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23 - 30 November 2005 
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Small Things That Make Big Things

Traveling in a minibus along the Machakos Kitui highway can be scaring especially if the vehicle is speeding, negotiating sharp corners and making steep descents. Passenger vehicles that compete in speed, overtaking on sharp corners further compound the danger. They are usually filled past capacity and upon approaching a police check, passengers know what to do-sit on the floor and keep quiet. Seldom do the police open the door to see the state within.

I must reach Kitui in good time. I have to discuss with farmers on how to handle conflicts in their group. We all agree that storms are inevitable but what matters is how they are resolved. It is unanimously agreed that the win- win method is the best.

I leave nursing the storm in my mouth to look for a place to put up that evening in preparation for the following day’s meeting at Kabati.

I visit several residential quarters. One has no water. Another has old sheets converted to mosquito nets. Another has black sheets hence one can’t know when they were last washed. A fine looking guesthouse is situated near a mosque but one has to contend with deafening oracles pelted from horn speakers facing every direction. Kitui Mini Lodge, ranked as the second “Five Star” of the town wins my vote. It is situated off town, has tree shades and is generally quiet. At least the accommodation fee includes breakfast, unlike many others.

I am delighted to see the neatly made bed with clean sheets. Since it is hot, I make for the bathroom. It is a narrow room that accommodates the toilet and one can hardly turn while in. To open the bath tap, one has to shut the door first. The toilet pan is brown with rusty metallic supports. There is no knob to flush the water. One has to operate the tank manually. The washing basin leaks and has layers of soap from previous users.

I remember that my phone battery has run low and make for the socket to charge it. The socket is not working! I alert the lodge staff.

“It is a fuse problem,” he says. “Let me get you another one”.

He comes, happily brandishing a multi plug.

“This will work!” He says fixing it into the socket. But it does not work.

He offers to have the phone charged from the laundry adjacent to the room. The room is green with algae competing with the wall’s cream color. There is evidence that when it rains, water flows over the power switch and the socket.

There is a head splitting pain in my head. I visit a fast food restaurant in town since the food I this lodge is on order basis and takes time. I must fill my stomach so that should the dentist recommend that my tooth be extracted, I should have had some food. The potatoes are delicious until I discover some pieces of steel wire intertwined in the food. I alert the management. I am offered an apology but nevertheless, I am asked to pay. I do so and walk out disappointed.

I find a young man outside the dental unit of Kitui District Hospital. He says he has been there for the last one and a half hours waiting for the dentist. I am informed that I should buy a medical card before meeting the doctor. The officer in charge of selling cards is at large. A patient advises me to buy an exercise book and have it stamped. Why is the staff absent at official working hours? I ask myself.

When the dentist arrives, I inform him to give me advice on my predicament.

“The only remedy for an aching tooth is extraction,” he says.

“But sir, can’t you examine it first?” I protest.

“O.K. Open your mouth. Wider. Wider!” and he begins knocking each of them.

Noticing my disapproval, he prescribes a strong painkiller, which I have to buy from a chemist. The painkiller actually does the trick. I visit Parkside Hotel for supper that evening before the storm comes. The waiters are reluctant to serve for they are engrossed in watching the Great Debate on the constitution referendum.

I arrive early in Kabati the following day and rest in a nearby café, waiting to be told the venue of the meeting. In the twinkling of an eye, a waitress rushes to my table, cup and flask in hand, pours tea in the cup and shoves it to me. Did I ask for it? Another waiter serves soda to a customer. Upon opening it, it fuzzes and by the time it is in the customer’s hand, half of it has poured on the table.

The secretary of Kabati Low Resource Farmers Association arrives and informs me that the meeting will be held on the farm this time. Sitting under a shade, we discuss commercial farming and prioritizing of activities. The size of the farm is slightly above a quarter of an acre. It was given to the group by the area chief to serve as demonstration plot on commercial farming. Two kilograms of certified hybrid maize seeds were buried under this soil.

The farm lies between two roads, one leading to Nairobi city while the other leads to Mwingi district. Perhaps it serves as a challenge to the local residents to quickly exit the valley of decision, which has seen them food dependent for many years. It is a challenge to them to take a risk and make a choice for the better, farming commercially for food sufficiency and profit. It may be a pointer to the business community and multistakeholders to stop sandwiching the farmers without being of help to them. Could it be a pointer to the business fraternity too to offer competitive services and shun mark timing on obsolete business ideals? Small things do matter. Kabati town is named after one Iron sheet roofed house that existed in the place. Looking at it now, there are many iron sheet roofed houses, a herald of the plenteous harvest expected in the area if all groups play their part well.

By Josephat Juma
Mr. Juma is an African Executive Writer

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