It’s dark. We left Marsabit an hour ago, by which time night had long fallen, but as I clamber down into the lorry’s cargo hold, the darkness becomes a dense, clinging oil. Occasionally pierced by small torches as the dozen or so others in the small space jostle for enough space to sleep in as the frame of the vehicle bangs and squeaks and unexpectedly leaps into the air.
All around our lonely vehicle is wilderness. Not simple safari park wilderness, but honest-to-you-and-god-alone wilderness. Marsabit and the occasional pastoralists we encountered during the day aside, we are alone in an unfathomably deep ocean of land. There is no help here. No medical assistance. No opportunity to get off this bucking steel ship and go home when it stops being fun. What faith I have here, I have in the driver. What nation exists, exists in the confines of this dark, rocking metal room.
I am aching from the strain of clinging to a tyre on the lorry’s roof.
It’s the oily, diesel-impregnated sanctuary into which I descend. I’ve not slept in two days. Not eaten more than a packet of cashew nuts in a day and a half. Since sunrise this morning, I have been burned by the sun and blasted by the orange dust of the trails we slowly navigate. From my lower back, through every inch of my spine, up to my shoulders and down to the tips of my fingers, I am aching from the strain of clinging to a tyre on the lorry’s roof. My daytime seat as we rumbled through a landscape unused to vehicles, to comfort, to us. We are neither welcomed guests nor enemies. The world – this staggeringly vast North Kenyan landscape – simply doesn’t care. And in the sound of our lonely voyaging engine, knowing – truly understanding – how little we count for, is the most chilling realisation.
What tiredness, heat and dust have not dulled, burned or blasted away of my conceited self-importance, the silence of the night landscape has reached deep into my soul and taken. All that remains is in that dark diesel cargo hold, squashed into a little corner with legs buried under an avalanche of grass brushes, sleeping bodies and dirt.
With nothing else left but the promise of sleep, comes the most unexpected experience of peace.
A smile settles wide on my face as I wriggle into sleep in the grubby corner of the bucking cargo hold of the tiny lorry in the unimaginably large landscape. And I sleep the most delicious sleep of my life.