While most of our work days are bookmarked by chai mendazi (milk tea and donuts) in the morning, and a cold drink before dinner. Today, though, the return trip to Camp was announced with gunfire from AK-47s…and a cold drink.
The morning was a bit unusual as well. Within the Camp, we have some broad goals from UNHCR, such as to site higher production wells in Kakuma 1, or site a few wells closer to Kakuma 3 and 4, but beyond that, we simply draw ourselves a line on the map of the Camp, and then go do what we believe we have to do to carry out the survey. The next few days, however, we will be exploring for water for the host Turkana community south of the 60,000 person Kalobeyei Camp expansion. As this is Turkana land, we had to of course to meet the village head and the two local chiefs in the existing Turkana village of Kalobeyei.
It was somewhat reminiscent of doing work at a northern aboriginal reserve in Canada. There was no burning of sweet grass or shaking of rattles, though, as the village head man Alfred Kapoko got down to business right away. His demands were clear and reasonable, that is, if demanding anything of us can be termed as reasonable given everything we do is on our own time for the benefit of the refugees and Turkana. He wanted each geophysical crew to take on 3 Turkana helpers from the local tribe…check….pay them the going rate for the area….check….feed the workers…check….and promise to provide the report and interpretations directly to the village head….will do. As Alfred Kapoko said so succinctly….”projects come and projects go,” and after everyone leaves we never hear or see anything.
Our requests were also quite clear….the refugee and Turkana students also stay on the crews….show us where you would like to drill your wells…and be sure to actually use our maps when it actually comes time to drill.
And then we drove off into the Turkana desert to visit, view, and GPS their proposed water well locations as there is no way we would ever relocate ourselves in this flat, incised and dissected, confusing landscape. Why would anyone ever choose to live in this harshest of landscapes?....well, they would not, not even the nomadic Turkana. But the village head Kapoko explained that once the Camp is built and the Turkana see water being piped to the Refugee Camp from Turkana land, the Turkana will build communities on the edge of the Camp. And if they are not provided with water, they will take it, by tapping into pipes or entering the Camp. He explained that Turkana are pastoralists, and while even in this desert landscape there is enough vegetation for the herds, water is the determining factor in their lives.
We entered three different lagas (dry river beds), Kangura, Esikiriait, and Elelia, where the Turkana hoped the drilling prospects would be good. As it is only a month since the rains ended, there were still a few nomadic groups camped near shallow “scoop holes” dug out of the sand in the bottom of the lagas, from which they could scoop enough water to survive, but these would disappear in a few weeks at most, leaving the herdsmen no choice but to move on.
Finishing up at Kalobeyei, I drove back to meet the electrical tomography crew lead by Erin and Randy on the west side of Kakuma 1. They had finished the day’s planned survey, and were busy getting some lessons on playing Mankala from a few young refugees passing time on a Saturday. Besides being an African game, Mankala is probably the most common game in Kakuma as it is easily played with stones and a board pattern easily dug out of the sand.
Driving back to our compound, I stopped to take a few photos of some the more ludicrous billboards in the Camp. “Eat at least 3 balanced meals.”….most refugees would be happy with one. “Avoid taking tea or coffee with meals because they interfere with iron absorption.”……if only there was coffee here (besides Franco’s Ethiopian establishment of course)!, and if only refugees did have something to eat with the cup of tea they are unlikely to have in the morning. “Exclusive breast feeding for six months prevents malnutrition.”… who does not have malnutrition here?! “To prevent being infected by malaria everybody should sleep under a mosquito net”…what about a proper house and roof and bed? Etc.
Moments after passing the mass of people at the Refugee Hospital, the mobile phones in our 4 X 4 starting ringing with reports of gun fire near our compound…lots of it. The Kenyan in our 4 X 4 immediately thought of the Somali terror group and Al Queda spinoff Al Shabab, a notion I immediately dismissed as who would carry out a terror attack in a place that no one has heard of or cares about! – and in fact, there has never been a terror attack in Kakuma. 15 minutes later we pulled into the LWF compound where we store our equipment. One woman who had just completed 3 years of NGO service in war torn South Sudan immediately identified the weapons as AK47s, range 500 to 700 m. A few minutes later this was confirmed by a few of our staff who were back in their rooms…about 500 m away.
Apparently, a Turkana woman had brought her child to a clinic in Kakuma town. As the latest version of the event goes, a nurse had given the child a shot, then finished her shift. A second nurse had replaced the first, and without consulting the Turkana mother, quite possibly due to a language gap, the second nurse had given the child the same shot again. The child died immediately, and Turkana started to mob the clinic. The police let off a few shots to clear the crowd; but for Turkana, gunshots are like a dinner bell, and they crowded the streets and the town in mass. Supposedly, the Turkana have more assault rifles per per person than anywhere in the world as they need them to protect their lives and their livelihood, herding livestock. Eventually, though, the commotion calmed down, and the Turkana dispersed. The child’s body was taken for an autopsy to the Refugee Camp Hospital where we had passed on our return. Besides the unfortunate victim of what seems to be simply a mistake, no one was reported hurt from any of the gunfire. I suppose it is not surprising that in a place where one’s hold on life is so tenuous, tensions are always ready to be released at any provocation, especially as tragic an incident as this.
Blogging by Paul Bauman