Today, we drove again from the southern end of the Camp back to the northern end, to continue to map out Kakuma’s best aquifer. It’s a fascinating drive in the morning, perhaps one of the most engaging and thought provoking 10 km or so of human interest on this planet…past UNHCR’s solid waste disposal facility (an open trash burning pit), passing the oldest of several Kakuma cemeteries on the right (crosses for Christian burials and low stone piles for others, like many desert burials of eons past), through the Block (the Camp is divided into Zones and Blocks) where the 40,000 “Lost Boys” of Sudan first came in 1991 and 1992, past a small stockyard full with cattle destined for one of two abattoirs in the Camp, past thousands of refugees going to school (one of the primary schools has 7,000 children!), past long line ups at one of the food ration distribution centers, passing dozens of signs such as the one in front of the hospital extolling people to eat 3 well balanced meals daily comprising all the food groups (rations will decrease 20% this year to approach 500 calories, explaining why most refugees eat a single simple meal daily), catching sight of something you NEVER see here …an overweight person, through the Somali market, then the Ethiopian market, then the market in Kakuma 2, a roadside sign pointing to Kalobeyei – a Camp that does not yet exist, the Lokado center for charcoal stove making, the Red Cross Center for searching for family contacts, the Don Bosco technical training center, Somali women in hijabs, Sudanese women in sarongs, very young children rolling old bicycle tires or pulling small plastic cars made from cracked bleach bottles or jerry cans, the crowds surrounding the UNHCR postings of interview lists for possible immigration to Canada or Norway or the United States…across tributaries to the main Laga that were in raging flood stage only 2 months ago, under the towering tanks that replenish the water taps serving 185,000 refugees, the early morning crowds of women and children squatting outside the only hospital in the camp…. And then we get to the northern well field, and it is back to Turkana women carrying everything and anything on their heads, small boys and girls herding camels and donkeys and goats, and everyone carrying or rolling or dragging jerry cans of water.
It was our third day working in this particular water well field. If only things were so easy back in Canada…not only are our Turkana and refugee students better trained by the day, but the local Turkana kids are always eager to show that they can carry anything we can, heavier, further, and faster. And the Turkana seem to be the masters of untangling hopeless knots of seismic cable that we Canadians seem to be the masters of creating.
Most days we are swallowing a liter or more of water an hour and still feeling dissatisfied. Today, the day was overcast, and we even had a bit of rain. And working in the forest north of camp provided that extra bonus of shade. A preliminary look at our results suggests that the northern area is a thick blanket of saturated alluvial and volcanic sands…so if we can map out that blanket, we can certainly site a few more wells.
As we had 4 Turkana on our crew during lunch – William, Asha, Peter, and Loki, I threw out a question that has been nagging me…what does”Kakuma” really mean? The popular response of those who work here is that Kakuma means “nowhere” in Swahili, though Google Translate nor my Kiswahili dictionary support this assumption. The Turkana students provided, with great confidence, several conflicting answers, including Kakuma being a plant that is unique to the area, a ridge of hills nearby, the name of a tobacco pouch commonly used by the Turkana in the area... Later, back in the IsraAID office, one of the South Sudanese refugees and WASH instructors, Michael, said it came from a combination of the Nuer words Kak, for farmland, and Uma, meaning of the government. This would explain the stress on the first syllable instead of the inviolable rule in Kiswahili of the stress being on the penultimate syllable. But my favorite, and most believable explanation, came from the well spoken 20 year old Kakuma born FilmAid actress, WASH superstar, and also occasionally known as Miss Kakuma, Teresa. Kakuma is a Dinka word of South Sudan, describing this area when Dinka and others were exiled here, in the years before Kenyan independence in 1964, when the Turkana desert was considered (at least by Sudanese and nomads of the area) as part of Sudan. It means “the place where you will be punished.”