Meet the Fastest River in Africa: Kenya's Gura River

Precious Kiongo
Y1A0662 Nairobi
Y1A0662 Nairobi

As the International Day of Action for Rivers approaches, my thoughts have been turned to sharing great memories of great rivers. The process of remembering can be like a snowball rolling downhill: it starts small but picks up a lot of mass as it continues. Well, not in this case. My childhood memories of holidays are always vivid from the start. When I was young, looking forward to an upcoming holiday would make my insides all squirmy. I could hardly ever wait to travel north with my older sister Nyambura to visit my grandparents in Kaheti, a small village in the outskirts of Nyeri town.

The best part of our month’s stay in Nyeri was always fetching water from the Gura River, which is the fastest river in Africa! (Some call it the "Usain Bolt" River.) With our small plastic cans, Nyambura and I would run, cutting across long grass, through napier grass plantations, down to the river. Our excitement overcame the worry of the itch that came from the grass. We lived for the moment.

During holidays, there was so much activity at the river. Cows quenched their thirst, women washed clothes, men taught their sons how to fish and of course, kids like us took advantage of being sent to the river to fetch water. People talk of love at first sight. At this place, every moment seemed like a first. The river made the whole place glow in the sunlight. It was beautiful. Magical. To this day, I believe the Gura River unifies the people of Kaheti.

Like the other kids, Nyambura and I would drop our cans at the riverbank and enjoy the natural playground, balancing on mossy logs, climbing over and under branches and hopping around the bedrock.

A boy called Samaki was the best swimmer amongst us. That is how his name, the Swahili word for fish, was born. He would lead us in the water. I always tried to swim as far as he did, but Nyambura would never let me. “Don’t dare!” she would shout in a military monotone. I would suppress an eye-roll. She was three years older than me, but could still be a chicken.

Unlike swimming in a pool, swimming in a river gives you lasting excitement. After an hour of blowing away the cobwebs in the water, Nyambura and I would dry ourselves in the sun. Not too cold, not too hot. We were perfectly refreshed.

The Gura River amazed me. Despite all of the stones and rocks that stood in its path, fighting its natural flow, it always broke through with perseverance, not strength or arsenal. Inherent power, not applied force. Dynamic waterfalls, turbulent confluence, and a silent bend were all a part of this dynamic river. It was always changing, yet it remained the same! Amazing, right?

Before sunset, I would stand behind the big giant shades of the trees along the river with my eyes closed, disappearing into the sound of the chirping birds. It felt like an out of body experience, as I listened to the gentle ripples of the water. It was the perfect place to empty a heavy heart or clear clouded mind. Gura certainly had some magic in it. My sister and I would then call it a day, and fill our cans with water, and head home, guided by the men and women who had also accomplished enough for the day. Even the birds seemed to note our departure with the slow fading of their songs.

The birds began to quiet but the Gura, however, continued to rush forth with assurance and power, shaping to its environment yet remaining rigid in its goal and final destination. It knew the world’s secrets and paid no attention to boundaries. I would float into the house on a cloud. Nyambura and I recounted the day’s activities feeling all bubbly and excited. Everything had happened in a colorful blur. I anxiously waited for yet another experience at Gura the next day, and the next. Thinking of these experiences now stirs up butterflies. Absence indeed makes the heart grow fonder.

I visit the Gura River every chance I get. My love for it keeps growing and glowing. As Terek Rocklin said, “rivers speak to us through cascades as the water gives us a moment to pause and give thanks.” Having such an intimate relationship with rivers gives such zeal to our fight to preserve them for future generations. We hope that they will have similar or even better stories to tell about rivers.

To aid this fight, for this year’s Day of Action for Rivers, a group of passionate environmentalists, including myself, will be hosting an awareness-building activity by the river at Karura Forest in Nairobi. We will have a table with informational handouts and badges where people can interact and share their river memories and educate each other on the importance of healthy rivers. There will also be a “Wall of River Love” canvas for everyone to write on. Anyone in and around Nairobi is welcome to join us in celebrating the world’s rivers and the heroes that fight for them.

Please join us this Sunday March 13 at the Karura Forest between the Waterfall and the Caves from 1:00 pm to 5:30 pm. Rivers Unite Us!

Thursday, March 10, 2016