November 2001

On my two-day journey back from Nairobi, I a managed to clock up quite a number of animal sighting, from wild Zebra to Baboons, Flamingos to Guinea Fowl, and a rather large iguana crossed our path just before a pile of Elephant dung... no elephant but I'm assured by the contents and size of the dung that it was actually once belonging to an elephant which may have passed earlier that day.
The countryside from Nairobi to Kitale on the first day was spectacular, green and vast. Rift Valley at it's best, climbing high into the mountains and seeing the whole country, it seems, below as you hit the crest. Crossed over the equator so now I'm back on the northern hemisphere and feeling more at home. I stayed in St. Martin's a guesthouse for the missionaries of Turkana as a sort of retreat from the heat. It was very relaxing and cool but I was so exhausted from my week of socialising that I sleep for most of my time there. Headed north again the following morning and soon started to leave the green behind us. We passed several road blocks (police monitored) and were lucky not to have to wait for the next convoy as this area is particularly dangerous. One or two dodgy looking would be road blocks were along the road with rocks placed in the centre of the road but Sr. Anne was able to manoeuvre around them. Much of the journey was spent at an angle as the roads for the 6 hour journey are so full of potholes that there are grooves to the left and right of the main road where you put one half of the car on and the other off to do the least damage to the tyres. It felt a bit like a rollercoaster and as it had been raining it was a gamble to choose the side with the least muck.
The road itself seems to be straight but the hills of Uganda kept moving from side to side with dark rain filled clouds over them, so I assume this was all a big illusion and actually it is way longer than it need be with its slow twists and turns. It did rain on us for the last hour or so. This was the first serious rain I had experienced in Turkana, previously there had been 5 mins one evening and 2 minutes another. This time the rivers were flowing and as you cross over about 40 or so riverbeds on route this did not look good. The last 5 were flowing but not enough to stop us. The next day however many people were trapped on various stages of their journeys not to mention people coming from Kakuma in the north to Lodwar who were less than a mile from the town and had to sit from 5pm to 6am waiting for the river to go down with no food or water and being eaten alive by mosquitoes.
I have settled back into life here since I left the high life behind me and there has been much excitement, I have witnessed gunshots as the Diocesan Garage was held up and the decided to shoot at our office to stop us from following. This was followed by truck loads of policemen with guns chasing a guy, well gone, on a motorbike. Another night I was woken by an angry mob taking the law into their own hands by beating a man all the way to the police station passed my house. (He died... don't know if it was him who really did rape and kill the girl.)
There seems to have been an increase in the sightings of guns of late. I don't know if they were always there and I just didn't notice or if they are just more. The state exams for primary school leavers were being held lately and each school had two armed police officers guarding the papers. Very intimidating for the student, who are between 14 and 18, but maybe they are used to it. On my travels down country visiting schools towards the West Pokot area most villages are well stocked up in the firearm department. Some of the villages closer to the boarder have to put up fences around themselves as protection. Not too unlike the old western movies. As the stock of goats, sheep and camel are growing with the lack of drought there is an increased threat of raids. Its funny when there is a drought the risk increases also. Any excuse it seems. As these people have no form of transport other then their feet many look for lifts as we drive through and I find myself holding a baby as we drive through the desert at speed like a four wheel drive adventure with a man with a gun in the back. Here there are no pampers so you can imagine my surprise when I felt a warm patch on my leg.
That night we stayed in Lokori where I was delighted to see a shepherds night school being run by the Mercy Sisters. As these boys work all day they do not have the opportunity to go to school so they come by night. There were 42 of them and they ranged in age from about 8 to 20. It was great to see how enthusiastic they were as they sang an adapted version of 'I love to go a wandering' they replaced the word 'knapsack' with 'stick' and sang 'with my stick on my back', which describes them to a T! Some of them have also started to come to the drop in centre by day for children who have not gone to school or dropped out. As the traditional beads and clothes have to go when you go to school many of the girls choose to keep the tradition but in this school they can keep the beads and come when they are free.
In the same way the adult education classes run by the Diocese cater for the traditional and the illiterate. I went to visit some of them and they told me that some of the reasons they have decided to learn is that they want to know what the notes from school says so that their children don't con them. Some want to be able to read signs, the bible or names from the food distribution list. While others want to be able to sign their name instead of using a thumb print. I realise how lucky I am on a daily basis here. Honestly as I typed today at work one of the watchmen came in to greet me (they all do that you have to shake hands with everyone you meet all day) and he was fascinated by the computer and I had to explain what I was doing, when I move my fingers the words appear and them they come out on another page. I keep forgetting that most of these people don't even have electricity as I sit in front of my fan!
I hit 32 this month also and began celebrations on the Monday before and had my last gathering on the Wed two weeks later. So I'm just about finished. Still its not long to Christmas! Being 32 in Turkana is just fine, as when I go into schools to talk to the staff the first question they ask me is, 'How old are you, you look too young to be teaching us?' This of course is followed by are you married, followed by do you intend to be. As most people here are already married once or twice (many of the locals have 3 or 4 wives depending on the size of their herd) by their teens. All is well though as most people on the street just call me sister as they know I work with the mission and assume the rest.
Work has improved no end and though the schools are coming to a close I have a meeting with the contact teachers for each parish next week so I can plan my workshops for next year. They all seem very enthusiastic so I can only hope this enthusiasm follows through to the teachers on the ground. Something to look forward to in January I guess. Well that is it for now, hope December is as eventfully. I hope to do a bit of travelling so I'll fill you in when I get back!
Bye for now, Keep in touch, The Cork one in Kenya