11-11-2021 by Freddie del Curatolo
They say that where there are red rocks there is an iron smell and a sulfur smell.
And where there is a smell of sulfur there is Shetani, the devil.
The iron, on the other hand, was put there by Mungu, to imprison it underground.
Above the hard crust swarms a world of thirsty souls for whom the rocks that overhang the large village are the certainty of being home, but also the awareness of being born in a place that the eternal struggle between good and evil has made arid and hopeless.
We are in Mutomo, under the imposing rocks that create solitary massifs as far as the eye can see, where the beauty is so rugged and impervious that it is difficult to call it by its name.
Each of these giants also has a name, as well as a story, a legend.
A name of a mythological hero or a damned demon.
There is the African twin of Polyphemus, trapped by iron and cooled lava.
There is the peak of the madmen, which, like another sacred mountain in Kitui, transformed pilgrims into what they unconsciously wanted to be and, it is said, changed their sex.
The small off-road vehicle of Malindikenya.net leaves the new Chinese asphalt road that connects Kibwezi to Kitui, among the last brushwood of Tsavo North and the first beautiful Jacaranda trees of the middle valley. We climb up to the huge thousand-year-old boulders that dominate the entire landscape. There is an office of the Kenya Wildlife Service, but amidst the skulls of buffaloes and baboons among the dry branches of an acacia tree perched among the rocks, no signs of uniformed or even plainclothes life.
There should also be a botanical reserve here, but the guardian tells us that everything is closed and he has to go eat something.
"If you want I'll let you in, but then I'll lock you in until I get back."
We decide not to trust him.
We climb even higher and the view is majestic and desolating at the same time: a desert of stones and brambles that stretches for miles, in a realm where not even the Devil wanted to set foot.
Down here, the desperate people of the most remote village of Mutomo long ago saw patches of wetness among the hardest-to-reach rocks, where every so often a hyena or other animal climbs up and has to go to atone for being removed from the herd.
People with heads leatherier than iron and zinc, and mad as those beasts went about breaking, beating, digging.
The authorities didn't move a finger, but at least they didn't veto it, so finally an underground stream appeared and its opening, which cost at least a hundred willing people effort and pain under the scorching sun, created a saving lake of sulphurous but clean water.
Mutomo isn't safe, that water isn't enough, but at least mothers don't have to cook by filtering rainwater and children don't have to stop and drink water from puddles. Cholera killed many here in 2007 and has not been seen since.
In the village, people live off the very little agriculture, grazing anorexic cows. They pray in a large Pentecostal shed and there is also someone who knows where to get a couple of beers and has the money to pay for them. Even if four people get on a motorcycle to share the expenses and the children go to school in uniform and barefoot, so as not to wear out their shoes, which they put on only at the entrance gate.
In Mutomo they are now thinking about mines, because the pitted Kenya of other regions teaches them that where there are known metals, there are also some new precious resources, those useful for the most modern technologies, such as gallium and selenium, and who knows, maybe they will not find the indispensable coltan and cobalt that have put the Congo to fire and sword.
At this point, let's hope not.
May Mungu and Shetani stop for once coming to fight here, among the rocks of the blameless. We'll be back soon, to be told more stories.
by Freddie del Curatolo
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