April 2003

The month started with mid journey to Kitale over night and the first day was spent on a bus to Nairobi and vowing that this would be the last time that I would do this!!! I have endured enough terrible, squashed and smelly public transport for a lifetime. Two days later Heather and I got on another overnight bus for a thirteen hour journey to Mwanza in Tanzania (so much for my vow!). But I did get to travel through the Serengetti National Park and see many of the animals from the window. We passed an entourage of very expensive vehicles, one carrying the President of Tanzania who was officially opening a road being built by Italians. On arrival we were picked up by Fr. Paddy O Rourke of the SMA who treated us like royalty for the next week. We went for a juice before lunch and met an Irish lad who is over mining gold, with loads of other Irish lads I’m told. We spent the next week looking for the Italians and Irish but no sign!!
My travelling wasn’t finished though as I spent five hours the following day travelling to a parish further south and a five hour return journey the next day. Sitting on the edge of Lake Victoria, Mwanza is not unlike Monkstown or Cobh (for anyone from Cork), a lovely town build up on all sides of hills made of solid rock overlooking the water. Huge boulders everywhere! Lake Victoria itself is gigantic and shared between many countries however there is no permission for irrigation from the lake and so much of the crops only meters away from the lake were dying as the rains had not come. Seeds had been set too early with the promise of El Nino which never arrived and so famine was predicted after all their trouble. The world is a very unfair place! During this week we watched the war on TV, as I had no real opportunity in Lodwar to see the real effect it was having on people. But it was sad to see how addicted one can get to devastation and destruction in the name of freedom. It was distressing to see what was being done to museums and monuments that represent the history of a nation.
However the time in Mwanza with the SMA’s from Ireland, Poland, India, Canada and Nigeria was just what the doctor ordered to take away all of the stress of Lodwar before the arrival of my parents. Now I was ready to be stressed all over again. I spent time doing research for books for the library, visited the Ministry of Education and requested a list of books they would like me to have in the library. When I returned at the end of the month I was brought directly to the Chief Inspectors office and he personally handed me one of the first copies of the recommended reading list for Primary Schools just printed the week before. I felt very honoured and delighted for the teachers of Turkana that the Ministry did in actual fact want them to have books. I did threaten to buy whatever I thought was appropriate and I guess they didn’t approve of that.
Love Nairobi for lunch dates! I spent many lunch hours chatting with friends, Veronica, Benya and Tui and realized how much I miss that when I am in Lodwar. Suzanne had a big party with two bands, Lynx (the new band) in town and Fret Wire. Martina and I helped with Mustang Sally (great as usual, not us… Fret Wire!) Superb food and great to have a good bop before the arrival of my parents.
The day of reckoning arrived and I went into major panic as I had not informed them to have the $50 for their visa on hand. The stress had begun! Thankfully Zul calmed me down and drove me to the airport. On the way I managed to text mam who had turned on her phone the minute they arrived. All was well - they had it all sorted except that the man standing in front of them in the line seemed to think that staying in Nairobi over the weekend didn’t warrant paying any money. So Zul kept spotting every old couple arriving saying “is that them?” When he did see my mother I don’t think he thought she was old enough as he knows my age! At long last we were ready for road but not without calling into Heather in Buru Buru to pick up my bags. This meant going through some of the less scenic parts of Nairobi but Dad seemed fascinated with everyone walking and Mam with the various shops just planked on the side of the road, made from cast iron and often selling only a limited variety of items.
Finally we reached Azee House, Zul’s Hotel, (I am ever grateful Zul!!) We were treated to a typical Indian breakfast and I sent Mam and Dad to bed for an hour before dragging them into the Basilica for Palm Sunday procession and mass. This lasted an amazing three hours and I spent the time making sure that when the TV cameras turned towards us that Mam and Dad were indeed awake. Later on that night we saw the very mass on the news and it just flashed passed us but I can just imagine the fun they would have made out of the two of them nodding off! From here we went for lunch to Martina’s who surpassed all efforts to serve us a Sunday roast, of which her mother would be proud. If it was up to me everyone would be having pasta and tuna, I have to learn to cook!! Thanks a million Martina.
Over the next few days we went to the Snake Park, the Museum, to Nakuru National Park with Suntrek (thanks Nish!!). Here there was fierce excitement, not at the Rhinos or Buffalos or Flamingos but at a “Zebra Crossing”. In Ireland a Zebra Crossing is black and white lines on the road to allow pedestrians to cross but here it is an animal, so we took a picture. It’s the simple things that make the difference. Here we got our first rains and the staff in the hotel decided that we were a blessing. The last night in Nairobi was again a cultural treat with Begna, Dawit and Dereja (three Ethiopian friends) bringing us for a typical Ethiopian meal which is eaten with your hands and is much more spicy than anything in Ireland. But my parents got right into the spirit of things and even ate “Lebleb’, which I am told is “almost” cooked minced meat!
A morning spent at Wilson airport waiting for reports of cloud levels meant that, due to the size of the plane (no bigger than an average kitchen table; six seater) we were delayed by three hours. Two and a half hours later flying over Lodwar, we could see the Resource Centre and I took many pictures. The most exciting bit was that the roof was finally on!! It is hard to believe that it is coming on so quickly. My wa-fundi (workmen) are doing a great job! Arrival in Lodwar as always attracts every person who can walk to come and have a snoop to see who has arrived. We were whisked up to the newly refurbished guesthouse to drop off my parents as my place is too small, not to mention the fact that there is no door on the toilet which you can only access through the bedroom (not a woman who designed that one!!)
The first two days were very hot and even walking the couple of hundred yards to the Centre from the guesthouse warranted a rest and a break and of course a drink of water. Never was the house left without the obligatory bottle. Fans were placed in the rooms and many siesta’s and breaks were taken. As it was Easter weekend there were plenty opportunities to see the dancing and singing of the Turkana during the various religious celebrations. My friend Ann who works in Kitale (six hours away!) came up, what a lovely surprise, for the weekend. Unfortunately when we headed for the lake we came to a flowing river so all movement was suspended. Maybe you’ll get back up again in the next few weeks Ann! Karibu!! The new Terre Des Homme plane was called upon for the first time this week when Marc had to head to an Ethiopian border town to pick up a man who had been shot. Now I know how to take out seats out of Cessna 206 if I ever need to do that again! I will be so skilled on my return!
We called to Fredrick’s (my old Turkana teacher) grandmother, who had placed new cardboard boxes on the floor in our honour. She had made two lovely trays for them and all the neighbours came over for a look when we all piled into her tiny hut, Fredrick, his granny, Mam, Dad, myself and a local elder who was only there for a peek. The following day Fredrick went off to his boarding school in the bush. We called to the street children’s centre to bring some sweets for Easter and dad was attacked as he handed them the packet and said “take one”. I don’t know who was worse the children (who were like animals) or Dad (who would NOT let go of the bag). Easter Sunday was celebrated with the blessing of a new parish, lunch at Veronica’s and a pot-luck gathering in the Guesthouse, which ended up in a singsong!
A trip to Kakuma ended up seeking refuge from the rain in my friend Maylo’s house with it’s plastic cover for a roof. A day trip to the lake, with all the baskets and trinkets for sale, ended in more rain. As we drove back we could see rain coming from all angles and my biggest fear was to have to sit on the other side of the river for the night. But it seemed that it was raining everywhere EXCEPT Lodwar. Incredible!! But later that evening the rains came and the following day when the plane to bring us back to Nairobi arrived the skies opened and it rained for two hours. Marc (the new pilot), who was only there to say goodbye had to saved the plane from overturning by pushing it around only to get soaked himself. Later we decided to go back and wait for the rains to stop and surprise, surprise my car cut out and no pushing in the world would start it as I think it had gotten wet in the floods that were all over the place. Who would have thought I lived in a desert? We flew through the storm all the way to Nairobi and as I flew over the 46 riverbeds on the way to Kitale I noticed that most of them were flowing and thanked the good Lord that I had invested in the tickets as I would never have made it to Nairobi by road. Mind you I am sure Mam would have much preferred to have been on solid ground as we flew towards lightening bolts, etc. On arrival to a rain-drenched Nairobi, Sr. Yvonne who was returning to Australia for home leave, was kind enough to drop us to our next destination, John and Moira’s house.
Talk about a small world John and Moira Burns attended my sister Máire’s wedding and here we were in their house in Nairobi (where they have done Trojan work in the slums for the past year, keep up the hard work lads, thanks for having us!) To our surprise it was Catherine, their daughter’s 12th birthday and we joined in the celebrations. Tours of “Karen” and “Out of Africa” scenes followed only to meet up with Ursuline sisters from up here! A butterfly farm and a visit to the SMA formation house finished the day. The next day was to be uneventful with a move to the other side of town and to fellow Corkman, Peter Walsh’s house. But nothing goes as planned here. The morning started out choosing the best dorm in one of the projects John and Moira work on. I left my parents and the Burns, headed into town to buy some colourful material for the Wren Celebrations (26th of Dec), then they were to meet up with a representative of the Pioneers and meet me later, while I moved the bags.
The plan was flawless, except for the fact that the student doctors in the University right in the city went on a riot and many of the roads were closed off, which caused havoc with traffic not to mention my nerves!! Then to top it off the battery on my phone ran out and I could not contact my parents who were in town three streets from the riot having tea!!! PANIC! The students pulled up chunks of sidewalk and threw them at any cars that passed and ripped up all of the new flowers set in the central roundabout on one of the main avenues, which I had only commented on the previous day as “the first real noticeable change since the new government”. Thankfully we all met up eventually, at six that afternoon, and Sean Burns (son of John and Moira only over for holidays) who had been keeping me calm all day joined us for dinner and later on to meet all my Nairobi friends in Gypsy’s. It was as if I had planned it. Everyone I knew was there and it doubled as a goodbye party for Heather, whom I will miss terribly, as her time is up and she returns to the States.
Peter was great and drove us around the next day as we visited various parks and ended up having tea with Bishop Harrington in the SMA Regional house. A wonderful barbeque was provided that night by Chris (Peter’s friend). The last day was spent at a golf tournament and it seemed to me that we had truly had a flavour of all that Kenya had to offer, every extreme of society, from poverty to wealth. It was not the typical tourist holiday but at least I felt that they got a feeling for life over here. But before departure Peter brought us to see Edel Quinn’s grave. You wouldn’t believe that there was more rain again as we piled bags into cars and headed to the airport, the adventure over and another flight ahead.
I was back to work the next day, out shopping for paint for the centre with Heather, who managed to get me a huge discount (thanks girl!). A trip to the Ministry for a booklist and plans to start fundraising again as I realize that I am still short about €10,000 to finish off the project.
I travelled up in style on the last day of the month with Brother Dario, who had just gotten a new twin cab, certainly beats a matatu, which Mam was dying to get the whole time she was here, my nerves, it is bad enough being squashed into a Nissan with eighteen other people without one of them being your mother! Sorry this month's is longer than normal and I realize that if you have given up already that you will not benefit from the apology! Hope all is well where you are! Keep in touch.
Love from the desert, Nora