Benjamin Johnson (Kenya)

Ben is a graduate student at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. His studies are primarily focused on how legal regimes can facilitate development and international environmental and resource policy. He is an Ohio native and completed his bachelor’s degree at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. During these studies he enjoyed the opportunity to study abroad in both Oviedo, Spain and Sao Paulo, Brazil. These experiences, in addition to working within the medical field, established Ben’s drive to serve marginalized communities around the world. Following his undergraduate studies, he spent time in Ecuador working with a LGBTQ health initiative, in South Africa directing the operations of the Khoapa Land and Community Trust, and in Tanzania assisting the Maendeleo Ya Wakulima agricultural cooperative expand operations during a time of extreme commodity market volatility. After Fletcher, Ben is interested in working with organizations that bridge the gap between sustainable development initiatives and the expanding scope of human rights law.

The Way to Gotu

26 Jun

The shrubs and stones raced past my view from the back of the Land Cruiser.  I bounced violently on the hard metal bench as the vehicle sprinted over the barely visible roadway cutting through the north Kenyan bush.  My view was limited to an opening in the canvas covering that wrapped the truck bed.

We were in the twilight hours, trying to get to a remote village before nightfall.  Of course, we wouldn’t make it in time.  The children of the Turkana village were to be carried to Gotu, the destination of the Holiday Peace Exchange.  To further complicate the situation, in order to get to Gotu, we had, at best, two hours of off-road driving through a nature conservancy (populated by lions and hyenas).  To me, finding our way to Gotu with a load of children seemed close to impossible. 

Our original arrival to Daaba, before trekking to Isiolo to gather supplies.

We arrived to Daaba at close to 8:30pm.  The night had already enveloped the surrounding landscape, giving us all a clear view of the stars – even the faintest ones.  I opened the canvas covering to a hoard of children at the edge of their patience (having anticipated leaving the village over four hours prior).  They had already packed the other land cruiser that we had left behind before leaving for Isiolo to gather supplies.  After a quick debate on the prudence of the journey through the conservation park at night, our convoy of two left Daaba laden with bags and a cumulative 50 children.

Our late arrival to Daaba was due to multiple factors, from being unable to gather enough supplies for our original arrival in Gotu to mechanical issues as we returned to Daaba.  Regardless, a drive through the bush at night is a disorienting experience and requires the most professional of drivers.  Luckily, Francis Bundi Mriti certainly fits that description.

Our fearless driver Francis and his steed of steel.

The first half hour of our journey was apparently successful, as Francis could easily recognize key landmarks along the way.  Meanwhile, I sat in awe of his ability to navigate through the disorienting maze of identical trees, tire marks, and wadis (dried seasonal stream beds).  To my untrained eyes, the constant barrage of dust and darkness prevented my ability to identify anything that surrounded me. 

Our luck soon changed.  A small miscalculation here or a wrong turn there left us completely unaware of how to return to Gotu.  Depending upon our general knowledge of Gotu being west of us, we persevered, blindly, into the abyss.

Soon, an hour passed, and we were no surer of our location than before.  The children were surprisingly optimistic.  Their lively bickering and laughing contrasted with our sense of anxiety.  How long could we continue searching for our way in the bush before we ran out of fuel?  Some of the children had not eaten for most of the day, how long would they remain their jolly selves before hunger and frustration entered their minds?

Two hours passed.  Having to take a short-call as well as debate about the direction of our journey, we stopped by a fork in the road (the term road should be interpreted as loosely as possible under these circumstances).  As I walked to a bush, fearing the children may see me relieving myself I looked back to the other car in our convoy.  Mwalimu Francis Loruwan, dangled from the passenger seat of the car, seemingly unmoved by modesty, and conducting his short-call from there.  I felt that this was strange but continued with my brief stop behind a bush and returned to the car.  Upon my return to the vehicle Francis, our driver, was laughing hysterically.  He explained that the Mwalimu was afraid of lions and did not want to set one foot outside of the car.  While Francis chuckled as we returned to our voyage, I suddenly became aware of the gravity of our situation… from then on I would hold it in.

The omnipresence of dust as we made our original voyage to Daaba.

Another hour passed.  No land mark or mark in the dusty roadway looked any different.  Where were we?  Where would we stay the night?  Why are these kids so unphased by this?  No sooner had these thoughts entered my mind then did I hear a sigh of relief from Francis (our driver).  By luck or instinct, we had happened upon the roadway leading to Gotu.  The village was only an hour away and the way was clear.

We arrived late at night to plates of rice, cabbage, and goat meat.  The next day we would start early and would need our strength. 

Posted By Benjamin Johnson (Kenya)

Posted Jun 26th, 2019


  • Colleen Denny

    June 26, 2019


    Ben, great blog!! You captured Francis and his magical navigation skills so well! Enjoy the holiday peace exchange and thank you for the amazing work you are doing!

  • Abby Lahvis

    June 27, 2019


    This blog is so intriguing! What a great story about perseverance and optimism. I’m curious to know what comes next.

  • Sam Nass

    June 27, 2019


    This post is an emotional roller coaster. I’m really happy that you avoided getting eaten by a lion.

  • Rachel Wright

    June 27, 2019


    Glad everything worked out okay! What seems so daunting in the moment makes for a great story and opportunity for growth and learning in another.

  • Bobbi Fitzsimmons

    June 27, 2019


    What a wonderful post. Made me feel I was there with all of you. Can’t wait to read more.

  • Emily

    July 3, 2019


    Good for you for keeping your cool in such a stressful situation! I can’t imagine what I would done. I love your commitment to your work and I can’t wait to see more.

  • Iain Guest

    August 11, 2019


    Easy to forget how much traveling gets done by Peace Fellows – and how difficult it can be! Also, good to be reminded that drivers like Francis do such sterling work

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