Tuko pamoja - the ubiquitous phrase repeated over and over again, a sort of mantra of the Komosoko leadership and community meetings. We are together - a head teacher affirms with her leadership, the School Management Committee, belosi elders, chiefs, peacekeepers, church representatives, and community that their debates are not divisive, but that rather they must discuss and then operate as one. Tuko pamoja - a verbal representation of Komosoko’s willingness to come together to work with one another, perhaps even to join hand in hand with the wazungu of Engineers Without Borders and begin to form a partnership. We are together-a devastating reminder of the struggles Muchebe has faced this past month in garnering community support, handsful of community members attending supposed community wide meetings, stragglers tentatively approaching only to disappear along the road, and the incapacity to raise the required 5% project cost after the economic catastrophe of Alliance One disappearing from the community.
It would seem to take a miracle to overcome the donor fatigue of Muchebe and to work with the whole community, not a small subset, on the construction and maintenance of a new communally owned rainwater catchment system. A miracle, or following the advice of our professor and long-term Kuria resident Mahiri Mwita.
Fast forward to Tuesday, Jumanne, our second to last day in Kuria and our last attempt at a community meeting in Muchebe. A moderately sized contingent of Muchebe residents sits beneath the shade of the planted forest behind the shed that hosts the community’s newly finished rainwater catchment system. Students leaving school walk down the road past the meeting, while other community members mingle off in the distance, eyeing the attendance of the meeting but not taking the walk over to participate themselves. Suddenly, rhythmic rattling is heard around the corner near the tank cluster of the rainwater catchment system, followed by the soothing melody of a hand-carved flute. Faces amidst the crowd light up with laughter as the traditional dancers and musicians approach, adorned with rattles on their legs, bead-filled block shoes, feather headdresses, and vibrant khanga shawls, skirts, and shirts of yellows, reds, greens, and oranges. One after another community members lounging in the shade spring to their feet and join the medley of dancers. The students turn and gather around the dancing crowd as more and more community members join the festivities, taking their places amongst the newly excited group of people and inviting us to join in the traditional dances with them. We look around us as the music settles and the meeting is called to order, now staring at the faces of over fifty community members and dozens of students. Suddenly, Muchebe na Engineers Without Borders tuko pamoja, and the community walkthrough of the new rainwater catchment system begins.
The large throng of people now actively participates in the meeting, each community member introducing him or herself. The community confirms their acceptance of the previously elected Water Management Committee and discusses the future operation of the water source as a group. The music starts up again, and the Princeton Engineers Without Borders and the Muchebe Water Management Committee work together to teach the rest of the community how to use the water taps at this new communal system, and you can almost here the rumble of tuko pamoja among the stomping of feet.
For a brief 45 minutes after the meeting, our togetherness must end while we march towards the Muchebe soccer field, dividing into our respective Team Tiger Wazungu et al (Princeton Engineers Without Borders , our drivers Ben and Joseph, a research assistant Celine, and Muchebe resident Elias) and Team Muchebe. The ensuing one-sided game rages on and on, with the ball almost entirely in the Muchebe team’s position while we furiously run after their players, huffing and puffing from our lack of exercise this month. Our steadfast defense, led by goalkeeper Danielle, resists the onslaught of Muchebe passes and shots, only to be scored on by a Muchebe counter-attack with little time left in the first half. 1-0.
Knowing we would need a significant offensive revamp in order to level the playing field, which we discover is physically anything but level by tripping on rocks and mounds of dirt, Team Tiger Wazungu et al changes formations to send up more offensive players. Despite us remaining in our own defensive half for most of the game, a successful tackle by Helen in the midfield and quick pass up to Brendan on the right wing leads to one of our few counter attacks. Brendan kicks the ball past his defender, runs to the corner, and crosses the ball in front of the goal. Julia’s crafty run in draws out Muchebe’s goalkeeper, as I sneak up on the rear post and smash the ball into the top right corner. GOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLL! 1-1.
With that, the referee / Muchebe coach Peter Masakwi calls the game as a tie, the teams intermingle for a photo, and we return to our sentiment of the day - tuko pamojas