The drive from South Horr to Mt. Kulal is one of the reasons we have Semeji as security as it is a conflict zone between the different ethnic groups, mostly involving cattle raiding. Kura points out the riverbed where a Turkana general was ambushed and killed by the Samburu after numerous raids by the Turkana.

When we made our first journey to the district with our new vehicle last October, we stopped at one of the Turkana villages on this route. Kura got out and spoke with the chief and told him, “You see this vehicle? Well, I am now driving this vehicle. I no longer work for Honorable Lekuton but remember, I am the one who came to your aid when your village was attacked. I am the one who brought your wounded to hospital. When you see this vehicle, do not shoot at us. We are the ones that are helping your villages. One of your own, Sanya, has been sent to the famous EARTH University in a far away country. We are your friends. Mama Rungu is your friend.” Nevertheless, driving this stretch of road still puts Semeji on guard and I hear him click off the safety of his machine gun.

Gumps climbing the Mt. Kulal road to the village of Gatab

It is a long drive to the base of Mt. Kulal and the top of the mountain is covered in clouds. As the vehicle starts to climb, the view becomes more and more spectacular, with views of the jade sea, Lake Turkana, below. The road is cut into the side of huge cliffs and it turns and winds its way around the multiple ridges of the mountain. There is room for only one vehicle and the road switches from clay to huge rocks. Gumps climbs over everything and I am grateful for our investment in the huge shocks that raise the profile of the vehicle. As you round the final bend in the road, you face the incredible village of Gatab – a Shangri-la village of cedar trees and low buildings.

Damaris is a primary school teacher here as well as the owner of a shop. She lives in a small room at the back of the shop but shortly she will be moving to her own house that she has built with her own money. She is the first Samburu woman in the area to build her own house. Her brother serves us tea as we wait for the other Business Mentor from Mt. Kulal, Hosea. When Hosea arrives, we tour the village and meet with the businesses. Some of the women from the businesses in the distant villages on the mountain have also come to Gatab to meet with me. They have even brought some of their stock to show me, as well as their record books and profits.

The Naapunye group of five women has a goat butchery; they chose this business because they knew that they could not only make money, but also be able to provide a small amount of meat for their families. The Lakira Lesiran group of women sell clothes, shoes, fabric and even some inexpensive earrings. They also ask each member to make a monthly contribution to the group so that they can grow their savings.

Mt. Kulal was hit hard by the drought as the pastoralists on the mountain could not take their livestock to other grazing areas since they are surrounded by the desert and flat, volcanic, rocky land that stretches to Lake Turkana. Almost all of the livestock perished. Relief food occasionally arrives here but it is not enough to feed a family. The women from Ntanai group tell me, “Mama Rungu, we are still hungry but at least we have an activity to get us ahead. Soon we will get more happiness.” I am especially moved by Mpirisa Lengoyap of the Sapintei business group of five women. She is the leader of the group and she gives me a tired smile as we talk. Mpirisa has nine children and two years ago she divorced a husband who had a drinking problem. Last year she was in the forest gathering firewood to sell, her one source of income, when a tree fell on her leg. She had to have her leg amputated and now she can no longer collect firewood. The business she has with the other women is the only income from which she can feed her family. Four out of her nine children are in primary school butnone have attended secondary school. Her case is heartbreaking and when no one is looking I slip her one thousand shillings. 

Mpirisa Lengoyap and her daughter at her business stall in Gatab

What is so impressive about the business groups in Mt. Kulal is the way in which they stock their businesses. The women must walk down the mountain and cross a desolate, hot stretch of volcanic land to reach the village of Loiyangalani. Then they must carry the whole load back, a walk of eight hours each way in 100+ degree heat. What inspires me to do this work is the general assumption that poor people are poor because they are unwilling to work. I believe that the exact opposite is true in BOMA’s area of Africa, where everyone I meet is burdened by poverty not because they do not know how to work, but because they lack the access to resources that would allow them to earn a livable income. The women in the Ngilai business told me, “We used to suffer a lot but now we have work to do. We used to be poor and ask for credit from the retailers who would chase us away. Now we have money and food to eat.”

I am glad that we have had a chance to meet with most of the businesses in Mt. Kulal and wish I could spend more time here. But Kura is pushing for us to get off the mountain before dark, so we say goodbye after the women sing us some beautiful songs and present me with a gift of a traditional Samburu necklace.

The drive down the mountain is more harrowing than the drive up but we eventually make it to the flat stretch of rocks that will take us to the final descent down the escarpment to the village of Loiyangalani, situated on the shores of Lake Turkana, the largest desert lake in Africa. We arrive at the Palm Shade Camp in the dark and Benedict has my favorite meal ready for us – fresh tilapia from the lake and the staple of potatoes, rice and cabbage. I can’t imagine eating in this heat but I take a few bites of the delicious fish. Benedict has given me a hut on the outside of the circle of huts to catch the breeze. But tonight there is no breeze and that means only one thing – the rains are coming to Loiy.