While not as exotic as the South Pacific and not as romantic as Paris, Meru is not without its charm. Take for instance the availability of goat meat, a local diet staple routinely served as a meal. If you like dark gray, tough, and dry meat, then you my friends have come to paradise! There is also an abundant supply of bottled water which I can't drink enough of. You see it's winter here in Africa and the local people are all bundled up in jackets and beanies. The problem is it's like a hundred degrees in the sun and I am roasting. Oh and the water bottles...well you have to check the bottom to make sure they weren't drilled and refilled with regular old hook worm infested tap water. I say tap if you're lucky, because it might just come from the spring where the camels and goats go to drink and use the potty.
The primary reason for our visit to Meru was to photograph women who carry wood. In Kenya the women work so very hard at taking care of their families. They feed the kids, cook, raise the kids, make babies, do the house work and chop wood to say the least. Oh and they also walk for miles in each direction to the forest where, with a machete, they chop up enough wood to break a Marines back and carry it back to town to sell. Sit down because what I am about to tell you will stun you....they do this twice a day and they earn 100 Kenyan shillings a load! Your not shocked? 100 KS is about a dollar thirty in US currency. I bet you are now. I tried to pick up one of those bundles and I just about had a heart attack. They tie these loads to their back with braided rope or twine. I wanted to carry one of these loads to see what it was like but I chickened out because I wasn't sure I would make it.
These women were real troopers. Rod and I walked with them out into the forest to document their experience. Once we stepped off the road all of the eleven women laid down and started to pray. Apparently they were praying for safety. Hmmmn....not hours before we had just seen the biggest elephant I had ever seen on the side of the road eating. Black Mambas, scorpions, spiders, lions and tigers and bears oh my...oh my...oh my god what are we doing here.
After they were finished chopping the wood they loaded up their backs like beasts of burden and began the long trek home. They laughed and sang and talked the whole way. For less than the cost of a Tall Latte at Starbucks these women labor all day to try and feed their families. All in all it was a very humbling experience that I won't soon forget. Next time one of my kids complains about their allowance I'm going to load them up with some campfire wood and make them work a bit.