Monday, March 30, 2009

Not So Sparkly

It is a pretty incredible experience living here in Northern Kenya. There are so many things that I love about it – standing in the back of the land rover driving trough the desert, my hair being whipped around by the wind. Watching the old ladies at church slowly move from the bench to the floor as the service progresses because they find sitting in chairs incredibly uncomfortable. Hearing the bleats and bells of the animals as they slowly start to return in anticipation of the rainy season. The beauty of the land and of the people, their overwhelming friendliness, and their incredible faith. I really could go on forever.

But there are other things, much more important things, about living in Africa that are harder to deal with. One of the big ones is poverty. I know, I know, when we in the West think of Africa, we think of poverty, of corruption, of famine, of seemingly insurmountable problems. Poverty has been talked about a million times in a million different ways, but to catch a glimpse of what it really looks like is another thing altogether.

One of the big problems right now is drought. The last rainy season never happened, and this season has consisted of two half an hour showers. That’s it. The problem is especially bad here in the North, as it’s so incredibly dry here anyway. But in addition to that, no rains mean no grazing for the thousands of sheep, goats, and camels that the Rendille rely on for survival.

Food like flour and sugar is getting more and more expensive, too – the price of sugar just rose again this week in town – and people simply do not have money to buy food. Normally for the Rendille, the shops work on a credit system: the Rendille take what they need until they owe enough to equal a goat or a sheep, and then they give the shop owner one of their animals as payment. When the shop owner has enough animals, they transport the animals to a market down country and sell them. But even this system is affected by the drought. No grazing means nobody wants animals. The shop keepers can’t sell the goats, so they’ve cut off the credit for the people. This in turn means the people can buy nothing, nothing, nothing.

In the goobs (villages), a diet in non-drought times might be chai in the morning (tea with milk and sugar), maybe some ugi – a watery porridge made from maize meal – for lunch, and another cup of chai for dinner. Having milk, of course, requires having animals around. Normally, herders and warriors take the animals far away in search of grazing, leaving only a few camels, goats, and sheep back in the goob to provide milk.

Right now, however, most goobs have no camles – there is absolutely nothing for them to eat in Korr, so the camels and most of the goats and sheep are taken far, far away, where even the water and the grazing are a day and a half’s walk from each other. The goats and sheep that are here are so malnourished that they aren’t producing milk. No or too few animals means that there is no milk for chai, and no money for sugar. So many people are living on what little they can beg and a few tea leaves boiled in water. No milk, no sugar, no porridge. Relief food comes once a month, but even that is barely enough to last a family maybe a few days. And relief food is not without its own issues, which I’ll talk about shortly.

Every single day, Nick and Lynne have people at their door crying for help. “We haven’t eaten for two days,” pleads a mother with a baby and two small children by her side. She’s maybe eaten a small bit two days ago, and gone for how many other days before that without food. “Please help us.”

The people. are. starving.

It’s so hard to sit here with my computer and my iPod and my three square meals a day and my recent vacation/conference to the coast and know that people all around me are suffering like this. Sometimes the question isn’t “What have the Rendille done to deserve this kind of poverty” but “What have *I* done to deserve this kind of wealth?”

Beyond even this, however is something that makes me feel so angry and SO… what? Helpless? Desperate? … Heartbroken. This is the amazing waste of money and stubbornness to do things their way of many development agencies and NGO’s. It’s a frequent topic of discussion among the missionaries here, and the more I hear and the more I see, the angrier I become.

This is actually a sensitive topic, so I've decided to take this part down. If you'd like to read what I wrote, feel free to email me and I'll send it to you.

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Canadi-Ann said...

Yipes. The scary thing is that I think my friend was hired by a certain organization to take photographs in Kenya, teach the kids how to use a camera (but not give them one, so now they have a skill for a contraption they don't own) and then promote the project back in Canada.

She's getting a big salary for it, but fundraised for her teacher friend to come along (and do what, exactly?).

My friend & I were wondering why you would need to fundraise for 1. a gig you're getting paid $$$ for and 2. a holiday to Kenya.


Rachelle said...

My heart is aching and there are tears in my eyes after reading this post. Unsure of what to do - but will start by talking with our Heavenly Father (seeing as he's our Father and theirs). Thank-you Hillary.

nachtwache said...

I find if I'm in a large store like Zellers or WalMart, even Safeway or any other place, I think about the overabundance we have here and how much is wasted, how people here complain about being poor. Our poorest are rich compared to many other people in this world.
Is there any organization that is more effective in reaching the most needy and has minimal corruption diverting funds?
How heartbreaking to have people in such need and no way to help all of them.