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Illeret: the land of 1.5-million-year-old footprints

In the last few days our laptop has been pretty busy processing some really big projects. It’s hardly possible to do anything else on the laptop when almost the entire RAM is doing the Globalization and Fusion operations. Once we’re through with the animals, we’ll get down to hominid skulls, whose casts are kept at the lab.

Artec 3D team & Timothy Gichunge, a TBI researcher.

Within a 15-minute drive from the TBI camp is the village of Illeret, which we decided to check out while waiting for the laptops to process the scans. Illeret is the site of 1.5-million-year-old Homo erectus footprints, the second oldest hominid footprints ever found!

The village has a population of about 5,000 people. Most houses are made from branches and makeshift construction materials such as plastic canisters, bottles and iron sheeting. There is a school, a church and a library, which mostly has books in English. These are read only by children, because the elders speak only Swahili and local dialects.

The village of Illeret.

We came to Illeret to meet Stephen. He is a member of Malteser International, a relief agency that originates from the chivalrous medieval Order of Malta. Malteser International has worked in Kenya since 2001 and has branches across the country.

After a disastrous drought hit the region in 2011, the agency opened a branch in Illeret. They’ve already built a windmill to supply the village with electricity and help locals prepare for the next possible drought: now all large houses are equipped with drains and canisters used to collect drinking water.

Stephen has lived in Illeret for a year now. Once every three months he goes to Nairobi for a holiday to sleep on a soft bed and have some pizza. It takes three days to drive to Nairobi if you’re lucky, which is why no other volunteers come to the village and food supply is very poor.

Illeret mainly lives on goat milk – it’s strictly prohibited to kill goats for meat. Although the lake is pretty close, fishing is not allowed there: there aren’t enough fish in the lake to catch them without ruining the lake’s ecosystem.

Not long ago, some Somali entrepreneurs opened a store in the village to sell rice, clothes and drinks. Few people have money to pay, so they often barter. The prices are about three times as high as in Nairobi.

Stephen says it’s hard for him to live in such conditions, but the gratitude of the locals and the opportunity to see how life in the village changes make up for all his difficulties.

Illeret kids having fun.