March 2002

Hello all,
Can you believe that it yet another month has passed so quickly? I have survived my first rainy season in Turkana and have lived to tell the tale. There was a down pour in the 1st week of the month with the river flooding and leaving me stranded on the other side. This would have been a great adventure if I had not been exhausted from socializing all weekend with Siobhan from GOAL in Kakuma. I was hungry with no extra water and a mere 1 km from my house. I decided to abandon the Nissan matatu on which I had traveled (sitting on the handbreak with two men to my left and the driver to my right) the 120km and hop on an Oxfam 4 wheel drive that was willing to risk crossing. Of course I convinced them that the extra weight would be invaluable to them to prevent them from flowing off down the river (which has been known to happen).The next day at school all of the children were wearing coats and jumpers. The temperature may have dropped 15 degrees but it was still 25C. They were frozen! I spotted a rainbow and coming from Ireland this is always a blessing and a joy but here there were great moans of disgust and disappointment once it was spotted. Of course if you come from a country where there is so much rain you can't wait to see the end of it then a rainbow is a wonderful sight. If you come from a country where you spend your days praying for rain then a rainbow indicating the end of the rain is a curse. So as I exalted in the beauty of this colourful wonder of nature, the rest of the place turn their backs on it in disgust.
International Women's Day was March 8th and provoked much excitement amongst the women here. There was a march through town out to the women's center (where they make the pizzas!!) The Kenyan men are petrified of women getting into power. I once heard a well educated man say in all honestly that if women got into power that they would make the men come home at 5:30. Imagine that was his greatest fear....having to come home! Well the women here have a long way to go but at least they are heading in the right direction. We have some wonderful women working in every department in the Dioceses and Sr. Kathleen is doing great work with basket making etc. Girls education is being encouraged so there is great hope for the future.
Turkana had a visit from the famous Beligian Singer Yan Leyers (who ever he is??). He was over making a promotional video for VSF a Belgian NGO. As I have some Belgian friend over here we got to meet him. Now keep in mind that Lodwar is very small 14,000 people, 3 decent eating establishments and about 35 non-nationals, so it would be hard to keep anyone hiding for long. He and his crew were a good laugh and broke up the week for us. I believe he was inspired to write a song which he will be releasing soon so if you hear any song about Turkana on MTV that could be Yan.
Well work wise school has been hectic. I started with my small groups and felt that progress was being made but a mere two weeks into the process, the Brother who was taking the other 44 members of the class passed away, May he rest in Peace. Brother Philip was from the Netherlands and we had worked very closely together for the last few weeks of his life. He died peacefully on March 9th in Turkana with the people he loved. He worked up to the end even setting an exam that morning and correcting a third of the papers before supper. I then corrected the rest the following week and took over all of his classes. As I was established in the school and also taught each of these classes Pastoral Instruction, the change over was very smooth and of little trauma for the children. It's funny how the world works. Things really couldn't have worked out better. I guess it was meant to be! I then found myself to be a teacher of almost 150 form 1 students, very big change from the 15 I had the previous week. This was only to last until the end of the term as another teacher will be assigned next term. I took on the challenge and thoroughly enjoyed it, though correcting copies was tough going, I found myself spending half the class checking if homework was done. Very few teachers bother, the poor children. I must have been their worst nightmare. Exams were in the 3rd week in March, corrections and reports have been done since then and now I am on holidays until May 6th... in theory. Of course I have my other job which means I am running a workshop for the teachers during holidays and I have several meetings of various committees in the mean time so I will be kept busy, though I do hope to get away next week for a while.
It rained for two days following Brother Philips death and there were floods everywhere. The people didn't get time to dry their clothes in-between the rains, so colds were rampant not to mention malaria with the stagnant water from the pools, which remained for weeks afterwards. I was reminded of when I worked with the travellers in Cork many years ago. Paddy Mc Carthy's mother was a big woman with 13 children and one day as we sat in her caravan drinking tea from a cracked cup it began to rain. She said she loved the sound of the rain on the roof of the 'trailer' because she felt warm and dry. On the second day of the down pour I was woken by the sound of thunderous pounding on my corrugated iron roof and listening to its continuous rhythm my thoughts went back to Mrs. Mc Carthy as I felt for my neighbours. Most Turkana sleep outside on a mat and think that we are mad to sleep in a house that is so hot (which it is, the bricks keep in the heat). But the mats had not dried from the day before and they were sure to suffer from the wet and cold. Yet the children all came to school, albeit late in some cases as they had to wade across the river further down. And they managed one way or another to wear what resembled a uniform with an allowance given for those few days as Brother Louis (the Headmaster) tried to avoid them catching their "death of cold", a term rarely used here but so familiar to me in my youth!
St Patrick's Day fell as always mid-March and where there are Irish there is a party and I found it!!! Of course a weekend was made out of it beginning with the Friday night spent in Kakuma Refugee Camp with performances from some of the refugee communities in the camp. The Burundian drummers were outstanding and the Congolese did some lingala dancing, lots of hip movement, superb! I got a lesson in both at the end and have great intentions of continuing my lessons at a later point, the 120km distance is a bit of a hindrance but I go regularly so you never know. The next morning a busload and 2 land rovers headed yet another 150km north to Lokichoggio (the gate way to Sudan). Relief food is flow into Sudan from here, which has been driven up by road from Mombasa, through Nairobi and Lodwar. Many of the Aid agencies for Sudan also have their base in Lokichoggio hence Concern and GOAL are both there. Shamrocks and flags were the order of the day with face painting and badges not unlike the ones we wear at home made tirelessly to assist the atmosphere. Plenty of diddlyiddle music and a few Irish dances thrown in there but as there were only about 10 Irish people there the international pressure ensured a great choice of music and much fun had until the wee hours. Many thanks to all in GOAL for a great night!
The following weekend was in total contrast, the mode of transport exchanged for an ex-army jeep with 10 or 15 bags of maize, 13 people and half of their life possessions all piled in the back. When I arrived they were trying to push start it but I was assured that once they got it going it would be fine. I had no choice but to take their word for it. In I hopped and soon learned to fight for every inch of space as my fellow passengers sat on top of the railing over my head and around me. As we took off one man was hanging out of the back with a child of no more than two in his arms. Fearing for her safety I insisted on taking the child on my lap in my one-foot square space. I looked up once she was settled only to see the man who had given me the child jump off the matatu and run back to the ever-decreasing Lodwar. Panic set in at this point as very few people spoke English and I didn't know what to think. People assured me that her mother was in Turkwell and that all was well. I nearly died!
I later found out that 'Sunday', (my new travelling companion who had the best spot: a nice padded warm secure place to sleep) was actually being held by her uncle and that her father was beside me the whole time but had neither English nor Kiswahili. The one hour journey took almost three with two break downs, the first I joined in to push but the second time was a hopeless case with genuine fear of sleeping in the middle of a dried-up riverbed. Some Turkana warriors arrived out of nowhere and with strength that I only associate with Samson pushed started the truck and carried the bags of maize as if they were full of feathers.
I was late for the start of my workshop but was consoled by the participants who just put it down to 'African Time'. The workshop was very positive and today I even got feed back from one of the teachers who said that the children loved the equipment that they had made! I am making a difference even if it is in one class. Days like today make all the bad days seem insignificant! One the Sunday the Palms were out and a big procession held. The village of Turkwell is very traditional and all the old mamas were out in force. They started dancing and I was trying to get the rhythm when I felt a hand on my wrist moving me with the music. Soon instruction moved to the feet once the rhythm was set. Much to the amusement of the locals once I got feet and shoulders going I started on the head movements (very advanced!) Delighted with myself we entered the church and I though that it was all over until the sign of peace came and my friend found me and dragged me up on the altar to join in the dance of the very old and respected women of the tribe. I felt very honoured. Luckily my good friend Veronica was in town that day and saved me from the return matatu journey (I'm ever grateful Veronica!).
The self same Veronica salvaged Easter for me by managing to have friends who flew up from Nairobi for Easter who brought Easter Eggs!!! Yes chocolate, the excitement. After many LONG hours in various churches, many more hours than I ever remember at home Easter eggs on Sunday were a lifesaver. Easter here is very involved and as there was only one service for each day there had to be an appropriate pray and song in Turkana and Kiswahili to be inclusive not to mention the translation of the sermons, which often originated in English, my hands were sore from clapping and my feet from standing. I admire the priests who would have said up to 4 three hour long masses on Easter Saturday. These men truly deserve a place in heaven or a least a week off, but carry on they did.
Well I am a quarter of the way there now and life is good. Hope wherever you are the buds are on the trees. I saw a flower the other day and got very excited, oh to have a field of daffodils! Mind you the place is very green you could be fooled into believing that a lawnmower wouldn't go astray, the grass is at least an inch high in places. It changes the whole face of the place but I know that this will be a mere memory in a few weeks.
Good bye for now, I'll be in touch next month!!
Love from the desert,