Nosokoni was a little girl that was attacked by an elephant while collecting firewood.
This is the story of her ordeal and recovery as described by Julia Francombe, the founder of the Samburu Trust. This story was originally written by artist Annie Tempest, and has now been re-edited for the Waso Chapters.
Julia grew up in Samburuland, her parents Rocky and Colin run a private game ranch called Ol Malo that sits on the edge of the Laikipia Plateau in the remote desertlands of northern Kenya.
On June 15th, 2000 some elders brought in a 6 year old girl to the ranch that had been crushed by an extremely large bull elephant.
It was severe drought and her family was moving manyatta when the attack occurred. Normally children will know the subtle clues of an angry bull and know to stay well away, unfortunately this bull was in must and Nosokoni was unlucky.
A moran nearby saw the elephant toss her and ran up to him shouting and waving in order to distract him. Julia still knows the moran and they joke about it, he says it chased him through the bush for 20 minutes!
2. moran with elephant
Nosokoni was picked up and carried to Ol Malo, it took three days to get to the ranch and by the time they arrived her badly injured leg had begun to smell of rot.
Her shoulder, collarbone, and femur were broken and she had a long gash along her tibia and fibula which the elders had stuffed with leather, paraffin, and ochre. She had stopped bleeding but was regularly fainting from the initial loss of blood and long, long journey.
When they arrived at Ol Malo Julia met them, along with Kenya Wildlife Service wardens that had been brought in to put the elephant down. Julia cleaned the wounds and they all strapped her to a foam mattress on top of a cupboard door.
The ranch carpenter made some splints to secure her leg for the bumpy 3 hour drive to the nearest hospital in the town of Nanyuki. Two men stood in the back of the vehicle holding the makeshift stretcher for the whole journey.
Nosokoni’s family had no means of paying for hospital treatment. There were government hospitals that provided free healthcare but they were too far away, usually in a situation such as this Nosokoni would have been left in the bush. Julia estimated that the hospital visit would take a week and that she was just able to afford it.
Dr. Butt at Nanyuki Hospital greeted the party, stabilised Nosokoni and put her on a drip. She was malnourished from the drought so her wounds were unlikely to heal properly and she was put into traction.
For a growing six year old this would certainly lead to a deformed leg and it was soon made clear that Nosokoni wouldn’t survive unless she was able to recover at the hospital.
What started as a week turned into three months, then four, and Julia petitioned friends, family, and even guests at Ol Malo to help cover the hospital expenses. The hospital even reduced the bills for Nosokoni’s care and Dr. Butt waived his fee.
Nosokoni was extremely vulnerable in this alien environment. Kenya’s national language is Swahili but Nosokoni only spoke Samburu. She was in traction in a hospital without any of her family and couldn’t communicate.
Her regular diet in the bush would have been milk and whatever small amount of food her father was able to provide for his children during a terrible drought, now suddenly every day she was eating potatoes and stew.
She had never seen a white person before, and had never been to a town as big as Nanyuki. The hospital staff placed a note at the end of her bed saying “Please keep this child amused at all times”.
Despite this she remained buoyant, making friends with the hospital askari (security guard). When she was out of traction and on the mend she would sit in the car park for hours with him and he would push her around on his bicycle. A Samburu nurse at the hospital called Jacinta became her surrogate mother, looking after her day and night.
Nosokoni adapted to the urban lifestyle quickly. She took pleasure in not having to shave her head, and one day was even spotted in the halls of the ward in a party dress and high heels.
The hospital became her playground – bike rides in the car park, watching TV with the nurses and chatting to other patients in the wards. The hospital community became very attached to this little girl, giving her presents of baskets of fruit, grapes, toys, clothes and crayons. Even a doll which she didn’t know how to play with and pulled off its head.
Even though Julia had taken her father to visit her a few times during her stay in hospital, when the time came for her to return to her manyatta and family she didn’t want to go.
4. Nosokoni and Tiwae
The drought was still in full swing and memories of the daily fight for basic sustenance contrasted with her new life in the hospital. It was decided that, as a halfway house, she could come back to Ol Malo and live with Lolkokoi, the ranch headman, who had a little girl about Nosokoni’s age called Tiwae.
Nosokoni settled well into life at Ol Malo. Julia’s mum Rocky dug out her exercise bike to help develop the muscles in her legs and overcome the limp she had been left with. She loathed using it because it was painful and she didn’t like being different and would only get on it if Tiwae joined her.
Eventually Julia told her that if she didn’t use it regularly and fix her leg then she wouldn’t be able to dance or find a husband. Miraculously this seemed to motivate her and after five weeks she was walking normally again.
5. Nosokoni on her exercise bike
Nosokoni’s ordeal happened around the time of the birth of the Trust. There was devastating drought in Northern Kenya and Julia had begun operating a ‘Beads For Food’ program out of Ol Malo. Samburu mamas were given food and new beads for their jewellery, which would be sold to pay for the program.
6. the Beads for Food program
The children that would come with their mothers had also started painting pictures in a workshop on the ranch. The paintings would be sold to support the program and the children would be given little sacks of beans to support their families.
7. the Lchekuti children’s painting program
Nosokoni and Tiwae began painting in the workshop. Surrounded by her people again Nosokoni began to miss her Samburu lifestyle. She first began wearing beads, later asking for her shuka (blanket), and eventually she asked to have her head shaved.
She still didn’t want to go back to her family, so Julia invited her mother to come and help at the painting workshop. With her came Nosokoni’s new little brother and she bonded strongly with him. It wasn’t long before she decided it was time to return to her world.
8. Nosokoni with mamas
Based on her ordeal Nosokoni went on to get a scholarship to a mission school. Ol Malo continued to support her through primary school, and during this time her family’s manyatta moved to an area an hour north of Ol Malo.
In 2006 after completing her education she chose to return to Ol Malo and work in the bead workshop – familiar to her and full of the mamas who had helped her on her journey back into Samburuland.
In 2007 Nosokoni married and today she is happy, healthy, and living 20 minutes walk from Ol Malo. She has a little boy who has just started in a Trust Nomad school. Her husband has worked with the Trust for the last few years and we regularly see her mother and father in the Kipsing market – 40km from Ol Malo.
At the end of this incredible story was some good news for the elephant too. Because Nosokoni was taken care of and survived, the Kenyan Wildlife service didn’t shoot him! Ol Malo named the bull Nosokoni and for years he came through the ranch without causing any trouble, he was just having a bad day and Nosokoni caught the brunt of it. It’s a fantastic example of how both sides can win with a more concerted approach to wildlife and people.
NEXT WEEK: CATTLE ARE SACRED
All Images and text ©2012 Samburu Trust. All rights reserved.
1,3,4,5,8,9: J. Francombe
6,7: N. Pavitt
2: S. Kenyon.