Let’s face it. It’s just about impossible to describe Meru, or her people in a single word. They are quite reserved. They are neither as pompous as the people from the lakeside, nor as athletic as the leather-cheget-enthusiasts resident in Iten and surroundings. They come off as a derivative mish mash, neither here nor there.
Apart from the infamous ‘green gold’ and somehow vocal politicians – most times making headlines for dubious reasons – foot in mouth comments, or like the recent hullabaloo over the La Mada Three, it’s not a community that really hogs the headlines.
That’s about to change, and in a positive way, thanks to a tireless, enterprising Son of the Soil.
This is the man, MC Skolla.
MC Skolla is hard to define. He’s all deep in the veins and arteries of what’s trending and happening in the region. Events, community drives, entrepreneurship, social gigs and marketing forums. These are the brains behind the CHAMBUA MERU INITIATIVE, whose sole objective is opening up the Meru region, through eco-tourism.
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Tourism in the larger community is in itself a pretty alien notion. The sons and daughters of Meru do not grow up with intent to ‘travel and see the world’. It’s a pretty set trajectory: Go to school. Get a job. Get married. Build a house (sometimes, for the parents). Pursue farming. Educate the kids. Retire. Watch the grandkids.
I’ve not seen a son of Meru buy a fancy car before building a semi-permanent rural home. It’s their way of life. Priorities, man.
A few years back, when I first came across CHAMBUA MERU INITIATIVE, I was skeptic. What the hell is this brother smoking? But I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the growth has been steady and admirable. There’s something to write home about.
I decide to sign up for an event scheduled for Sunday, 30th June 2019 and interestingly tagged LAKE NKUNGA KINYWAJI TOUR. That’s catchy and authentic. If nothing else, I’d be sure to enjoy some drinks and network – just bring your favorite drink along. Hell, yeah.
The package is quite friendly – just a K, transport and food inclusive. The drinks are up to the participants. Carry whatever moves you, or rather,flattens you. Only drivers and teetotalers (is that the spelling?) will have to be sober. I don’t know if we’d have KWS Rangers in the crowd, but I would prefer a sober one in case we ran into elephants that throng the larger Nkunga Forest.
Lake Nkunga is located around 4km on the Meru/Isiolo/Nanyuki Road, at the eastern foot of Mt. Kenya, on some sort of volcanic cul de sac. It’s been tagged as a sacred lake, and the community’s ancestors would offer sacrifices at the lake in times of calamity. It’s also said that the lake has a mythical resident: a seven headed dragon, or snake-like creature that would swallow the live sacrifices whole.
Tall tale, huh? I have to see this.
As it is, my previous Saturday had been quite eventful and I missed the arranged transport to the lake, so I had to follow along on my trusty Yamaha. I arrived a little past noon, and I found the party starting. Its a beautiful place, clear smooth water, though parts covered with some sort of floating weed mass. There’s quite a sizeable crowd – maybe 20 or so, all ages from early 20s to, maybe 50s.
Most people are sprawled on the carpet grass on the water’s edge, on colorful Vikoys and lessos, eating their lunch. Some of the crowd was walking along the tree line, and I could sense some had already tested the theme of this eco-tour.
There’s a bare-chested Odiero! Jesus, this place seems like a million kilometers from civilization, and there’s a shirtless white guy? That is the power of Chambua Meru Initiative.
I have to blend in. I remind myself to try some restraint and not head towards the pile of drinks I spotted a little off the buffet table. There’s whisky, brandy, some vodka, a lot of six-packs and what seems to be a jerry can of traditional gruel! Who tags a jerry can of traditional gruel on a tour?
All we need is a band, and this would be a Blankets and Wine Fest. Except, I can’t see any wine. Ok, Blankets & Gruel, then.
I walk to the edge of the lake. Good Lord, I can see someone paddling in the water. Dude, haven’t you read the folklore that’s been told about this lake? Didn’t your grandmother scare you shitless around the fireplace with tales of the seven-headed dragon that live(s) in this lake and swallowed clueless brats who pissed in their beds?
Would I swim in this lake? Hell, no. Plus never mind the shining sun, the water is freaking cold. Not that the Meru can swim to save their own skins, anyway. All most can manage is some hopeless paddling around, no offense. It’s a sacred place, said to have had sacrifices here – fancy stepping on a skull from the early 17th century. There would be no turning back from that.
Just kidding, though. It’s a quite serene place to relax and reflect on your life and soul, if you can ignore the energized MC Skolla all over – hyping and engaging the crowd.
“Are you OK, Sir?”
“Need a drink? Some soda?”
“Can we take a photo?”
“Have you networked with that guy in a blue shirt? He sells insurance”.
He’s a capable host, with the gift of handling the meek introverts and balancing out the noisy extroverts. In between every day chatter, he chips in functional banter on his dream about tourism in the region, the importance of a clean environment and so on. He’s quite likeable, with his clear specs perched on a somewhat pointy nose.
We share the drinks. I have to ride a bike back, so I tend to lean more on the traditional gruel, and take walks around. I have to avoid the infectious energy in this crowd – Drink! Drink! Drink!
There’s quite a lot of birdlife on this lake, where are the birdwatchers? My knowledge of birds is largely confined to edible doves and pigeons we would hunt as kids and roast over open fires, but there’s a lot of birds here to interest an enthusiast.
I spotted the noisy Weaver birds, Hornbills, Grey Heron, Tinker birds, Sunbirds, a few doves and pigeons.
Excuse me, Thika Road Dwellers. By Sunbirds, I mean the actual birds. Not those hideous bed bug-infested buses plying the route with ugly dents, broken glass and drunken crew.
It was a real party, looking forward to the next Chambua Meru Initiative tour. Well done, MC Skolla.
If possible, let’s have a Blanket & Gruel Fest. Patent pending.