October 2002


Racial hassle, toothaches, teachers strike ends and two National holidays made up the month of October.
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Three times this month I was made to feel particularly WHITE. Since my arrival I have been dealing with every other person calling out Mazungu (white person) as I pass but I have come to terms with this as I see priests and sisters who have been here for over thirty years getting the same stick but this month was different. The first weekend I spend in Lokichar running a workshop for striking teachers... on their request. (I had to inform the local police just in case they decided to investigate this gathering.) As I headed off to the priests house to have my lunch and siesta I heard one of the teachers shout after me, "racial preference". I was quite put out after I found out that all facilitators regardless of colour ate with the fathers.
The following week one of the brothers who teaches with me was accused of driving over a local mad man who has had cerebral malaria and strolls the streets naked. The majority of people here would ignore the same man on a daily basis but when he was seen to be beside the car of the just departed brother all hell broke lose! It became a spectators sport and every other person had actually seen the whole thing. I was sitting right beside the event with some friends and saw nothing, however it became a black/white thing within minutes. I was being shouted at, as was another white friend who was in a totally different pub across the road. One or two of the ringleaders figured that they could get some money from this white man to stay quiet. Some of the teachers from the school got involved and eventually the situation was calmed down.
Only two days later, when I had myself convinced that this was a once off I found myself confronted again. This time however at the Guest House when some local lads were trying to sell curios to a visiting priest. I informed him that they were not genuine, having my year experience of Turkana stools, I felt he should know. They however didn't feel he should know and were furious with me. The fact that I was totally correct made matters worse so therefore the names I was being called had to make up for the fact. Character building I guess! I'm sure it would be similar if I was in inner city Dublin and as a Cork person corrected them before a tourist.
October seems to have been the toothache month. Two neighbours and myself had simultaneous pain. Frank was brave and went for the local option...extraction! I however chickened out on that one and since the teachers were on strike, I headed off to Nairobi to see if I could get the hole filled. To my amazement I was encouraged to do so without anesthetic or anything and avoided the 5 hours of numbness. I was in Nairobi for the first of October's National Holidays "Moi Day". The previous night was a Wednesday and is always a great night out in Nairobi but this was extraordinary. You could hardly move for people. One Kenyan friend commented on how much money there must be in Nairobi when all these people could be out spending freely. He himself had been robbed in his own neighbourhood the month before (probably by a friend) and was a bit cynical about the whole thing. The following day the normal military displays were cancelled to avoid any trouble. That day I was invited to a fabulous barbeque with a multinational gathering and a band (thanks Brian!) Martina and I couldn't be restrained when we entered the house and saw two microphones, we grabbed one each and burst into song! Soon the band took over and a great evening was had by all. On the following Saturday we had a similar gathering in Martina's house but this time for Irish Stew!! You can't beat it!!
But the life in the metropolis must come to an end and I headed back to Lodwar BUT not before the last bob on Sunday night. The dancing was not so much remembered this time but the transport from one place to another which, was supplied by my friend Papa's matatu! When we all jumped in I asked if I could drive. Matatus as you may remember are the public transport of Kenya. They are generally over full and blaring loud music with touts hanging out the side shouting for business. They are highly efficient if a tad dangerous with overcrowding and high speeds being a factor. I however drove the Number 15 with pride that night (not realizing that I needed a special license to do so till later). When we got to the club and I went to park the poor man directing didn't know where to look. He certainly wasn't giving me much guidance to park, as he was so busy looking at me that he was unaware of the curb.
On my arrival home there was much talk of a local politician murdered on his way to a political rally in Nairobi, there were as many version of the story however as there were story tellers. President Moi himself and many of his fellow politicians turned up for the funeral several weeks later and spent the night here in Lodwar but again very low-key with no speeches or campaigning going on. The biggest excitement was to see the volume of helicopters and planes parked in my back garden (the airstrip!) There hasn't been so much activity since my own president Mary Mc Aleese arrived the previous year (almost to the day!). This month also the government was dissolved, which now gives us 90 days before they have to get a new one. Many dates for election are being thrown around but it looks like just after Christmas.
More comings and goings have gone on this month with two new Irish members to the Lodwar area. One being Shane from Clonmel who will replace Tim. The other being an internal Diocesan transfer of Tony from Kakuma. Both are welcome additions to the Lodwar family and for the month are my temporary neighbours. On a more melancholy note my good friend Graham who worked in the Refugee Camp finished up his contract there and though a great weekend of parties, trips to the lake and discos were had he will be sadly missed. But the hours of laughter that weekend will not be forgotten so soon. Kenyatta Day (the second national holiday of the month) followed and I am glad to report none of the expected trouble came to fruition.
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The Catholic Mission celebrated 40 years in Turkana this month and a celebration mass was held under a tree as it had been done 40 years before, more due to the number of people out sizing the church than design. An exhibition was on display and it is amazing how these wonderful people even survived back then, as their suply of food and water was unreliable to say the least. They are to be admired and congratulated. Many of the older sisters who were here over 30 years ago came to join in the celebrations. It must be a wonderful and proud time for them to see how far they have come especially in Education and Medicine for the Turkana People.
After four weeks of strike we went back to school at the end of October but with the same pace as the start of term and it took almost a week to get into the swing of things and have full classes not to mention staff room. During the few weeks I have been working along with a local architect on the plans for my Teachers Resource Centre. I was thrilled to see the original idea on paper until I saw the cost of it... back to the drawing board!! Literally! I have now shrunk the project by two thirds but still need one million Kenya shillings (about EUR12,500) just for the structure. So I have to start work on a 'Buy a Brick Project' selling a 3000 sponsored bricks for eur5 and to get books for the library a 'Buy a Book Project' for sponsored books for eur10 a book. I hope to have brick and book certificates for the Christmas market (hopefully next week). Let me know if I can interest you in a brick or a book or two for you or your friends!
Oh by the way... I'm on the web!!! Yes I can hardly contain myself!! Well it has only just begun but my brother Diarmuid and I are setting up a webpage, www.tasteofturkana.com so you can keep up with events over here. It is just in the starting stages so be patient. But I hope to make the finishing touches to it when I am at home for Christmas.
That's all for this month!
Love from the desert!
Nora