April 2002

April has come and gone! Many April showers later I live to tell the tale. The month started with a holiday atmosphere with Easter celebrations behind us and no school ahead of us! The first week of the month was spent running a week long workshop for catholic primary school teachers from all over the Diocese on Missionary Childhood, trying to encourage children to help children. A wonderful facilitator arrived the day before and the letter to say she was coming arrived the day after so panic was rampant. Panic aside and the teachers arrived and all was set until word came that there had been a road accident (the biggest killer in Turkana apart from raids) and some of the sisters and a brother had been taken to hospital, bruised but not broken, my second facilitator was called away to attend the scene. Renewed panic as he was to give a four hour (half day) session. So I found myself presenting his section along with my own. I'm delighted to say that it went very well and that it was a productive open forum for much discussion not only on Missionary Childhood but also on the state of teaching in Turkana.
On Friday night when I returned home to pack for two weeks down country I was faced with my most frightening experience to date in Turkana. I spotted a huge hunting spider in my veranda and I went to get a shoe to kill him, as a bite from a hunting spider will paralyze you for weeks and I needed to have control over my bodily actions while travelling. When I returned he ran behind a box which I moved with a stick only to have the hunting spider run to the right of the box and a huge black scorpion run to the left, they ran around the veranda in opposite directions fighting briefly when they met in the middle! I stood frozen to the spot not knowing which to kill first as I was afraid to turn my back on either! I decided to kill the scorpion first as he is slower and luckly a brush was close at hand and distance is required when killing a scorpion as his tail can get you if you miss him with a shoe. (This was my first black one. The other 8 had been see-through and not as big and scary looking.) With him out of the way, the spider was next. Due to his speed close contact is required and aim all-important. Leaving both carcasses for another day I sat for an hour waiting for my heart to go back to a regular beat before I got on the night matatu to Kitale.
Next morning after breaking down many times on the way and having 4 in the front seat, and only one hours sleep, Sr. Kathleen picked me up and we headed for Nairobi. Welcomed yet again by wonderful friends (thanks Siobhan and Bryan) I felt at last I could rest. Good food and restaurants that have what is says on the menu followed for the next few days. My famous heat rash even eventually went away! Some practical things were also accomplished and I am now the proud owner of a Kenyan Drivers License and I pick up my aliens residence card next month. I also possess a mobile phone which only works when I'm down country but there are rumours of technology coming to Turkana but I won't hold my breath. For now at least when I'm in civilization I'm contactable and can even text 087 mobiles in Ireland, but I don't have all of my 087 numbers with me and some of them I have had no response from ... have you changed your numbers??
Anyway with my re-entry permit in my passport at last, I left Kenya for Tanzania. Arusha was the first destination to visit Catherine (thanks for your warm welcome and the lovely grub Catherine!) A lovely few days were spent in this lush green area, that you would never imagine, having been brought up on images of famine and deserts in Africa. Mt. Meru watches over, as the buzz of Arusha welcomes visitors on their way to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro only an hours drive away. I went down to Moshi to see what all the talk is about and was sorely disappointed to find the clouds so low that I had to ask a shopkeeper where Kili (very in with the lingo man!) would be if I could see it. It rained and though it was a lovely little town, the cleanest I have seen in Africa so far, I soon left to head back north.
During the various trips I realized that travelling in Tanzania is very different from Kenya. The two weeks of KiSwahili that I had done at home and the few words that I had picked up in Kenya really stood by me as very few people speak English and I think I would have been lost and without food only for it. It was great to get the chance to use my KiSwahili as it is so easy in my job to fall back to English and get someone to translate for me. Packed into the Daladala (public bus) we headed north through the Tanzanian Massai land. En route we picked up three Massai warriors with holes in their ears big enough to pass a soda bottle through, plenty of dangling earrings, tartan blanket, recycled tyre shoes and of course their stick (no warrior would be seen without one). As I admired their proud posture and composure I noticed that one had a very substantial watch on, another carried a large golf umbrella and the third to my amazement opened up a flip mobile phone and proceeded to make a call. Talk about skipping the stages of development.
On my return to Kenya I did manage to catch a sighting of Mt. Kilimajaro and it is HUGE!! Even from a distance. I can't imagine how overpowering it is close up! The next day I flew to Lamu with Heather (another SMA lay missionary) and got yet another sighting this time from the air above the clouds. It was a bit surreal really to have seen Mt Kilmajaro only the bottom section, all of it from a distance and only the top section from above all in three consecutive days! We arrived at Lamu Airstrip midmorning and a small cart on wheels brought our bags to the boat waiting to bring us to our hotel. As it was the end of the season only 7 people were on our flight and town was quiet. Fortunately that meant that the hotel in which we were staying was having a big party that very night to celebrate. We joined in on the celebrations of course.. Didn't want to seem rude! A great night was had by all. The three days in this hotel were spent sitting by the pool alone avoiding the many beach boys on the empty and beautiful Shelly Beach that extends for 12km of my image of paradise..if you could just get rid of the beach boys! One of them goes by the name of 'DUDE" and has mastered most accents of the world and can even have a conversation in IRISH but once you've heard him say the same thing in most languages there isn't an awful lot more to talk about. Very entertaining guy though and good fun.
The last night was spent in Lamu town itself for a feeling of authenticity. Lamu Island is truly a step back in time, with only 2 cars on the island (an ambulance and a rubbish truck) and three motorbikes. The streets are narrow and buildings tall, giving it a very Arabic feel to it. Walking around the town gave me a sensation of being in a maze, there seemed to be no straight street and no particular direction for any street off the main one. As the buildings were so tall there was no way of finding a point of reference. At no time could I tell on which side the sea was or how to find it. This is how the beach boys make their money on guided tours, really quite necessary (ours came free with the hotel, no beach boy required!). It's hard to believe that inside these ancient structures that people are watching videos on their wide screen TVs! Just when I felt like I'm away from it all I bump into one of my teaching staff, but this was a great treat as Brother Phil is a real tonic! That night we were invited to a spontaneous drumming session on the pier by some of the local lads, and we danced and partied like natives. Our final day was spent on a boat trip to the neighbouring island of Manda and we had our swim in the Indian Ocean, before returning to our own private pool back in Lamu. One of the hotels was closed for renovations so Heather and I got to use the pool, as the water in Lamu town itself is far from clean. Of course many of the famous Lamu fruit drinks were consumed and trinkets bought.
Feeling relaxed and tanned we returned to the metropolis of Nairobi and shortly afterwards I headed off on the long journey back to Turkana for the wedding of one of the Justice and Peace staff. On the morning of the wedding the skies opened and from 7am to 11:30am there was a downpour. Imagine praying for rain most of the year and getting it on your wedding day. It was seen to be a great blessing but it did mean everyone was soaked and there was muck everywhere. Nonetheless there was high spirits and a great deal of celebration. There was one chief bridesmaid and two other lead women and 15 other maids....and 10 flowergirls! Can you believe it? Not the mention the men! Mind you there didn't seem to be as much need to have a matching man for each woman but there were plenty of them all the same. There was a wedding committee set up in the parish which took most of the pressure off the couple, and all other local committees were called upon after the meal to present their gift, very public and open. In fact envelopes were handed out for those who had forgotten to bring a gift. Photographers were abound, no chance of seeing any of the actual ceremony as anyone with a camera in the community was there, hoping to get a few shots that they could sell people at a later stage.
What with all the rain the River Kawalasi was flowing and poor Rachel who had a truck load of medicine for the hospital in Kakuma had to coax Tim into driving across, she waded across after him, and off she went as he waded back. Fierce excitement! That night I was truly welcomed home to Turkana by a hard backed black scorpion with claws! That's it!!! I'd had enough, time to act like a girl and jump up on a chair and scream! I thought I was afraid before I left, nothing on this one! Frank my hero from next door came in to kill him and it was no easy task, so I felt reassured that it wasn't just me. Much detergent and movement of boxes later I hope to have that experience behind me, but there is building going on next door and I fear that a nest has been disturbed, mind you these guys don't even look related so who knows why I'm being invaded?
With the schools still closed I followed Rachel to Kakuma the following week and was just on time for the arrival of two Italian magicians who came to entertain both locals and the refugees. Luckily they started in the mission hospital and it was a pleasure to see the look of amazement in the eyes of the old Turkana mamas when the rope that had been cut in two was put back together, and when things disappeared and reappeared elsewhere. I had picked out a box of toys for the pediatric ward for Rachel who will be leaving at the end of this month so they had to be labelled and listed. She has also arranged for a beautiful mural to be painted on the wall to brighten up the days of the often very ill children that pass through. I'll really miss her when she's gone.
The Refugee Camp were having a head count in order to track the numbers of refugees, to allocate ration cards and to cut down on duplications. Many refugees had traveled up from Nairobi and in order to get the full benefits of the multicultural side of the refugee camp I went to an Ethiopian concert and danced Ethiopian style. The next morning I had my first official Burundian drumming class. This was a wonderful treat and they promise to make me a small drum to practice on, poor Frank next door will be driven mad! I managed to get 4 different rhythms that morning but need plenty of practice to get the dances which go directly with the drum beats. Mind you I was being taught the male dance and have been guaranteed that they will arrange for a girl to teach me the female dance the next time. The following day was spent with the Congolese community learning Lingala Dancing. We went to a nearby bar that allows the use of their video to customers and danced on the spot with most of the customers watching me and not the video, you wouldn't want to be shy here!! The plans being aired were to have a Lingala concert with special guest star... NORA. Can you just imagine the advertisement? Come to see the white chick dance. It's all very funny now but I can just see them pulling it off! Mind you it will be a while before I'm as good as them, they can move parts of the body I didn't even know that I had.
Rachel's goodbye party was held in Lokichoggio last weekend. With all of the insecurity of the last few weeks and many vehicles being shot at and several people wounded we went by armed convoy. Someone suggested that the raids get worse coming up to the start of term with people looking for school fees. It just doesn't make sense does it, to take a life for the price of a terms education. I'm going home in May for 'my best friends wedding'. See you then if you're Irish and around, otherwise have fun wherever you are in this ever shrinking world of ours. I'll just miss the elections by one day don't forget to vote. If you don't you have no right to complain when the wrong guy gets in!
Love from the Irish dancer in the desert,