Photos by Esther Havens.
When James Emuria first saw Esther Abei, he knew he wanted to court her. They took their family’s animals to the river together and they danced at traditional ceremonies – dating, Turkana style. James’ family then paid a dowry to Esther’s family and they were married. He put a metal necklace around her neck to signify that she was his. In the fifteen years since, James and Esther have built new homes and moved frequently in the Lolupe area where they were both born. Turkana people are pastoralists who move regularly so that their goats can graze. They built each hut together out of woven dried leaves. The homes are beautiful and simple; they don’t need to be waterproof since it rains so infrequently in the desert. Last year, it didn’t rain at all. Many nights, they sleep outside under the stars. Esther gave birth to seven children in their hut on her own. Basically, she’s amazing. If she needed support, she would call on her husband’s mother to come. James and Esther delight in their children and the kids all enjoy each other, the elder ones taking care of the younger ones when needed. The youngest entertain themselves with toys they make themselves.
Esther’s daily routine profoundly changed when SERV drilled the well in Lolupe three years ago. Before, she would walk three hours a day to the river to collect water. The journey was not only long, but dangerous. One day when she was walking to get water, she was attacked by a man. She was able to fend him off by throwing stones until she reached some people, and the man ran away. But the next day, she had to make the same trek back to the water, because, dangerous or not, her family can’t survive without water.
Having the well close to home gave their family more time and peace of mind. Some of the children are now big enough to fetch water and they take turns, going two and sometimes three times a day. Esther still goes to the well, too. If they are out of water or need it even at night, she can make the short trip. When she has time, she stays at the well and the women gathered tell stories and talk about life. “There is peace at the well,” Esther explains. Since the community has to come together to share and protect the resource, disputes in the village are not common. The family uses the water for cooking, bathing, washing clothes and drinking water. “Now we have water near,” James says; his “biggest joy is when no one is sick.”
Since their water source is no longer a problem, food security persists as the family’s major concern. James says that every morning as soon as he wakes up, “I have to think what my kids will have for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” It’s agonizing for them as parents to not be able to provide for their children. Esther agrees, “Our biggest worry is about food, starvation.” Typically for breakfast, the family takes black tea. For lunch, they share small quantities of flour to make a sort of porridge. They often don’t eat dinner. When available, the family relies on dates from nearby palm trees for nutrition. Sometimes they cook and drink blood from their goats, a tradition amongst pastoral people. When Esther receives SERV food, she prepares it and feeds it to her kids. It’s the most food they ever get at once.
Besides their goats, their biggest asset, the family works making brooms and sometimes charcoal to sell in Lodwar. Everyone pitches in. Their son Peter takes the goats out and brings them in each day. Though neither James nor Esther went to school, two of their children attend the local school. The eldest even speaks a little English. Esther hopes that her children will have a better life than her own.
SERV has held 40 food distributions in Lolupe and will return to do more. The food is given first to elderly women and then to the younger ones, since the women will prepare it. Esther eagerly queues near the church SERV built that serves as a distribution point for the bags of nutritionally fortified lentils and dehydrated vegetables. There are also sacks of beans and maize. There is a flurry of activity as women with elegantly beaded necks pump water into jerrycans at the well, collect firewood and pack their SERV food bags into their colorful wraps. Most everything will get carried on their heads. “When we get food, we get happy,” said Ana Salim, a Lolupe woman preparing her food for transport as her children played nearby. For the next few hours, you can see lines of women walking out into the desert in the direction of their homes, babies wrapped tightly to their backs, cans of water and bags of food piled high on their heads while their colorful scarves billow in the wind. Esther, too, collects water to carry on her head as her children take the bags of SERV food so they can make the short walk from the well back home together.