Friday, January 1

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: Fourth journey into Pokot

I only ever wrote that I was growing familiar with Pokot and its people. I never wrote that I understood. Because I don't. I know the names of the villages now and recognize people, but I understand nothing at all.


That crowd behind the boy with a quarter slice of a cabbage? All waiting their turn at a scoop of maize flour. Their options are few. East Pokot has no economy, few shops that sell foodstuffs and fewer jobs with which to pay for the foodstuffs. The people are all farmers and herders on land which supports little. So they wait in line for a free scoop or two of maize flour, often mixed with the desert's dust. Not that it matters so much. The water they'll cook it with is dirty too.

It starts well normally. There is a line. The oldest and weakest are pushed forward to take the first scoops. Others follow one by one. Those who came late push in near the front of the line. Not one but two, three plastic bags are shoved toward the server. Bodies press in. More torn sandwich bags and oil cans are shoved forward and follow the scoop into the bag and out. Over eight now, and they come so thick that once they have their scoop, they can't walk out.

There are tricks the server can try at this point. They can refuse to open the sack until some order returns. They can walk away and force those waiting to form some line. They don't work. The press returns.


I entered this scrum for the first time on my last trip into Pokot. Most of the time I stand at the fringes and take these pictures to send our sponsors. At Chesirimion, the first stop of four, though I watched as the server, back literally to a wall, gave up and walked away from the final third of the bag of maize flour. Five of the strongest took a grab at the top and pulled. It didn't tear and spread flour over the ground, though a lot spilled out as they strained against each other. The strongest just walked off with the lot of it.

I didn't want that to happen in Kadingding, the second station, and when I saw it heading that direction, I finally put away my camera and stepped in. It's different on the inside. I want to think what we're doing is good. The Pokot have no food. We bring them food. It's simple. It's good. On the inside of passing the flour out, though, it just looks like another opportunity for people to act like jerks to one another. The strong push to the front and stay there. Once you catch them pushing the same bag, already twice filled, into your face, they switch for an empty. You yell at them, and they move to your other side. The smallest kids can sneak in under legs and are more than jostled for their efforts.

We bring near a hundred kilos of maize flour to each station. There may not be plenty for all, but there is enough. If they come up one at a time, they will all have something. But they don't. A few end up with more, and more end up with less. It's hard to see what you do is good when the most triste, banal, asinine acts of evil of simply putting yourself before others is all you can see.

But everyone walks away in the end. I don't see knives pulled or people with full bags jumped from behind. Maybe that means it's alright. They're not so hungry that they're willing to fight for a meal or two. I have no doubts that the flour is shared. Invariably only women walk through the line while men sit to the side and watch. Their husbands and children and parents must eat something. The people look thin but not emaciated. And that's the point, I guess. that people eat and avoid starvation. The rest can come later.

1 comment:

adventures north said...

What a vivid, honest, and heartbreaking scene you've captured.