Maria Lesiil is the BOMA Village Mentor in the Northern Kenya town of Archers Post. She is beautiful and charismatic and held the attention of more than fifty women for the five full hours of the savings training session. About two hours into the training, the women took a break. Helpers poured milky white tea from large jerrycans into cups that were shared. Then the women were invited to break out into their savings association groups. Each savings association is comprised of four to five business groups and the women had made their decisions about this important partnership prior to the training. Much of it was based on geography, as many of the women came from villages as far as twenty kilometers away.
As I sat making notes I heard one savings group laughing hysterically. Something was obviously very funny. Maria checked in with them and then came over to me to explain: “One of the women in the group is disabled – her leg is very bad, so she limps. Her husband is a bad person. He always beats her, but he never hits her good leg because he needs her to keep her BOMA business going. One of the other women told her that she must make her husband stop beating her. But she told the women that she could not, because her husband is too big and too mean and he drinks. Then one of the other women told her that “We are a group now. We will chase him off. He is not bigger than all of us.” And the women laughed and laughed at the thought of them all chasing this mean bully away from his house.
The day ended in song – a song of prayer and blessing. The women came forward to Kura and me in pairs, dipping their heads towards us with the call of “Supa!”
As we made our way to the vehicle, Senteyo Lenayasa came from the building across the dirt path to meet us. She also had a BOMA business in the village of Unity, and one of her business partners was in the hospital. “Do you mind if we come visit her?” asked Kura. “Not at all. She is feeling poorly, but I know she would like to see Kura and Mama Rungu.” We walked over to the Catholic mission hospital and visited with Nchekiyo Lembwakita. She lay on a nylon covered mattress with a nylon pillow under her head. A mosquito net hung above her head. Deep circles ringed her eyes and her face was gray.
“Pole,” I told her, “Sorry you are not well.” Senteyo told us that she had a pain in her abdomen, and that if it were not for this business she would not be able to come to the hospital. I sat with Nchekiyo and held her hand. She smiled weakly. While I am sorry for her suffering, this is also a picture of success: being able to receive medical treatment for when you are sick, instead of waiting until it gets more serious.