March 2003


This month has been the hardest to write and therefore I have been putting it off for several months now, as I am not sure if I can deal with the varied and strong emotions that I will have to face as I write it. Though the start of the month was a joy and positive, a friend of mine was murdered mid-month, just miles from my house, and I was very taken aback by the whole experience; and not wanting to worry my family at home, I kept many those feelings of fear and desperation to myself, and dealing with them now is tough!
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The first weekend of March was spent making backdrops for the set of Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat, which could be turned as they hung from the ceiling. These were the brainstorm of a wonderful Finnish girl, working in the nursery school of the Women's Centre, thanks Annika. They were made from material and made a picture of a desert scene on one side and when turned there stood four Egyptian columns sprayed with Gold spray that Heather had sent up from Nairobi (thanks again). Of course the people here could not understand why we were using perfectly good material to cut up and sew onto more perfectly good material. But once finished and hung they no longer thought we were making a bedspread and could see the value of a set.
Only a week to go and the dress rehearsal falls on the day of the school sports, which run late, and only half the cast turn up, while the others cheer on Elaine's girls basketball team in the final. Very disheartened and disillusioned, I wonder if they would turn up at all the following week. Ticket sales weren't great and I seriously considering packing it in and giving up rather than making a fool of myself. Encouragement from my brother Martin in Sydney (whom we had just watched on video, as he played the part of Joseph in his secondary school) keeps me going and he is right… "Once they enjoy it, that is what it is all about". And it is great to hear the children stroll from class to class singing. More dress rehearsals, with the DREAMCOAT itself finally completed, make up the first week and over shadows most of women's week. Posters of all the women ministers in the new government all over the place makes you wonder if there is hope for change!
Panic as my Pharaoh drops out of the cast and is replaced by one who never really got to grips with the song but looked the part. The background poster is not done and a new Dutch couple Alex and Maureen, along with one of Sr. Yvonne's staff are dragged in to do last minute painting, which turned out wonderful!!!!
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At last the day of reckoning arrives and not only do all of the cast turn up but in costume they look great and the hall is packed!! Three t-shirts were raffled off to the awaiting audience. I blasted into the introductory song before hitting play on the stereo. Thrilled for the hour (without a break… on the recommendation of the children who reckoned that everyone would go home if we stopped) by the karaoke version, as an orchestra is out of the question, our audience sang along with any songs they knew. Delighted with myself with one night down I headed out only to find that yet again my famous car had died on me!!! I had to head to the nearest priest's house and beg for a lift home as everyone had already left.
The next day was women's day but I was too tired to join in so left Elaine to represent me with the mama's and female students of St. Kevin's. Yet another show that night but this time with my understudy who was equally good and with many people returning to see the show for a second time we had a full house and this time singing and dancing didn't stick to the stage as everyone joined in at the end. I was thrilled when Bishop Harrington came up to praise the cast and to congratulate me for taking the risk, which had paid off with only 6 weeks rehearsal. For the next few days, the staff of the bank, a Muslim friend (who went home to look for the story in the Koran) and people on the street were walking up to me to congratulate me and comment on the show. But most importantly the students were delighted with their performance and the positive reaction it had received. They had worked as a team and seen the virtues of being there for each other.
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During all of this the building is starting to coming up out of the foundations. Poor Chris (my contractor) got a real taste of dealing with me when I came in with the building only two blocks up and I was already changing the plans. Which I think I am entitled to do as I made them in the first place. But it is only when you see it in real terms that you realise that you need an extra window here and an extra vent block there. But we managed to make it to the rafters by the end of the month. Much excitement as the locals all have a comment on it's virtues and faults. Not to me obviously!! The roof is too high it will blow off, the extra height is a waste of bricks (no accounting for extra ventilation!!), the water shortage is all due to Nora's blocks on her building being watered, and on it goes.
The second weekend of March is usually a festive one and this was no exception as we headed off to Lokichoggio to revel in the green of St Patrick's Day. Though it caused a major stir in the United Nations camp seeing three girls travelling through the desert un-escorted in a SUZIKI! But we were lucky to get there and back safe and sound. The NPA compound was done up thanks to the fabulous decorations left over from Martina's GOAL party last year, a wise Limerick more and much appreciated!! The message was sent over the airwaves to the multi-national NGO staff, none of whom are Irish so we were just shipped in for the day and Elaine, Anika (a pretend Paddy) and I wore the green and dragged people from 15 countries out to swing around the floor. The only sober one in the bar performed songs and dancing ON the bar, (my good self, is anyone surprised?) and great fun was had by all till the wee hours. The next day we headed back to Lodwar aware of the dangers on the road and that people would be worried until we arrived home. Two people were shot dead on a matatu a half an hour after we passed.
When I got back I sent an email to many fellow Irish for the National Holiday. As I wrote, I was unaware that my friend and colleague Sr. Anna Nanjala, whom I had just spent Friday morning with at her school sports day, was shot dead in her house. Several armed men went up to the window of the sister's house claiming that a snake had bitten the watchman. They were told to go to the front door so the nurse could tend to it. Anna (a teacher who had just attended my last workshop and who had been my biggest advocate in the library project) answered the door. She must have seen something or sensed something wrong as she closed the door immediately. They opened fire, shooting 6 bullets through the door. One of these, unfortunately hit Anna on the back of the head and she died instantly. Rumors abounded the following day but it emerged that the same men had originally been at Bishop Harrington's house only meters from my own earlier. Theft it seems was the motive. It wasn't until I attended Brother Philip's first anniversary mass (March seems to be a sad time of year for the Diocese) that I heard from the altar that a sister had been murdered. There are many sisters in Lodwar and though shocked, I didn't think that the sister in question would be such a dear friend. I could not be consoled when I heard it was Anna and the following week is a bit of a blur. Between masses and prayer services trying to deal with Anna's tragic and unexplainable death any celebration we had planned (Anna had been looking for a green shirt just minutes before she was killed!) were replaced.
Frank left abruptly due to illness and unceremoniously under the shadow of the sad event and Reinhard (a new Austrian Mechanic) arrived to be my new neighbour. Elaine moved into Frank's house next door to me, leaving Alex and Maureen in her old place. Fr. Kevin the surgeon in Kakuma finished and then we parted with Anika who came to the end of her 6-month stint in Naiwitrong Women's Centre. I was sad to see her go; she'll be missed greatly. The coalition army declared war on Iraq. And the media went war mad, more like commentary on a football match but all I could think of was how I could make it to the funeral in Kitale and where I would stay as I knew that people would be coming from all corners of the country. This was National news and highlighted Kenyan insecurity 100 days into the "new" government.
Thankfully Bishop Harrington offered me a lift and along with two other bishops he celebrated a beautiful mass and commemoration of Anna's life, which, was held in her hometown though she had given her life to Turkana, and it's people. Ironically, I stayed with another Ann for the weekend and through her laughter and joy managed to see that life does go on. But it still upset me when I returned to Lodwar to see that everyone was carrying on with life as if nothing had happened. Maybe it is the Turkana way of survival that there is no time given to grieving. As for me, I faced into dealing with my housekeepers chin having been bitten off by a neighbour of hers, as they fought for left over fruit skins to feed their goats.
The last week of the month brought the first real rains since Christmas and of course this was a blessing from Anna, by all accounts. However, with these come the swarms of flies and worms whose eggs have been lying dormant waiting to be brought to life by the rainfall. Mosquitoes thrived and malaria soon followed as every other person fell ill.
Marc the new Dutch pilot who will set up the Terre Des Hommes sponsored medical plane in partnership with the Diocese arrived in the six seater plane with Sven the photographer and Gerbert the journalist. Leny his boss and other Terre Des Homme staff followed by road as I headed off in the other direction. Off to Lokichar to run a reflection weekend for the teachers that allowed me time to reflect on what I am doing and why I am here. More rain followed and I arrived back calmer joining all the gang in the high spot of town, Turkwell pub, on what Veronica calls the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. More like dust and dirt flying as the matatus drive by at top speed picking up passengers. That night my block of houses (four single units) was full for the first time since my arrival and Elaine provided the tea, Marc supplied the biscuits, while I brought extra chairs and Reinhard promised pizza.
Things are looking up here!
For those of you who really read these, it might interest you to know that on the 3rd of the 3rd, 2003 I actually used up my first cylinder of gas since my arrival. It is worth noting I think. I was certainly surprised as I thought for sure someone must have changed it one of the times I had been away but alas, no. This will give you some indication of the extent of my cooking skills in the desert! Hope all is well where ever you are and I realize that you may have to endure three monthly reports in as many weeks as this one was the major delay. The rest SHOULD follow shortly.
Love from the desert Nora