November 2002

Mexican madness, Birthday Bashes, Sensational Sand Storm, Car Crisis, End-of-Term Exams, U-turn in Uganda and Mayhem in Mombasa make up this November update.

November is a favourite month for me. I celebrate my birthday and I know that once this one is behind us there are only a few days left to Christmas!! This November was no exception, full of excitement and no time before Christmas to sit down and write about it. So though much has happened in between I look back and recall the ups and downs of the 11th month!

The first day of the month found me stressed out of my mind trying to get the two o’ clock convoy heading south. I was to run a workshop in Lokori and was getting a lift from Lokichar. Having missed the time and charmed the police into letting my trusty Suzuki “Nuala” try to catch up with the formally departed Hi-Lux of Fr. Simon, Elaine and I headed for Lokichar. Of course lights flashed on the way but I plowed onwards in record time. Abandoning the car at Lokichar Parish to be dealt with later, we piled into Simons vehicle and headed South East for another hour and a half into Lokori. I arrived miraculously at 4.30 and started my workshop immediately as there was no solar power in the hall and we had to finish with the day light. Twenty five teachers turned up and the following day was so intense that I almost forgot to take a photo of the group (those of you on the website will be able to check how dark it was by the time I remembered!)

Sunday morning was spent at an outstation where Fr. Simon was taking five Children through their ‘first step’ in the Catholic Church. For me as a Catholic from birth and background it was wonderful to experience the conviction these young boys and girls aged between 10 and 15 had. They were sent from the church at the start of mass and invited in mid-way to state that they wished to become Catholic, they each had a sponsor to help them through the process and this was just ‘the first step’. There was such excitement among the children, their friends and relations, as they received a blessing of oil on their brow. I felt like I had almost missed out on not having chosen to be Catholic but confirmed that I was delighted to be one and to pray with these potential new members of the church. Fr. Simon of course was fabulous in his approach of making such an occasion out of the event. The major benefit for me though was that I got to take two reels of film of excellent photographs of these amazing traditional people in their beads and at their best.

That night the first of the birthday celebrations began. Fr. Victor from Mexico was joined by three other Mexicans, a Peruvian and two Irish in Katilu. The guitar was taken out and a real ‘fiesta’ atmosphere followed with Br. Jose and I dancing to La Bamba as the climax of the evening. This meant a crack of dawn start to get back to Lodwar for Monday but it was worth it even if the car only just made it back to the garage.

The staff of the Diocese challenged the local youth to a game of volleyball the next day and I played for only minutes and suffered for days, as my back isn’t able for it and I forgot! As I stood and supported I noticed the horizon change from the clear blue of everyday to a dark gray. As it grew closer it was clear that this was in fact a dark brown and a wall of dust. As Elaine and Shane were new and enthusiastic at the time, they were unperturbed by this upcoming event. I think they thought it would be like the rain stopping a match at home, which if it happened would mean that a match would never be finished; such is the extent of rain. I being the veteran turned on my heels and ran in the opposite direction along with most of the staff. But the wall of dust was faster than us and we were engulfed before we reached the nearest building a mere 50 metres away. Standing on the far side of the building for shade as the storm whipped around us, we covered our mouths and stood it out unable to see in front of our faces. After around 10 minutes the eye of the storm allowed Shane to head for shelter but I knew that there was more to follow. Another 10 minutes of sand, dirt and plastic bags followed before it the rains came. Filthy and exhausted from it all we headed with no electricity to reclaim our individual mess as we reached our window-less houses with layers of dust to greet us.

However, that night Fr. John Heinhold just back from Carrigaline (my home town) delivered a bag of birthday presents from my gang at home. As it was 5 more days to go I allowed myself a gift a day and I chose well when I picked my first one of posh shampoo and conditioner. Such joy when I cleansed my locks of dust. After several weeks of second-rate stuff this was luxury. The next day was a video of my sisters, niece and nephew and their dad that was hilarious even if it did bring a tear to my eye and complete awe to my house keeper Elizabeth who had never seen the likes. A jigsaw, toiletries and for the big day; paints and pad. What a great family I have!! Thanks lads!!

My own celebrations started early with a pre-birthday party in the guest house by Elaine and Sr. Yvonne for 11 but the weekend itself was none stop eventful. As usual the car was unreliable so I checked with the garage before heading off and getting the all clear headed with six friends like the seven dwarfs to Kakuma for Friday night. Once we were settled in I spoke to the camp mechanic and arranged for him to have a quick look in the morning. Great fun was had that night along with many other friends from Kakuma.

The next morning was a mix of joy and dread. My trusty companions, Elaine, Anika (from Finland), Sasika, Rachel and Alexis (from Holland) and Kevin (from USA) made such a big deal out of the birthday and presentation of presents just as I was informed that the alternator was gone in the car and that we were going no where!!! We decided to head for Franco’s Ethiopian restaurant in the camp and on route plans changed again. Once we had finished Elaine and I hopped on the back of a boda-boda (bicycle taxi) and headed into town to negotiate the hire of an entire matatu for the seven of us, to and from Lokichoggio. Deal done, we piled into a vehicle that looked worse than the Suzuki with a cracked windscreen (possibly from bullet holes – I didn’t want to know) and headed off. That night we wandered from compound to compound sampling the delights of the NGO life and ended in our own compound at around the 5.30a.m. mark. Rest was short lived as the first of the relief planes heading for Sudan flew overhead at 9am (late because it was a Sunday). A few hours by the one and only pool before returning to reality and the matatu back to Kakuma. Lifts were found for the others and Elaine and I headed for yet another matatu at 7ish carrying with us the offending alternator from my car.

Two weeks of to-ing and fro-ing parts from Nairobi, with Veronica flying it down and Bishop flying it back was to follow and it STILL didn’t work. Heart breaking stuff! But I was busy revising for end-of-term exams and trying to catch up with work undone during the strike to be put out. Exams followed and supervision and corrections. End of term again so soon, even if it does seem like an age to get there once you do, it seems to have flown. Christmas cards were made and sent and the year really feels like it is coming to an end. Sadly however this also meant the end of two volunteers who will be missed greatly in Tim Flynn, who had taken care of finances here for 3 years and Kevin Burlison, who taught with me in St. Kevin's for the last two years. Now they have returned to their former lives. Good luck in the future boys!

My friend Karen was flying over to join me for a bit of sight seeing with this being the longest break from school but before her arrival I took a right at Kitale for a bit of a detour. Veronica and her photographer son Alexis (who is bringing out a book on the people of Turkana, having spent the last three months capturing their essence, good luck with that Alexis!!) allowed me to join them on a quick trip to Uganda (ever grateful guys, thanks!!). We headed for Jinga and the source of the Nile. Though it is wonderfully picturesque and quaint, I still don’t know how Speke figured that it all began here. But it is there from the mouth of Lake Victoria that they say the Nile begins and I was there. Sorry to say that we missed Ghandi’s statue (his ashes were scattered here!) but it is very much hidden by sponsor’s placards and we didn’t find out till later!

Thanks to the generous and warm welcome of Sr. Maureen and the Franciscan Sisters in Mbikko I had a great time (thank you ladies!!) Bujagali Falls allowed me to get a photographic lesson from Alexis, who says I’m getting better!! But seriously, we did take some great shots between us! Then a day trip to Kampala and the tombs of the Bugandan Kings brought the trip to an end. No sooner were we back in Nairobi after a wonderful break than a bomb went off in Mombasa. On an average day this is a total disaster but when it happens the very day Karen is to fly to Kenya, personal panic sets in. Who did it? Is Nairobi next? Will it be safe for her to come? Will she come at all? Should I cancel the planned trip to Mombasa for the following week? As the country comes to term with it’s second tragic bombing; where other nationalities are being targeted and mostly innocent Kenyans being killed, Karen flew into a somber Kenya the following day. Elaine’s sister was on the same flight and the three of us made the most of the day ending it singing Irish songs in Lamuru Golf Club with Peter Walsh from Ballincollig, followed by a boggie in Gypsy’s.

Orla Fox headed north to Lodwar and Karen and I headed into town and had lunch with my favourite glue-sniffing undernourished streetboy John, who I seem to meet every time I go to Nairobi and have build up a friendship. With enough money to go and visit his granmother in Nakuru we left and ended the month in the Outside Inn that night at the launch of local band Fret Wire’s CD, ‘Rescue to the Soul’, congratulation Franco and all the lads!! Nothing seems to be non-eventful for me though, as we headed for the bus, my shoe broke. On arrival I went to the nearest late night garage looking for super glue. A man in the queue behind me offered to drive to his house and back to come to the assistance of this damsel in distress. I was overjoyed at this gesture and it also meant that I could dance the night away. Thanks Peter where ever you are! Fret Wire were in flying form and as always thoroughly entertaining. They are the same band that played at Brian’s party in Oct so when they invited Martina and I to join them for the chorus of Mustang Sally I was thrilled. As most of the packed venue were friends and relations the party went on well into the wee hours and much dancing of tables was done, to bring this update to another notorious end.

Hope you are all safe and well in your end of the world and just to let you know any missed updates and photos to illustrate same can now be seen on the website at

Love as always from the Desert!