“Captain” Esinyen Loichok

Bikozulu - KQ Pilots Dropping Bars
Bikozulu - Captain Esinyen Loichok

Kenya Airways, First Officer. [Two Bars]

We sat on a bench under a tree. A gnat with nothing to lose flew into his left eye like a Kamikaze aircraft. He rubbed it throughout the interview and the poor eye expressed its displeasure by tearing. You haven’t seen a grown man wipe tears off his left eye constantly as he talks about his childhood.  When he was done with it, it was so red it looked like a lizard’s kidney. I looked at it and a bad dad joke came to mind. I thought, “Oh, Captain Loichok…looks like he caught a Red-Eye.” 

I know. I know. 


Just terrible. 


Childhood was the smell of goats and of wide open skies orphaned by clouds. Turkana is a place that’s constantly hot under the collar. Harsh. Growing up, I shuffled between living with my father and my mother. During school days, I lived with my father in Kalokol, on the western shores of Lake Turkana, where he worked as a clerk in one of the small cooperatives. When schools closed, I’d go back to live with my mother in Nabwel Ekorot. I grew up in the heat, amongst squat hills, thorny shrubs, stones and rocks. Sometimes there would be a breeze, and most times the heat would sit on the land, like a hen on its eggs.

My mother built manyattas we lived in. Women generally did.  Often we moved around a bit looking for water and pastures for our animals. One day morans would show up and announce the presence of water kilometers away and that night we’d pack all our belongings on woven baskets called Ng’asaja, load them on either side of the donkeys and set off at night when it was much cooler. Children, like us, would be sat on donkeys during the journey. The whole village would trudge silently in darkness.  I remember those nights, the still of the night, the sound of donkey hooves slipping off stones, the sound of laughing hyenas that escorted us from the edge of the darkness. It was scary for a child like me, but also adventurous. I knew I was safe because I knew these morans, silent, unseen, would be out there in darkness keeping an eye on us. I was amazed at how they would materialize, like ghosts, from the darkness whenever we stopped. They’d have a quick word with the men, drink some water and step back into the darkness again.

When we got to our destination the women would boil maize and we’d eat from Atubas, bowls carved from wood. We’d then sleep, drink water and wait for dusk to fall to set off again. I remember my mother warning us never to stray away from the pack while moving at night. She’d scare us with horror stories of children who strayed and were eaten by hyenas. There were all manner of wild animals at night. We’d often hear the roars of lions in the hills, and along the rivers. Hyenas would stalk us because we carried roasted meat, they followed the smell. When a lion roared in a valley, miles away, we’d be scared. My mother would say, “boys don’t get scared of anything. Who’s going to protect your mom if you are scared of a lion?”

My father always told me that owning no amount of goats would beat having an education. That education was the only equalizer. I’m the fifth of eight children and my dad strove to take us all to school. “You don’t know where education will take you!” He would constantly tell me. He was schooled by missionaries but only up to primary school level. I think it’s his interactions with these wazungus that shaped his thinking about education. My mother never went to school.

I wanted to be a Catholic priest because that’s the most important person I ever saw as a child. I would see them standing tall before the church wearing those robes, being in charge of people, leading them and talking gently to them.  One time I went to a priest’s home and was surprised at how much food they had. I was sold. I wanted to be the kind of person who had lots of food in their house. Someone who wore a flowing robe and had great command with their voice and eyes.

I know so much about flying planes now but I know even more about herding goats. Consider being eight years old and already being entrusted to look after 400 goats. You set off with them in the morning and you come back with all of them in the evening. All of them, not one missing because your mother will notice as soon as she sets eyes on them. That’s not only great responsibility, it’s great skill. It teaches you about leadership, the leader of goats. You have to know your goats by colour and gender. You have to know which goats are pregnant and which goats are on heat and which goats are castrated. You have to learn how to ensure that this goat mates which goat to guarantee a certain quality of goat. When you open for the goats in the morning, you have to take them to graze towards the rising sun, it offers them a sense of orientation. That’s how they adjust their internal clock.  I didn’t wear a watch until I was an adult but you look up and the sun tells you the time, you look down and your own shadows tell you the time. But internally, by the way the sun hits your face, you know when it’s time to take your goats to the river to drink water and what time to start setting back home in the evening. I know which cough means my goat is sick so I will find it in a herd and isolate her. You have to know how to milk a cow. We had dogs to help us with the herding and also to help us hunt for lunch. We hunted hares and squirrels and we skinned them and made a fire by rubbing a stick together and we roasted them while squatting under the shade of a thorny tree.

I could look at my 400-plus goats and tell you if one was missing. How? patterns. Goats fall into patterns and behaviours and so if that was broken I’d know there was a problem. There are goats that like walking beside each other, so when you don’t see that happening you know something is off. There are some goats which have peculiar characteristics, especially the male ones. They like starting fights. So if there are no fights that evening, I’d know my goat is missing. Trouble-maker goats. There is also a certain goat that is always the first one to start walking at the end of the day so that the rest can follow and nobody would move until that particular one starts moving towards home. So when the sun is over there, over that hill and nobody is moving, I will know my goat is missing. There are lone goats and jumpy goats. And like humans, goats have groups, they move together in batches. I can look to estimate the size of a batch with one glance, so if one is missing I will know instinctively.

This is how I became a pilot. 

One night, after dinner, my dad and I were lying down outside a manyatta. It wasn’t uncommon to sleep outside because Turkana gets really hot. We’d lie on woven mats under the sky chatting before one of us drifted to sleep. I was probably nine years old. I remember while lying on my back, seeing something blinking, moving slowly across the sky.  “What’s that moving up there?” I asked my dad, pointing. “That’s an airplane,” he said.

“An airplane?” I asked. “Yes,” he said, “it carries people.” “To where?” I asked. “To places far away from here,” he said. “You mean there is someone in that thing?” I asked him, disbelievingly. He told me, not just one person, but many people. “Like ten people?!!” I was now sitting up. He said, “more, like over 50 people.” I thought he was lying. The next morning I went and confronted him again to see if his story would remain consistent. “What was that we saw in the sky yesterday?” He said, “an airplane, I told you!” I asked him, “but how does it know where it’s going? Are there roads up there? Why can’t it fall? How did it get up there?” He didn’t have answers to these questions but then my curiosity was piqued. I wanted to get into one, to be the one who flew that thing in the sky. When I was older and started accompanying him to Lodwar town whenever he went for his cooperative business. I’d ask him to leave me at the airstrip where I’d stand at the fence and look at a plane for hours in the sun, until he’d come for me when he was done. The plane there belonged to the Catholic missionaries.

When I was in Form Four at Lodwar Boy’s High school,  some chaps from Eldoret Aviation College or something came to give a career talk. I was one of the brightest students so I stood in front of the whole school and asked them what it took to be a pilot. How do I go about it? One of the presenters told me  that one has to go to aviation to learn how to fly. And that it was very expensive. “How much?” I asked. He said Ksh6 million, maybe Kshs.10 million. For the first time, I felt like perhaps mine was a pipe dream. How could I afford aviation school when I was struggling to raise Kshs.10,000 in high school? After high school exams,  I travelled to Lokichogio to visit a relative. There were lots of refugees in Loki with planes landing and taking off.  I spent many days by the fence of the airstrip looking at those planes. I would see the pilots stepping out in their uniforms, mostly white men, wearing sunglasses, looking like gods. I ached for it.

I scored a B-Plus in my KCSE and I was the only one in my Ward that year called to university. As I waited to join uni, I spent my days assisting teachers teach in the local mixed high school because they didn’t have enough teachers. I taught during the day and helped my father run his small bar in the evening. You know, audits and things. I was also called in to do translations whenever someone in the village needed to trade with traders because unlike many people in my village and beyond, I spoke both English and Kiswahili.

One evening, a matatu came bearing a gift from my friend in Lodwar; a newspaper. He was called Conrad Longolol. That newspaper changed the trajectory of my life because in the newspaper was an advert for the recruitment of military cadets. My friend called me on my kabambe phone and said, “apply for it, this is a good thing for you.” I  asked how? I didn’t know what a cadet was. “Because you can get into the Air Force and then fly planes!” When he said that my dreams suddenly developed wings again. I promptly applied.

A year after my application, after I had lost hope of being accepted, I went home one day and found my father with a newspaper. Someone had sent him a newspaper from Lodwar. “Someone saw your name in this newspaper,” he told me before I could sit down. I stood there looking down a long list of names. I had been shortlisted by the military and I had two weeks to report for interviews in Lanet, Nakuru. I had never been past Lodwar.

My very first impression of Nakuru, when I finally got there, two strange matatus rides later, was seeing green grass and just staring at it. I had never seen green grass before! I was shocked that green grass existed. I was accustomed to dry and thorny vegetation. But here the grass was so green, like a trick of the eye. The trees had green leaves on them! And it was so cold! I shivered under the Maasai leso wrapped around my shoulders. We did interviews then we were brought to Moi Air Base in Nairobi where we underwent more rigorous tests. I was finally accepted to train as a pilot. I couldn’t believe it! It felt like all these things were happening to someone else. That one day someone in a uniform would realise their mistake and send me back to Turkana.

My mother didn’t want me to join the military. She was scared for me. She said it was a dangerous job. She opposed it and because of that, my dad became lukewarm to the idea. I didn’t want to go against their wishes but I also wanted to chase this dream. So, one evening I went to my father’s manyatta, we call it Etem, a small gazebo where your father sleeps. I sat on the floor facing him and told him, “father, allow me to go try my luck as a pilot but I can’t if I don’t have your blessings. Let me go, if they don’t allow me to fly a plane I will quit and come back home immediately. You have my word.” My father is a skinny, quiet man. A thinker. He looked at me and said, “fine then. But remember, your word is what makes you a man.” He stood up and fetched some special water from a gourd, scooped with his palm and splashed on me as he said a small prayer. He then called my mother and they had a word, “let him go and try it. We have spoken and I have blessed him.” My mother also sprinkled water on me and blessed me with her prayer, asking the ancestors to go ahead of me and watch over me. The next day I was gone.

Military training was extremely tough but remember I’m a boy from Turkana. I’m used to hardship, and my threshold for discomfort is very high. My whole life in Turkana had prepared me for military training. Walking tens of kilometers daily, going without enough food or water, sleeping in the bush, fending off wild animals that want to attack our animals, practising shooting guns by the river. My only problem was the Nakuru cold. I was used to 38 degrees Celsius, now I had to survive in 16 degrees, 15 degrees. For two years I really suffered in that Lanet cold.

I finally joined the Kenya Airforce as a Second Lieutenant. In the many years I was in the military, I flew all manner of military jets. I remember the very first plane I flew in the Flying Training School at Moi Air Base; the Scottish Aviation Bulldog. It’s called a familiarization flight. I remember lifting off the ground for the first time and losing it. Now Kenya Airways has put some flesh on me, but I was very skinny then and I couldn’t imagine that skinny me was the one lifting this massive machine off the ground, that it was happening. I kept looking out in complete disbelief, I couldn’t even hear what my instructor was telling me. I forgot all my controls and he had to take control of the plane because I was stuck in time. I couldn’t make sense that my dream had actually come true.

But that doesn’t beat the very first time I flew over Turkana in one of the military jets. Of course I was going to have to fly over my home town to pay homage. It was a clear afternoon, bright blue skies. As I approached Turkana, my heart started pounding hard under my military uniform. I flew over the fields I used to play in as a child, over the school I attended, I saw the dusty football pitch, the crooked wooden goalposts. I flew over the hills I used to graze on as a child, hills I knew by name, hills that knew my dreams. I flew right over our boma, over a tree under which I took naps, the spot where I saw my first plane that night, when all this was nothing but a wild childish dream. Down there were my people, my home, where I came from. Flying over my home filled me with a great sense of pride and deep humility. How was it possible that I was in a respected uniform, allowed to fly this multimillion machine, a boy from Turkana? In which universe was this happening? What gracious Lord was this who grants boys who come from dust to fly planes over his home? I remember holding back tears. I was so grateful, so honoured. When I left the military and joined a small commercial airline, I convinced them to start flying to Turkana and I flew the first commercial plane there. These things were happening to me like a dream. This was a big deal, it still is a big deal because…

I’m the first fixed-wing pilot from Turkana. Of course, the Air Force has since recruited others from Turkana. I think we have two others. But before me, there was nobody else.

I left the Air Force 11 years later as Captain and Flight Instructor. I joined Kenya Airways in 2019. See these two stripes on my uniform? Means I’m a First Officer on the Embraer. I’m not a Captain at Kenya Airways but since I was a Captain in the Air Force, most guys just call me Captain. When you join any fleet in Kenya Airways, you have to start from the bottom so I have to work my way up again to become Captain.

Yes, of course being a Captain and a Flight Instructor in the Air Force, then starting again as First Officer, starting at the bottom, is a deeply  humbling experience. Of course, it has its challenges in terms of adjusting to the new normal. Instead of you giving instructions and commands, you are now the one getting the briefs and commands. Some of these guys are younger than me, some are my age mates, and others are older than me. I was able to overcome all that by recognizing the fact that yes, this is a different environment with its arrangements and rules, which I’m obligated to abide by. The military experience of dealing with people also helped me to adjust very quickly, to respect the chain of command and hierarchy. Nowadays it doesn’t bother me. Now I focus on working my way up.

Everything I learnt in the military has proved to be very useful as a commercial pilot. Discipline and attitude. The military also teaches you to have a good attitude. You may not agree with your boss’s instructions but attitude is important. Planning and strategy. Everything in the military is about planning and strategy. Moving from point A to point B, it’s not just about how you are going to move. What are some of the threats you’ll find along the way? How are you going to counter them? Leadership. You’re trained to be a leader but also to understand and respect hierarchy. My experience in the military has helped me to offer my opinion to my captain in a language that respects his position. It also helped me relate to junior staff, cabin crew, flight pursers. My military experience also helps me to be calm even when things are going wrong. You can’t lose your head in the military, you have to stay calm and find solutions, not indulge the problem.

I’m yet to fly my parents. My mother isn’t interested in coming to Nairobi, let alone getting on a plane. She loves being in Turkana, her comfort zone.  It will take a delegation to convince her to get on a plane. I will ask my father if he wants to fly with me.

I’m the first and only Turkana here at Kenya Airways since independence. That I have a huge responsibility to my people. Children back in Turkana need to see me in uniform to know it’s possible, that it can be done and to work towards joining me. What’s the point of being the only one? Back in our local school children sit on rocks in class. Students from different grades share classrooms. Girls are being married off because dowry is still more important than education. I know the lure of fishing in Lake Turkana over going to school. I fished in that lake as a teenager. We took over a local primary school, built Class one and Class two classrooms for the secondary school called Kalokol Mixed Secondary School. Nobody is going to help these children if I don’t. Together with a few professionals from Turkana – teachers, nurses, policemen, businessmen – we are trying to help children go to school. But it’s not easy, we need help. Any sort of help. All the help we can.

I met a pretty girl from the University of Nairobi where I was doing a course. She was brilliant and coy. Her father is Turkana, her mom is Luo. Of course, I was going to marry her and have her give me three children, which she has so far.

As a 36-year-old man, I struggle to keep up with what is happening around me. Let’s say you’re flying for ten hours, you come back home, you find this has happened, that has happened, the next day you are supposed to be up in the air again before processing what you just found when you landed. You don’t have much time to process how fast the children are growing, you need time to study, to better yourself in other spheres, to work on your marriage and friendships…there is just so much happening around you between landing and taking off. So much.

Every time I fly over Turkana County, from Khartoum or Juba, I look down and I feel something. I still feel something.

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  1. Every time I fly over Turkana County, from Khartoum or Juba, I look down and I feel something. I still feel something. Profund piece. Dreams indeed come true. Congratulations captain.

  2. Ive read this article balancing tears in my eyes and understanding.
    My youngest brother Ken,(LODWAR BOYS HOYEEE!)holds such great aspirations and i pray everyday that his stars will allign.
    To ‘Captain Esinyen….keep insipiring our Tribesmen.

  3. ‘Capt’Loichok. the sky (pun intended)cannot be the limit for you! I pray that you live to fulfil your dreams for your people.Godspeed my son.

  4. Now, this is a a story to inspire one. A testimony, if you will! If only there is just one Turkana boy or girl, or indeed from anywhere else – for there are disadvantaged boys and girls even in places with constantly green grass – who will be facilitated to read this story, then the purpose is fulfilled!

  5. I want children from Turkana to know that it can be done. totally relatable, wanting to help your people back home. How can we contribute to helping these kids?

  6. “What gracious Lord was this who grants boys who come from dust to fly planes over his home? I remember holding back tears. I was so grateful, so honoured..” very encouraging.

  7. This story has made my day!
    Turkana will rise through its progressive sons and daughters like First Officer Esinyen Loichok, who become role models and take their CSR so seriously.
    May you continue to rise above the skies, Capt and let me know when ur next CSR event is…i would love to do my little bit and involve a really caring group of Lady pilots.
    Cheers…may God continue to look out for u.
    wishing u all the best.

  8. I love how this story created very picturesque images of Turkana. I could almost feel the heat, see and smell the goats… although still bewildered at the art of herding a flock of 400…sigh!

    A deep and captivating story of a boy’s rise to his dreams….to the skies….right above his home.. the place that birthed his dreams. A story simply told and now etched in my mind.

  9. Reading the article was an absolute delight! It was not only incredibly captivating but also packed with insightful wisdom. It’s a gentle reminder that in the realm of possibilities, “impossible” is merely a word.

  10. …incredible! I want to be part of the delegation that will convince your folks to fly. All the very best in changing the narrative of children raised in Turkana c

  11. This is beautifully written 🙂 Indeed as Eleanor Roosevelt puts it: The Future Belongs to Those Who Believe in the Beauty of Their Dreams! I can’t wait to read more stories of young children from Turkana who were inspired by your life to dare to dream BIG!

  12. Tuesdays are for reading your blog Biko. Quite a humbling story there. Can you connect me with the Captain. I know of an organisation that can help in supporting the school.

  13. Your journey is beautifully described and in retrospect so many of us had different journeys n obstacles but your story is truly remarkable. Your resilience, courage and patience when waiting for your reply to your admission into the army is remarkable . Well done

  14. What an inspiring experience!! Definitely worth my support. This is the kind of surreal feeling I used to get when I first settled here…..when I’d sit down eating my lunch at Lafayette Square in the warmer months, looking at the White House and feel as if am dreaming……a girl from a dusty town of Narok, in the most powerful capital of the world. Enyewe life can be full of surprises.

    Coincidentally, I worked in Turkana and everything Captain Loichok has described is very apt.

  15. Congratulations Captain.
    First and foremost its your attitude that has brought you this far. Never the less soon and very soon you will be a Captain squared

  16. You are a great inspiration Captain. We plead with you to continue giving back to the society.Turkana is our county and TURKANA issues is our business… Thanks and be blessed

  17. You are a great inspiration Captain. We plead with you to continue giving back to the society.Turkana is our county and TURKANA issues is our business… Thanks and be blessed ….Am from Kalokol too

  18. Thanks Alot captain, as part of The Kalokol Mixed Day Secondary School Staff. we are really humbled with your visit and the Kenya Airways Team. you inspired our boys and Girls to work hard and achieve the best. Really nothing is impossible with dedication and determination.

  19. This is inspirational; dreams come true. It’s a blessing having you in our society and we pray to God to give you a heart of giving back to the community.

  20. you are our pride, Turkana pride..I personaly must say am proud of you captain Lochok..
    keep on the good job your doing for your beloved country and Turkana..God protection always upon you Sir

  21. Shifting from Military to Kenya Airways confirms that in government services are transferable. This a powerful journey of becoming a beacon of hope to your community and country at large. Kudos Captain

  22. “What gracious Lord was this who grants boys who come from dust to fly planes over his home? I remember holding back tears. I was so grateful, so honoured.”
    This had me in tear.For sure He’s is a Gracious God

  23. I read the name Lodwar High School and felt something. Yes, nostalgia.
    As an alumnus of LOBO (as we used to call it), I am proudly associated.

    PS; I met a pretty girl from Turkana Girls’ High School back then. Her smile tripped me and I fell in love. I told myself that I would marry her some day. The universe eavesdropped and laughed hard.

  24. All dreams are valid and this story is a testament to that! Big up captain and continue giving back to your community. You never know what impact that will have on someone who would otherwise not have had the opportunity like you had! Stories like these are what we live for!

  25. It’s 4:24 A.m EST.i just woke up from sleep,scrolled through FB,and have enjoyed Reading your story.its s true inspiration.Proud of you Captain!!

  26. you are a very good inspiration to the many young children and all people of turkana..love your struggle and ambitions..Having known you for many years I am pretty sure you will reach places…bravo captain

  27. This is one of the most beautiful stories I have read here. I hung onto every word, breathless. This is why I come here to read, Awe-inspiring!
    May Captain Loichok´s dreams exceed his wildest expectations.

  28. This inspires hope that no matter your background, attitude and belief can get you to your dream. Many thanks for sharing your life story.

  29. 1st Turkanian KAF CPT is a good achievement. Dont sell yourself short though, still time to reach beyond the skies to the stars. Space, the final frontier, imagine how THAT story would sound leader of goats…EPIC.

  30. I have read this whole article and I am really moved by this story. Truly inspiring, and I believe I will be a pilot too, someday.

  31. I would like to appreciate Mr. Biko and each of you brothers and Sisters for your kind words. I also thank God, my family and all those who made my life story even possible. In my story, may all of us including my Turkana people be inspired and above all believe that ALL DREAMS ARE VALID AND POSSIBLE. With the support from you, the good people of this world, I will continue dedicating myself to improve and inspire a better future for my people. Kindly get my email address from Mr. Biko and join me in our next CSR project in Turkana.Thank you and God bless. CAPTAIN DONALD LOCHOK.

  32. amazing. the feeling of achievement is unmeasured! Thank you for sharing, reminds me getting 270 marks in Kcpe, not loosing hope to scoring B- in KSCE. A boy from a small village, joined university and now sitted here getting inspired with watery eyes in a Dubai IT consultancy office is remarkable.

  33. I salute you Captain Esinyen, may you continue into soar highest and may your many dreams back home come true…
    Amazing story