ISIOLO, Kenya, Jan 12 – It’s a Monday morning. The sun is high up in the sky stretching its hot yellow scathing rays mercilessly.
The people of Isiolo are gathered in small groups under scanty acacia shades. The young are playing cards, old men and women sit in deep endless thoughts.
At another corner both men and women are sitted chewing miraa. In Nairobi it is rare for such productive groups of people to sit idle at such a time of day.
Isiolo District is unfortunate; Signs of biting poverty worsened by the food crisis that is impoverishing many parts of the country are apparent. Being, semi arid, the area leaves the residents with little else to do.
And just like a curse, the situation is at its worst after having missed both long and short rains in the past two years.
A walk behind the shops tells it all. Young, shabbily dressed children try to forget the hunger by innovating small games to help them wait for the next meal, which may take days to come.
I am left wondering why these children are not in school but as I think about this, I see their mothers sitting literally on the ground doing what is believed to be a woman’s best hobby, catching up with the village gossip.
This also seems to soothe their empty stomachs. Suddenly, they notice a visitor and the first question is; “have you brought us some food?”
Amasha Abdi, a taxi driver, intervenes to control the growing crowd of women and children around me.
“She is here because she wants to know how we are coping with the food crisis in the country. Tell her everything because we cannot keep quiet when we are suffering like this,” he explained.
Due to desperation, moving reactions flow smoothly from every corner of the crowd.
In her 80s Amina Adan struggles to mix her Borana with Kiswahili.
“There has been no rain for many seasons, we have nothing to eat, all we can do is wait for the relief food, but it is not enough. How can one kilogram of maize be enough for me and my four grandchildren for a whole month? It is not possible,” she says.
She is quickly interrupted: “I am not afraid to say it, they are selling relief food. My name is Khadija Yubo Bone,” says a woman. “They give it to the people they know, they come, carry the food and sell it as we helplessly watch. Food is given to chosen few! I am a mother of five if I get I kilogram of flour how will it help me for a whole month?”
The residents of Bulawawa estate shift part of the hunger blame to the food committees, which they accuse of corruption by giving relief food to the chosen few.
She says; “We have spoken to our leaders, they are just ignorant. It is not their problem and they don’t care yet we continue suffering in hunger.”
“Some of us were farmers, but for a long time there has been no rain. There is also no water in the pipes. We cannot farm, this is just sandy soil.”
It’s been a long day visiting Bulawawa. A touching picture of sickening poverty leaves nothing desirable but a disaster in waiting.
Due to lack of water, food and sanitation, signs of diseases like cholera and malnutrition are apparent in the near future.
—-Survival by all means—-
The following day Capital News visits a neighboring estate and the story of lack of food is similar only the survival tactics are different and sophisticated.
It’s 2pm, and Lepasu, a 20 year old mother of one has just woken up. She looks tired and sleepy, though she welcomes me to her house.
Her one roomed mud house has three small beds each separated with old dirty curtains.
It is a unique bedroom set up; Each of the beds has a towel, a roll of toilet paper and a small bathing soap on it.
Lepasu is a different commercial sex worker. She gets money for her services and also offers lodging services.
“This is where I live. I took my son to his father because I had a lot of work last night. I have no choice, this is why I do this. There are no other jobs and I need to feed my son. So I look for men who can pay me and also for clients to use my house at a fee,” she says.
Her husband is aware of this, but he supports her because their child needs to survive.
Unlike Lepasu, most other women in the same business are unwilling to tell their stories.
But Lepasu says; “things are very hard here, like now there is no food here, most women cannot just sit and wait, we have to try anything within our means just to make Sh50 or Sh100, at least to buy milk.”
Isiolo is a cosmopolitan, dry town, occupied by the Borana, Somali, Rendile, Samburu, Turkana and Meru tribes. However the majority are Somalis by the virtue of ex Somali soldiers having settled there after the World War 1.
Due to the diversity of its occupants, the small town is prone to inter-communal clashes.