We also have Damaris in the vehicle with us. Damaris is the Business Mentor from Mt. Kulal and she had been waiting in Marsabit for two weeks to catch a lorry home. Kura met her in Marsabit while he was making the repairs to Gumps.
The crossing goes fine despite the heat and we reach Korr by midday. We have 60 businesses in the Korr region because this area was where we first piloted the REAP program. I am disappointed we will not have time to visit with the businesses in Korr as some of our greatest successes are here, such as the Katakhadan women’s group of camel butchers and the bakery group. But I spent a fair amount of time in Korr last time and we want to keep moving to our new village of Ilaut. We have a quick cup of tea with John Galgithele, Korr Business Mentor, and he agrees to meet us in Nemerai in three day’s time.
The Ilaut Business Mentors, William and Alinoor, have been waiting for us all day. Alinoor is one of Kura’s many jolly uncles: outgoing with a big smile. While he is very much a practicing Muslim, he is also the head of the local Lutheran Church Development committee. We feel fortunate to have him on our team.
In January we launched 15 businesses in the Ilaut region and now the whole village has turned out for our visit. Across the road from Alinoor’s compound of buildings is a hut that houses the Nkiapu business group of five women. The hut is divided into two sections – the back for the retail shop selling tea, sugar, wires for beading and other items. In the front section, they have a fire going for tea and chapattis that they sell to locals and travelers. No one seems bothered by the heat and smoke and they are doing a thriving business. We review their record book, as we do for each group we meet with, and note that after just three weeks the group has 1,700 shillings in profit with considerable stock on hand.
Kura and I are then escorted to the dry river bed where two plush red chairs have been set under a tree. The remaining 14 groups have traveled from their far villages to meet with us. I am uncomfortable with this kind of presentation; the whole setting smacks somehow of a colonial warlord being greeted by the natives but it is important that we give the recipients of aid the opportunity to say thank you. And this is how William and Alinoor would like to see this happen. Kura and I are treated to songs and dancing by the women and the sound echoes off of the river banks and rock walls of the surrounding mountains. I try not to tear up but it is hard not to be overwhelmed by the women in their colorful cloths and beads, the joyous songs and this beautiful African setting.
There are many speeches and then one member of each group comes forward to tell us about their business. We are told of their profits to date and they show us their record books. We hear many of the same things that we have heard in other villages and the sentiments expressed by the women are strong: “No one was interested in us;” I do not ask for anything from my husband anymore;” “We have been working so hard every day. We go with our donkeys to Korr and spend the night to buy supplies for our business. Now we are moving ahead.”
The chief of the village delivers some remarks and then Kura offers his encouragement. Kura translates for me as I tell the women that I know if they work together they will be a great success. I encourage them to keep records so that the businesses will always have full transparency for the members. “Use your Business Mentors when you need help, they are here for you.” I thank them for hosting me so generously and tell them that we are committed to helping the women succeed because we know if we help the women, we help the children. And if we help the children, then we also help the village.
Alinoor concludes the meeting with this: “This is the best program that has ever come to our remote village. If we start with a small amount, than we will get ahead. If we are given a million shillings then we will be finished. The small becomes big and the small things are more helpful than the big things.”
Omar and Semji are already waiting in Gumps when we return from the riverbed. We want to reach South Horr and so do our best to make quick goodbyes. When we reach the outskirts of the town, I ask Kura if I can drive as a way to settle my racing mind. It takes full concentration to drive these roads of sand and clay and rock and gullies, and Kura has taught me well. Use first gear when crossing the riverbeds if the opposite bank is a climb. Stay in the ruts even if they are full of water; the sides of the road could be looser and more dangerous. Use low gears and don’t be afraid of high rpms. It is a wonderful gift to be able to drive across some of the last of wild Africa.
We arrive in South Horr after dark and the sky is black with rain clouds. There is no sign of the approaching full moon. Tonight we will stay at what I refer to as the “Four Seasons of the North” – the Samburu Sports Club. As a special treat, this time I am given the Elder’s cottage, a stone building that is straight out of the Cotswolds. I take a real shower in the outdoor communal showers as the rain starts to beat down. It rains all night.