We left the village of Merrille feeling good about our new Mentor, Christopher Lepaati Meselin. Engaged and passionate about his work, Christopher covers a large territory and shares our commitment to reach out to the women in the outlying nomadic villages where there are deep pockets of extreme poverty. Some days Christopher walks 4 to 5 hours each way to either enroll new women in our program, to mentor existing businesses or to deliver training programs. I was sorry that we only had time to visit with some of the new businesses in the main village as we had a long day of travel ahead of us, but our visit with
Christopher reaffirmed my belief that the success of each business we launch is directly related to the commitment of our BOMA Mentors.
As we departed Merrille, Kura asked if we wanted to visit with the local witch doctor. When we were planning this trip with David and Corwin, it included David’s return visit to his adopted Rendille village of Ongeli and to a woman, Ntoijoni Ngosoni, who had identified him as her own. Kura had received information that Ntoijoni was quite sick and was staying with the witch doctor in Merrille. She had now returned home to prepare for David’s visit, but Kura felt that is was important that we stop by and pay our respects to Lkanikis Leaduma who is officially referred to as the Laibon, a healer.
As we drove through the sand and acacia trees adjacent to a dry river bed, we could see the Laibon’s village on the other side. Kura skillfully drove Gumps over the large, sharp rocks – the only route to the Laibon’s home. We pulled into a semi-circle of buildings that consisted of a building and an adjacent large hut for the Laibon that looked out upon a random collection of older huts, most in a state of disrepair. The huts looked temporary and were clearly not built with the same skill as traditional Ariaal or Samburu huts. The patients were mostly older men who were seated on small stools or stood tall and thin, leaning against the trunks of thin trees that provided little shade. It was a hot and sad place.
The Laibon greeted us warmly and invited us inside his hut for a visit. It was hotter inside the hut than outside. Kura and I sat on the bed with the Laibon who brought out a package of pictures. I was surprised to see a picture of a book that I had received just days before I left for Kenya. Our Laibon had a long family relationship with Dr. Elliot Fratkin, Smith College professor of anthropology and author of one of BOMA’s most important reference books, As Pastoralists Settle.
We asked about the patients, and the health of Ntoijoni. The Laibon told us that he was not able to do much for her. Every day he put herbs on her legs and chest to bring out the ailment but she continued to waste away. While Ntoijoni’s condition was different, it was obvious that many of the male patients were HIV positive and this was a last stop for them. We exited the hut but then the Laibon called Kura and I back to sit on his bed. He told us that many of the patients were too poor to pay him anything and he also had to feed everyone. He asked if I could make a donation to help him in his work and I pulled out some shillings from my bag. The Laibon quickly put the money in his kikoy and then took my hand in his, rotating my palm back and forth and then he spit on my palm. With his other hand he made some signs in the air, bestowing on me special blessings.
We arrived at the Isgargaro campsite late in the afternoon. Despite our reservation (strictly an idea in northern Kenya) a group of CARE surveyors had taken most of the huts. There was enough room for a few of us, and the rest of the staff would have to use our one tent. Omar started boiling water for tea as we negotiated with the women who run the camp. Eventually additional space was found and we settled into the dark of the night. This used to be one of my favorite places to stay but the beds, made of lashed together sticks and old mattresses, are slowly sinking into the rough dirt floors thanks to the munching of termites. I dreaded the trip to the latrine that was crawling with hundreds of cockroaches.
Omar cooked a meal of goat stew, cabbage, carrots and rice. Semeji went into the village and found a few Tuskers for David and Corwin. The air was still and hot and the Tuskers hotter. “I’ve never burned my lips drinking a Tusker beer before”, Corwin remarked.
It had been a long day and I returned to my hut to try and sleep. A basin of water was waiting for me and I dipped a long scarf in the cool water. I lay down on my bed and draped the cool wet scarf over me. In the morning the scarf was dry and my sheets were soaked with the sweat of a hot sleepless night.