a neighboring tribe, in which Turkana families sometimes lose their entire herd, and may even lose a husband or a child in the violence.

Nakirdio sits with three of her children. (Abby Metty/WV/2011)

Nakirdio, a 27-year-old mother of 8, lost 40 goats in a raid in February. She tells me, “It was like death when the goats were taken — everybody was crying.” Eight villages in the area lost thousands of animals, and now many families depend on making and selling charcoal from firewood to buy food for their children, but it’s not really enough.

“When I see my children hungry, it’s very painful,” says Nakirdio. “That makes me go to the forest, where it’s feared, to look for firewood.” The forest is the very place where the raiders hide, and they’ve often attacked those who walk for firewood or water.

I met another woman, Atabo, who remembers a young daughter who died a few years ago. “I lost one child to hunger,” she says. “I knew that I would lose her because there wasn’t enough food at home.” I didn’t see much sorrow as she told me this — just resignation, until I asked her what she says when she prays. Then she tells me, “I say to God, ‘Why leave me to suffer this much? The children you gave me, I’m losing them one by one.’” After days of interviews just like this one, I feel worn down and at a loss for words of comfort and compassion.

The roads here are rough, and it takes hours to get anywhere. As we drove past acres and acres of sand and thorny trees, we saw shepherd boys sitting in what little shade they could find, watching their goats and sheep as they grazed. Sometimes they had guns instead of staffs, in case of raids. I was reminded of Psalm 23 (particularly the version by Jon Foreman), and never have the words been so meaningful as they were in the Rift Valley, surrounded by pain and death:

Even as I’m walking through the valley of death and dying, You are with me, You’re always with me.

I listened to this song and thought of these words over and over as we drove. I thought about lack, hunger, pain, thirst, suffering, and sorrow, and the points at which I touched all of these during my time in Turkana. I thought about comfort for mothers like Atabo and Nakirdio and their husbands and sons as they watch the animals, hoping that they know that God is their shepherd and walks with them through this Valley and aches with them in their suffering.


More photos from Abby's trip:




    I, too, have been to Kenya and have never forgotten the faces of the orphans that swarmed us in Nairobi, seeking something to help them survive another day on their own. With corrupt governments in place it seems impossible to get help to the people who need it.

    could you pls visit our community school at lelmolok village kesses division during this years kenya visit?
    this is an initiative of new kenyan child foundation with a vision of a better future for kenyan child.

    As I read your blog, I'm reminded that suffering is worldwide. How great is the Vision of your organization in informing the world of the situations and circumstances all around us. Great article. Psalm 23, so relevant!

    I've been to Kenya. I've been to the Rift Valley. I can never forget the desolation and yet the strength of the people who live there. All these reports cause me to feel small and helpless until I remember that our God is loving and mighty. He has given us an open door through Jesus and prayer changes things.

    As i am writting this tears are dripping,mum am a kenyan and it pains me to see my fellow kenyans live like in the stone age in this digital days.kenya as a country is swallowed by coruption,greed and leadership bankrupt.WATER is the solution number one the rest will come.i know mum u r emotionerly affected,its a picture that you wil take time to forget.the question is what can we do to at least do something am ready to voluntere and dedicate myself.if in any case mum you have any idea on how we can make a minor imback pls feel free to contact me. am a nurse and i can blessed

    something unheard for and uncalled for. what is the government doing over there. its really a pathetic sight to see the sufferings of those innocent people and the cattles. as long as \you dont hear anything about the outside world where in so many hundreds of people are suffering from poverty,hunger and disease, its alright for all of us but once you have heard these stories, we feel really guilty in not helping them at all. that is the true story of life on this planet earth. some of us are flying high insearch of glittering gold and ornaments and living in a very cosy and comfortable manner cooly forgetting the have-nots and the down trodden people. soul is same for all of us..let us not forget the path shown by Lord Buddha and other religious saints in many religions that life is nothing but trash ..only the Jiva is important and the soul reaches its glory by sheer determination of right purpose. Let us unite and fight and help removing poverty of the people whereever they are .

    please tell me to whom that i may contribute my might to mitigate in a little way that i can do abby ?

    Ksri, I don't think I quite understand your question. Could you restate it, and I would be happy to provide an answer :)

    Thank you, Abby, for going there. You take with you the hearts of those of us who can't go. I pray that the ones you met will know you stand for many more of us who will lift them up to the Father who knows their names and their needs, and who will show Himself mighty in this place of longing, in a way I cannot yet imagine.

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