At Judy’s home in Kargi there is a stick hut with burlap walls. It has a dirt floor, a bed made of sticks and a thin foam mattress. This will be my room for the next two nights.
We arrived in the middle of the day. I asked Omar to bring me a basin of water into which I dipped my thin scarf. After loosely squeezing it, the blood-warm water dripped back into the basin, which Omar set on the ground. I lay down on the mattress and draped the wet scarf over me. The fabric cooled my body and face and served as a barrier, keeping the hundreds of flies that circled overhead from reaching my mouth and nose. Semeji put a rock against the door so that no one would disturb me. Nearby I could hear Kura’s voice saying to a gathering crowd, “Yes, Mama Rungu,” and then the voices would respond “Ooohh, Mama Rungu,” and I knew there were people sitting on the ground outside of my hut. I tried to sleep in order to block out the heat and the noise and the smells.
After a few hours, I moved the rock and came out into the bright light. Dozens of women were seated on the ground. As news of my emergence spread, more people gathered in the shade of Judy’s house. Judy offered me a chair and I sat with the women, sipping a hot cup of tea with sugar and goat milk.
“Ready, Mama Rungu?”
Before we left, I dipped my scarf again into the basin of water and wrapped it around my neck. My hat was pulled as far down as it could to protect my face from the still-blazing sun. We walked into the center of the village, where there were numerous BOMA businesses and kiosks. There are 16 large Rendille clans in the Kargi region and each of the businesses sell to their own clans. What was unique about the Kargi businesses was that some of the kiosks, constructed of branches and reeds around the base of a small tree, are double businesses, with a few sticks to separate one business from another. I am told the women enjoy the camaraderie of shared businesses and that this arrangement has actually helped bring in more customers. Sort of the whole “Burger King across the street from McDonalds” thing.
With each woman I visit, I gain better insights into what it is like to be the poorest of the poor in a community dependent on livestock and food aid.
“We were blind, Mama Rungu. We did not know what to do. We did our chores and then went behind the house to sleep. Now with this business, we are more active than the men.”
“Before we used to beg so much. In our culture, if you bring a rope to someone’s house they have to give you a camel. But not anymore. Now, everyone is poor because so many of the livestock have died.”
Some of the women I talked with referred to the Hunger Safety Net Programme (the distribution of cash instead of food) as “the computer.”
“With BOMA, we were told to use the money to help ourselves, not to eat. The computer goes straight to your stomach, but this business is always with us.”
“When we are poor, we must put our livestock with other people and we must sacrifice a child who will stay with those people. The children must watch the livestock and after one year they are given a camel.”
“My first-born daughter had to drop out of school and get married because we did not have the money for her school fees. If I had this business, then I would not have let her get married. “
Marsogoso Galnagale of the Borehole Business Group was in a double-business kiosk and one of the other business group members was her mother. I asked Marsogoso if she had ever begged for credit or food from community members. “Of course, Mama Rungu, I have children. When all the livestock died, we begged from those that still had livestock. But if you are a beggar, you do not get the fatty part of the camel.”
“What about your mother, did she beg?”
“Yes, she would go and ask for credit or food and we would often go to bed hungry. Begging is part of life. We call it ‘daheateyan’ – begging is the first born. It is part of life.”
“Will your children beg, Marsogoso?”
“No, Mama Rungu, with this business I can get food and I can take my children to the clinic. I can give them an education and they will learn from me how to do business. My son is twelve years old and he is a herder. I hope that someday he will go to school so that when the livestock die, he will not have to beg.”
I am perplexed by the high number of children that are not in school. Ali Turaga, the other BOMA Mentor for Kargi, tells me, “a family will always send their smartest children to mind the livestock. School is for the child that is not too smart.”
“He is right, Mama Rungu,” Marsogoso tells me, “We did not know the importance of education, but now we do. I want my last born to reach the highest level. It is the educated ones that come back and help us. Now I must make this happen.”