The first sound I heard on Saturday morning was the muzzehin calling the faithful to prayer. It was 4:30 AM. In this village of mostly Catholic parishioners, South Horr is a typical village in northern Kenya, with a diversity of spiritual practices.
As light filtered through the cracks of my wooden windows, I heard the sounds of a village — chickens and goats and the gentle sound of soft voices waking to the day. A tropical bulbul, go-away birds and the honking of a hornbill joined the chorus. And then it came — the sound that has started almost every day that I have ever spent in Africa — the whisk, whisk of a palm-branch broom.
The BOMA Village Mentor training session started immediately after a breakfast of mandazi and chai. Today we would focus on the new micro-savings program that Sarah has developed. After a six-month pilot and subsequent evaluation in Loiyangalani and Korr, we were officially launching the program to the rest of the region. The pilot had demonstrated that a micro-savings plan that sets aside regular committed funds in a safe location can provide insurance against the regular shocks that are typical for people who live in poverty. It can also become a source of savings-led credit that will help the business group members grow their businesses. Sarah did a great job of presenting a rather complicated program. In practice, we knew it would be much easier once they started implementing the program, but I was glad that our BOMA training manuals had everything explicitly spelled out for the Village Mentors.
Mid-afternoon I went back to my hut to wait out the worst heat of the day. When I returned, the training session had finished. “Where is everybody?” I asked Omar.
“They are in town, Mama Rungu. This is a big town for many people — they are shopping and some are even getting a haircut.”
Tonight would be our last night together, so I paid for a case of Tusker beer and sodas. As it grew dark, everyone straggled back to camp and gathered in a circle of chairs outside my hut. Kura offered t-shirts to anyone who would tell a story and enthusiastic performers entertained us with tales of hyenas, zebras and the elephant and the hare. Song leaders led us in rounds of music and spirits were high by the time dinner was served — heaping bowls of rice, cabbage and goat meat.
When the food was finished, and before the staff could clear the plates, the dancing began. It started with sonar tenor chants and simple songs. The staff quickly abandoned the huge serving bowls and dishes on the porch of my hut and joined in the singing and dancing. Soon other guests at the club and then people from town joined the celebration. Arms around waists, hands clasped and feet pounding in a circle of bodies, the ethnic mix of Samburu, Rendille, Ariaal and Turkana voices joined together in a shared chant — i-lee-um, il-ee-um, il-ee-um, il-ee-um. Teresa and Semeji’s voices pierced the chanting with whoops and wails and lilting songs, connecting the voices to stories of love and longing and the battles of brave warriors. Two of our young mothers handed me their babies and I held them close as the dancers pounded their feet and sang the songs of the people from the north. The dust and voices rose into the black night sky.
Kura collapsed in a chair next to me. “Mama Rungu, this is it! We are an army. An army of peace and hope. We are…the BOMA Army!”
Amen, Kura, amen.