A Little Place Called Shirikisho in Garsen, Tana River County.

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Somewhere in Garsen Constituency, along the banks of Tana River, lies a sleepy place called Shirikisho. I found myself there as I am often found in many ‘mashinani’ areas around the Coast, work. In many ways, I feel at home away from the hustle and bustle of major towns and in Shirikisho I found a place as unassuming as anywhere you will ever find. We were put up at Shirikisho Primary School and I have to say it was nothing as glamorous as many associate outdoor living and camping with. Yes, it was a starry night that would be quite the romantic setting but there were also mosquitoes and we were always wary and on the lookout for snakes. A snake would be found in the school pit latrine-cum-bathroom the next morning, with one of us running out with his bathing water in a basin like a scene straight out of ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’. As for the mosquitoes, that was a traumatic experience. It seemed like they enjoyed mosquito repellent and were with a buzz as irritating as the musician you’d love to hate. You get used to this kind of life, if you are cut out for it.

The next day was a chance to really experience Shirikisho. A good look at the school compound during daytime gave us a glimpse of life in the area and many areas of the larger Tana River County. Plastered on the school walls were informative warnings and early signs of conflict and floods and what to do when they happen, the reality of the hurdles some children in the country face in their education journey. On another wall was a proud announcement by the Rural Electrification Authority that the electrification of the school was done and completed by them, all this with no electricity pole in sight. Nothing. Only solar panels, with ‘dead’ batteries. I am yet to understand this but it reeks of corruption (if looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck then it probably is a duck). But the compound was not filled with all doom and gloom, the school desks were branded ‘Wasichana Wote Wasome’, a campaign going by a similar names has succeeded in getting girls to school, the enrollment board proves that. However, the learning conditions can be and should be better. Some classroom floors looked like a murram road in Maralal.

Outside the compound, our misjudged eating schedule would be punished. We had opted to have brunch and in our minds brunch was a meal with meat in plenty. Shock on us. The first kibanda, run by two beautiful Pokomo ladies, had only a quarter kilo of lamb available for the day, enough for their clientele. Turns out there is just one butcher in Shirikisho area, who slaughters one lamb or goat a day and on alternate days. There is no way a quarter kilo of meat would be enough for 4 grown hungry men, who had spent the previous night properly suckled by mosquitoes clearly out to kill. So we had to rush to find the butcher before he was out of his day’s supply, we found him with only half a kilo left. Well, as they say, si kama kukosa. We went back and had the two ladies prepare the extra meat for us. In the meantime, we had sturungi and doughnuts. If you have been to Tana River or North Eastern you won’t be too surprised when I say the sturungi had like 6 teaspoons of sugar in each of our cups. Any area with a Cushitic presence or influence has the kibandas and cafes having no qualms about serving piles and piles of sugar in beverages, before you even ask. But the sturungi had a nice spicy twist to it and the ladies whipped up a great ugali and lamb meal for us.

We would later chance on Kyalo, probably the only Kamba in Shirikisho area, he has an eatery of his own and his business model is getting matumbo from the one and only butcher. If you want matumbo then you go to Kyalo and to Kyalo we went in the evening. We found him reprimanding a customer who was out to have a meal on credit. His exact words were “Sikuja hii njia yote kutoka Ukambani kupatiana chakula bure” (add a Kamba accent for complete imagery). Again, great cooking here, chapati and matumbo stew. Kyalo’s eatery turned out to be multi-faceted once it’s dark, it turns into a muguka chewing hub once the Sabaki SACCO bus comes in carrying goodies from the other major towns. Shirikisho is majorly an Islamic zone and you won’t find any bars or pubs here, bring your own poison if you are of the drinking persuasion.

Just before we left, Shirikisho showed us its best side, genuine benevolence. Once you are accustomed to long travel, you will be accustomed to mechanical problems. Trust me, they will happen. So it happened that we needed a mechanic, the car we came with just refused to cooperate. We came to know there was no mechanic there, only an apprentice, Omar, just learning the trade. Himself explaining he got into this line of work after a long dream at night interacting with his ancestors had him waking up with the ability to fix motorcycles. I kid you not. Omar took a look at the car and things were way out of his depth. He recommended the services of his master who he was presently learning from. He didn’t want to settle at just fixing motorcycles, he was now on conventional learning after a foundation of the extraordinary and a whiff of spiritual realms. His master was Abdalla Chagaso, who I had to take a bodaboda to go and find in nearby Semikaro.

I found him in his humble aboard preparing sturungi and easing himself to a day of not much to happen. All the pending work he had he left to his other young apprentices present outside. He was kind enough to change the course of his day and follow me back to Shirikisho on his motorbike. We would see Abdalla Chagaso’s greatness. Some few tweaks with his spanner here and there (all while occasionally pausing to stroke his heena-dyed beard), a short trip to borrow a battery and back, and he somehow worked his magic. We were good to go. An honourable mention has to go to Kakone, shopkeeper and owner of the battery we were graciously lent, the only battery in Shirikisho. Kakone is an aspiring MCA who is a community leader in Shirikisho people’s hearts in everything but official title. They proclaim their love for him and acknowledge his contribution to the community, but didn’t elect him last time out. Paradox.

But it was Abdalla Chagaso who stole the show and left us with more than one life lesson. He completely refused to quote a price for his services, only accepting the normal fare rate if he hadn’t used his own motorbike and anything else on top that wouldn’t be too much trouble to us. We were guests, on a noble cause, and were weary travellers encountering unexpected problems, there is no way he could take advantage of us, he stated. Furthermore, his Islamic faith had him assured that his riziki can’t be determined by man, only God. We gave him what we had, it was only fair. The only way Abdalla Chagaso’s story could be bettered is if it was he who had his mechanical knowledge through a dream and not Omar. But he did get his knowledge from NYS, “wakati NYS ikiwa NYS”, he said. Bless him. There is so much about Shirikisho that someone would have to experience to fully appreciate. Tales of an only dentist who mostly just issues pain-killing injections and not much more. Also, if you are big on mangoes, you’ll love it here, so many mangoes growing on the banks of Tana River.

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