It even rained in Loiyangalani. As we came into the desert oasis town the steam was rising from the evaporating puddles in the road. Kura pointed out the Turkana settlements on the outskirts of the village. We splashed through the overflow water from the borehole that provided plentiful water to the settlement; naked children waved and smiled as we passed.
As soon as we arrived at Palm Shade Camp I fished out my first aid kit and got some meds into Semeji. We sent him to bed and hoped he would recover quickly. After a late lunch of goat stew and rice, we walked out to the main road to show Doug some of the businesses in town. Our first stop was Umoja Petroleum, one of BOMA’s most successful businesses. Run by five young men, they purchase drums of diesel that are delivered by the lorries and then sold in small quantities to fisherman and motor bike owners. In addition to selling vehicle parts and doing puncture repairs, this enterprising group of young men has also secured contracts with the local Catholic Church and the Kenya Wildlife Service. Led by the charismatic Abdi, their business was a confirmation of our decision to not limit our micro-finance program to women.
Our next stop was a number of kiosks run by groups of women who have located their businesses in small huts or on the porches of other businesses in town. As I walked the streets I greeted and chatted with people I knew. Upon arriving at one of the kiosks I turned to speak to Doug but he and Kura had disappeared.
It did not take long to find them. Back tracking my steps, I peered into the darkened room of the Cold Drinks Hotel that does not serve cold drinks. Smiling broadly through his hennaed beard and dressed in his long hajib and skull cap, the owner of the hotel, ironically called Cold Drinks, greeted me warmly. “Mama Rungu! Karibu!”
“Jambo sana Cold Drinks!”
Sure enough, there was Doug and Kura. Cold Drinks was the resident Chelsea Football Club fanatic, a passion he shares with my husband. Doug and Kura were laughing and nodding their heads as they discussed the recent match with Cold Drinks. Disappointed that Doug would not be in town long enough to catch the next game, he made Doug promise to return someday so they could watch a match together.
That afternoon, Doug met many of the people who have made our REAP program so successful: Benjamin, our Business Mentor from Loiy; kiosk owners and dried and fried fish groups; restaurant owners and purveyors of beads and clothing. We visited the cooperative where the dried fish is stored. We chatted with the local boat builder who trains young men in his craft. I wish Doug could have met the outgoing Teresa, our other Loiyangalani Village Mentor, as she is one of our finest and most enthusiastic Mentors, taking great pride in the progress of the business groups that she oversees.
I just wandered along behind as Kura, BOMA’s Operations Director, did all the talking. BOMA’s Rural Entrepreneur Access Project is Kura’s program – he knows the model and how it works: recruiting and training Village Mentors, REAP applications and business plans, standard of living index baseline data, receipt forms and signatures, progress reports and impact assessment surveys. Kura represents the spirit of a program that focuses on developing leaders who can implement change and develop diversified sources of income. He inspires self-confidence in our Mentors and our business owners so that they can work together to change the circumstances in their own communities. REAP is not a model that is imposed from outside, it is a model that is embraced by all of the people who own the change that it will bring. I never had to say a word, and that is how it should be. Kura had Doug fully engaged in the human element of our work. This is what I brought Doug to see.
The next day a charter plane arrived to pick up Doug, myself and Sarah. With the roads still bogged down in rain and mud, Kura decided it would be safer to have Sarah fly with us to the Mara, and then back to the plane’s original destination, Nanyuki. As the pilot disembarked from the plane he handed Kura a package of miraa. He and Omar, Semeji and Makombo would drive through the night to reach Nanyuki. This would be my final goodbye to our team until my next trip to Kenya. Doug and I shook everyone’s hands and then, breaking cultural boundaries, I gave everyone a hug.
In a familiar refrain of our frequent goodbyes I told Kura, “not a scratch…” referring to our mantra that he not be injured or hurt in the work that he does. It was a sad goodbye. There is so much work to be done and I was leaving Kura with the burden of making it all happen. If we are overwhelmed at times by the poverty and misery that surrounds us it is Kura who sees the endless possibilities. He is optimistic and energetic and his heart never fails him. With great compassion and understanding, he is leading those most vulnerable out of poverty.
The plane lifted off the shimmering runway and we were soon airborne over the harsh terrain of northern Kenya. Forsaken and abandoned but not without hope, I saw a land full of opportunities for those that are willing to learn and adapt to the changing climate. The sounds of the women singing their plaintive songs rose up from the ground. I closed my eyes so that I could see their faces: Malawan, Algoya, Nakarodio and of course, Halhalo. I could see the children and smell the familiar scents of the villages – the smokey fires, the dung of the livestock, the milky tea. This will never be home for me. But it is where I leave my heart.