Our journey through Laisamis district continued to be challenging. The rain had stopped but it took days for the muddy, clay roads to dry out. We got stuck on numerous occasions but soldiered on and actually made it across the Kaisut Desert in time for lunch in Korr. Doug had the opportunity to see our businesses in the town and meet Halima, one of our Korr Business Mentors. He was welcomed into the Galgithele family by some of the elders of Korr and given the name Hirkeno.
On our way out of town we visited some of our vital shops in the nomadic villages. We also stopped to see John Lomurut’s mom at Ongeli village. When the elders found out that “Baba Rungu” was with us they invited him over to a large tree where a group of about 20 older men were busy lounging, talking and playing the age-old African game of Bao. Doug greeted everyone with handshakes and smiles and the elders in turn, gave Doug a blessing.
Finally in the late afternoon we reached Ngurunit, our original destination. Joseph Lekuton, the local MP, had been rescued and his vehicle pulled out of the mud. He was there to welcome us to his private camp. As we pulled into the car park area we were all astonished to see hundreds of people gathering in small groups around the camp. Many were forlorn, sick and very poor. A few were drunk. Some were local officials and heads of school. All were looking for favors from the MP – from a small hand-out of cash to a favorable contract. The burdens of leadership in a poor district were open for all to see and it was a scene that made Doug and I sympathetic to Joseph’s work.
It was especially hard to see a few female members of our business groups present. While they were beautifully adorned with jewelry and clean, colorful clothes, I could not understand why they felt the need to supplicate themselves. Confident that I am misunderstanding the complexities of cultural expectations, I sat with the women to find out more. They told me they were there to sing and dance for Joseph. I could understand that but it was hard to watch the rest of the visitors. As night prevailed, the groups wandered away in the dark.
The other surprising visitors to the camp were the advance team from Comic Relief – a UK charity that was hosting a 100 km desert trek across the Kaisut for British entertainers, models and BBC announcers. The funds raised would support clinics for people with eye conditions in Africa. Joseph introduced us to the camp organizers and we had a chance to tell them about our work. The best news about this event was hearing, a few days later, about our business groups who bought additional supplies and sold water and sodas to the trekkers and support teams. Many of the BOMA business groups made more money than they could make in two months. That news greatly cheered my belief in the entrepreneurial spirit of our BOMA business owners.