A small boy with a long stick pulls dry twigs from the top of a tree. He’s collecting firewood.
“You could cut these trees down”, says Bernard Mutoa, “and sell in Ngluni; we have a shortage of firewood in Ngluni.”
We are walking round the back of my college, away from the tarmac road. In this area the land is given over to pits where stone has been quarried to make building bricks.
“This is land degradation”, exclaimed Jackson, who was walking with us. “Surely! This land cannot be used for anything.”
Pointing at the fallow, dry, yellow fields beyond the quarrey, I commented that the level land nearby wasn’t being cultivated.
“You could build a house on it!” Jackson retorted.
We walked on, discussing the pitiful price (Jackson had been told KSH 2 per foot) that the workes are paid for cutting these stones.
I spoke of the reasons for not cutting down the few trees that grow in the area to sell as firewood in Ngluni and mentioned that the streets of Varanasi in India stink of shit because of all the little dung patties stuck to the walls of buildings, drying in the sun to be used as fuel.
“We used to burn dung”, said Bernard, “but we have improved now.”
The Samburu up in Maralal build their homes out of dung, plastered onto sticks. I’ve not been inside one but I understand they have a characteristic odour. Jackson contended that dung houses would be washed away by the first heavy rain. Not sure what building material he would recommend for that house we could have built on the land where the quary pits are: not stone bricks, I presume, since we wouldn’t be quarrying, clearly nor dung and not wood since it is in such short supply.
We passed another pit where children were working hard to collect barrels of the murky water.
Jackson: “Surely you can’t drink this water!?” (he was in that sort of mood).
Bernard: “Why not? if you boil it!”
I had throw in my own 2 shillings’ worth:
Me: “For how long? The longer you have to boil the water, the more firewood you have to collect!”
The interconnectedness of everything suddenly struck me:
There was almost no rain during the last wet season.
No rain means no water: you can’t irrigate your crops and your cattle die: dire straits. It must be tempting to carve some of your land and sell the stone.
Which leaves pits that fill with water which, otherwise, would not be available at all during the dry season. All this stagnant water breeds mosquitos and algae. There isn’t enough firewood to boil the dirty water so you and your family get malaria and dysentery.