By Joseph Maina
Arriving at the county offices, I missed Munyasia as he was out of office to attend to county matters elsewhere.
And so we hopped onto Richard’s bike and hit the road, this time heading to one of Kitui County’s most enduring icons – the Nzambani Rock. Legend has it that anyone who walks round the rock seven times will turn into a member of the opposite sex! From town, we travelled past the County hospital, past the Kenya Medical Training College, and shortly afterwards the tarmac breaks off and we hit the dirt road.
This is the Kibwezi-Kitui road. We found ourselves passing through farms of maize and cowpeas and mangoes. The road was dry and dusty, plumes of dust in the distance signaled oncoming cars or motorbikes, and roadside foliage was covered with dust. The road splits in two at some point, with the road to the right heading to Kavisuni.
We took the left road, crossed the river Nzeu with its huge rocks and soon afterwards encountered another cleft, with the right going through Mulango. Again, we took the left road, which took us through Miambani and then past Chuluni Girls Secondary School.
From here, one can see the giant rock in all its majesty, jutting out of a rather flat landscape. We branched off the dusty road and plunged into thickets along a footpath, once again crossing the Nzeu River, and two minutes later we were at the gates of the Nzambani Rock.
A group known as Muvokanza Limited currently manages the rock. I found laborers at the site, where the group was building a hotel. The hotel is expected to open doors in June if all went according to plan, the overseer of the works informed me. I paid the Sh200 entry fee and immediately embarked on climbing the rock, leaving Richard behind.
From the gate to the base of the rock is a footpath winding through thicket up the hill. Then at the base of the rock you climb up a maze of stairways, about twelve storeys high, which rises up the entire 60 metres of the rock. And up there, you get a commanding view of Kitui County, its verdure and imposing rock outcrops in the distance. At the rock’s top, you see some alpine vegetation growing to ankle’s length, and blades of grass swaying gently with the breezes.
Standing here, I felt on top of the world. I saw an agrarian landscape all round, rich with farm produce, and I quickly grew skeptical of the tales of negativity that I had heard about Kitui County; tales of drought and famine, of lack and despair. I saw a rich agricultural district on the cusp of an effusive harvest. I then climbed down the stairs gaily, having shed off all the negative press I had read about this county, and together with Richard we went back to Kitui town.
After lunch and rest, I called up Richard and we left town once more, and he dropped me at the Syongila Junction, which separates the road to Machakos from the one to Mwingi. From this junction, I began a long trek that saw me branch from the tarmac and into a dirt road that leads to the left, heading towards the Kitui Showground.
I walked breezily, enjoying the afternoon sun and marveling at the abundance of maize and cowpeas in the farms. A gentleman on a motorbike rode up to me and offered me a lift after I helped him trace his lost phone, and so we rode towards the showground. It turned out that he was a mason, and so we discussed the region’s preference for bricks in building.
He explained the process of brickmaking, and told me that many youth in the region take up the art of brickmaking because it is one of the most accessible jobs locally. I had seen that many houses in Kitui are build of red bricks, which are made of earth and roasted in kilns.
We parted ways with the mason at St Ursula Girls High School and I walked to the showground, passing near the famous Katumani Research Centre that produced the fast-growing Katumani maize variety, which grows well in dry areas.