May 2003


Back in Turkana again in May and just when I thought that this might be a quiet month the Royal Engineers of the British Army arrived, on what seems to be becoming an annual outing to map Turkana for the Kenyan Govenrment. Unfortunately, they came in the rainy season and though the rains were delayed this year, they did eventually come and with force! This made half the roads of the district impassable, as many of them are dried riverbeds for most of the year. Undeterred they battled on and much to my joy Elaine and I were often invited to taste the culinary delights of not only ration packs but real and lovely food. At the end of their few weeks here, I was fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of many stationary items that are now happily placed in the library, which was at the plastering stage when the lads came to visit. Electricity was being wired and plumbing almost finished.
Turkana was totally cut off by a bridge that had been washed away during heavy rains in West Pokot and therefore a forty foot drop was making crossing a bit difficult. For two weeks panic and food shortages became the order of the day. Anyone heading down country (or up to us) travelling by Matatu had to get out at the ill-fated bridge to cross by foot and get onto another on the other side. Those in private cars had several days wait on either side of the bridge as every other car got stuck in the river and had to be reeled up by a caterpillar. Reinhard and Sr. Dorcus were two days trying to cross but as there was nowhere to stay they travelled up the two hours from Kitale, waited till two hours before dark and headed back only to do the same the next day. There was great talk about a new bridge which was coming from overseas but when nothing happened and boxes of food had to be carried down a 40 foot ravine and up the other side it meant that one day there might be bread, another day some fruit but nothing definite ever came. Of course the one supermarket in the place was like Old Mother Hubbard's who went to the cupboard only to find it was bare (every the teacher!).
The concern was that if fuel lorries couldn't get across that life in Turkana would be more difficult than normal, well for the likes of me anyway who is lucky enough to have electricity (but run by a diesel generator). That was not the worst, the water pumps of the area also depend on electricity, as do the phones etc. As the panic really set in I stocked up with 80 gallons of Petrol and there was only 2,000 gallons left in the whole town. The British Army still in town and concerned that they may not be able to leave to go home, made a hole in the amount of diesel in the town and things were looking bad. At this point all I could think of was that I had ordered the last of the supplies for the building and that I had only a short time left to finish up and how was I going to manage if they could not cross. It is funny how everyone's priorities are SO different. Thankfully three weeks later things started to arrive slowly but surely and not long later a bridge did get put in place (after two attempts that had no fitted, how can you get the SIZE of a bridge wrong??)
During the whole month of May phones went mad, for me this is a disaster, as I can't send emails! Now rain in Turkana is a bit like snow in Ireland, infrequent and causes havoc and no one knows what to do with it. Therefore there is bound to be some problems and often it is the phones that suffer. This excuse is fine for the first few weeks but when we are talking months, and the rain has stopped one starts to wonder!! It seemed to me that Telecom Kenya was swapping lines!! I was running from place to place trying to send emails and if one line was out the other was working, very often within minutes, it was like they plugged out the office phone to connect the Sisters. Who ever was making the most noise, so I made plenty and was know by all the Telecom staff (it was to be the electricity staff in June!!)
On my way up with Dario last month I purchase some new pirate videos and though some were fine I was very disappointed to find that I had only acquired "part one" of the Sound of Music. It only got as far as the big party in the house and just before the best part!!! It was funny watching Pretty Woman over here though with all the riches and glamour of Hollywood and me sitting in my best tie-dyed dress (I wouldn't be seem dead in at home) in Turkana, with starving children outside my door and my limousine of a Suzuki. I was wondering if there was any chance of Richard Gere coming my way! You never know… but a white horse would die in the heat, maybe a white camel or plane!!
Speaking of planes, Marc (the pilot for Terre Des Hommes) had his bags robbed from just outside his door and I began to wonder if people here rob for the sake of it or because they are in need. Honestly nothing in the bags would have been of any use to anyone who didn't have a plane and they are few and far between up here. All was returned and a talk with the local chief stopped any further thieft. I was close to visiting the chief myself this month as I could take no more of the constant harassing and begging at my door, from children. Most of these children are fed in school and very often were only passing my house to go up to get free food being distributed somewhere else. En route they would stop outside my door and start to sing " Money, money, give me some money!" Now this had been going on for some time and I could always tell when Elaine was in the general area as I could hear the song as she cycled past the offending children. I guess it really started to upset me when I realized that it was just Elaine and I who were being subjected to this tormenting behaviour, Reinhard and Marc my new neighbours got none of it!!
One day as Elaine walked across the airstrip the whole situation came to a head. Rather than ignore it as we had done for almost a year, she chased after them and two children carrying shopping (obviously not too poor) drop said items and ran, but this was not the funniest part, one left behind a pair of shoes and another left behind a baby!!!! Yes a baby! Everyone for themselves I guess. Elaine brought home the shopping and the shoes but left the baby and waited for the parents to come and pick up their goods. Luckily we didn't eat them as they arrived two days later proclaiming that their children had never done it before but it did stop the chant for a few weeks.
This month I assisted the Adult Education Department (who will be moving into the building once electricity arrives) with the research for books they hope to publish. As my turkana is limited, I just arranged for the test document to be compiled and sent to each teacher to get feed back. I also wrote letters to Kenyan publishers from the government recommended list, asking for sponsorship and discounts but only three of the 25 publishers I contacted got back to me. None of the teacher training colleges I contacted seemed to feel any need to let me know what type of books they would like their trainee teachers to have. Things can be very disheartening here but sure I have a fair idea after my many years of study and teaching, so I'll pick myself!
A date for the dedication of the Library to Sr Anna Nanjala, who was shot in March, was picked for mid June and invites were sent out to all relevant parties. Workshops for deanery level were also planned and all I needed to invite all teachers who attended parish workshops to come back was confirmation of days from the relevant priests.
When my parents came last month we decided that a rock face would look lovely on the base of the building so off I went rock breaking into a quarry with six strong men. They had given me a two-day estimate and so I decide to go along and see how the process took place, not to mention that I was very fussy about the type of rock I wanted!! WE started at 8.30am breaking and carrying rocks to the lorry. I worked as hard as any of them for the first two hours and really set the pace (much to their disgust) as they couldn't be seen to be doing less than me! I nearly died at that point even though there had been some cloud cover I was passing out with the heat and supervised the rest from the shade, giving the "thumbs up" to the rocks and liked and sending back the others. All the work was complete by lunch time! No surprise there, though I did return with Reinhard some weeks later to get some extra rocks to finish the job.
The following week I was the Fundi (or Foreman) for a week while Chris (my usual man on the job) went away on his first break to see his family who live six hours away by matatu (with the bad bridge, even more!!) since he started work in February. This week we put stone facing on the wall and I was their worst nightmare. One of the walls had to be taken down three times but I refused to let Richard give up and paid him for his full day that I took back down and encouraged him to do it again only even and flat. He stuck it out and the place looks great.
The month finished with the last parish workshop in Lorogum. Fr Ollie Noonan from Cork has now joined Fr Ludwig (both SMA) and I was in my element between there and the Ursuline sisters and the Sisters of Mary having breakfast in one place, lunch in another and supper in another. Like a home from home, a most welcoming parish to finish up my tour.
The month ended with the arrival of the new Pilot (William) who will take over now that Marc has set the ball rolling, so to speak. Forgot to mention that I started walking with Rico at 6am, lovely time of the day cool and quiet. For those of you who know of my allergy to exercise I am sure this will come as quite a shock to you but do not fear this madness only lasted for two weeks!!
Hope all is well with you wherever you are!
Love from the desert Nora