So the weatherman announced that rain was going to be inadequate and, as a result, there would be little or no harvest this season. Nature.
Thus, owing to our food insecurity as a country, the drought is likely to cause a famine. Sad. (In my book, drought is inadequate rainfall; famine is shortage of food. The two are directly related, but not similar. Class dismissed)
Anyway, the current situation sent me back to the year 2000.
During the famine of Gateta.
Where I was born, we have a habit of naming droughts and famines after the phenomenon popular during that time. Like we once had ‘yúúra ría kavúng’a’ -famine of Kaúngá, named after the yellow Kavún’ga maize we were given as relief. Then, circa 1984, we were hit by famine of kíthioro (sharp corner) named after…ask Sammy Rukenya Wa Karuguti.
Then 2000 came. The turn of the millennium did not bring with it an end of the world as prophesied, but it did bring a strong threat of the same in the form of a severe drought and an even harder hitting famine. The landscape was drier than Fred Omondi’s jokes, and there ceased to be foods for specific species. Humans ate the pawpaws that had refused to mature and fed the paw paw stem to the cows. The cows themselves produced tears if you attempted to milk them, with udders so shrunken you could mistake them for wrung woolen sweaters.
The famine was referred to as Famine of Gateta. Gateta was the package of 1 kg maize flour. The word ‘Gateta’ derived from ‘gúteta,’ to grumble, complain. It was so called because it was the only size of flour that families, whatever size, could afford at the time, with jobs obviously hard to come by. There were no farms to work on, duuh! (Utuku, see, I can go digital too!) As a result, there was a lot of grumbling and complaining from family members who felt they had been served too little, or came home to find the meal had already vamoosed. Ergo, Gateta.
I remember this because me and Mercy Wanja had set up a kiosk to leverage on the food shortage, and our fastest moving consumer good (FMCG) was Nafuu maize flour, Gateta size. Except the goods were moving fast on credit, because Mercy, like her name suggests, could not afford to see a penniless villager sleep hungry while we had stock. So inevitably, we went out of business.
You know the saying a hungry man is an angry man?
Of course you do, but you never take it seriously.
You definitely should.
Let me explain.
If you have observed nature carefully, you must have realized that in its wave, a trough is always preceded by a crest. A drought is almost always preceded by a bumper season or two.
And that was the case in the year 2000. In the year 1998, we had the El Nino rains and although much of the harvest went to waste, the soil stayed wet- a good sign everywhere, wetness- and we had a more than decent harvest in 1999.
Having learnt from the waste of ’98, me and my business partner Mercy set up a maize buying business in ’99, whereby we bought excess produce from the village farmers and sold it to a large scale buyer at a profit. That is where we got the capital to set up our kiosk in the new millennium. The future looked bright.
Except it was not.
Once our kiosk grounded to a halt, the villagers saw no more benefit in us, and they started seeing us as the traitors who had carted off their food savings in the previous year. “Were it not for you two who conned us of our produce and sold it to the lorry, we would still have enough to eat and feed our cows,” they said.
Attempts to remind them that we did a favour by buying off the produce that was too much for them to store or preserve, that it was all going bad were it not for us, fell on deaf ears.
“You stole from us with dog prices and sold to the lorry,” they shouted.
I find myself unable to continue, because my keyboard is wet- not a good sign after all, huh?- with tears. The happenings of that season- what befell us in person, our kiosk, our reputation and so much more- traumatize me to date.
But I have found a picture that -just slightly- describes what we went through. I’ll end at that and let the pic do the rest.
PS: I hear the office of the Deputy Governor and Women rep offer counselling and rehabilitation services. This trauma is killing me! Anyone?