The morning started well enough, as all 5 of us from IsraAID drove out to Chief Alfred Kapoko's home in Kalobeyei to present and explain our Kalobeyei water exploration report. The Turkana hamlet of Kalobeyei (not to be confused with the nearby Refugee Camp of Kalobeyei) is a 25 km or so drive over a heavily cratered, but asphalted road. Despite living in a very remote Turkana community, Chief Kapoko seemed to absorb the significance and required action items coming out of our work. Together he patiently and attentively went through the Kalobeyei section of the report figure by figure, map by map.
We then drove back east toward the new Camp of Kalobeyei. The conditions are extremely challenging. With most of the vegetation, including the trees, being bulldozed away, crowds of people huddled under the few remaining trees searching for shade in the oppressive heat that characterizes the end of the dry season. The homes are wall tents with tin roofs, family size solar ovens. Gardens and food production are encouraged here, though with no protection from the wind or sun, and very limited water; gardening even in Alberta has its advantages.
We parked innocuously about 500 m west of the Camp. As part of siting a water well is making a good map of the exploration area, in previous classes I have taught the class to GPS the proposed well site with a mobile phone, photograph the site from the ground, make a drawing, and photograph the site from the air. In previous classes we used kites to very inexpensively, and with great fun, carry out our low altitude and high resolution aerial photography. Of course it is now the age of drones - after all, Eye in the Sky takes place in Kenya - and the vast open area 15 km or so from the Kakuma air strip seemed to be a good location to safely do a test flight. Besides simply creating site photos for documentation purposes, the drone photographs can be used for creating digital elevation models to plan drainage, counting latrines, planning roads, identifying impassable roads after major rain events, monitoring bank erosion during flash floods, monitoring garden developments and vegetation regeneration, monitoring illegal wood scavenging, etc.
Anyways, after taking photographs at about 100 m altitude for a mere 15 minutes or so, I brought the drone home, assuming no one had been aware of the flight. Following the drone came every child from Kalobeyei, as well as the police. At issue was not the drone flight or the photographs, but the pandemonium and accompanying stampede. As I bent down to remove the propellers from the craft, I was enveloped by the mob of barefoot, would be geographers and geomatics scientists. I was feeling a rush of empathy with Melissa and Gabby from Clowns Without Borders. Even with the crowd, we still might have made our getaway had it not been for the monster thorns puncturing a front tire, and the misfortune of not having a spare tire. For three hours the Israeli IsraAID staff, Gal and Nimrod, expertly took charge of the situation and entertained the children with games, songs, juggling, and juggling instruction. While the drone episode was entirely my doing, our office field coordinator smoothed out the situation with the police. All in all, hanging out in the broiling mid day sun provided a genuine Kalobeyei experience.
There is no better way to end an epic mid-day misadventure than injera, goat meat, hot chili peppers, and coffee at the Kakuma Refugee Camp's most famous restaurant, Franco's. Besides the life sized Jennifer Lopez photo, the thick mud plastered floor, the complete absence of any straight lines to the structure, the continuous stream of Ethiopian dance music, and especially the fragrant Eithiopian coffee all lend a certainty of authenticity that you are in Ethiopia, and not in the Ethiopian Market of the Kakuma Refugee Camp. A bit of shopping at a few of the Congolese fabric shops, followed by a walk back to my room, and an evening run into the desert all made for a great way to spend my only Saturday in my 2 weeks in Kakuma. Electric Avenue in Calgary is going to feel oh so dull!
Blogging by Paul Bauman