January 2002

Greetings from Turkana!
Sorry for the delay in this months report but it's now Feb 24th and I have not sent or recieved emails since January 29th.
January tends to be the start of the hot and dusty season with sand storms being the order of the day and this continues until March. I am glad to say that I have been fortunate enough to be in Turkana the one year when it rains in January, when I say rain I mean it rained one or two days for an hour or so! But this has left evidence of green all over the land. It also means that the animals have gone to the hills for pasture and therefore the price of meat has gone up as there are very few animals around the town, isn't that fascinating? I didn't totally escape the dust though as on my return home after a fabulous few weeks down country I was greeted by an inch of dust on the floor and covering everything in the house like nobody had been living here for years, a layer of grime everywhere. Remember that I have no windows, so when the wind blows and the sand flies, there is nothing to stop it from blowing and flying into my house.
One or two nights this month I have been cold and I really thought that that would never happen here but that is just a memory now. We have had little dust but the heat has intensified, I was still waiting for someone to fix my fan up to two days ago, it broke in November and without a car I was dependant on the good will of others. Guilt eventually worked as I sat dying of the heat. My quality of office life has improved greatly since. There were days when I actually thought about putting this 3 foot stand up fan onto the back of my bike and bringing it down myself but the martyr in me battled on.
January has not been the month of panic diets and fasting after too much food for Christmas as I have been fortunate enough to have spent the moth stuffed my face with ROSES yes 'a giant tin' of Cadburys best arrived, unmelted due to DHL's efficiency (thanks Seamus!!) and it has taken up most of my fridge, but I hope that it will keep me going on chocolate rations for some time. To add to this I have many mars bars, which arrived (miraculously also unmealted due to rain cooled days) with guests from home (thanks mam), these are being consumed with taytos, pringles and Barrys tea. You can take the Irish out of Ireland but they're still Irish at heart! I have shared some of my treasure with my fellow Irish and we have laughed that the country of origin of the tea used in Barry's tea is none other than Kenya! But the prize surprise to arrive from the homeland has got to be the laptop! (Thanks Sean!) Get this for coincidence, the sales man in the shop is originally from... yes you've guessed it... Kenya!! (or did you guess Ireland in which case you were wrong!) I am now the proud owner of an IBM ThinkPad which allows me to have all the independence of a real yuppie in the desert, no longer have to go back to the office late at night to write my monthly updates for a start and the pc that I was using hasn't worked since my return in January so this is a double bonus. One of the technologically orientated priest here deleted some programmes that had been duplicated by a virus and accidentally deleted the setting to startup windows hence I spent the first week back trying to fix it and did as much as I could but as we live in isolation up here I am still waiting for someone to bring up a Windows 95 setup disk, this I believe will happen next week. I even managed to get a boot disk and disable the virus scanner and I was almost installed when it told me that the id number for the disk I had was wrong, I just gave up and the next day, my prayers were answered by the arrival of this wonderful laptop.
The start of the school year is in January and is a very difficult time for the parents of Kenya, especially this year what with all the controversy about school fees. Moi (the president) announced that education in the primary schools is free (as it has been for years!), but there is not enough money to run the schools so many schools have been charging the children levies in order to fund the cook, watchman, administration etc. Hence when the parents were told by their president not to pay school fees this caused panic among the schools that depend on these fees to keep going. To add to the confusion it became obligatory to send all primary school aged children to school with a huge fine or term in prison ensued if you didn't. Now if you can imagine that only 20% of children in Turkana go to school, it would cost more to jail all their parents than to fund the education system. Unfortunately here we only have enough schools for half the children and at that we don't have enough teachers to staff the schools.Much of January these children roam the streets looking for money to get a uniform 700/-ksh, pay the levy around 300/- if they are in a bigger school this can go up to 1000/-ksh. To put that into perspective most watchmen or housekeepers get 150/-ksh a day, a skilled tradesman would get about 300/-ksh a day. But employed people are few and far between so you can see how desperate people get when 1000/-ksh is out of there budget, this is around 10 Irish pounds, you can be figuring out how much that is in euro!
But the children's attendance for the first few weeks is nothing on that of the teachers. Many teachers have to travel long distances three or four days by public transport and two to three days walk by night to some of the school, unless they are lucky enough to get a lift if they wait for long enough. I was told by a former inspector that many teachers in the real bush bring a bag to school everyday, packed for the off, and if they hear a car they run, leaving the children behind applauding their teacher who is trying to catch a ride. This may be the only transport for weeks so you have to take your chances when you get them. One parish school committee of concerned parents has written to us to follow up on their three teachers for a four stream school who left for their holidays in late October early November (schools closed officially on Nov 30th) and haven't yet returned. They want to know if these teachers are "1) transferred, 2) dismissed, 3) ill or 4) dead". Sad to think that all four are distinct possibilities, teachers here can get transferred all over Kenya. When they sign up to become state employed teachers they sign up to move when requested to do so, hence they move alone without wife and family as they don't know how long they will be there. The INTO (Irish National Teachers Organization) would go mad! Dismissals are also high here as there are many social problems, the greatest being drinking. Illness and death have become synonymous with the teachers of this country and it is in this profession that many of the aids cases have been seen, we are losing our educated and our educators.
On a happier note HAIR has become the topic of the month for me as children arrive on my door daily looking for 20 bob (around 24 cent) to shave their heads so that they will be allowed into school (male and female). My brother Martin only last month made a fortune for cancer research for a sponsored shave of his mop of hair and these misfortunes have no choice. As I've said before there is no such thing as shampoo available here in Turkana, conditioner is out of the question, people with their own hair either keep to short (shaved) or plaited, the traditional Turkana have mohican style plaits but the more modern fashions have called upon extensions and wigs. You can buy a length of hair in most shops, and this can be made into many variations on a theme. This is why many people will arrive into work whom I have met frequently and I will have no idea who they are as they are completely different from the day before, a bit like the old days when perms were the big change of style, but here they can change their style every other week. I was thrilled to note that I was not alone in my confusion; the other day as poor Rachel (hope you don't mind me telling this story Rach!) the Irish Doctor in Kakuma, came into the office and was greeted by everyone, as they are wont! (Greetings go on all day) She looked at one lady and asked, 'have I met you before?', only to discover that she had spent five hours the previous day in her truck with her. But to Rachel's defense Wilhelmina had many tiny plaits all over her head, wearing shorts and a t-shirt on the previous day and had a full head of bushy hair and a long dress on the next.
Sticking with the theme of hair, I went to the lake yesterday with a group of young girls who were being rewarded for their attendance at a holiday programme, set up to keep girls interested and busy during the holidays in order to keep them in school for the rest of the year. As we swam, they were fascinated by my hair, it's length, texture and how it floated in the water, I suppose they have so little and I have so much. (That goes for everything really!!) But the best bit about the day was when we turned the corner at the top of the hill just before the lake and got our first glimpse of the 'Jade Sea', the four girls sitting beside me sat up in their seats and started shouting 'Maji' to each other (meaning water). These girls have spent most of their lives looking for water, carrying empty jerry cans around for miles and full ones back home on their heads. And here they were looking at more water than they could ever have imagined, that went on for as far as the eye could see. They weren't out of the car two minutes when they were in the water, unafraid and uninhibited. They plunged in headfirst and floated with their head in the water, they put the heart cross ways on me. Of course they had no fear of drowning, as they know nothing of it! The only drowning they know of happens when the rains come once or twice a year and sends the rivers rushing past and sweeps away anything in the way. This in contrast was waves splashing, cold and rough, just like any beach, palm trees and hot sand. Of course I was being burnt to a crisp and the girls were frozen, it's a funny old world! I had made a pasta dish for lunch for the adults and gave some to the girls to taste and like all children around the world they were not adventurous in their tastes. They did comment on the sweetcorn that I had added though as they though it was the worst kind of food... Yellow maize! In past years during the famine relief much yellow maize was brought in from the states and the locals found it very tasteless and hard to cook and even harder to eat, to these children to see a mazungu (white person) eating the likes was astonishing.
The month ended with a gathering of the pastoral council in the diocese and two days of discussion of the plans for the year ahead. As money seemed to be a recurring topic through out the talks I in my usual social committee capacity wrote an adapted version of the ABBA song Money, money, money to finish the proceeding on a happy note. Hope January was a good one for you wherever you are and what ever you did. That's it from the desert this month, enjoy February 2002.
Love Nora