for the past 4 weeks I have been working in a town called Lodwar which sits up in the northern part of kenya. its hot, dusty and is just about in the middle of nowhere. 400 kilometers to the south is the next major settlement, and just over 200 ks to the north is the border of Sudan. For many kenyans it is actually considered the last point in kenya. Everything else seems to be no-man’s land.
The people living in this region are called the “Turkana”. They are classified as a “pastorlist” society, which means there primary source of living and survival revolves around the livestock they have. The enviroment is not very friendly or condusive to grow anything, so farmers in Turkana are not a common occurance. “Hard” or “tough” are very good words to describe these folk. They have to be to survive in this region.
At the beginning of this year, a severe drought effected large portions of East Africa, stretching from Somolia, Ethiopia, Sudan & Kenya. The effects of this drought are still being felt today. Large numbers of livestock were decimated, which in turn has severaly effected the welfare of many families, which has the hardest impact on children.
I have been doing some volunteer work with an agency called Merlin. My primary job was assisting the logistics of their operations here. They are running several different programs, the largest of which is a feeding program for severally malnourished children. They have 9 different teams working all over the region, travelling to their destinations by vehicle and delivering all kinds of foodstuff specially designed for malnourished or really hungry folks. The most popular of which is “plumpy nut”. Plumpy Nut is basically peanut butter, with a few added ingredients, which after really skinny kids eat on a constant basis for about 2 weeks, they become really fat kids.;) All of this activity translated into lots of work for me. The organisation on the logistics side was a bit of mess, and I made a valiant attempt to reorganize a bit and help get some working systems in place.
I was a little bit aggrivated because I spent the majority of my time sitting behind a desk in the warehouse, inhaling loads of dust and drinking 5 to 6 litres of water a day. Nothing too exciting happened for me and I didn’t get a good chance to get out and visit any of the very interesting locations around the town.
The only point of interest was the fact that we had to let go of a few of the people working there. Which doesn’t sound very interesting, but becomes so when you factor in that we feared some of these folks might come back with violence or intent to do harm. There was a period of a week where we all felt slightly paranoid and were constantly looking over our backs to see if anyone was there with a problem. Luckily that passed and things seem to be evening out just a bit.
My wife is the one that has had the most adventure. She decided to travel to Sudan for a period of 3 weeks to do some community awareness concerning a planned civilian disarmament that is to take place in her home region. I was a little concerned when she told me she was going to do this. I know her tribe really enjoy their weapons and all of them would probably have a very hard time giving them up. I was slightly concerned that they would view her as the “enemy” and maybe try to do some sort of harm to her because of this. Fortunately they were very open to listen to her and the information that she was bringing. Probably because she was not trying to take their guns away, they were not so upset about her being there.
Her excitement came when her “ex-husband” came two days before she was supposed to leave that location and started making noise about wanting her back. Now if you talk to my wife, she will say that she was never married. They never performed any sort of traditional or civil ceremony. Her family just gave her to the man and said “this is your husband”. An action which they have all admitted they regret. Mary had three children with this man and after 5 years of suffering various abuse and mistreatment from him, she finally decided she had enough and left. That was four years ago. He is still having difficulties excepting that he no longer has any claim on her.
This last time while she was in Sudan, he came to her family’s house 2 days before she was to leave and talked with her brother and mother for many hours, making it very clear that he felt he had the right to claim mary and take her back with him. They told him he had to wait and talk to Mary’s Uncle. And either he decided that this wasn’t good enough or that to make sure Mary was still around when the uncle came, he would encourage his friends to go and take mary by force and hold her against her will somewhere. That or take her and beat her to “teach her how to behave like a Murle”. I really don’t know.
What I do know is that the next evening I get a call from my wife as she is running around trying to find a “safe” place for the night and trying not to burst into tears. She did find a safe place to stay with an NGO working in the area that is running a hospital. They checked her in as a patient and she spent a sleepless night in a smelly ward with crying chidren, sick mothers and various other types of ailments.
There were no more incidents during the next day and in the afternoon a plane came to take her back to Kenya. She met it and started loading all of her items on board. As she was doing this, she saw the former husband coming with a group of people, apparantly with the intent to stop her. I’m not clear on all the details, especially since I wasn’t there to witness it, but in the next few minutes there was alot of shouting, people trying to get in the plane, pilots shooting flames to ward off people, people waving guns around and an emergency takeoff. I’m trying to get the story complete from Mary, but she tells it in bits and pieces, with the most drastic parts sticking out in the fore front.
now the two of us have returned to nairobi and spending some much needed time together. she is doing very well and very thankful that she got out of there in one piece. I am too.
we both have photos from the respective locations we went, which I hope to post in the next few days. so keep an eye out…