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STORY SEVEN Dedication Rift Valley Province, Kenya, 1988 111 Mr. Mwonge climbs the makeshift steps to the office of the Aberdare Water Society and timidly knocks on the door. He is stocky and strong, about forty years old, and has the hands of a laborer, which he is. Today, though, he is wearing his Sunday best, a threadbare pinstriped suit coat, second- or, more probably, thirdhand. It is an early afternoon in March. The weather is cold and cloudy, typical for this mountainous part of the country on the edge of the Rift Valley. Most people are inside their huts. There is no activity in the village square other than a few scrounging chickens. Alex Abuya and John Kirui are inside the society’s office, bent over their desks. A kerosene stove hisses in the center of the square room, but even with it the men wear sweaters. They are both full-time employees of Water for Health International (WHI), an American NGO. Alex is preparing the project quarterly progress report that he must send to the WHI office in Nairobi at the end of the month. John is putting the finishing touches on the form that will be used as the society’s monthly 112 Story Seven water bill. Next to him is Peter Gichiru, age eighteen, who comes from the village. Peter is nearing the end of two years of training under Alex and John’s tutelage. When the project is finished and Alex and John leave, Peter will be the accounts clerk for the society. It’s a big job, crucial to the success of the society. Peter will manage all the bookkeeping and accounting for the twelve hundred families who own shares in the society and whose houses will be connected to the system. If he fails to keep the accounts properly, the project will go the way of hundreds of other water projects that collapsed in Kenya over the last twenty years. But John and Alex constantly reassure Peter that he is prepared to do it. Alex looks up. “Come in!” he shouts. Mr. Mwonge enters. He has a sheepish look on his face. Mwonge pulls a tattered square of paper from his coat pocket and hands it to Alex. He clears his throat. “Sah, I am membah number A46, registered with the society in October 1986, you will see my name in the ledger. But I have not been a good membah— I have not paid up my shares and I have not done my part of the labor and I have come now to put this right.” Alex looks for Mr. Mwonge’s name in his shareholder ledger and sees right away that he not only has not paid his shares or contributed his share of the labor for the project but also has not shown his face at meetings in the two and a half years since he joined, not once. He closes the ledger. “You are welcome, Mr. Mwonge.” Alex then points to John and introduces him. “This is John Kirui, who works with me. We are both from Nairobi. You may know Peter Gichiru, since he is a villager. Please take a seat.” Alex puts his quarterly report aside and over the next hour and a half concentrates on Mr. Mwonge. He takes great pains as he explains to Mr. Mwonge what has been going on since 1986. He has never seen Mr. Mwonge before, and after nearly three years Alex knows almost everyone. But he knows that Mwonge’s lack of participation in the society has two sides. He guesses that Mwonge works outside the village, probably in Nairobi itself, and sends what money he can to his family here. But so do quite a few of the other men, and their participation in the project has not been as limited. The other side is that people like Mwonge are skeptical. They’re old enough to recall past projects in the area and how they’ve been burned by unkept promises. The village, Murwanga, rests at an altitude of six thousand feet on the Aberdare escarpment. The area is partly forested, with patches of rough and stony open land, suitable for grazing a few cows here and there. And that is what most of the villagers do. There is a bit of surplus milk, but as it usually comes from the evening milking, it would spoil before making it to a market. People have only small...


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