Kura and Omar picked me up at dawn and we left the chilly, belching city for the farms and ranches of the Mt. Kenya region. In Nanyuki we stopped to have Gumps lubed and I picked up 3,000 shillings in air time for my modem and gifts for the women. By the time we reached Isiolo the temperature was 90 degrees. Wild Isiolo town is our last stop for petrol and vehicle supplies before the journey north.
We ate lunch at the Bomen Hotel and by the time the check arrived, we were joined by the final member of the team, Semeji, BOMA’s security man and all-around great guy. Despite the recent disarmament program by the government, Semeji is allowed to walk openly with his machine gun since he has a license as a reservist. Semeji has never been to school but has learned some Swahili and English and we don’t seem to have too much of a problem communicating. When we came out of the hotel, Gump’s second fuel tank was dripping petrol, a casualty of a poorly installed hose pipe. The drip turned to a stream and after a few stops Kura told me that we will lose a day in Marsabit, a town north of our district, so that Gump’s tank can be repaired.
As we left the tarmac, Kura, Semeji and Omar broke out in warrior songs and their voices drowned out the rattling vehicle as we rode the top ridges of the corrugated road. Twelve hours after our departure, we reached the village of Laisamis, and Rosemary, one of our Business Mentors from the village, was there to greet us at the checkpoint. With just an hour of dim light left, she gave us a tour of three of the new business groups in the village. It was thrilling to see the women’s pride and impressive to see the carefully entered record books.
I was also pleased to run into Malawan from Ndikir, a 20 km walk from Laisamis village. Malawan and 4 other women were one of the first business groups we had funded in the Laisamis village region, and she had moved me deeply with her thin frame and sad eyes. She had eight children and the last time I saw her she was bearing the brunt of the drought and famine. Malawan seems timid at first but when she speaks you know you are with a powerful and determined woman. We had a few minutes to chat and then she was off, hoping to catch a ride on one of the passing lorries to Marsabit so that she could buy more stock for her business.
As the light began to fade, a crowd was starting to gather and Kura insisted that we leave before the men started getting aggressive with demands. We arrived at the women’s campsite a short drive from town and by the time the moon rose we were relaxing with a cup of tea outside my hut as the hyena birds, as the locals refer to them, squawked out their warning cries. Before dinner I was brought a basin of water to wash up and we all enjoyed a meal of cabbage and rice and potatoes.
While I wrote in my journal, the women made their way into my hut to ask me questions. Jasmine, the educated wife of the local councillor, told me that the new businesses that BOMA had helped start were really making a big difference in the lives of the women. “You know, Mama Rungu, the men have no jobs and no livestock anymore. They do not take care of their wives and children. So the women struggle to feed their children. With the new businesses they do not have to rely so much on the men and this has given them hope.”
I finally had to ask the women to leave and it did not take long to fall asleep. In the middle of the night, the moon rays streamed brightly through the thatch and I listened to Semeji gently snoring on a mattress outside my hut. A hyena whooped, validating the cries of the hyena birds who had warned us earlier.