Semeji set aside his machine gun to babysit Jessica. This gave Brown, her mother, the opportunity to fully participate in the morning’s Mentor training session. Semeji is clearly Jessica’s favorite among everyone in our group. Her dainty feet rarely touch the ground as she is in physical contact with an adult every minute of the day. There are no car seats, no carriers, no rockers, no cribs. Only a large kikoy cloth that Brown wraps around Jessica and her body when she needs both hands.
It is endearing to watch Semeji gently play with Jessica. He has taught her how to say “uncle” and she squeals with delight every time she sees him. What is tragic is that Semeji’s young wife has had a number of miscarries and they still do not have a child. As an uneducated warrior he married a girl of 14, a not unusual custom among the Samburu. Before they were married his young wife was circumcised, a practice also known as female genital mutilation (FGM). She almost bled to death and it took months for her to recover. A couple of years ago we discussed the side effects of FGM with Semeji and he was horrified. “I did not know!” he proclaimed, over and over. We all love to tease Semeji about how much he loves his wife and he is not embarrassed, even among other warriors, to proclaim his love for her. We all hope, that in time, his wife will be able to have a child so that this wonderful, gentle loving man can become a father.
Our final training session in Loiyangalani ended with a prayer and a song. John Galgithele, our Korr Mentor who has taken numerous leadership roles told us, “BOMA Project is like bright sunlight which shines above the poor and makes the day bright. You cannot move in the darkness – only in light. BOMA has mobilized the poor.”
After a final swim in the lake and a dinner of roasted goat and fish, everyone was relaxed; there were many stories told over dinner. I am glad we chose Loiyangalani as our location for the training session. This town, and our staff and group of Mentors, is a reflection of what is possible when work transcends ethnic identity. We are Christian, Muslim and animist; Samburu, Ariaal, Turkana and Rendille; white and black. It is a glimpse of what is possible when a group of people share a common goal.
The next morning, Omar wakes everyone at 3:45 am. Using the dim light of my headlamp, I pack up the last of the food and water that had been stored in my hut, as well as my small duffel, heavy with first aid kits, communications equipment and BOMA training materials. In the parking area, Kura and I divide up the passengers. The bags for my group are loaded on top of the vehicle along with some things the mentors have purchased to bring home: dried fish, bamboo poles and turkana gourds. Omar secures it all with twine. I will have the longest drive this time – from Loiy to South Horr, Ilaut, Ngurunit and then up to Korr.
The two vehicles leave together but after just five kilometers the Defender is disabled – the switching problem has re-emerged. Kura tells me to go ahead. “I will see you in Korr, Mama Rungu.”
The drive on the steep incline out of Loiy does not seem so bad going this direction, but still the rocks are sharp and as the dawn breaks, we hear the hiss of a punctured tire. Omar does most of the work but everyone chips in, putting rocks behind the tires, unpacking the spare tire, repacking the punctured tire. Baby Jessica had been carsick and we clean up the mess, rearrange the passengers and then we were off – driving straight into the sun. For an hour it is almost impossible to see and I again rely on Semeji to point out the gullies and potholes. The last hour of the drive is painful – I am in need of coffee and keep pushing the vehicle to go faster.
“Akini!” says Semeji. (Slow)
“Hapana,” I reply. “Haraka, haraka! Na taka kahawa!” (No, hurry, hurry, I want coffee!)
At 8:30 am we pull in to South Horr and stop at the Samburu Sports Club for breakfast – njera, tea and blessed coffee. We say goodbye to Rebecca, our new Mentor from South Horr. I tell her I will see her in February.
While we were in Loiy, I had asked Sarah to get the bios on each of our Mentors. As we pull out of South Horr, Sarah tells me about Rebecca. At a young age, she had assumed responsibility of her sister’s six orphaned children. She had not only put all of the children through school, but she had completed a degree in teaching. Rebecca was now a teacher at the local primary school, the owner of a shop in town and a new mother.
In Ilaut we say goodbye to our new Mentor, Safari. When I first heard Safari’s name, it reminded me of the book Eat, Pray, Love, when the author befriends a man named Spaghetti in Italy. Now I have a friend named Safari in Kenya. We also say goodbye to the other Ilaut Mentor, Ali Noor, a jolly and smiling man, a practicing Muslim and the head of the Development committee for the local Lutheran Church. A month ago, Kura told me that Ali Noor had established a livestock market in Ilaut, the perfect halfway point between the market town of Korr and another market in Merrille. When he set about establishing the market he assembled a group of the village leaders and told them, “I have learned that we do not have to wait for development to come to us. Mama Rungu told us that development is within us. We can do this ourselves.” The aid business has many unintended consequences, some of them negative, but this consequence is one we will celebrate for a very long time.
Tonight, as I read over our Mentors biographies, it is clear that they have not led easy lives. Each one has overcome numerous obstacles to get where they are. To be able to spend time with community leaders such as these is a great privilege. Without them, there would be no BOMA. What is inspiring is that their stories are also full of acts of great kindness and generosity. I am grateful to them for reminding me of what is important.