We met Rehema Musa at her friend Jawaria’s house near Hola Town. She was pounding cardamom pods and garlic like a pro for their evening meal that included an amazing chilli sauce that I still make and attracts a lot of attention. I picked up some invaluable culinary skills from our friends in Hola, but that’s a story for another day.

At our initial interviews, she didn’t seem too keen on sitting with us and telling us more about herself so we didn’t push her until her friend Jawaria pushed us in her direction, insisted that she had a story to tell and was hiding in the side lines, probably didn’t have the courage to approach us to talk about her life.

We finally got to sit down with her and when we did, she taught us more than we anticipated. She sits down on a mat on the floor of a mud house with a quiet strength and like a lot of the women in Hola, they cover their struggles and pains in dance and laughter. Makes you look at your life, with about a fraction of their struggles in Avery different light.

She’s from the Pokomo tribe and was raised in Mikinduni, went to Mikinduni Primary and because her mother could no longer afford her fees, she had to drop out of primary school in class 7, to help her mum maintain them some type of livelihood. Her dad went to Garissa, got some odd jobs and wasn’t seen or heard again in a long time.

She joined the local polytechnic and learned how to tailor and took the Tana River equivalent of culinary classes. Her house is filled with evidence of her ‘ufundi’ as they’re hanging diras, mats, and tailored dresses around her house. She got pregnant as soon as she was done with her training and soon gave birth to her first born daughter, Serah Hadirah. A year later she gave birth to her second daughter, Emily Kiamari. Her third child, a boy passed away, which turned her husband against her. He was an abusive drunk who loved women and just barely provided for her family. But she was a mother, a capable woman and so she found a casual job with the Ministry of Works and sold fruits and vegetables at the local market, while maintaining her tailoring and mat making business. She is in the process of building a small store, ‘kibanda’ for her mat making and tailoring businesses. At Hola Hospital, she discovered an interest in general hospital work and so they took her in and taught her how to care for patients infected with HIV and TB, then took her to the lab where she learnt how to diagnose High Blood Pressure and Diabetes through blood tests, taught her how to prick and draw blood. She’s in the process of learning how to use the microscope to identify micro orgasms in blood, stool and urine samples.

After her first husband, she got married to two other men who met the same fate as her husband, and have not helped support their children so she has learned to fend for herself, her 5 children and her mother. She has the composure and face of a woman who has weathered many storms and come out on the other side, a trait I cannot identify with but deeply respect.

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