Tujipange KE dedicated reporter Mary Mwendwa, has been on different trips to Merti, the forgotten land of Kenya where lesser Kenyans ask “real” Kenyans: “How is Kenya?” This is a place that has not seen rain for two years yet the resilience of this community is amazing. They have learnt to survive without government. Mwendwa shares with our readers what it takes to include this underprivileged community in the news.

Story and pictures by Mary Mwendwa

IT ALL STARTED with a writing an email to get commissioned to write about the nurses strike in Kenya, since June.

Nurses have been on strike since June 2017 and the negotiations around their demands which have been documented in a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) have not been honoured.

This has left the public health sector in shambles.

Merti District in Isiolo County is an area you don’t just wake up and embark on a journey. It needs physiological preparation and good logistics. This is due to the hot climate and very poor infrastructure.

People here will always ask you, “Habari ya Kenya?” (How is Kenya?) To them they feel they have been forgotten since independence and are not part of Kenya because of the challenges they face.

Inhabited by pastoralists who have no other source of livelihood, people here know what it takes to see the ugly jaws of drought and famine stare at them.

Back to my journey story, I had planned to board a land cruiser which charges Kshs. 1000 per passenger.

To be able to plan for this vehicle I slept in Isiolo and woke up very early to look for one. My efforts to locate any of the land cruisers proved futile. A friend of mine in the town told me he had not seen them for two days and advised me to board a public bus which charges Kshs.600 and was to depart at 1.00 pm.

Buses plying this kind of route are very few, the journey can be cancelled any time without notice depending on the weather, especially during rains.

So, here I was going to Merti in a Bus that was fully packed with luggage and passengers.

Most passengers were speaking in local dialect, Borana language.

Women and children, elderly and youth filled the bus as ambience of roaring engine and local songs entertained us.

We only enjoyed the smooth tarmac for a short time before we got to the real road that is full of seasonal rivers, rocks and Lagas.

Notwithstanding the heat and dust, the driver and his co – driver was busy chewing khaat, the road has no traffic road block, and passengers are on their own.

I flashed out my notebook and pen to jot down some notes, but I could hardly write because of the corrugation on the road.

Indeed, it was an experience.

The sun was setting and I asked one of my neighbours if we were close to the destination.

“Yes, we are almost at the Gotu junction which has a big tree that we use to know we are halfway.

Throughout the journey, it is here that network coverage came in.

Just before we reached at the main junction, a sharp smell of something burning came from the clutch area.

Hiyo ni nini inanuka? (What is that smell?) ; women screamed out of their seats as while some stood in commotion to quickly run out of the vehicle.

Dark was setting in, and that marked the end of the bus journey. It stalled and a spare part was to be brought in all the way from Isiolo which is over 100 km.

Suspense and confusion gazed at us.

We started peeping on the road for a miracle vehicle to come to our rescue.

Luckily a lorry came and men sat on the back side, while some me and another lady sat right behind drivers’ cabin, legs stretch facing different direction. The rest of the passengers remained waiting to luck to come their way.

We landed in Merti at 10.30 pm. Here accommodation is very basic but manageable.

A women group runs some few guest houses which have shared bathrooms. I settled for one as I breathed a sigh of relief that I was finally ready for my assignment.

The following morning, I was ready for my assignment, to document the effect of the prolonged four months’ strike has had on patients.

Most patients in this region rely on public health facilities.

Maternal health and vaccinations are some of the crucial services they depend on.

A few meters away I get into Merti Health Centre, the empty deserted corridors are what welcome me. One waiting bay is full of children under five with their parents waiting as others yell in the next room.

I quickly enter the room and explain my mission. Dr. Peter Marete, a clinical officer is administering Ka – lazar injections.

“Since nurses went on strike in June the hospital has been deserted. Am only attending to these ka-alazar patients who have nowhere to seek treatment. “He says.

Dr.Marete clearly demonstrates his heroic nature and passion to save the lives of these children.

My next destination is at a home where a woman is bedridden after bleeding heavily. She has no means to access health services. She is waiting to die.

My story revolves around this lady and the following day I set to travel back to Nairobi.

Heavy clouds have started gathering and fears of floods become evident.

Lucky enough I get a lift very early in the morning, a landcruser coming to Nairobi.

The ride is abit smoother though the rough terrain can be felt even in the most powerful vehicles.

We drive for many kilometres and as we are left with less than 50 km we meet the unexpected. The vast Laga is flooded. We have to wait for the water levels to go down.

I whisper to myself. “This has been a tough journey; God please help us so that I get to file this story.”

Many vehicles converge at the spot and many of the drivers using sticks to measure water levels.

Two brothers on a motorbike are busy preparing tea by the road side. They slept at the spot after rains blocked them. They serve me and some few people tea.

I get to understand there is a second Laga which is more catastrophic than this one. People start narrating stories of how vehicles have been swept in the past.

A few kilometres we meet the reality of the second Laga. Flooded and many people waiting to cross.

We spend more than five hours until some locals use sticks gain to measure the depth of the water.

They advise full spread navigation and not to slow down. Our driver takes the lead and we tightly tie out safety belts.

Uhhh, the water splashed the entire front and sides of the car as we silently whisper prayers.

Finally, we are on safe ground. I still have my photos and story intact and ready for writing.

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