Agnes Asiiyen is a 13-year-old girl from Kaakalel village in Loima constituency, Turkana County.
We find her among a group of girls weeding maize crop under the scorching sun at the Kalingata Irrigation Scheme in Loima.
Her beautiful dark skin shines in the sun and her smile is infectious. The tattoos, ng’ageran, on her arms are conspicuous.
She smiles shyly and looks down at her bare feet, as her fingers twist the many beaded necklaces, ng’akoromwa, on her neck.
I greet her Yogha (how are you?), she answers iJokh (I am good) and we instantly hit off from there…
Agnes was beaded four years ago, and the beads on her neck keep on increasing as years pass by, she says through an interpreter.
Unlike most girls her age, elsewhere in Kenya, Agnes has never set foot in school.
“I have never been to school, and I have no idea what a school looks like,” says Agnes.
She begins warming up to our conversation and even removes the scarf tied onto her head to show me the dreadlocks growing at the middle of her head.
So, how does Agnes spend her day?
“I wake up at 6 o’clock, head to the kitchen where I light up the fire before cooking tea for my family. By then my mother is up and milking the cows and goats. I serve breakfast, mainly tea and any left-over meal, or green maize.”
Afterwards, Agnes accompanies her mother to the farm to weed their maize and sorghum crop.
Occasionally, they head to the nearest posho mill which is about eight kilometres away, with a load of sorghum or maize on their back.
Here, they mill the grains to get flour which is a key ingredient for their business; making the local brew also known as busaa.
“The busaa is made from fermented sorghum and maize flour. We make it in huge plastic drums. A litre goes for Ksh20.”
Most of the day, she will be fetching water to fill up the drums.
“We have four drums which my brothers help fill when they have some spare time. The drums are enough to provide busaa for an entire week.”
Besides helping with the local brew business, Agnes also spends a lot of time tiling her family’s portion of farm at the Kalingata Irrigation Scheme, west of Turkana.
At Kalingata, ChildFund Kenya is helping the pastoralist community to grow maize, sorghum, vegetables and other food crops to fight food insecurity which is rampant during dry seasons.
Would she like to go to school?
“I am very comfortable the way I am. School would exert unnecessary pressure and disturb my life. May be I can pursue a course like weaving plaiting, and dressmaking.”
“But even if I pursue a certain course, I cannot leave behind farming maize, sorghum and vegetables as I have seen it change the fortunes for my family.”
“Initially, going without a meal was a normal occurrence. Today this is a thing of the past. I would want to make dresses for sale or plait hair in a big salon and still grow my food crops.”
Her two brothers spent their days at the grazing fields, herding the family’s cattle, camels, goats and sheep. But she is the one who takes the livestock to the well.
“I walk with camels, cattle, sheep and goats for long distances, at times over 10 kilometers to and from water points in search of water. This is what I dislike most about my life.”
Like many other girls in Kaakalel village and the wider Loima constituency, Agnes does not know Nairobi, but she hears about the capital city with many lights from his father’s phone radio.
MYRIAD OF CHALLENGES
But children in Turkana are still faced with a myriad of challenges. Apart from being unable to attend school, they are engaged in hard labour every other day.
“It is common for girls be sent to go and burn charcoal in the forest. This is what I dislike most with being a Turkana girl."
Access to sanitary pads is also a challenge.
“Most of us teenage girls, especially those who do not attend school, have to walk for long distances to areas where there are schools to be able to access the government-provided sanitary towels.
Sometimes, parents do not understand how much we need sanitary pads and we are beaten so badly with sticks for straying away from home without permission.”
According to the Turkana culture, beaded girls like Agnes have to maintain discipline in order to fetch dowry. “The more the beads, the higher the ability to fetch dowry,” she says.
Though she has already being introduced to a young man who is supposed to marry her, she has not yet had any relationship with him, she says.
Agnes decries that some of her peers have been introduced to men with three or four wives, for marriage. “I feel that this is not right.”
She still does not envy gaining an education. “Training in dressmaking, weaving or plaiting can assist me in the future.”
What about adopting a new way of life?
“Yes, I can live in the city so long as I can farm and grow food crops."