Everyone is up early for the long journey. Amina and Shankaron come by to say goodbye, as does Crazy Harry the German, the first white person I have seen in five years of working in the district. Harry rode his bike from Germany to Capetown and has now returned to live in Loglogo. He wants to be of help but he also wants to have a business, maybe in both Loglogo and Marsabit. He also wants a young Rendille wife. I give him six months.
Being here is hard work. I have to focus on keeping myself healthy: stay covered and cool, drink water, and most importantly, use Purell religiously in a place where the social custom of shaking and holding hands is a constant. If we stop and meet people along the road, hands are immediately extended into the cab. With little water for washing and hygiene non-existent in some places, diseases are easily transmitted. There are frequent outbreaks of cholera and typhoid.
We go north on the main road to the hillside village of Kamboe. It is a dramatic change from dry, dusty, hot Loglogo. It occasionally rains there so people are trying to grow crops as an alternative to livestock. It is also an incredibly poor village. Half the children are not in school despite the presence of a free primary school.
Mud and manure covers the ground and flies are everywhere. You have to be careful where you walk in villages with few or no latrines – not so much a problem in the hot dry villages where waste quickly evaporates.
A few years ago the elders decided to send one girl to secondary school and now she is the most educated person in the village. Her name is Raphael Npirion but we all know her as “Brown.” Brown has been my traveling companion on many of our district journeys. Kura and Joseph thought that I should not travel unattended with just men and so Brown was always in the hut with me. But Brown missed her daughter back in the village and I preferred my privacy so we eventually came to an agreement. The BOMA group of Omar, Semji, Kura and me is now a well-functioning team. Semeji’s first word in English when we left him to catch a lorry back north after one of our first trips was “family.”
We have fifteen businesses in Kamboe and Brown is our Business Mentor. She is quite passionate about the difference the businesses have made in the lives of some of the very poor women. Some of the groups have both women and men, and at first I was concerned that such a grouping would be to the disadvantage of the women. But here is where I need to hold back and let the Business Mentors lead, and, in fact, so far such groups have worked out quite well. The men in these roadside villages make the journey to Marsabit to buy and transport stock for the small businesses and the women sell the products. For example, one group sells diesel and the man is the one who transports the jerrycans back to the village. The women sell the diesel by the litre for the generator that pumps the water from a borehole to a pump house in the village.
The Jikazani business group of five women received the seed capital for their business in July but waited to start the business until they were sure the rains would arrive. When the rains finally arrived in November, they started their business selling cooking oil, soap, sugar and tea. The women told me that there is still a lot of livestock in the village but the women are not allowed to take or give livestock. Livestock are the property of the men, even though the women help care for them. “The men have strength because they have livestock, Mama Rungu, but now we have strength because we have this business.”
Brown invites us into her hut, a much bigger and expanded one since she married a wealthy man from Loglogo. Brown is his second wife and she now has two children with him, in additional to her daughter in primary school. Kura says he loves the tea from Kamboe because it is made with sweet cow’s milk instead of the traditional goat milk. I have loads of flies covering the side and lip of my cup and they buzz around my face. There are also a lot of fleas in Kamboe and I am quickly covered in bites. We gulp the hot tea and return to the center of the village to greet the women who have assembled to sing us a song. It is a joyous moment as the women sing and dance and they draw me into the center of the circle. One of the women grabs my hat which engulfs her entire head. All you can see is the hat and the circle of beads shaking back and forth. Everyone laughs.
On our way out of town, we run into the chief of the village. I usually resist commenting on circumstances but tell Kura this is one I just cannot resist. I tell the chief that this village will stay poor unless the parents agree to send all of their children to school. Primary school is free. He tells me that the fathers refuse to pay the 150 shillings ($2) for the required birth certificate. Kamboe now has a water committee with over 500,000 shillings in funds collected from the sale of water to Marsabit and the committee has been using the funds for secondary school fees for the best students. The chief tells me that they have seen the opportunities that Brown has brought to the village because of her education and he knows they need more people like her. It turns out that they have been discussing spending the money on the birth certificates so more children will be in school.
We fly back down the road, through Loglogo again and veer west on the road that crosses the Kasuit Desert to Korr. I love this stretch, and watch for the plentiful ostriches and gerenuk antelopes. The warriors tell us that that there are many cheetahs here, as well as lions, but I have yet to see one.