National Geographic : 2015 Aug
lake turkana 67 shoulders set. “ We have left the spirits behind.” And Guokol, chilled to a shiver, slender as a reed, said, “I believe I will be well.” Selicho lies at the heart of one of East Af- rica’s remotest regions. It is about as north as you can go in Kenya, more than 200 miles from the nearest major road, a short walk from the Ethiopian border, where the dry lands roll on, sharp, hot, and loosely governed, for another hundred miles. If you’re grasping after hope in this place, it isn’t far to Nyemeto’s door, and her turn to the lake for healing would not seem unusual. Faith and hope naturally coincide with water here, and for now Turkana offers all in abundance. It is the world’s largest permanent desert lake and has existed in this region for some four million years, expanding and contracting in a volcanic trough along the edge of the Great Rift Valley. Ancient hominins lived along its shores, and early humans hunted, gathered, and fished here as they moved north on their slow migra- tions out of Africa. Ten thousand years ago the lake was far larger than it is now. Seven thou- sand years ago the lake was shrinking. Neolithic tribes raised mysterious stone pillars at holy sites above it. And now Nyemeto continues tra- ditions rooted in water that may be very old, though no one can say for sure where they came from or when they were born. But Turkana, like all desert water, is vulner- able. Most of the lake’s freshwater—some 90 percent—comes from the Omo River. Now the Ethiopian government’s plans for extensive de- velopment along the river, including a massive hydroelectric dam and water-hungry sugarcane plantations, threaten to disrupt the Omo’s eons- old flow and starve the lake. In the most dire scenarios, Turkana will over the years slowly shrivel and die, turning the local population into refugees from an African dust bowl. Nyemeto’s people are among those who stand to lose most in the face of Ethiopian ambition, and against it they have little voice. Daasanach territory spreads across the border and was split more than a century ago by surveyors shoring up British interests on one side and Few full-blooded El Molo, including this woman, remain. Most have intermarried with other Turkana tribes.