A Little Malaria Never Hurt Anyone

blog post photo

by Julia Dorn
Series Field Producer

Shooting this expedition for Hoff Productions’ Fish Warrior-series is taking me to the world’s largest desert lake – Lake Turkana at the far North frontier in Kenya. Known to be the most remote destination in this country, it’s said that only hardcore travelers venture this far. I quickly learn, here every day is a challenge for survival.

Coming from areas of moderate climate, my crew and I battle the desert’s harsh environment. It’s mercilessly hot with temperatures upwards of 113 degrees, strong hot wind blows almost constantly and dry dust and sand finds its way into every nook and cranny. One day it’s so windy, my filled drinking cup and plate move across the camping table as if pulled on with a rope. Even the food is blown off my fork while eating!
The land is dry and parched, and is broken up by volcanic rocks. Nothing grows but a few acacia and palm trees. How do people live out here? In a small bay along the lakeshore, we visit one of the last true hunter-gatherer communities, the El Molo tribe. Immediately, I’m surrounded by a large group of children. They reach for my hands, compare their dark skin color to my light one and giggle as they brush over the fine blond hairs on my arms.

Outside influences have been slow to reach this distant tribe. Here, El Molo villagers still live their lives dictated by tradition, myth and custom. One of the women invites me into her curved reed hut. Bowing my head and crouching through the narrow entrance door, I enter a dark, smoky and tight space. I find two wooden-plank beds covered in goat furs, an open fire where tea is cooking and an elderly woman weaving a basket. Together with four children, her husband and mother, this woman shares about eight square feet. Suddenly, my studio apartment in San Francisco appears very spacious.

Moving on to the Southern lakeshore we encounter this expedition’s hottest and least hospitable place yet. There are no roads, villages, nor running water. I’m fine with all of the above, but what our local guide tells me next draws my attention. Called ‘shifta’ (‘bandit’), this region is still plagued by strong warrior traditions of northern Kenya’s nomadic tribes. Minor conflicts stemming from grazing rights and cattle rustling escalate at times into gun battles. So for protection, an armed gunman guards our camp.

After several days of no shower, we collectively decide to take a bath in the lake…knowing that it’s home to the world’s largest crocodile population! Wary and our eyes peeled, we enter the water. We form a circle and turn our backs inward. Then, we pick up stones and throw them twenty feet in front of us…for the entire fifteen minutes that we spend in the water. Supposedly, the splashing keeps crocodiles at bay, but my senses have never been as acute and sharply tuned as they are then.

Halfway through our trip we fall ill. Our filming schedule is interrupted with a high fever, chills, aching body, diarrhea and fatigue that overcome us in turns. But with perseverance and will power, we push through the shoot.

Upon returning to our home countries, we’re diagnosed with symptoms of malaria. While shaking the sickness, memories of Lake Turkana’s amazingly vibrant people and impressions of the harsh yet beautiful landscape remain with me.

Don’t miss Fish Warrior Nile Mammoth premiering August 9th at 9P et/pt.