Details of how a colourful ceremony turned tragic in a sleepy village in Bomet County are just beginning to emerge.
Kapsaba village in Kipsonoi ward has remained largely deserted after the Friday ceremony that left three villagers dead and more than 200 others fighting for their lives in various hospitals in Bomet and the neighbouring Kericho County with suspected food poisoning after a passing-out ceremony of new initiates.
When The Standard visited the village on Monday afternoon, most homesteads remained deserted except the home of Philip Koech and his wife, Winy Koech, where a few people were busy with burial preparations for his nine-year-old daughter who died following the incident.
The couple had watched helplessly as their daughter, Sheila Cherotich, slipped away on Saturday morning after a harrowing Friday night ordeal.
Cherotich, who was due to join Standard Five in Kaptulwa Primary School, came back home on Friday night after attending a ceremony for new initiates in the neighbours compound. Then the family’s nightmare began.
“My daughter was in pain and started rushing to the toilet every 20 minutes,” recounted Ms Koech.
The girl was rushed to Kaplong Mission Hospital where she died of dehydration on Saturday morning.
“I cannot believe that a celebratory meal could claim the life of my daughter who had a very promising future,” said the mother of eight.
From their hospital beds, survivors said it all began with an invitation to join their neighbours to welcome newly initiated family members.
Rachel Miywa, 50, said she was happy to join her neighbours for the social occasion.
“It was an early Christmas for most of us and we agreed to join the neighbour in welcoming the new initiates. Many of us were oblivious to the danger that lurked in the food,” she said speaking from Kaplong Mission Hospital in Sotik.
According to Ms Miywa, the feast attracted more than 600 people, among them friends of the family and invited guests. She said the meal was a sumptuous mix of pilau, beans and beef stew.
As they ate, however, the guests were unaware that part of the meal had turned poisonous, having being sourced from the previous day’s festivities.
“We ate freely because we were at home but we did not know that the food was stale. We are hearing now from doctors that they suspect poisoning from the food we ate,” she said.
Some of the residents told The Standard that the organisers of Friday’s fete took food that had been left over from a neighbouring home that had hosted the initiates the previous day (Thursday) to cut costs.
“The pilau in one of the sufurias was transported from a home that had hosted the initiates on Thursday. That is where the whole mess started,” said one of the residents.
The results were disastrous — almost an entire village is being treated for food poisoning and three people, including nine-year-old Cherotich, are dead.
“As you can see for yourself, all these homesteads stretching more than 4km are deserted because people are in hospital either seeking treatment or visiting their neighbours to console them,” said Richard Langat, another resident.
In some cases, entire families are fighting for their lives.
According to Anthony Koskei, a village elder, some families had more than 10 members taken ill after the poisonous feast.
The Bomet county government announced that it would meet the medical bills of the victims.
“Already nearly 100 of those who were admitted in Longisa County Referral Hospital have been discharged without paying anything and we are waiting for bills from Kaplong, Tenwek, Kapkatet and Litein hospitals as they release them,” said Medical Services Chief Officer Bernard Sowek.
Sotik MP Joyce Laboso, who visited the villagers with Bomet Senator Wilfred Lesan, cautioned those hosting ceremonies to ensure that they observed hygiene while preparing food to avert similar incidents.