Tonight, Isaac, one of the cooks, sat down with me when he saw that I was eating alone. I know Isaac pretty well from my last visit here, but this is the first time we have talked anywhere close to an hour, and also the first time we touched on any weighty topics.
Isaac explained to me that the drought that has hit northern Kenya isn’t a half a country away, like I had imagined. Being in central Kenya, I thought the dryness would affect people really far away, because Meru is so plush and green with vegetation. I had no idea the drought has hit as close as Isiolo, only 50 miles outside of Meru.
Cows are dying from lack of water and food, so there is no livelihood for the herders in Isiolo. People are starving, dying. The government has sent dry beans and rice to these people, but some of them have no means to cook the beans and rice (with no water), and some of them don’t even know how to cook the food that is sent to them (although that one seems unlikely). So sometimes the food even goes to waste. It is a sad state of affairs.
Due to this crisis, food in and near Isiolo has skyrocketed. For example, Isaac explained that a head of cabbage in Meru costs about 30 Kenyan Schillings (Ksh), yet a head of cabbage in Isiolo costs over 300 Ksh. Now, to Americans, the difference between $0.34 and $3.40 may not seem like a big deal, but it is a large sum for some Kenyans.
The real zinger is that Isiolo is so close to Meru that to take a matatu/bus to Meru would cost about 20 Ksh ($0.22). If someone from Isiolo could just take a matatu to Meru, they could save a lot of money by buying food here. But they can’t even afford the 22-cent ride. It blows my mind. So what some residents are doing is walking the 50 miles to and from Meru to buy food for their families.
The hardest part to swallow is that there are people, like me, who have an extreme amount of wealth here. I am debilitated by the thought that if I would just bring some food to these people, it could literally save lives. Isaac does pretty well for himself in Meru, and I asked him how he deals with this type of thinking.
Isaac’s response was that people are basically mean. I don’t know if he meant that literally, or that people are selfish and negligent of others’ needs. People have to basically look out for themselves, then their family and their friends. And if you keep on trying to save someone, there is always someone else who needs more saving. You would go crazy trying to save the world, because it wouldn’t work.
And it’s true to some extent. But I am still having a great deal of misery knowing that this violin program has donated tens of thousands of dollars in instruments, airfare, and expenses, yet there are people 40 miles away who are dying of starvation.
There are people in Michigan, too, who need help severely. Why don’t I feel this guilt at home? I think some of it is explained by Isaac’s theory that we look out for ourselves and our loved ones, and the we feel we can’t do much more. But I also think that the aid in America seems to be more effective. In Kenya, there are no food banks for the poor; no churches where food is donated to the needy; no shelters for the homeless.
Maybe I should go to Isiolo instead of spending a couple of hundred dollars just to see Mt. Kilimanjaro, which I have already seen on the internet.