Water shame!

In 2018, Garashi Village experienced floods out of Sabaki River, breaking its banks and submerging villages in Magarini constituency. The situation had been so disruptive that the National Police service was deployed to rescue the community and donate food on helicopters. This was a situation the villagers say they had never experienced in thirty years.

This was one of the reasons I had an interest in Garashi Village – especially because the rate of deforestation was viciously increasing in Kilifi County.

So here I was in Garashi Village, to see it and understand it.

I was taken to several areas to see the extent of the flooding and the affected villages by a lady that soon became like a mother to me in Garashi. Priscilla is a very kind and welcoming middle-aged woman, who works as a farmer first, but also does many other jobs. The solicitous mother of three took me in her wing and made sure to give me advice – which was always welcome. She was the person who seemed to have been nominated to show me around at the beginning of my stay and see to my orientation.

We took a ride to Masindeni and Mikuyuni before heading back to Garashi village. My goal was to see the Sabaki River and have a visual of the area which had been submerged during the flooding. From the news, it had been a large area and a couple of villages had been affected. It was both exciting and frightening to see it in real life, to walk on those grounds and hear about how high the water rose during the floods.

I would get anxious with every acceleration of the motorbike and I couldn’t imagine how big an area that was. I was particularly struck as I imagined how scared those families were as the flooding started in the dark dawn of 3 am. As we rode through the villages, I observed a lot of bare land with scattered, seemingly isolated settlements. I wondered who owned the land and why they had chosen to leave it bare. There were big and thick tree trunks and some spaces had corners or sections that appeared burned.

How can it be that a community that struggles with inadequate to no water could be displaced by floods and then go back to a state of near drought?

Mom Priscilla explained that they had missed two rain seasons and that had affected their farming and food production even though the land is very fertile. Garashi’s story is a real demonstration of the extraordinary impact of climate change on communities. One day there is so much rain, it floods and displaces families and the next rainfall is too erratic to have real productivity on the farms. The tragedy is that it is not well understood – or seen by most people in urban areas or indeed a majority of policymakers who mainly live in the cities.

I tried to balance the water on my head… this is not easy.

After our excursion, we went back home to mom Priscilla’s homestead. Chores still needed doing. We had to go fetch water with the girls in the homestead. I was in awe of the sturdy strength these young girls had. They would deftly drop their 5-litre cans into the well, pull them out full of water and repeatedly fill a twenty-litre mtungi (Jerry cans). They would then carry the mtungi on their head, balancing it all the way home at a fairly fast pace. I gamely tried to fetch the water myself from the well and it was quickly apparent to me that I was very unfit for this purpose. My chest felt like it would explode with the strain. I tried to balance a jerry can on my head and carry it home with them. My neck could not handle it. I loved the walk to the well – the stories, the jokes, the bonding and sisterhood of calling each other and going to the well together.

On this trip, we were accompanied to the well by a 10-year-old girl. She balanced the 10-litre jerry can on her head and I was amazed at how fast she could walk home with it. She stood out for me – the skill and strength that I don’t have in my twenties. I felt a bit sad that she was in this predicament and more perturbed that it seemed okay and normal. I think she’d rather be chilling in the homestead, playing rounders like other children her age elsewhere than having to walk under the scorching sun to fetch water.

I am aware that there are many girls like her who don’t go to school and have to spend their days entirely doing chores for their families. They have to fetch firewood and carry heavy loads of it on their back. They have to go to the well every day and carry jerry cans of water home. I often wondered whether they knew what they were missing out on, not going to school – they have had to do this work for their survival all their lives after all. They have never left the village or seen better or different. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what to aspire to if you have never had a glimpse of something different. One thing is for sure. Many of these girls are not having the opportunity to truly be children just because of the responsibility they have – literally on their young heads and shoulders.

In the entire time that I was there, I constantly marvelled that in 2022 – 59 years after Kenya’s independence – there are people who lack the absolute basics, like running water and electricity in their homes. That in this year, as parts of the world are discussing the Metaverse and buying virtual lands, there are people who cannot get by on the real land that they have.

Shame on us, world.

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