Every year, Maralal, a small town in Samburu is brought to life as hundreds of Kenyans and foreigners throng its dusty streets to witness or compete in a camel race. Not even the hot days and very cold nights dampen the derby.
As I marvelled at local men with chiselled bare chests dressed in shukas tightly snuggled around their waists, painted in red ochre and beads adorned all over as if they are works of art, there was a zebra leisurely grazing next to me, as if we are friends.
The Maralal Camel derby, now in its 29th year attracts amateur and professional riders.
Sabina Leshipan, a 24-year-old, is one of the few women who has been taking part in the race for the past six years.
Together with her camel called 'Lorok' meaning black, they have held the number one position since joining the race.
The self-trained camel rider says it was not easy at the beginning, because is not just a simple act of getting on top of the animal as many might think.
“As a young girl, I decided to train myself but I faced many challenges because I come from a tribe with very strict cultures that don’t favour women,” she said.
Sabina says training to ride a camel every day from 6am for an hour is not enough to win a race. One needs to create a special bond with the animal and learn how to communicate with it.
“I speak to ‘Lorok’ both in English and in Samburu and he understands, when I tell him move or sit he does exactly that since I have been racing and training with him for the last six years,” says Sabina who is waiting to go study Health Records and Information in university.
She says she cannot ride just any camel. “I trust 'Lorok' on the racing track. It was not easy for me to convince him that I was the best rider for him,” she says.
At first, 'Lorok' used to drop Sabina who has nursed a fair share of knee wounds and scrapes.