August 2002

The quick review for those who don't have time. Exams and trips to Zanzibar and Mombasa take up most of this report.
August, in contrast to Irish school time, is the end of second term here. When all of you were enjoying your holidays and dreading going back to school I was looking forward to the end. As I told you in the July report I had taken over the post of Form Two English teacher due to the sudden illness of Brother Louis. It is no small task to step into the shoes of such an experienced teacher who is much loved by his class but I did my best. Yet again over 150 children placed their faith in me as I revised franticly what had been covered over the term and set an exam to challenge their knowledge. As I did it at home on my laptop it was a little more elaborate than the average test and was set out like a newspaper. Fierce excitement as the text used was changed to reflect an activity in St. Kevin's Secondary School along with names of actual class members.
Several days followed correcting them, wondering if I had gotten through at all sometimes, but over all not bad. Then with reports filled out and marks recorded I hopped on the nearest lorry out of Lodwar but not before handing over my little Suzuki to Rico's Garage for a face lift and a few tucks and turns. Three weeks and a complete overhaul were to follow.
I found myself telling people with joy that I was going on holidays to somewhere cold! I never in my life though that I would really be looking forward to the winter temperatures of Nairobi that I knew lay ahead. Rain in Kitale was the start of it and I was in my element pulling up a blanket to sleep like a log in the cool air. Next morning bags and baskets in hand headed for the Akamba bus (I'd say they all know me there by now!) I can even call in the night before and book my favourite seat!! Mobile on and texting and communicating with the outside world began. My poor family were hosting a group of Hungarian dancers for two weeks and had the privilege of sorting out my life at home in the process. Thank you for not making me feel guilty, Mam! I really have to get a place for my stuff or just dump it all but you just never know when you might need that very thing so you just keep everything! You should see my place here in the desert, just way too may unnecessary items, but you never know when I might need them.
Arrived in Nairobi and welcomed unconditionally by Martina (thanks you're a star). I felt right at home and we headed straight out to Gypsy's bar to meet up with friends and countrymen. This seemed to be the pattern of the next few days. Clubs and parties to beat the band. Martina had a birthday mid-week and a wonderful Italian meal was had followed in real Irish style by a sing song, with only us closing the place down.
Bumped into a gathering of Pioneers (Pioneer Total Abstinence Association members) outside the Cathedral in Nairobi and was delighted to say that I recognized Henry from Ireland in 1998. He proceeded to let me borrow a video of the Irish visit to Kenya and it was a bit surreal watching my brother Barra on video in Kenya. (Must say you looked great in the blue shirt Bar!!!!) Next day went to a choir festival with some of the Sudanese refugees from the camp up here and had a great day as they performed as the entertainment in between competitions, unable to compete as non-nationals.
On the 15th headed off to Zanzibar (thanks to the tireless calling of travel agents by Martina to get us the cheapest deal. Thanks Girl!) with Heather my trusty travelling companion. A short flight away and just past Kilimanjaro (again, one gets so used to it, honestly!!) This time however I got a picture on the way back so there is proof!!! That is about as close as I'm ever going to get to the top. Arrived in Stonetown around four and had just enough time to get our bearings before a beautiful sunset closed the day. That night we headed to see a "Traditional Tanzanian Dance Group." Honestly I just cannot find the words to describe them, Owenabue Valley group in the old days would not get a look in. They were chancers of the highest order and though they shook and stomped, I wonder if they weren't having a great laugh at us and the amount of money we paid to see them. On the more positive side the food was fabulous and well worth all the money, and it was definitely entertaining. The next night we ended up in a club called Speak Easy and I'm not convinced that it wasn't the same chancers but this time in a band on stage. They had the same moves and I wouldn't be at all surprised when I think of how few people are called upon to perform at home it is always left to the same few. We joined in and soon were doing the self same moves ourselves much to the delight of the beach boys who seemed to come out of the woodwork. A historic walking tour (lost most of the time) of Stonetown itself and it's maze like streets and multi-cultural background, a spice tour which is a must (you wouldn't believe where half of them come from) and a trip to swim with the dolphins followed. Mind you when I went to take photos I got more of the broad tanned back of the handsome Italian who was opposite me on the boat than of any dolphins. Despite all our best effort chasing 20 or so dolphins half way across the ocean everytime we passed them out and jumped in they spotted us and headed the other way just as quick. I can however say that I did actually see a shimmer of two dolphins about 10 metres below me for about 10 seconds so I can now say that it was worth it all.
Then we headed north to Nungwi, we went from Paradise to Heaven!!! Wow what a great spot and though it was full to the maximum capacity there just seemed to be no-one around. The hotels were spread along the beach and every now and then a few people would walk by, maybe trying out the food in the next place but for the most part the days were quiet and peaceful. At night the people flocked to a central bar and hung out by a log fire that seemed to be tirelessly topped up by mysterious people. I went for a wonderful dive just off the coast at Hunga Dive Site and had to come up five minutes early as my air was running out. My dive buddy joined me and I was quite content to finish as I had already seen so many wonderful fish and bright colourful coral. At my 5-metre stop we were joined by a lone curious fish about two feet in diameter, which hovered around my mask checking out this strange sight for the three minutes we had to wait. I was really moved by its patience and inquisitiveness. One of those cherished memories. That evening we met up with the proprietor ofSmiles Hotel and were treated to a lovely evening out (thanks Abraham). If there is any reason to go back to Zanzibar that is one! What a great spot! I could be sorely tempted to wake up to that view every day and would never tire of the wonderful sunsets (of which I took two reels of film!!) I may be back yet Abraham!! To top it off I bumped into Elaine Fox, the latest recruit to the Lodwar Diocese, on holidays before starting work. It really is a small world, even smaller when you're Irish, I think!!
But holidays always come to an end and we headed for Nairobi just in time for the weekend of clubbing. A rap competition on the Saturday was just like Readoiri or Scor (for the non-Irish these are Irish Talent competitions!) On Sunday headed off to Mombasa by road with a friend from Cork, Peter Walsh, who lives in Nairobi with his two kids and friends from home. Well who would have thought that the world was SOOO small they were living in my village at home, Carrigaline. The Brutons, the Walshes and myself took off for the tretcherous journey. The road is probably the best in Kenya hence all the traffic who can rarely get over 50km an hour loses all sense and go mental. In the first 10km we had already passed three accidents and were nearly involved in as many. It was a very scary experience. Six hours later we arrived in the old and historic Arabic town of Mombasa and I headed to the nearest Internet café in a quaint old hotel with a modern new-look interior. Martina joined me presently and we stayed in her friend's place with his two flat mates just north of the city, great guys but things went horribly wrong the following day when one lad left for work and locked the door and when his flat mate went to open it from inside he broke the key. I now know for sure and certain that I could NEVER manage to do BIG BROTHER. I nearly went stir crazy just knowing that I couldn't get out. Though I was in a luxury apartment on the third floor with a beachfront view from the balcony I spent the whole day freaked out with fear of fires etc. Luckily I had my 300-millimetre lense with me and took some great shots of beach, fishermen and palm trees before being released at 6pm. Went out that night and ended up at a beach party in a local bar full of the British navy dressed up in bikinis and beach wraps. Where these men found the bikinis I don't know. As there was a shortage of females we were very popular and invited to a party on their ship the following week, unfortunately (or maybe fortunately!) I was going to be in Nairobi.
Headed south the next day to Diani beach and stayed in Nomads hotel, very posh and must have been very popular in its heyday but it's glory days seem to have come to an end. Even though it should have been a very busy time of the year there were hardly any tourists on the coast. Hence we got a great deal but were plagued by beach boys and traders. Also met up with the Walshes and the Brutons on a daily basis as they were staying up the road. Went to see more chancers dancing, this time in Masai style. Jumping straight up in the air and covered in beads and with hooped ears and long braided hair. The Maisai men I am describing are so much more colourful and flamboyant than the Turkana men. As I was brought by two of the lads who were performing it was inevitable that I would end up dancing mid-performance. Didn't have to jump once though, so I have to be thankful for that.
Back to Nairobi the following day with Peter and family and straight to an authentic Indian meal to die for and some interesting humour for the evening. Nairobi is very multicultural and each culture so different. My dining companions had been at the cricket all day and the following night I found myself out clubbing with the Pakistani cricket team (okay I had no idea who they were but someone pointed them out to me!) Very handsome bunch. The Australian team was also around somewhere. I thought I was heading off the next day and so bopped like this was the last dance ever. Exhausted, headed home happy.
I bought a TV and video for the teacher resource centre that I still haven't built, so I will mind them in my house till then. As there is no signal up here unless you have satellite it is video entertainment that I need. I dropped these up to the Kiltegan fathers house in Nairobi as there was no way I could carry them up on the bus without fear of theft or breakage. On arrival I bumped into Fr. Kevin from Kakuma who was heading home to the States to do some more exams in surgery. As we chatted I told him about my dreaded journey back to Lodwar, the night bus to Kitale and a mitatu up. He suggested I fly and I laughed at the expense of it only to be informed that he actually had an unused ticket. I was truly blessed! (Ever-grateful Kev!!) This meant not only a more comfortable journey but also two more days in Nairobi. To celebrate, Kevin joined Heather and myself that night for a night on the town. Great night had by all and met old friends and new as August came to a happy end.
More to follow very soon I hope!!
Take care of you wherever you are!
Love Nora in the Desert!