Why would 7 Calgarians voluntarily come, again referring to Dave Eggers biography (Achak Deng’s autobiograph) What is the What, to “a place in which no one, simply no one but the most desperate, would ever consider spending a day?” Achak Deng goes on to expand on his initial impressions of Kakuma in 1992,after walking across the deserts and swamps of Sudan…”it is not the worst place on the continent of Africa, but it is among them.” Fortunately, we don’t have a lot of time to think about why we are here, as our days start with a 6:30 AM loading of equipment, chai mendazi, a drive to our next survey location, a long day of field work, shower, dinner, data processing and sleep…not much different than home, and those 38 degree temperatures and the punishing sun keep one from getting too philosophical.
Today, we were back in the Turkana community immediately north of the Camp, carrying out a seismic survey to find the areas of deepest bedrock. While the bedrock (that is the volcanic rock underlying the overlying sands and clays) is sometimes a productive aquifer, the water produced from the bedrock aquifers is often very high in fluoride. Fluoride is one of those elements that is very healthful in low concentrations, but can cause dental and skeletal fluorosis at high concentrations. As such, our objective in this northern area is to search for areas of deeper bedrock where high water production wells with low fluoride concentrations can be drilled.
Even this close to Kakuma town, the Turkana in this area are largely pastoralists, living in igloo like structures called manyatas, made of branches and leaves, and built in a half day by the women. They take advantage of a water tap located in the wellfield, but otherwise their livelihoods are derived from their livestock, and perhaps selling wood or charcoal to the refugees for cooking fuel. The well field where we were working today is one of the few forested areas of Kakuma. Young children can be seen high in the trees chopping away at branches with machetes to harvest cooking fuel. A large bundle of firewood will fetch 100 Kenyan shillings in the Camp, or about $1; a bundle of not too crooked branches to be used for building fences or roofing in the Camp will bring $1.50. All day women were passing along our lines balancing massive bundles of wood on their heads, and often carrying 20 liter jerry cans of water as well. Of course they would often stop by our seismic recording station to quality control the data, and perhaps to see if we had any extra chewing tobacco.
IsraAID’s Turkana and refugee students are now largely running the seismic surveys, including planting geophones, running the GPS, laying cable, operating the truck mounted seismic source, and doing those things that Turkana are particularly good at such as keeping goats off the line and camels from eating our cables. The shooting went faster than expected today, so Colin Miazga and Franklin Koch, our University of Calgary Ph.D. intern, gave the students a late afternoon data processing tutorial. Of course I expect we will get payback with a far more interesting tutorial on cattle raiding that our Alberta farm boy Landon Woods in particular can benefit from.
We finished the day by walking on the bridge across Laga Tarach for nyama choma – roasted goat meat – at the White House, one of three such establishments in Kakuma along with Camels and Unity. In a town that is off the grid and has enough generators to power a few light bulbs, but certainly not a refrigerator, you can usually be confident that at least your food is either canned or very fresh.