Mwanajuma was one of the most hilarious people we met at Hola, her boisterous full of life attitude left us doubled over in laughter more times than I can remember. We met her at the market where she sells sweet potatoes, cassava and coconuts that come to the town from Mombasa and Malindi, coconut products such as coconut milk, and shredded coconut that she shreds with a large traditional, wooden and metal shredder/grater for lack of a better word. The wooden section is designed for sitting on and is slanted towards a metal grater
Her nickname around town is Afande wa Jikoni because she’s a cook with a stand on the side of the main road, Hola town, has two main roads, and sells her snacks every evening during the Ramadhan period and all day and early evening when most of the town’s population is not fasting. Most of Tana River’s population is Muslim, you see. Her food stand contains the people’s popular snacks such as viazi karai, samosas, French fries, kebabs and katlase – a ball shaped food that is made with onions, and minced meat that are rounded and put into a pocket of grated potatoes that is coated with egg yolk and deep fried. She goes the extra step and blends fresh fruit juices from the available fruits, which in Tana district, are passion, mango and avocados from Garissa.
We tell Mwanajuma in Nairobi she’d be called a hustler and we asked her for the equivalent word in Hola that they would use for her, she laughed and said, “si ni mwanamke tu,” and looks perplexed that we consider survival a skill, we hang our heads in shame. We pause as we get interrupted by yet another person looking for shredded coconut and commending her on making everyone in her household laugh when she called in on Tana FM, the previous night. The Tana FM crew know her by name because of her frequent call ins and participation on several of their shows.
She’s married to a former policeman who has helped take on her late sister’s two children. In total they have six children, they met and fell in love when they were both 15 years old; form 1,she was pregnant at 16, and married soon after, a fate she wants to avoid with her daughters, who are all coincidentally girls. She has 5 girls under her wing that includes one of her sister’s. Her sister’s children are a girl and a boy, who are of similar ages with two of her girls; “I have two sets of twins,” she says with pride, she’s also proud to have all six of her kids in school, we ask her how she does it, she tells it has not been easy but she’s lucky to have a man committed to ensuring that he does the best for his family, who does not conform to the peer pressure from other men in the area who spend all their earnings on alcohol, miraa and women. “He has love for me, our children and my family, and has not shown any interest in taking in any other women, despite the fact that the Muslim religion allows him to take up to 4 women.” After 16 years of marriage, she still has the glow of a woman who is loved and appreciated by her man, her voice softens when she speaks of him and we all sigh in tow, love softens our hearts, wherever we find it.
‘Chamas’ (women’s saving groups) really come in handy when handling weekly or monthly expenses, she’s in 4 chama groups, with different durations of putting in and receiving money. She swears by them, they’re a lifesaver when money between her and her husband is tight, as it can sometimes get. Their women’s groups are structured so that every week or month, one of the members receives a lump some amount that matches up to the total amount of money they have contributed up till then.