A Death in the Desert

I'm a Southern storyteller sharing tales in South Sudan.
I’m a Southern storyteller sharing tales in South Sudan.

A word from Curt

The word is Astonished.

It’s become one of my favorite words.

It’s great to be nearing age 60 and still be astonished.

Africa is a place of amazement and astonishment.

It surprises you.

Sadly it often surprises with sudden death.

That is what today’s blog is about.  It’s simply my written attempt to come to grips with a death we saw yesterday.  Be patient as I share from my heart.



Desert RoadTurkana

The Turkana Desert Road


Death in the Desert

“When a man puts his shoes on in the morning, he never knows who might take them off his feet (that day).”


It’s one of the maxims of driving in Africa: be careful stopping on the road to help.

It’s a common way to hijack a vehicle and rob or even kill its occupants.

A seemingly disabled car.

Hood up. Doors open.

A woman waving for help.

The Kenyan desert in Turkana District is the perfect place for this.

It’s difficult to be a Good Samaritan on the roads of Kenya.

Our driver, Geoffrey, slows down as we near two stopped vehicles on the shoulder.

We see a wrecked 4 X 4 truck fifty yards out in the desert.


Geoffrey’s daughter says, “I believe there’s someone lying beside the truck.”

We stop, doors locked,  and carefully scan the scene.

A group of men on the road are surveying the scene.  One is on his cell phone.

The flipped truck has glass everywhere.

This is no staged accident.

It’s the real thing.

We slowly exit our vehicle. Geoffrey gestures up the highway. “You can see where the truck swerved to miss the pothole. He must’ve been going really fast.”

Skidmarks swerved from the potholed section of asphalt to the opposite shoulder.

The tire tracks ended in the sand. The vehicle had then become airborne and flipped. All four windows were broken out.

There was a man lying in the sand on the near side of the truck.

I knelt beside him.

He was past help. He was dead.


The passenger side tire was flat. It’s probably what caused the vehicle to lunge out of control.

The cab interior was basically intact.

Neither airbag had inflated.

The driver’s side seat belt hung loosely.

He’d been ejected from the truck during its violent fiip. The shattered driver’s side window lay beside him.

He lay in a relaxed position as if he’d laid down to sleep.

His arms relaxed at his side.

His shirt had come up. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on this young man.

He had facial injuries. There was nothing else to see or do.

I pulled my bandana out and placed it over his face.

It was the least I could do.  It may be trite but it was one thing I could do.

Even in death, a man deserves dignity.

Secondly, I prayed for his family and the terrible news that awaited them.

The police truck arrived and officers with automatic rifles piled out of the bed.

Geoffrey waved me to the car.

I looked back one last time at the blue bandana flapping in the desert wind.

There was nothing else to say or do.

The four of us, each deep in thought, rode silently over the next hour.

The road we were now on is one of the worst in this part of Africa. We were driving along the same path this dead man had covered going in the opposite direction.

It was  ironic that this man’s life had ended on a pretty fair stretch of the road near Kakuma Refugee Camp.

He’d just come off a long section of the North/south road that is world-class bad.

All potholed and corduroyed.

Over fifty dry riverbeds to cross.

Mile-long sections of driving  on the desert rather than the actual  road.

This man had made it through that stretch.

It was the good road and an unseen gaping pothole that cost him his life.

If only he’d been going slower.

If he’d had on his seat belt, he’d probably be standing by the roadside shrugging about the big pothole that wrecked his new truck.

X   X   X


We were returning from a week in Kakuma Refugee Camp.

We’d not seen death but heard about it daily:

“The soldiers shot the man next to me. I fell down and laid still. It saved my life . . . .”

“ . . .  We walked three straight nights to reach the border. The guide wouldn’t take anyone with a cough or a baby that might cry. The Rebels would hear the noise and kill everyone.”

X  X  X


We’d left the Camp headed  to our flight and return to civilization, thinking we’d escaped the talk of death.

Little knowing that death in the desert awaited the journey.

I can’t and won’t get this man out of my mind. DeDe and I talked of the sorrow and shock that awaited a family. Was he Kenyan, South Sudanese, Kikuyu, or Turkana?

It didn’t matter. Life, death, joy, and sorrow come to all.  The poorest refugee.  The richest in Silicon Valley or Nairobi.

Death in the desert plays no favorites.

“Lord, teach me to value each minute of my life.  

Life is a gift from you.  You have numbered all of our days.  

Help me live each number fully and in a way pleasing to You.






  1. Truly written from your heart. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Well written, as always.

  3. Very moving. Straight from your heart to mine. I still remember how he looked and pray for him and his family everyday.

  4. geoffrey the driver

    Well done mr Sidney. That’s a true real story.

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