Silver Cyprinid is the unknown name for the beloved delicacy that graces tables across the country. You may know it by its popular name omena or if you prefer, dagaa.
A cursory walk down any food market will reveal to you the baskets filled with the delicacy or alternatively strewn on canvas, ready to be packaged for eager customers.
However, most partakers in this meal remain unaware of how the finger-food moves from the shores of Lake Victoria to their plates.
An investigative report by TV47 on Tuesday, March 24, looked into the thriving industry in Litare, Rusinga in Homa Bay County and discovered the rarely spoken of suffering of the women whose work revolves around the fish.
Pamela Otieno, who has ferried large bucket-fulls of the fish for seven years explained the various health effects she has suffered in the course of the work.
“This work hurts us: it makes you sick. When I went to the hospital they told me my chest had been affected. I’m not supposed to carry the heavy buckets but I’ll keep carrying them because this is what feeds my children,” she explains
The women rise at dawn to collect their load from the beach after which they must haul their burdens up one of the many hills in the area to reach the vendors and claim their money.
Their shoulders bear the weight of the approximately 70-buckets filled to the brim with omena. For this, they will receive a pittance, Ksh 15 for each bucket full.
Pamela narrates the difficulty of the work explaining the effect it has had on her body and her health.
“I’m 55 kilos but the bucket I carry is over 70 kilos and I carry it up the hill. It makes you age faster because the work you are doing doesn’t let you eat well” Pamela laments.
After leaving their loads with the vendors, the women must again make their way back down to the beach to fetch another bucket just as heavy as the last.
Their industriousness determines how much they will make from their toil, yet, because of the competition, it is difficult for any of the women to carry more than four baskets in a day.
Pamela, who is counting seven years since she began the labour has paid a steep price for it. Her chest has borne the brunt of the of her toil.
“I’ve been working here for seven years now. When I went to the hospital, they said I shouldn’t carry the buckets any longer. My chest closes up sometimes and when I cough blood comes out,” she narrates.
Herbert Achieng, a medic at the Mbita Sub-County Hospital confirmed that the majority of their patients seek treatment for back pain and chest related complications, all linked to the loads they carry on their heads each day.
“We find very many cases of chest pains, lower back pains, and joint pains. We attribute this to the activities carried out in the fishing activities along the Lake,” Herbert confirmed.
The medic warned that if the women carried on working as they did, bearing the weight of the buckets on their heads, they would suffer long-term effects.
“They carry a lot of heavy loads on their heads, which will interfere with their muscle and bone functions. There are health implications if this is done over a long time,” he concluded.
Pamela maintains her stance that there are few alternative means to ferry the product but on their heads.Her only request would be that the government design a better path through the hills to ease the taxing climb
“We have to bring them up from the beach, there’s no other way they can get here, so the only answer is to ease the hill so we don’t struggle too much,” she states.