Let me tell you about the time when eating sim sim saved my life.
This was around 2013 and I was working for an organization that had just embarked on community entry in Siaya. It was my duty to work with the local administration and this included doing a census of every village I was assigned.
Have you ever visited fifty four homesteads in six hours?
I visited more than this and given the varying terrain, it meant walking for hours, meeting and greeting everyone I came across and mapping my way through each homestead whilst keeping an eye on landmarks.
On this particular day, I had carried one liter of drinking water and two apples. We got to the location, some place called Boro and had to make our way around a village there and then proceed to another village near the Lake, miles away at Harambee. It sounded like something simple, but by midday, I had already emptied my bottle of water and we had just arrived at Harambee.
I had to visit at least a hundred households by four and I had already consumed my second apple.
It gets to three in the afternoon and we have covered more than half the homesteads. Yes, all thanks to this Village Elder who insisted that I call her “Min Rosa,” and who walked like she was floating on water, especially when we’d be climbing rocks, or walking through cassava and maize plantations. We get to this plain field and I put my bag down and ask her if there is a shop around.
At this point, she looks at me, places her hands on her hips and says “the only shop we have is at Harambee, it’s two hours from here.” Now by this time, my knees are stuck to one another, my breath is coming up short and I know for sure that I am going to die of hunger, thirst or the heat. I am in Siaya somewhere near the lake and hippos love strolling the main land in the evening, and I don’t want to meet a hippo or get eaten by one. I also know that in my condition I cannot outrun the creature!
Min Rosa just stands there, then she says “give me a minute, let me send word to my home,” and she takes off.
I lie down and think of all the jobs that I could be doing. I think of the way I knew I would be a Counselor and now I was dying of thirst in a remote village in Siaya.
Hunger is a beautiful tormentor.
See, as I am lying on that ground, I see this wild plant(Lantana Camara), the Luos call it “Nyabende,” they have these tiny seeds that look like blackberries and are quite tasty. (Don’t ask). The plant itself is a treasure because you could use the leaves as a broom, as an air freshener for your pit latrine, or as tissue paper (and it’s pretty rough on the ass). So, I look at the Nyabende all around me and I think, well, this is like the situation with the Israelites, even though I could use some chicken and chapati, nyabende is just as well.
I try to get up, but cannot move my upper torso. It was like a failed sit-up. So, I keep trying but by this time, I know two things for sure: my vision is blurry and I cannot feel my limbs.
I stay there for a while hoping it’ll pass, but the more I try to blink my eyes, all I see are dark shadows. At this point, I remember, praying, asking God not to let me die out in the sun miles away from my Mom.
When I come to, Min Rosa is on phone beside me, my t-shirt is wet, so is my face and hair. There is a small girl with a blue basin seated beside us and she is looking at me like I fell from the sky.
“Did you get your friend?” I finally ask Min Rosa.
“Yes and now, you decide to die while I have turned my back? Why couldn’t you shout my name? You know the heat is too much but you did not say a thing, we could have asked for a glass of water at the last house we visited, why would you want your people to send me to jail? I have two children and a lazy husband, who will go to the farm when they send me to Kodiaga…”
I remember turning to the girl and asking what she had in the basin. She removed the lesso and right there were these round balls of sim sim. She said she was taking them to the market to sell and I reached into my bag, gave her a hundred shilling note and asked her to empty the sim sims in my bag.
Before she started emptying them, I had already eaten three balls.
I ate some more then it dawned on me that I had no water, so I had to ask Min Rosa to make a stop at the next home so we could ask for drinking water but she shook her head and said “Jogo jojuogi, kidwaro lokri jajuog piti piti to temie” (they practice witchcraft, if you want to be a witch, running naked into the night, then try).
And that is how sim sim saved my life!
By the way, this is what I was talking about: