Not many visitors come to Merti, so as soon as the bearded stranger arrived I knew about it. He did buy something at my shop early on in his stay, a burnt clay teacup, though we didn’t actually meet till his last day in the town.
Merti is a relatively remote place in Kenya, north of Nairobi on the way to Somalia. Not much happens, but people get on with their lives. An NGO was working here and that’s what brought the stranger. He visited the water pump and saw the boreholes. He talked to the women who had been ‘empowered’ to set up a shop for veterinary products. He saw the crauches (wooden barricades) where we immunised the cattle. He met with the savings and credit group, all women. He talked with the NGO’s staff who were being asked to leave the umbrella of the international NGO and become a Kenyan NGO to manage all the projects themselves.
How do I know all this? Mine is the only shop in town: I see and hear most of what is going on in Merti.
On the last day of his visit, I learnt a lot more than I expected about what was going on at his home. His wife was many months pregnant and something happened. She needed an invasive test. She wanted to check her husband was OK with it because there was a risk to the pregnancy; but she had no way of contacting him (no mobile phones, no internet in those days!). Anyway, every other day the Nairobi office would contact the NGO workers by radio telephone and that, I learnt, was how the message eventually came through to the bearded stranger: ‘your wife needs to talk to you’. I am a merchant, buying and selling what and where I can, so I wasn’t in Merti every day. When I got back from a short trip I found the stranger kicking his heels in my shop. He didn’t want another teacup: my shop had the only telephone in the area.