Rankin in Kenya

Emergencies article written on the 16 Aug 2011

More than 2.4 million Kenyans are affected by the current drought and food crisis. Renowned photographer Rankin recently visited the drought-hit Turkana region of northern Kenya with Oxfam. In the video above, he records his impressions and experience of how communities have been affected.

Below, two of the villagers Rankin photographed during his visit tell their stories.

Tede Lokapelo

Eighty-five-year-old Tede Lokapelo has vivid memories of a time when the land was fertile and “it used to rain for days”. Now, however, he’s “living the worst time of my life … We are poor because the season is always dry. Everything dies, every day, every day, every day. For me the world has changed for the worse. We are living with a lot of uncertainties — no water, no food. It used to rain even when the grass was still green … Now maybe it rains for a few minutes or a few hours but the earth is too dry [and] nothing can be absorbed. This kind of drizzly rain is useless. If you look at the ground it is not even wet.”

The rains didn’t just disappear overnight. The region has been getting gradually drier for decades, and people aren’t the only ones affected. Once, Tede says, “wild animals were everywhere. There were antelopes, ostriches, wild cats, even lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards … The last time I saw a lion it was 1971 … The antelope remained around for a while but by 1988 the antelopes also started dying. The wild animals found no grass here, just dust … Those that could walk began walking away. They went to places where they could find shade and water.” He adds, “In my dreams I see the animals running away from me, playing in some isolated place or shading under a tree. These are dreams that maybe your goals are getting lost.”

Tede also dreams about food. “Sometimes I dream about food. I dream that I am eating, eating, eating. Sometimes sorghum, sometimes meat, sometimes milk — but when I wake up it is not there and I realise that it is just a dream … It’s hard to sleep when you are hungry. You get no peace. You spend all night shifting around. Everywhere aches. You try this side, that side, two minutes on your back. When you sleep on your left side the other side is sore. You can hear your stomach rumbling all night.”

Ikai Nayapar

Whereas Tede is old enough to remember better times, 12-year-old Ikai is accustomed to hunger. “Yesterday we didn’t eat anything,” she says. “I’m hungry but there’s nothing I can do about it. It is usually like this. You learn to get used to it. The longest I have gone without food is five days. That was last week.”

The second-youngest in her family (she has two brothers and a sister), Ikai sometimes has to walk a long way in search of a friend or neighbour who can lend her food. “The day before yesterday I borrowed some maize and yellow split peas and a small amount of vegetable oil from our friends, and we had one meal before going to bed. Everyone ate something even if the portions were tiny.”

Of the 100 goats her family once owned, only 11 survive. “Some can’t stand up anymore”, Ikai says. “As a last resort, when we are really hungry we kill the weakest goat and eat that but there is not much meat and it doesn’t taste good. Sometimes it makes us vomit.”

But the family’s dwindling livestock also has another, less obvious, impact. Ikai’s father Dominic explains, “In our culture we believe that a beautiful lady needs ornaments. I used to buy my wife and daughters necklaces. I would exchange two female goats for one large necklace. Who will buy my daughter her necklaces now? She doesn’t have enough. My daughters are beautiful and their father should be able to buy them ornaments.”

By donating to our Africa food appeal, you’ll be helping us support people like Tede and Ikai with life-saving water, sanitation and food.