September 2002


Quick preview for those who are in a rush! Schools open - then teachers go on strike! New-look car but had the jack robbed!!
The first day of September was a bonus day in Nairobi and was spent hanging out with friends and pottering. An early start followed on the first Monday of the month as I headed for the airport and flew to Lokichoggio as Fr. Kevin. If the plane went down they wouldn't even have looked for me! They'd still be looking for Kev however! On arrival in Loki at 9am I realized how street wise I have become over my year here and also how African I have become! I hopped on the nearest pick up and headed to the matatu stop where I was NOT fooled but the fact that 8 of the passengers were friends of the driver and that it would be hours before departure. I booked my seat and left for coffee and a chat with the GOAL and Concern staff. Two hours later I was picked up and only had to drive around in circles for the final three passengers for a half hour. Half way to Lodwar we stopped in Kakuma and as expected the matatu emptied out again. Hence to avoid more circulation I dropped into friends at eth mission hospital for lunch and a snooze and was on the road again two hours later arriving in Lodwar at 4.30pm a mere seven hours later (a three hour drive!) But as Pascal says at least you didn't have to read about another awful trip on the road up to Lodwar from Nairobi!
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School opened the next day for registration and it was Thursday before most of the children turned up. Teachers straggled in up to a week later. When I think of the rush and hassle at home - the first day back all systems go!!
To my joy I had a lovely car to return to, a revamped one albeit but new looking nonetheless. Surprising what a splash of paint can do all the same! Clean and confident I headed of to Kakuma for National Adult Literacy Day and over heated!!! WHAT?? I hear you say!! And since then I have been an almost daily visitor to the garage but it is 10 times better than before and I have learned so much about cars!! Every morning now it starts without any elevation so I can't complain and I have put up the miles on her since with much of those in 4-wheel drive mode so I am building in confidence all the time!
I have been joined by a wonderful addition to Lodwar in Elaine Fox and I'm sure her name will come up a lot so be prepared. Elaine is from Ballina and teaching Science in St. Kevin's. With her support I decided to produce Joseph and His Technicolour Dreamcoat and spent many afternoons in September alone with Brother Anton (a wonderful Xavarian brother who joined us on the staff for a few weeks!) auditioning various children for the a variety of parts but a spanner was put in the works when there was an all out strike by teachers on September 23rd. It was to last 4 weeks and therefore production has been postponed until next term.
I never though that in this day and age I would be teaching secondary school children how to use a telephone! Some days I really forget that these children are going home to a house made of dune leaves or mud bricks. They have no electricity and no running water and are expected to study chemistry as an obligatory subject to the highest level (no such thing as honours, pass and foundation level) and in their English class they are learning the basic skills of telecommunication taken for granted all over the world. How can these children fairly sit an exam set in Nairobi and compete with children who have mobile phones in their pockets? Several classes were spent on discussing the fact that the person who answers will say Hello first and why.
Many of the class have never used a phone. Why would they when none of their friends or relatives have phones? Those who have used a phone for the most part have called on a public phone only. It is quite the norm to have a queue by the public phone here where people are calling another public phone down country to talk to their wives or families who are patiently awaiting the call. I myself spent much of my college years standing in the rain waiting for a public phone to call home; don't get me wrong, we are not far from that day ourselves in Ireland but things seem to have moved on so quickly that it is hard to remember those days. I have a feeling though that much of our learning process will be skipped here and the arrival of mobile phones in Turkana will bypass all of the others. Mind you I won't hold my breath for that day as it has been promised for over a year now and still no sign!
Numerous children here begin to stroll the streets at a very young age and sell various items but mostly beaded rings and bracelets. I have gotten to know many of them over the year and have one or two who just say hello and accept "not today" as an answer. They will leave it to another day, as they know that I will buy from them on occasion. Others are very pushy and can be bordering on offensive when you refuse. Mid-September I had a particularly good day and when the usual lads came up to sell their items I decided that as I really don't like the rings I keep buying to keep them in food that food was the better option. So along with the chosen four I headed to the supermarket and we had a spontaneous picnic with sodas and biscuits. Not very nourishing I know but great fun and the happy faces that surrounded me gave me the greatest buzz. They having hardly any English and me with my poor Kiswahili meant that the conversation was hilarious! Of course we attracted crowds of other street boys and I have now a reputation so children no longer ask for money but for a soda! A soda is such a treat here as it costs more than a loaf of bread or kilo of tomatoes. To have a spare 30 bob is rare!
Went to visit many Adult Ed classes this month in my dream machine and as I was heading into the bush I needed a jack, which I invested in on a Tuesday, on credit! We headed off and stayed in Turkwell Tuesday night, returned Wednesday having successfully tried out my very poor Turkana in 4 classes, much to the amusement of the old mamas learning how to read and write. To see me struggle to read something that they can read is a great boost for them I'm sure.
On arrival back to town I went straight to teaching English and didn't stop flying around till that evening at 8. Sometime during the next hour the unpaid for jack, of one day old was stolen from my car. The back door forced open and the job was done. Of course I was livid as the next day I had to go to the shop and pay the 1600/-ksh (almost 20 quid!!) knowing that these little brats were only going to sell it to some lorry drives for a hundred bob (1.50!!!). I wouldn't even mind so much if they were going to use that money wisely to buy food or pay school fees but it was probably spend on the local toxic concoction available for half nothing here but made from God only knows what!
The following week one of the lads I suspected decided to threaten me outside my house and claim that he was going to get me! That night I got a watchman even though a huge fence has been erected outside my house while I was away. You now cannot see inside the fence from outside and is less secure in ways. So I now live in high security. Mind you incidences of crime are increasing all the time and I don't know if it can be linked to the withdrawal of many of the NGO's and the free relief food or to the tension in the air with the forthcoming election on the way.
On a happier note I spent a wonderful weekend in Lokichoggio with Martina and Elaine just before all of the major security issues cropped up. The Irish girls on tour, I think they are still talking about us but all good I'm sure! You just can't beat pizza and ice-cream for a feeling of reality. Martina flew into South Sudan the following week but was evacuated shortly afterwards as things became unstable there for a while. Hard to think that all of that is going on just up the road.
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Just down the road however in Katilu, 24 teachers turned up for a workshop the weekend before the strike kicked into gear and we had a very productive time. Some of them also received certificates of computer studies, which I presented as a representative of the education department. Katilu is in south-western Turkana and is close to the river Turkwell which flows almost constantly and an irrigations scheme was set up by NorAid before Moi sent them packing. Some of the locals have kept up the farming though not as successfully. This fertile and lush place is very poorly populated due to high insecurity as the river itself divides the Turkana from their neighbours the Pokot who think nothing of killing a few a Tukana herdsmen in order to increase their own flock. Infact you can see the Pokot bringing their animals to the other side of the river only 20 meters away. Every other man there carried a gun instead of the standard stick of the Turkana. A few gun shots on Friday night were a little concerning but are apparently the norm!!
I celebrated being in Turkana for a year that weekend and for a short time panicked at the thought of another year but soon got over that and started making plans for building a teacher resource center instead to leave something after me when I go and only a year to do it! The extension to the Diocesan Guest House, which I also designed in January was only officially opened this month so I realize the task ahead.
September was to see yet another visit to the police by yours truly. This time however was on behalf of a friend Fredrick, my Turkana teacher. He is 17 and was jailed by the father of a 14 year old girl (along with the girl!!). He was accused of being married to her in African terms and therefore owed the father the dowry! The thought of putting your own daughter in jail is in itself offensive but his man was beyond help. The girl had been beaten and jailed for two days before I heard of it and got involved. I was there on behalf of Fredrick who only had a grandmother and younger sister living. I sent for the grandmother and another lady arrived whom I was told was the mother. When I disputed this I was informed that she was the grandmother, this I again rejected and was informed that she was a neighbour!!!! More lies to make matters worse! I went alone to the police station in the hope that the truth would come out.
After two hours of a meeting between the father, daughter, Fredrick, the head of police and myself in three languages I felt we were coming to a conclusion. Just as the boy was being set free the father started saying that he needed a guarantee that he wouldn't flee before the results of a pregnancy test were in. As I tried to explain that Fredrick has neither family nor money to run with, your man decided to make an issue out of me being white and it all went down hill from there. It became a bit tribal and I left it to themselves to sort it out! I could do no more! Unfortunately, Fredrick and the poor girl spent the next three days in jail and once all tests came back negative they were eventually released only for him to have his life threaten by the now humiliated father! I'm told had the schools been in session that it would have been the job of the head teacher to deal with this whole issue. I certainly won't be getting involved too soon again!
The last week of September was spent going to the school on a daily basis almost incognito to check the state of play of the strike. Teachers were warned not to go into the classes and one boarding school had already been closed as the students stoned the head teacher's house. Hence there was no reason to make matters worse and try to teach, we had to stand by the local teachers in solidarity. The students of St. Kevin's continued to come to school however as it is a day school and many of them would have no other source of food. With no solution ahead we faced into an indefinite term with poor Elaine fearing that she had travelled half way around the world to teach only to be on strike! I'll let you know how things turned out in the next exciting eposide!
Hope all is well with you, wherever you are!
Let me know what's up with you!
Love from Nora in the Desert!