December 2001

Happy New Year to one and all, here is the December update being done from Nairobi as I don't trust the e-mail in Turkana anymore! I'm heading back on Sunday so tomorrow is my last day to check mail! Here goes!
December 2001:- This month has been an interesting one. It all started with the end of the and the start of the holidays, and the meeting of the Diocesan Catholic Teachers Association, the first of many I imagine and the first real feel for what I'm supposed to be doing out here. I now have things to plan towards and hope to run my first workshop in early January, though I did run a one-day motivation workshop for the staff members of the Lodwar Polytechnic, which was a great success early in December.
In the month that was in it parties started early and the first happened to be a birthday party of one of the volunteers, which turned into a Christmas Carol Session as we sat out under the stars to cool down from the heat of the evening. I'm dreaming of a white Christmas always sounded unrealistic in Ireland but in Turkana it was really pushing it!! The following night the staff of LWF in Kakuma Refugee Camp were having their Christmas Party and we joined in. They had filled in their swimming pool for the occasion and the following day we joined them for a Christmas swim in the desert. Mind you I did end up looking like someone out of an old Elvis Presley movie, as I had to borrow a swimming costume from one of the nuns, I was very grateful though. Keeping in the party mode I went to the local District Commissioners party on the eve of Jamhuri Day (a national holiday here for Freedom day). He had invited down several Ethiopian Chiefs and I went along for the food more than the peace talks, but little did I know how long the praising each others land would go on and that the food would be much delayed and very cold, still put it all down to experience and battle on.
On Jamhuri Day itself the whole place closed down and as the festivities were to be the same as the previous two public holidays in Nov I declined and decided to spend the day trying out my tailoring skills. As I have decided that I may never have a car and that walking in the heat takes too much out of you I have borrowed a bicycle on a trial basis to see if it is practical. This mind you has become quite the source of entertainment for the locals and as the sand isn't ideal for the type of bike and I have been know to have close calls as I wobble along. The large thorns that fall from the trees insure a puncture or two a week so it's high maintenance. Anyway I decided though it is a ladies bike and I generally have to wear skirts here, they are not ideal in this situation so I set about making a pair of trousers as I had nothing else to do. I used my present pair to make a pattern and am pleased to announce that I managed to hand stitch a perfectly presentable pair of trousers without the aid of a measuring tape, though it did take 10 hours! I was so proud of them that I wore them to our own Christmas party the following week. I had the job of buying prizes for the performers at the party and was amazed to be told that a toothbrush was a good prize as it is a luxury. Here they have special trees that they break off a branch and use as a toothbrush, I'm told it has a medicinal flavour.
December also brought with it an Annual Choral Festival, which was interesting to see and hear. All the choirs had put so much work into their pieces, and especially the original compositions. I enjoyed the latter immensely. The only moment of concern I had was when I first arrived and there was nothing going on, on the stage. I became the focus of attention as the only non-native it the room of 400 or so people, but once the singing got going interest in me started to die down.
The journey to Nairobi on this occasion was very different from my last flight in the Presidents advance plane. This time I was picked up by a MATATU (mini bus!) at 12.30am along with 17 other passengers and the driver. Though it not advised for safety purposes to sit in the front I chose that option in an attempt to avoid the smell in the back and hoped that the chanced of a head on collision in the middle of the night was slim in Turkana. The matatus go by night to avoid the tyres getting too hot and having a blow out. So the journey began. The convoy (for security purposes) left a 1am and we didn't reach Kitale until 8am having stopped at three check points which seem to be to check that no-one is escaping from the refugee camp and to keep the convoy together. This does not seem to stop the matatu drivers from thinking that they are driving in the Paris Dakar Rally and passing each other out at high speed only to catch up with each other at the next stop. In the daylight it is much more frightening especially when the roads get better down country and they don't even have the potholes to slow them down. At one point we were passing out another full matatu at 140kph, on a corner. On arrival to Kitale our nearest big town all hell broke loose as every tout in the place wanted me on their bus to Nairobi. Luckily my matatu driver escorted me to the stop of the best of the buses 'Akamba'. This in itself was an experience. Just like a 50-year-old tour bus at home only every time we stopped people were trying to sell us all sorts in the window, from carrots to cooked corn on the cob. Luckily mine didn't open. I arrived in Nairobi at 4.30pm the following day, fit to drop!
I decided to head down country for the Christmas season proper as I really missed the whole hats and scarves, piles of shopping bags in the rain and the hassle of it all. It's just not the same in shorts but I did my best and did manage to get somewhat hassled with last minute food shopping and the Christmas Board Game which turned out to be Cluedo, hours of endless fun, and won by a pure guess putting all of our detective skills to waste.I didn't get the hats and scarves but it sure is much cooler down here and it rained a lot coming up to Christmas but it has been fine since.
I spent my first day in Nairobi in the Immigration Office only to be told that my application for an entry permit had sat unopened for ten weeks on a desk and hence was not processed. This they told me was a 'Technical Fault'!! This put a stop to my plans to head to Zanzibar and new plans had to be made. I took a day out after arriving to join Don Bosco Youth Groups from 9 different African Countries and visited a wonderful orphanage for aids children and the Resurrection Gardens. I felt like it was a real retreat as I had been feeling the stress of life in the isolated desert before I left. Another privilege of the big smoke if the cinema so I took the opportunity to go to see Harry Potter as I'm told he is the talk of the town at home. I really enjoyed it!
Then Christmas came along. It began with Midnight mass at 11pm! But in order to get seats at this very popular church we had to be there at 10.15pm. Mass didn't finish till 1.30pm after much effort was made by the usually much better choir. A bit disappointed we left and headed clubbing!! Being reliably informed that this was the night to go out in Kenya (like St. Stephen's Day at home). We danced till 5am and headed home to see is Santa had come. After a big breakfast the visiting began, the GOAL Sudan house invited us over there first and as I was staying in the GOAL Kenya house with friends, we went to visit the refugee centre close by to wish them all a happy Christmas and bring sweets for the children. I then went to visit the SMA fathers and other lay missionaries just on time for dessert and a sing song, which went on until we ran out of Christmas songs and it was looking desperate when Nora was invited to perform Riverdance style. Much bluffing later and much laughter brought me to the main event... Christmas Dinner. We bought ham (which turned out to be pork) and not a sign of a brussel sprout; its replacement being pumpkin! Of course Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without the Kris Kindle present that nobody expected and this year was the best yet!! Yes, one of the girls got a newspaper ., which was soon replaced by two rabbits (which wouldn't have been as easy to pass around!) Sad to say both rabbits have subsequently gone missing in action presumed dead! We're all very sad!
On the 27th I headed to the coast on the night train to Mombasa with Orla Cooke newly arrived to GOAL Kenya. When we arrived the following morning we decided not to stay in Mombasa but to head south as far as we could go and work our way up. Unfortunately we got the wrong information from a well meaning man and ended up getting five matatus instead of one!! But we did get to see most of the country on the way down! When we arrived in Shimoni (almost Tanzania) we decided that we had gone far enough for one day and Orla secured a bargain price for our accommodation in the Shimoni Reef Lodge. We were to stay for two nights but ended up there almost the duration of our holiday! Within days we were planning the village New Year's Eve party and inviting everyone we met. At the same time visiting Wasini Island with its coral gardens, diving off the Kisite Marine Park with its many turtles and coral and the various coloured fish that go with all that, and the famous Shimoni caves where slaves were held and brought to the harbour (piles of bats, frightened the life out of me!). The New Year was rung in at the Smugglers Den Bar run by Uncle Sam (great guy) after a poolside buffet at the Reef Lodge. I should also mention that at this very moment I could have been on a dive boat on my way to Pemba Island, Tanzania, working as dive lead, with three fine things, doing four dives a day. Due to passport issues, I am writing this from Nairobi.
A New Year and a new town found us heading north to Tiwi with three English lads we'd met on and off since arrival. Tiwi was stunning with its white sand and clear water. The next morning was spent snorkelling in its rock pools (one which is really shaped like Africa!!) That evening north was again the direction as we headed to Mombasa to get the train to Nairobi. We actually never got to see much of Mombasa except the famous metal elephant tusks out the window of a matatu that looked like it had been burnt out at one point but was still capable of moving, not very quickly but moving none the less! On the morning of the train journey we saw heaps of wild life out the window and I though of the poor brave men who built the railway line through this gland which once had a very high population of deadly animals. As we stepped off the train it was clear that we were back in the CITY! The hassle was immediate as the taxi men pounced. Only another few days here and I will head north again to Lodwar and home.
Hope you all had a happy and joyful Christmas and that the New Year brings with it all that you wish for and more than you deserve!!
Love always, Your mate,