A Dance with Samburu Butterflies

At the gates of Ngare Mare and Buffalo Springs, a bush footed butterfly dances, slowly, dancing — forward, dancing —excitedly, flapping its wings — ahead of us, swirling itself, above the dry dusty roads and the hot springing air.
He is a common path finder, a welcomer, playful and cheery. Albeit he doesn’t know his importance in this community. It is his species general name that the community bears for identification. With pride, of pride and pride in a dialect so rapid and spawn; of a unique culture and nature and respect and happiness, Samburu/Butterflies (In Masai) or people of color (Not in a racist kind of way but to applaud and give credit to the Samburu colorful regalia).

Let’s call this butterfly ‘Nassau’.
He disappears into the dusty air and comes back with company tailing his dull painted back, dusty, brown, only brightened by freckles of sun scorched yellow; faded yellow and some weird color (his company looks female with more bright yellows on her wings). A few meters drive into our safari, they keep up, flying around our van and dancing over our hats as though to exorcise us from the dark omen we’ve brought with us over the six hour travel, from Nairobi. They now move in the opposite direction, to their prior, probably to ring us with an halo of protection for when we camp in the park at night.

“Guys, this is Samburu National Reserve.” Tim announces in a tough man’s voice, huskey.

He is our tour guide, from Uberma safaris — our tours and travel choice.
He points to mountains in a visibly close range and says, “Koitogor, Olokokwe.”

There is no magic in those words, don’t beat yourself up imagining what they could mean. They are just names, names of the two mountains scorching in our vicinity, meters away. Names like Everest or Kenya or Nandi (Hills)
If we followed Urbema’s schedule, today we would be resting, in the camp, after the long drive, on dust and stones and the rough, tough, not easily accessible terrain.

Later, we would settle to Samburu stories, around a bonfire, open to learning the butterfly dances and peeking into their ubiquitous culture, but we are unique too, we save that (best) for last. Our money, our plans, our ways of adversity.

We rave the plains, Douma plains. Because we want to feel the evening wet of groves and walk around the riverine forests, in shades of grey, four families, a pair of partners. Interesting. Uh?
Right through Douma plains passes a river, Ewaso Ng’iro of (brown waters, in Masaai) or is it? If you should have questions about how life thrives in this part of the semi arid world then Ng’iro is your answer. Lined with trees — tall thriving trees — Acacia, Thorns, Riverine and grassland vegetation.

Scenes so breathtaking and dynamic that you want to look at them forever.

But not in the dusk of day . We can’t cruise longer, clouds are closing up with darkness and Tim requests to guide us back to the Lodge. Samburu riverside tented camp —where—home—awaits.
Huts fitted with bed, outdoor shower, mosquitos nets; space, a large naked space, serene and quaint, quiet, except for the sounds of nature — of the river running fast, down to a trap, the Lorian swamps, croack of frogs, crunch of leopard feet thumping the crust of dry decaying leaves, hogs of warthogs, a crowing fowl, crying fowl, guinea fowl — young and lost in the darkness of this paradise’s night, searching, searching for it’s home, in the company of a Vulturine. Chances are, they will search throughout the night and when cicadas stop grunting, they will know it is morning and stop and begin to feed. The peculiarities of Samburu grasslands. Fuck the clitche, ‘birds of a feather fly together.’ Stick with the phrase and be sure to explain how Kamunyak (a Lioness) adopted oryx calves and lived with them (happily ever after), to everyone’s disappointment.


It is another great day that the lord has made, we hope to rejoice and be glad in him, as dawn breaks beautifully with the sun’s embers arriving beforehand, like a halo, a cast, rings, orange and opulent.
It’s a beautiful sight to see — of a burning head, sillhoutte of fire in the middle of the mess, the bright burning mess. Flair.

From the zip down of my tent I can already see gerenuks graze, Kirks, Kirks and more Kirk’s flooding the fields.
“Tim said the morning would be spent on sight seeing.” My wife reminds me
“I’m hopping we don’t climb trees for fewer mountain climbing options. Or just to get too close to birds, which by the way, Tim know by names, family, specie.” I say, innocent and envious of my utterances.

Later, we are guided to the grassland
Funny belief, I know how the guinea fowl looks (wake me up in the middle of the night, show me a photo, preferably, of a reticulated giraffe and ask me if it is a guinea fowl and I’ll nod in the drunkenness of my sleep. Didn’t I already mention this, I know how guinea fowls look bro) and in the forest when Tim picks a feather and asks whose it would be, I rant, “Tawny eagle’s.” hehe

Do you know how embarrassing and disappointing that skids my wife? Considering the other families know how Bateleur sing; where yellow naked spur-fowl hung; what superb sterling eats; how a palm nut vulture poop smells and if a bee eater would interbreed with a yellow-billed honbill.

Worst is when she (on the other hand) can’t differentiate the sound made by the marabou storks and the chirps of the secretary bird and everyone think we are a perfect union of ‘mumus’ (two grown mumu’s); which we are not because this is a tour, not a class, a guided adventure not a TV show and fuck anyone who thinks we should be encyclopedias because we researched about this place before coming.

Just so you know, all the birds I mentioned in those two paragraphs are part of the Samburu National Reserve. Samburu county is their home.
As the day ages, our adventure gets more intense, remember, it’s customised to a two days one night stay, Again, our choice.

We all work in Nairobi so later in the day we should be hitting the road but before then, Tim says it is time to meet the Samburu people and learn a few of their culture. On our way to the village he says, “By the way, did you know that Samburu was the setting to Karen Blixens book, Born free? As a movie, ‘out of Africa’” Everyone’s face glitter with an awe of surprise. He adds,

“And the reality TV show Survivor Africa!” There aren’t any emotions to this second part which is to assume, none of has ever watched the show.
“If we still have time after the village fair, we can cross over to Shaba National park. It’s the home to the endangered Grevy’s Zebras and the rare William Lark.” he says
“It is as much a popular tourist destination as the Mara, teeming with wildlife. You should see waterburks swim in shoal of other sea animals.” He says and zips for a moment, looking at us with a face of a wisecrack gone wrong, smiles at our silent confusion then clears the air,

‘waterburks don’t swim’.

They are large antelope living in this habitat and many other habitats across Africa — amongst dik-diks, olive baboons, elephants, lions, cheetahs, reticulated giraffes, oryx, gerenuks, Cape bufalloes, name them… Samburu is rich a home for all animals, because the Samburu people are human, Nature lovers and protectors, we later find out from the culture fair.
And if there is one thing that I can attest to, everything is butterfly about this section of the Maa speaking people.
From their colorful cloths, arrayed with beads, of undying culture, to the dances “the butterfly dances” and their official names — Nassau, Ololokwe, Koitagor,Samburu.

If I should go to the afterlife, I want my Moksha among the Samburu speaking people, with more butterflies, because nature loves butterflies, and butterflies love nature and I love both.

As we drive out of the park, Nassau, my butterfly follows, dancing, alone, then another joins, then many other butterflies dance along, unique in varied colors.
They however restrain at the exit gate as if barred by an insoluble air, thick, misty, dewy air, dusty and transparent and playing the guard lock to it’s habitats. We drive off, leaving behind the whirling dust, our destination, the drop off point, in the chaotic city ahead and I don’t want to shake Nassau, his people and their peace off my head so I leave them here for your thrill.