This mid-October, I had taken Bee Friedmann, a major Kasigau basket buyer from Hiro+Wolf, to Lodwar. She had heard of the Lodwar basket, and she wanted to see if she could diversify her basket products.
Bee, with the ladies looking on, as she does the total sum for the baskets.
We were staying with a family in Lodwar. Over dinner, Bee and I would share experiences with the hosting family of both Lodwar and Kasigau. The night before the eve of my departure, one of their local friends came over for supper. He is Turkana and the most educated locally based Turkana the host family had met. He lived deep in Turkana land and came to town only once in a while. The following morning I had a chance to sit with him and talk. I had been told earlier by the host family how he had gone through his education in hardship but had still managed to clear high school. As we were talking that morning, he disclosed to me what he did to get money to study. His father had warned him that if he sought education, he would be disowned and he should never use his father’s name (Traditionally, boys are meant to herd the livestock and if a father is very conservative, herding is what most boys do). He said he went to live with his uncle, who encouraged him to study, but the uncle too, had no means to educate him. To educate himself, he used to close the border to Ethiopia and buy guns for Kshs. 2500 and sell them around the area and down country for Kshs. 30,000. This he did to get money for school fees and to cater for his living expenses. I asked him if he did not fear being arrested, and his response was, “I needed to read. I wanted to read. Education was my aim”. He then told me how he once crossed Lake Turkana and went eastwards to Sibiloi Reserve and killed 3 ostriches with the same guns. He said he was looking for feathers so that he could sell them to his tribes’ mates. He seems to regret the decision to kill those ostriches, for he says now he would rather farm the animals and get feathers without killing them. He already has a wife and kids. He values education to a point of asking me to help him sell baskets for his wife, who initially depended on fishing at the lake. Now the fish are fewer, and the business is not as profitable as would be expected.
I draw many similarities between this middle-aged man’s former and current lifestyle and, with the women in Kasigau. They would give anything to ensure their kids finish school, even if the means do not necessarily meet approval from conservationists. They know it’s wrong, but in a world that is ever changing, education is the only sure inheritance they know will propel their children to greater heights in life. I know women who come to me and tell me I am their only hope for their children since the baskets are the only source of income that can get them school fees. At times I wonder why I even bothered to begin in the first place. Reason? Expectations are high from the women. As I had pointed out earlier, the supply outstrips the demand. My older brother once told me, “Robert, you cannot save everyone.” That statement always comes to mind whenever pressure from the women’s expectations begins to mount.
Bee, together with Malissa Pina, selecting her baskets in Ngambenyi
I know I cannot save everyone, but if I can do something to make a difference, however small it is, I will do it. We all can make a difference in the lives of these women, their children, and their community. Baskets may not seem much, but they mean a lot. Buying a basket prevents the women from going into the nearby ranch, a dispersal range for migrating elephants between the Tsavos and Mkomanzi in Tanzania, and cutting more land for agriculture. The baskets prevent the women from buying cheap poached game meat. The baskets encourage and mould a generation of wildlife lovers, as explained in the last entry. The Kasigau basket you buy does have an impact in the lives of the weavers. It may not be much but always remember it is a life you are influencing. It is a life that you are changing. The Turkana man did not have an option when he needed school fees, but we can give the women that choice especially now it seems the short rains, the most reliable of the two rainy seasons, will fail. We can do something about this in a way that encourages them to continue working with what they have.
We all have the choice to make a difference.