February 2003

At last I found a trustworthy builder ready to take on the contract. We re-assessed the costs and requirements, but before anything can be done in Turkana we had to build a fence! Unfortunately everything that is not cemented down could be taken so another two week delay had begun. Once the fence is up and secure we could order supplies and we’re off as digging requires only manpower and shovels while we wait but the cost of progress! Here a labourer working on a building site is paid 150/- ksh a day, the price of a carton of orange juice, or about &eurio;2. A skilled labourer earns double that at 300/- ksh or the price of a box of corn flakes. It costs 200/-ksh or less than €3 to pay for the labour of loading a lorry load (or seven tons) of sand.
There is no such thing as a mini-digger to dig the foundations or a cement mixer, even the blocks are made by hand. These people never cease to amaze me. I have taken so much for granted in my life in the western world and here I come and expect people who live in a cool, circular house made from wrapped leaves, perfect for this climate, to build a structure in straight lines made of brick that heats up and is ever hot. But the process has begun at last and on the 17th of this month the first shovel started to dig the foundations of the Turkana Teacher Resource Centre and the work continues. Within two weeks the foundation slab was being set but delayed yet again because the lorry that brings the rocks (all moved by hand) was in such high demand in the parish.
As the foundations were being dug by four men, another four were making blocks and it was one person’s fulltime job to water them four times a day so that they don’t crack in the heat. Once they are placed together in the wall this watering process will continue until the cement has truly set so that no cracks will form. This is a big problem in the desert, where water is a luxury, and with it being the end of the dry season we can only pray for rain to take the pressure off. But the work goes on and some days as I go down to check on progress and deal with any difficulties, which seem endless, (never thought I’d be a foreman!) there are up to 32 men at work and of course the woman still watering. At this rate, though it was a delayed start, I hope that the roof will be on by the time my parents arrive in mid April, as it will be wonderful for my father, Barry, to see the fruits of his labour. He has tirelessly fundraised since I left and has managed to get one particular donation of €2,200 alone from a local builder, for which I am very grateful, I know that building at home has slowed down, thanks! This brought to money at the end of February to €10,000. And the work continues, thanks Dad, I could never do it without you! Fionán, (my brother) is also somewhat of a driving force, thanks! I am so lucky to have such a supportive family! The support here is great too with the Ursaline Sisters (Ireland/Kenya) and the Diocese of Lodwar contributing 100,000/-ksh each, which makes another €2,600 , so we are getting there!
As the building goes on so to do the rehearsals for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Though I started with 60 I have now trickled down to 35 solids that come to rehearsals most days and I have selected two Josephs just in case one falls ill or drops out. But if they both make it then there will be one Joseph for the Friday performance and the other for Saturday, on the alternate night he will be Jacob (the father). Throughout the month they have improved in confidence and once the parts were allocated each person, having learned all of the words, was able to fill in for anyone absent. In the meantime I am like a mad woman trying to explain concepts of clothes designs to various tailors, five in total, in order to get costumes that would suit under very limited conditions.
I still had nobody to play Pharoah until the last week of February, cutting it fine, I know, but I had tried to convince Br. Louis, the principle, who has a great voice and presence, but unfortunately he was having none of it! The hall is booked; tickets and posters printed. This is not the norm for Turkana and the children may actually think I am mad at this point, as do I some days!
Valentines weekend came, dreaded as ever, but I was too caught up in costumes to be concerned, only to be surprised by a bag of apples brought up especially from Kitale (six hours away) by a friend called Musa. As you can’t get apples in Lodwar this was such a treat and I was thrilled! Roses wouldn’t last daylight up here but there were many plastic ones to be seen. That evening was spent with three auditors, who were about to leave, and Shane (finance man), who was about to have a life again!, and the girls of course.
Next morning we headed for Lokichoggio to say good bye to Hannah and Andy, who are heading home to Ireland after almost two years working in Loki and Sudan respectively, only to discover that the party was postponed till the following week, so we made our very own goodbye party. The road to Lokichoggio has been very insecure this month with five people killed by bandits in the first two weeks. One of these was a Swedish man who had gone to school in Turkana when his parents worked here and married a lovely lady from Kanamkamer. They were living just outside Nairobi and they were only up visiting. It was tragic and very upsetting but it is hard to live here if you can’t just carry on after such incidents, so we braved the elements and thankfully arrived home safe and sound. We heard only later that two people had been shot on the road shortly after we had passed.
I held two workshops this month and they couldn’t have been more different. The first was in Nakwamoru where it is green and cool and in order to get there you must wade across a river. My Suzuki was never going to make the three-hour journey, so I borrowed the Hi-lux from the Youth and explained how to hammer the starter motor in my own car to get it going (never leave home without my iron bar these days). A radio message had been sent once I departed and as I arrived on one side of the river another vehicle arrived on the other side, with two men to carry my bags across. In the small village that was once a famine camp life moves at a slow pace so the first evening of the workshop was only attended by just over half the participants who came in their own time, no rush.
That night, as we sat under the stars, Sr. Karen spotted a snake (in the pitch dark, I have no idea how!) Sr. Rosetta braved the elements and went in to turn on the lights, no snake to be seen, and so no panic!! As she returned with a glass of water she found herself face to face with a five-foot snake trying to make it’s way out of the house it had just entered. With this the watchman, having spotted the light on, arrived with a huge rock and missed the snake as he made a quick exit. There would be no sleep until the snake was found and killed, if it could get in once it could get in again. I was of no use and was like a big girl every time there was movement of any manner including the various twigs around the place. Eventually a soldier who was guarding an officer in the dispensary managed to kill the snake that Sr. Karen had found wrapped in a coil and hiding behind a gas cylinder. The obligatory photos were taken, even one with me holding it by the tail, but I was not happy, even if it was dead!
The following day another few teachers strolled in, though they got into it and worked through lunch. A good day had by all in the end. On Sunday I was brought to the outstations for mass and was given the grand tour of Nakwamoru’s irrigation scheme and the dam that has just been finished thanks to Gorta. Fr. Johnny then showed me their training fields for the farmers and their solar pumps that supply water to the mission houses and dispensary. (Mark Zim, if you ever read this, I was right!!) Then back to the heat of Lodwar after a very relaxing and cool weekend.
The other workshop was held close by in Kanamkamer, with over ten teachers waiting for me, as I arrived early. This is most unusual here, where I am often waiting for an hour for someone to turn up. A very enthusiastic bunch indeed with the local inspector making a special effort not only to attend himself but to encourage the teachers who turned up to bring more the following day. Twenty four in total attended, and time flew, and it was non-stop work as they were determined to get the most out of the day. This workshop had the most women of all the workshops so far. This may have been due to its close proximity to town and more women work in these schools than those out in the bush. I had met several of these teachers before and this also made it more enjoyable for me to see their genuine interest.
This month also had the Pastoral Council where all the committees of the Diocese come together, to let the others know what they have been doing all year, and to plan the movement of the year to come. There is always a buzz around town as the priests, sisters and committee members engulf Lodwar for three days. It is a great time to catch up with people and this year good planning meant that, while all the vehicles were in town, the Department of Transport inspectors were brought up to check the vehicles. There was a question mark over the need to test my Suzuki and just as I was about to pull in, I went to drop someone down to the garage, to pick up his car, and my car cut out, never to start again, it seemed! And with all the hammering of the started motor still nothing, there was nothing for it but a major push. I went into the inspectors, left the engine running and was thrilled to find that it had been inspected by default the year before and I was free to go. It has been back to parking on a hill since I am afraid!
Hope February wherever you were was good for you! Keep in touch!
Love from the desert Nora