A Typical Day In A Pokot Girls Life

November 2015

It takes between 2 and a half to 3 hours for Cecilia to get to her home village from the rescue center that she lived in for many years before her life was transformed by Valvisions Foundation. Cecilia and the other 7 girls that are on a scholarship program through the Helen Valverde scholarship Fund have to go home every once in a while to visit their parents, relatives and siblings.

The journey home from the rescue centre is tiresome and grueling due to the dry and humid conditions in Pokot, there is no public transport and even the common motor bikes that are used by most travelers have not reached Pokot yet. After the long and tedious journey home, Cecilia is welcomed by her mother and her younger siblings, her father watches from his hut as the greetings are going on, he cannot show excitement or affection towards his daughter, such actions are reserved for the mother and the younger children, so he watches from a distance and looks disinterested. Cecilia after exchanging pleasantries with her mother and siblings then goes to her father’s hut, she humbly says hallo to him, and he responds barely looking in her direction, whatever emotions he feels are not revealed, that is the way culture dictates.

Cecilia has brought her mother some sugar, cooking oil, onions and tomatoes, rare commodities at home. She has also brought her siblings sweets and bread, and they jump with joy on seeing the gifts, she has cleverly saved part of her pocket money throughout the term to enable her buy this goodies. She rests for a while, and then she gets into the normal everyday routine of a Pokot girl.

Before dusk she helps her mother prepare dinner, ‘Ugali’ (maize flour mixed with hot water and cooked over a fire for about 15-20 mins making a loose paste, similar to mashed potatoes) and fermented milk is the staple food of the Pokot. They eat together, but the father eats from his hut. The meal is barely enough, but they have learnt to share what is provided. The dinner dishes are piled in one corner, the hut Cecilia shares with her sibling’s acts as the kitchen, dining area and sitting room. After dinner it’s time to sleep, there is no electricity and so they use a lantern, made from old tins filled with paraffin. Cecilia’s bed comprises of a cow hide, and a ‘leso’ (small shawl). All the girls in the family huddle together on the floor and each places their cow hide on the uncemented floor, the space is not much but they have to find a way to fit. Luckily Pokot is usually hot even at night, so the flimsy covers they have will do just fine. The boys sleep outside the girls hut, or near the cow shed, the mother has not built them a hut yet, and it is her responsibility to build the huts. They sleep out in the open, sometimes they light a fire to keep away snakes and other unwanted creatures. The mother retreats to her hut and joins her husband.

In the morning the boys are up early and they prepare to milk the cows, they also collect the cows urine in containers, this is used for washing the dinner dishes, urine is used where there is no detergent for cleaning the dishes, it cleans the dishes very well, they don’t rinse off the dishes after using the urine, water is a scarce commodity and must be preserved for drinking and cooking, so they use the dishes as they are, and no one falls sick as a result.

Breakfast is served, fermented milk, that’s all. They then set off for their chores, the boys go off to herd the animals, the girls fetch water and bring in firewood, the mother prepares local brew for the man of the house so he can share with his friends, and he sits outside his hut watching what is going on around him. There is no lunch, but one can drink some more fermented milk to quench their hunger, as they wait for dinner. Cecilia must help her mother to look for reeds and wild grass, this will be used to build a hut for her brothers, the mother will get a few of her friends to help her with the hut, the man can only watch from a distance, he can’t get involved with tasks meant for women.

Dinner preparations start at around 5 pm, the cows are brought home and milked, the milk is put in a gourd and a local herb added in to aid in the fermentation process, this should be ready in 2 days’ time. Dinner comprises of fermented milk, and ugali, that’s all they eat, they only substitute the ugali for boiled maize, hard boiled maize. They have to crush the maize to get the flour for the ‘ugali’, this is achieved by hitting and grinding the maize using a stone until they get flour out of it. They eat their dinner and everyone gets their hides and lays it on the floor, its bed time.

Cecilia has not bathed since she got home, she can only bath at the river, there is a specific spot for the girls and women, one for the boys and one for the old men. Cecilia can only go to the river accompanied by the other girls in the neighborhood; they are not allowed to go to the river alone. Finally she gets some girls who are going to fetch water and bath too, and she follows them, they all bath in the river and wash their clothes, they tie shawls around their bodies as they hang their clothes to dry and wait by the river bank as they chat away, she is the center of attention, telling the other girls about life in the big city and the various foods they eat. Once the clothes are dry they put them back on and fetch water to take home.

And this routine continues day in day out, they however attend traditional dances accompanied by an adult female, circumcision for the boys takes place in December and August for the girls, they have to be home early to cook before darkness sets it, and they fear being bitten by snakes at night, snakes are everywhere.

Cecilia’s small sister has recently started her period, and so Cecilia has been teaching her how to use a pad, a foreign item to her. But Cecilia is getting frustrated, the girls in the village never wear panties, they don’t have any, but Cecilia has brought her sister 3 panties, but the girl won’t wear them, and won’t wear the pad either, she will follow custom, sit in the hut until her period stops, periodically going to the river to bath, she can’t cook food or serve anyone until the periods are over, so everyone knows when she is on her period, but she does not mind, it’s the way of life. She should have got the cut last year, but the mother managed to convince the father to spare her, he is also scared of being jailed, so she was not cut.

Finally, it’s time to go back to school, Cecilia goes to talk to her father , he asks her what class she is in, and when is she starting to work so she can bring him money? He tells the mother to caution her that she’s growing old, all her age mates are married with children, so she needs to get a husband after school and get married, he reminds her that no Pokot man will marry her because she is not cut, and she cannot be cut now that she’s old. Cecilia smiles and nodes in her dad’s direction, no eye contact, and bides him goodbye. Her mother sees her off to the bus stop, 3 hours away, and she smiles as she walks away, she is lucky to have survived the cut, she is lucky to be going to school, a warm and safe place is waiting for her, good food and care that her sisters back home can only dream of.

She is different, she has something that her sisters will never have, an education, she is empowered, she is focused and she knows that her future is bright. She walks away with sadness, sad for her siblings that may never see the inside of a classroom, but happy too, happy that she can change all that if she works hard and gets into a university or college, gets a job and changes the fortunes of her siblings, especially the girls. Going home is something Cecilia looks forward to, with all its challenges and setbacks, it keeps her humble, and reminds her of where she has come from, and how fortunate she is to have escaped the culture that enslaves her mother and her siblings…. It keeps her grounded.

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