Today the adventure begins. Maina and Semeji arrive promptly at 6:30 and they load the vehicles with the jerrycans, water and a few food supplies. We head north out of Nanyuki and are once again treated to the rare sight of the summit of Mt. Kenya. Another good omen!
After a brief stop to visit with safari clients at Lewa Downs, we arrive in Isiolo. It takes three bank stops to find a working ATM to secure the last of the cash. While we are waiting for Kura, we also stop by the Brigadier’s house so that Semeji can retrieve his machine gun.
“How many bullets Semeji? Ngapi?”
As we climb the escarpment, Gumps is hesitating. I switch to the rear tank and he roars back to life. Maina says we have a blockage in the front tank and will have to make more repairs in Isiolo.
Kura buys some cabbages and potatoes as a contribution to our hosts that will cook for us in the villages. With the repairs completed, the two vehicles fly on the newly tarmacked road out of Isiolo. Thanks to the Chinese, the road is no longer a bone-crunching, brain-chattering ride. For over an hour it is gloriously smooth and Semeji, now in the bodyguard front passenger position, lets out a warrior howl as we exceed 100 km / hour. When we leave the tarmac in Merrile, Bruce Springsteen is blasting from the radio. The hot wind slams the side of Gumps as I work to keep the vehicle going fast enough to stay above the corrugation without losing control. It is like driving on marbles. At 4th gear the vehicle starts to skid sideways and I have to adjust my comfort sound of the rpm’s to stay in 3rd. Finally we reach the Laisamis women’s campsite, where our BOMA Village Mentors, Rosemary and Golowa, are conducting a celebration event with our REAP participants, an affirming activity for our established business groups that also encourages the newer ones.
The campsite is a series of stone buildings with cots and a large classroom building where NGO’s and government employees lecture poor people. This is a well-funded activity under the heading of “capacity building”. Two words that you will never hear from BOMA. At the height of the drought and famine last year, I shared the camp in Loglogo with some employees of a well-known Christian organization who were lecturing poor people about malnutrition. They also weighed the starving babies, assigning a malnutrition score. It is a relief activity with a large budget for staff and vehicles but little money to transform the obvious fact: the pastoralists main source of nutrition and income – livestock – is increasingly unsustainable as the severity and frequency of the droughts escalate.
I speak to the group and thank them for once again welcoming me to their village. A sea of smiling women’s faces beams back at me. Just over a year ago I stood in this building and did not recognize many of the women, they had grown so thin. It was a difficult time. Now the women are relaxed and there are few sunken eyes and hallow faces. Kura then addresses the group and introduces Sarah who is promptly given a name “Hagano” meaning beautiful.
Since I started BOMA five years ago, meetings such as these have concluded with women, and men, asking that we speak in private. For hours I will then hear pleas for help – a child is sick, my child cannot go to school, I have to go to hospital because of diarrhea (last year Laisamis also had a substantial cholera outbreak). For the first time ever, it is an hour of thank yous and beautiful gifts. I am adorned with necklaces and bracelets. I receive three beautiful woven baskets.
Kimbo Dokhle, the chair of the Mili Matatu business group tells me that she had been in hospital but wanted to get out so that she could greet me. She told me “Mama Rungu, if it was not for this business, I would have had no money to go to hospital. Maybe I would have died. But our business has savings and now I can use this to pay.” Another member of her group cupped my face in her hands and said to me, “Our husbands no longer beat us. Now he is begging me for money.”
Gutoya Mirgichan is a widow with 4 children. While she still struggles, she is now able to pay the fees for two of her children to attend secondary school. “Now the school does not send my children home. The profit we have with this business is with our children”.
Another member of Gutoya’s group tells me “Since we got this money, our intestines are cold. Before our intestines were hot with problems and the problems that we had were many. The money was small but we have grown it and now we wake up every day to make profit.”
The event ends with lots of singing and a meal of goat, rice, potatoes and chapatti. Kura, Sarah and I are given the precious pot of goat innards – intestines, brain and liver. I’ve done my time with this delicacy but Kura insists that Sarah must try and she bravely eats a few bites.
We get a late start out of Laisamis and now we will have to drive in the dark in order to reach the mountain town of Ngurunit. Kura has Omar and the Mentors from Karare, Loglogo and Laisamis. I have Maina, Semeji, Sarah and Brown, our Mentor from Kamboe, with her year old baby. The driving now switches between hard-packed dirt and sand. I want to stop and visit Malawan in Ndikir village but Kura says he will make the stop at the village to tell them we will come back in a few days, and that I should go on as we will need to keep about 15 minutes between us because of the dust and sand.
He’s not kidding. At times we literally plow through 3 feet of soft sand that spills over the top of the hood of the vehicle. I have to use the windshield wipers to see. Dust covers everything and we all cough and spit out dirt when we get a break. Kura catches up with us. “You will be fine, Mama Rungu. Stay in the tracks, no matter how deep the sand, go to first gear if you have too. You will be fine.” We plow on. Now that it is dark it is harder to see the sand and the cavernous potholes. The road never seems to end. In the dim light we can see the silhouette of the Ngurunit mountains but we never seem to get any closer. At times it is impossible to see the road but Semeji always gets me back on track. I decide to keep going and not wait for Kura, afraid that if we stop the vehicle it will seize up with dust and we will spend the night in the bush. At 8:30 pm we reach Ngurunit and make our way to Joseph Lekuton’s new camp, Seriak. We fall out of the vehicle and an askari leads us to a circle of people in the middle of the camp. I yell out to Joseph, “Bandits in the house!”