The Society of Exploration Geophysicists and the Foundation Geoscientists Without Borders also made a trailer for the Kakuma podcast. Many of the photographs are by Josie Bauman from Quest University Canada who was half of the documentary film crew.
An interesting and important article forwarded to me by two missionary water well drillers from Alaska I met on a desert run in Turkana. As there is no Islamic terrorism and likely Donald Trump is unfamiliar with the Turkana, the drought and famine there are not in the news as they somewhat are in Yemen, Somalia, and neighbouring South Sudan. The very expensive 2013 survey referred to in the article was a highly flawed exploration program whose overly optimistic and unsupported results were reported in the New York Times, BBC and other media, and created false expectations all over the Turkana and Kenya. In contrast, while I am not a supporter of any missionary activities anywhere, it is remarkable what 2 Alaskan water well drillers can accomplish with so few financial resources. I was, and continue to be impressed with what Larry and Joyce are accomplishing.
It is a year since we began our 2 week water exploration program in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, sponsored by the SEG (Society of Exploration Geophysicists) GWB (Geoscientists Without Borders) Foundation, and which we called the Calgary to Kakuma Water Project. Using our results, in May 2016, UNHCR drilled 3 successful wells (that is, 3 for 3, with no dry or saline holes) to depths of 56, 74, and 62 meters below ground surface (mbgs), in what we termed in our report the “Northern Well Field”. The wells tested for sustainable yields of 40, 45, and 29 m3/hour, respectively. Given UNHCR’s practice of pumping supply wells for only 10 hours over each 24 hour period, this is enough water for 57,000 refugees, given UNHCR’s target of 20 liters per person per day.
We issued our full report in May 2016, and finalized it, after UNHCR review, in October 2016. The report is currently available in its entirety at www.paulbaumangeophysics.com (still in construction) We are planning to take on a similar project in the coming year, but hopefully in an even more challenging and water scarce location!
"Seeking Water in a Harsh Land" is a just published cover article about the our Calgary to Kakuma Water Project, featured in the PEG, the magazine of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta.
Check out the article on page 65: https://www.apega.ca/assets/peg/PEG-Fall-2016-Issue.pdf
It includes photos taken by Josie Bauman, Paul Bauman, and Brendan O'Brien.
A recent article about Kakuma's own refugee Olympian Rose Nathike Lokonyen, a hero to tens of thousands of men and women in the Camp.
(click for article!)
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!
Some days it is not too difficult to draw the connection between cappuccinos and croissants in Vilnius in Lithuania, and chai mendazi (tea and fried bread) in Kakuma, or to do away with the euphemisms, to compare the Nazi extermination pits in the Ponary Forest where 70,000 Jews were shot in groups of 10, buried, and burned in 1941 through 1944, to what is still presently ongoing in numerous conflicts in this area. Of course I just meet the few fortunate ones, those lucky enough to survive, and get away, and make it to the Kenyan border, and still possessed with enough presence of mind to be able to tell a small part of their story. Sunday, while waiting for our spare tire to magically roll out of the Turkana desert, a young man, Abbas, walked up to us from the Camp. He spoke no Swahili, but excellent English. He was a school teacher in Darfur, that other conflict in Sudan that fell off the news years ago, but never went away. Government soldiers came to his village on horseback, pressing him to join the army. He refused, wanting only to continue teaching and learning. They shot him point blank in the mouth. At this juncture in the story he removed his upper, false teeth, and then turned around to show the bullet exit point in his neck.
Coming back to Kakuma for the fourth time seems to have allowed the refugees I meet to be more at ease to tell me their stories. Despite having done training in 2015 in Gulu, in northern Uganda, no person had ever actually explicitly clearly talked about being a child soldier for Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). It was always someone else’s story. On Monday, one of my students from Uganda, Ouma, spoke matter-of-factly about being a 14 year old guerilla fighter with Kony’s LRA in the village areas of Acholi land, only to take the first opportunity of escape when his guerilla band was bombed, chaos ensued, and he ran, and ran…. Last night, over a 10% Danish beer at Catherine’s (it is a 1 minute walk from my bed, so no driving was involved), Shema, a philosophy major and aid worker in the Camp, told about fleeing Rwanda as a child with his father, a military officer, and his two body guards, taking 12 hours to navigate, cajole, and threaten their way through the many Hutu roadblocks that the Hutu had set up to prevent any Tutsi or suspected Tutsi from fleeing Kigali. This morning, while driving back from the field, one of my Burundian students, Richard, showed me an image of his brother. Though an officer in the military, he had been imprisoned for speaking out against the government. Today, he had escaped prison and crossed the border into Rwanda, with the photo being that of a free man.
Continuing on a positive note, yesterday, Nimrod from IsraAID and myself met with the head of UNHCR WASH. He had only complimentar comments about the technical value of our January exploration program. Based on our results, three productive wells have been drilled in the northern portion of the Camp. These wells are relatively close to Kalobeyei, and will likely replace the water trucking that is presently sustaining Kalobeyei. Our targets near Kalobeyei will be drilled to supply the host Turkana community.
Yesterday morning, before the groundwater class, we were also asked to take a bit of movie footage over the primary school in Kakuma 4 from our drone. For those staff working and volunteering at the school, the phrase of never have so few done so much for so many with so little held more true. With the sun pounding down on the treeless school yard, 20 kids waiting in line for the single slide, a dozen sharing the seesaw, and an annoying UAV buzzing in the distance, I was astounded by the good will and good natured behaviour manifested in a setting more reminiscent of a nursery in the not so futuristic Mad Max movie. So harsh is the landscape, and so intent are the children to take advantage of any opportunity or game or piece of sporting equipment, that even the best quality soccer ball does not last more than a week of being kicked around all day. Gal, the other half of the Israeli couple that forms the entire expat contingent of IsraAID in Kakuma, has clearly played a massively positive role at the school and with the kids. Check it out from the air! And next time you see a tree, hug it!
Friday, September 16, 2016 in Kakuma
Last night by chance, I met and had a Tusker with the aid worker who was responsible for one of IsraAID's best female students, Rose, dropping out of the November 2015 groundwater geophysics course. Elvis, a Kenyan, runs Youth Development Services here in Kakuma, for the Lutheran World Federation, aka LWF. Sure, that includes a music studio, a soccer league, encouraging artists and would be musicians, and even youth workshops with Clowns Without Borders. It also included putting together an Olympic team in a place where youth have no shoes and facilities of any sort, and where opportunities simply do not exist. It was a 4 year methodical process of teasing latent talent out of the Camp.
Rose was one of the 5 Kakuma athletes, all middle distance runners, and all from South Sudan, who comprised the 10 person Refugee Olympic Team. From the millions of other refugees in camps in Africa and elsewhere, people here are filled with pride and hope that half came from Kakuma, and ALL the track athletes came from Kakuma. The NGO FilmAid set up massive screens at 2 locations in the Camp, with large canopies so some events could be watched live even in the bright sun of late afternoon. Tens of thousands watched.
The 5 athletes flew back to Kakuma to a hero's welcome. A huge crowd greeted them at the air strip with singing and traditional dancing....living proof that there is a way out of here. And while the 5 runners did return, they are now being sponsored to train in Nairobi to become professional track athletes.
Rose was very good, but there have been other outstanding female South Sudanese students in the IsraAID WASH - WAter, Sanitation, and Hygiene - classes. Besides being tall, thin, and dramatic looking, they all seem possessed of smarts, a strong work ethic, and a no nonsense approach to everything. Today I ate a great lunch - njira, rice, cabbage, and goat-with Anna. One of the superstars in the class. Her father was killed in the second Sudan civil war, and her mother carried her out of Sudan to Kakuma in 1994 when she was age 2. Besides great math and science skills, she speaks English, Swahili, Acholi, Arabic, and likely at least one other language of Sudan. Her mother died of disease here in the Camp, and she has since lived with her now 65 year old grandmother. The grandmother collects and carries water for the household so Anna can work on a hygiene promotion team in the morning, and attend the groundwater class in the afternoon. She has had countless interviews for resettlement, with no success. I don't get it as not only does she have all the attributes to succeed, but one of the great failures of resettlement of the Lost Boys of Sudan was not resettling Lost Girls to supplement the social package. Meanwhile, according to today's BBC news, about 300 South Sudanese a week are coming into Kenya fleeing the latest conflict, with far more South Sudanese fleeing into Uganda, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
I have always wondered why I rarely see runners in the evening when I usually head out into the desert. Elvis said the 6:00 PM curfew keeps them in Camp in the evening. Also, when you are living on one meal a day, and that meal is in the evening, you do not want to miss it. Since there is no electricity in the Camp, and people are hungry and tired, the evening meal is usually not delayed. Most of the runners head out at dawn. Too bad for them, as it was an inspiring scene this evening seeing the full moon rising over Laga Tarach, the Turkana manyata homes, and the Acacia trees of the Turkana Desert. For a moment I thought I was in Africa!
Myself and 2 Israeli colleagues with IsraAID finished the evening with a walk into Kakuma town, nyama choma - roasted goat meat - and beers, all outside of course under a clear sky and a harvest moon. Tomorrow it is a visit to the Chief of Kalobeyei to discuss the results of our January SEG Geoscientists Without Borders water exploration surveys, and to the new Kalobeyei Refugee Camp.
I have been back in Kakuma since September 12 teaching, for the 3rd time, a groundwater and water exploration course to refugees and the host community Turkana. I also plan to follow up on the success of 3 wells drilled from our January geophysical water exploration program, reportedly testing for 29, 40, and 45 m3 per hour. That is a lot of water even for this massive camp, but only seeing is believing, so I plan to visit the well field this weekend, hopefully stopping at the Ethiopian refugee cafe of Franco's on the way.
Early morning September 12, 2016, I flew in on the World Food Program plane as usual, and though this is my 4th time here, I was once again immediately overwhelmed by the heat, the dust, and the mass of humanity. Of course all the refugees that were here in January are still here, plus thousands more coming in from the political chaos in Burundi and Ethiopia, the renewed fighting in South Sudan, and the transfer of Somalis from the supposedly soon-to-be-closed, even larger Dadaab Camp in northeast Kenya.
The refugee population in Kakuma is now 194,000. That does not include the 4,000+ that have been moved into the "new" camp of Kalobeyei, an area on the outskirts of Kakuma, where they have no shade, inadequate water supply, and few facilities. The Kalobeyei area is treed, but the Camp area was bulldozed flat, clearing all vegetation. The people are in tents with tin roofs. It is too hot to be inside, with no trees for shade outside. UNHCR is encouraging agriculture, but there is not enough water. 7 of us from Advisian WorleyParsons carried out a water exploration program in January, but none of our targets in the Kalobeyei area, including a few very prospective ones, have yet been drilled. Presently, all water is trucked in. The 3 wells that were drilled in the Kakuma Camp based on our work, reportedly tested for sustainable yields of 29, 49, and 45 m3 per hour. At 20 liters per person per day, it is enough water for about 140,000 persons. UNHCR may pipe water from these wells, or use water from these 3 wells to replace another closer source to be piped to Kalobeyei.
I teach alone from noon to 5. Between the heat and the jet lag and trying to memorize 28 names from South Sudan, Uganda, Burundi, Somalia, and Turkana, day 1 was a struggle. I ended the first day by going for a long run into the desert through a few Turkana communities. Lucky I did. 3 km out I saw a Land Rover driven by a white man. An unusual sight here. It was an Alaskan driller and his wife carrying out a water well drilling program for a Christian evangelical charity out of Medicine Hat, Alberta. I was told there were no rigs operating within 100 km of Kakuma. Just what I needed for a class field trip.
Day 2 in Kakuma, Tuesday, I drove out to the rig in the morning to be sure the class could reach it across the sand and dried out river beds we needed to cross, and then lectured in class in the afternoon. The groundwater students are excellent. 8 women, 20 men. The usual mix of host community Turkana trying to better themselves, political refugees from Burundi, child soldiers or just plain run'of-the-mill rebels from South Sudan. Without exception they are all respectful, intelligent, and easy to talk to.
One Burundian, Richard, was volunteering daily for the Burundian local equivalent of Amnesty International - Association Volontaire Pour La Defense Des Droits Des Prisoniers- interviewing political prisoners (in prison) and advising them of their human rights until prison was up next for him, and he fled. The tallest person in my class, Mawiet, was a rebel fighter in South Sudan and has bullet holes through his legs and arms and stomach to prove it. A Somali, woman, Suad, has been living in camps since she was 5 months old.
There are 2 Acholi refugees from Gulu, where I will be in 8 days, whose past is still quite unclear to me, but whom I assume were trapped or associated with the wrong side of history in regards to the 20 years of violence and chaos brought on by Joseph Kony and the LRA, though they themselves are too young to have been directly involved in either side. It is good fun practicing all 10 words or so from my Acholi vocabulary I picked up last year, though I try not to probe too deeply into the details of what brought people to Kakuma, unless the story comes out naturally in the course of a conversation. Until this class, I did not know that there are also Acholi in South Sudan, as one of the South Sudanese women clearly has an Acholi physique. Also distinctive are the 3 young men from the Nuba Mountains of Sudan where indiscriminate mass killing has occurred, reportedly due to the region's refusal to accept Sharia Law, along with the run-of-the-mill ethnic hatred that has been associated with all the Sudan conflicts.
Yesterday morning, Wednesday, I went out to the AAHI - Action Africa Help International-pilot 3 acre farm. UNHCR now believes that letting people grow their own food might be better than having them completely rely on monthly food distributions. AAHI wants to expand the farm to 20 acres, but they have no water. The farm is in an area which we bypassed in our January program 8 months ago. We will target the area in class on Monday.
Wednesday afternoon we carried out a survey at the Good Shepherd Catholic Church near the classroom. It is a great training site as there is a high yielding NGO drilled well producing undrinkable, caustic water (likely magnesium sulphate). Salt water is an easy test target, and the site is generally fairly quiet, at least until I started flying a drone to photograph the site, and kids started popping out from everywhere.
Today was a great day. We drove the gear out to the water well rig 4 km out from the Camp, while the class walked there in the heat of the day, all 28 of them. The cable tool rig was in action-drilling, bailing, driving casing, etc.- while we were carrying out our surveys trying to look for water below the driller's current depth. The local Turkana village came out in force to spectate. Needless to say, they were astounded by the aerial drone views of their stick wigwam-like manyata homes and the higher altitude views of the dry river beds and villages and us on the ground.
I was the last to return to Camp as the refugees must be back before the 6 PM curfew. I was met by complete pandemonium at the dusty soccer pitches on the edge of Camp. The Grinch's worst nightmare! CWB-Clowns Without Borders!! No kidding. A Colombian, Lucu from Medellin; Gabby from Brazil, Henrik from Denmark/Portland; and Melissa from Vermont. I am fortunate that I met any of the performers as they were surrounded by 1,000s of kids. There are about 120,000 children in Kakuma. Along with shows in the afternoons, the clowns put on workshops in clowning, acrobatics, magic, and other circus skills with a healthy blend of leadership and other social training mixed in.
I caught up with the clowns at the pub in the evening. They all said it was the most profound 3 weeks of their lives, except for Melissa the acrobat, who was immediately up in a handstand on the arms of a rickety, sun damaged plastic lawn chair, wildly clapping her feet in the air.
Kakuma and Nairobi
Saturday morning was hectic. The transport truck to carry our 1600 kg of equipment to Nairobi showed up early. It was fortunate though, as Josie and Paul, even with the students, would have been challenged to complete the final packing and loading. Doug, Landon, and Colin, who were already experts on packing and repacking the gear from their December program in central Turkana took command, and we had the truck on its way for the two day drive to Nairobi. Erin, Franklin, and Randy took the morning to search for wrist knives and other Turkana “accessories” in the Turkana market, but the market is usually not busy until the afternoon, as the Turkana walk from great distances to get into town. By 11 AM, everyone but Josie and Paul were on the road south to Lodwar and then Nairobi. Personally, I would trade three more days in Kakuma and a direct flight out of Kakuma on UNHAS – UN Humanitarian Air Service – any day over a repeat of the Lodwar/Kakuma drive.
In any event, a weekend in Kakuma is not to be missed! Following my last lunch together with the IsraAID refugee and Turkana students, and lots of good byes, Josie and I started walking on one of the main “roads” into Kakuma 1, heading toward Franco’s for a hot coffee, though Josie could not quite get it why anyone would opt to take a stroll on one of the dustiest roads, in one of the hottest places in Africa, to drink hot coffee of dubious provenance under a baking hot zinc plated roof. And the roads are very dusty.
After walking through the mud brick housing and thorn fenced compounds of the Lost Boys from Sudan, one takes a sharp left through the massive corrugated tin gates that close at 5:30 PM, and open again at 6 AM, and one enters the Ethiopian Market area. Past a large public sign board with crowds looking at the latest course offerings or UNHCR emigration interview schedules, another sharp left, step into a dark room and onto a polished mud plastered floor, and one has arrived. As the enjera and other food finished long before, Franco’s is nearly empty of customers, and service is quick. Of course Franco’s is empty of Franco as well, as the story is he opened a restaurant in New York City years ago. And even the Ethiopian refugee artist who did the interior design ran off years ago caught up in a scandalous relationship with a Ugandan refugee.
Customers do come in and out for tea or coffee, and over a half hour one can hear spoken, without leaving one’s seat, Swahili, Arabic, Amharic, French, Turkana, and a buffet of tribal languages that do not register for me at all. But eventually it is time to move on, and do what one does in a market in a refugee camp, go shopping! First it is to the Congolese shops, a mini-market area within the Ethiopian Market, where they carry the craziest batiked fabrics. And then, a bit of food shopping. We are invited to a refugee’s home on Sunday for a farewell lunch as this Sudanese refugee is giving up on Kakuma, and will try his luck on getting home. Few refugees eat lunch, and no refugee has food to spare or for entertaining, so this is something special. What do you bring to such an event? A bottle of wine? Chocolate? Try a kilo of rice, a half kilo of sugar, and 2 liters of cooking oil.
We then pick up a few mangoes for personal consumption, wind our way over to the Somali Market, and head home. Though it is the dry season, and the streets are dry, there are many puddles on the sides of the packed dirt roads, probably about 650 of them, because that is how many water tap stands there are in the Camp. We run into an NGO worker driving through the Somali Market distributing antibiotics to combat trachoma, an easily preventable disease caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. All you need to do is wash your face! Left untreated, it causes blindness. In the Camp the percentage of people with trachoma is 44% - yes, that is 44%!
Back to the puddles, I overhear a conversation with the health care worker that the clinics and hospitals are packed….over 7,000 cases of malaria this week….over 6,000 cases last week. I can’t restrain myself and interrupt, as we are standing next to a Camp Green Lake sized puddle. “What about digging a soak pit at each tap stand?” The puddles at the tap stands are mosquito incubators, and the large number of people gathering at the tap stands provides obvious vectors for malaria to jump from person to person. A “soak pit” is simply a small bucket sized hole in the ground with rocks or gravel. The response to my suggestion is that digging 650 pits is an incomprehensible expense. Who will dig? Who will pay? The problem with a day off in Kakuma is that one has time to look up from whatever is keeping you busy during the week, and think about all the craziness that surrounds you. We have challenges here that even Stanley Yelnats did not face.