Monday, November 16, 2009

Mid-Season Break

To preface - I apologize for tense disagreements!

We got to the field on June 22. The whole field season stretched before me ... and Tab promised I'd get two days off mid-season to go into Lodwar. Lodwar is the biggest city in West Turkana. It's got a huge Catholic diocese, and is the base for a lot of the NGOs that operate in Turkana - Worldvision and Oxfam come to mind. The other big organization that operates through Lodwar is the United Nations High Commision on Refugees. Lodwar is the closest town to Kakuma, one of the continents' largest refugee camps, and a lot of workers and supplies come through Lodwar. Getting nearly run off the road by a UN convoy was a (hopefully) once in a lifetime experience!

As well as being home base for all of these organizations, Lodwar was a land of legend: a land of electricity and internet, of soda made baridi without my wet socks, of international phone calls and newspapers only one day old. Lodwar was the only place I saw a white person I didn't know outside of Nairobi, the only place in Turkana I saw a natural body of running water, and the only place moist enough to support a cockroach population (they were doing quite well for themselves trying to make up for the rest of Kakuma).

I went into Lodwar with B. (a museum employee who was responsible for the discovery of the first fossil at our field site back in the 80s) John Mark and Boniface (the two younger Turkana guys), John Mark's 17-year-old sister and her baby, and another Turkana woman whose relationship to everyone I'm not entirely sure of. Lodwar is about a 2 and a half hour drive from camp - 1.5 to Lokichar, then another hour to Lodwar. The best part about the drive was that the roads were frequently paved! After crossing an incredibly surreal river (the Turkwell River which flows out of Lake Turkana), we made it to Lodwar Town. There is a basket weaving workshop, a roundabout, some grocery stores and general supply stores, and then past town center you get to the hotels. The Turkwell Lodge and the New Splash Hotel were the two biggest ones - I stayed at the New Splash Hotel (in the room Libya). A really nice room - a comfy chair, a big bed, a bright blue mosquito net (because of the Turkwell River, there are mosquitos), a ceiling fan, and a toilet and shower INSIDE MY ROOM!

Lodwar was full of ridiculousness, including:
My first serious proposal of the summer
Making friends with Elizabeth
Making a baby cry because of how scary and white I was
Boniface's drunken shenanigans
Spending 2 hours at the welding store with B while they fixed the boot of our truck

But the most ridiculous event of all was ABSOLUTELY the trip to Lake Turkana. So Lodwar is about an hour drive from Kalakol, a village/town right on Lake Turkana. The guys were adamant that I *had* to go see Lake Turkana while I was there, and in fact we'd all go on the second day we were in Lodwar Town. John Mark never showed up, and Boniface's sister had apparently been sick so he couldn't come - so it was me and B. We ran some errands in the morning, but left Lodwar at about 11. He pointed out some other exposures that they'd explored in previous field seasons, I took pictures of vast expanses of desert, we talked about marriage and cultural differences between different ethnic groups in Kenya and in the US, and so on.

We finally got to Kalakol, and found our way in the general direction of the lake. B wasn't sure exactly where to go, but we picked up a guy along the way who said he'd point us in the right direction. Incidentally, I was watching this news report on Youtube (partially in Swahili, sorry) about Lake Turkana, and our guy is the fisherman wearing all blue. I recognize the 60-year old that they spoke to as well - he was sitting and smoking pot on the beach when B and I drove out there. The lake itself is really quite beautiful, and it was really bizarre to know that I was in the middle of the desert, and here was this HUGE lake so wide you can't see across it, and so long (with strong winds and frequently bad weather...and crocodiles) it takes the fishermen a week or so to get to the southern tip from the halfway point of Kalakol.
Western shore of Lake Turkana by miocyon.

By this point in time, B and I had caused quite a stir on the beach, and a bunch of early teenage guys had showed up and were following us around. Meanwhile, our original guide was sharing the pot with the old guy. B chose this moment to tell me, "Oh, by the way, I forgot to fill up on diesel before we left Lodwar and I don't think we'll have enough to get back. But don't worry - this is a national park. Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya National Museums are friends - they'll lend us some diesel!"

So we get back into the truck with our now-high fishing friend who takes us to the house of the chief warden of the National Park. Not his office, mind you - his house, where there are five little girls playing in the yard who run away screaming and in tears at the site of me. The warden comes outside and B explains the situation. The warden gets in to the front seat of the pickup (where I'd been sitting), tosses my backpack in the seat behind him, and directs us to the radio room - a round tin hut with a huge old CB-type radio. It turns out that they can't just give us diesel, or even sell it, without talking to the warden in charge of the whole district, and he in turn directs us to the warden at Mt. Elgon National Park - a day and a half drive from Lokichar, minimum. They want to know our names and affiliations, so I write it down on a piece of paper. I was waiting outside of the hut for everyone to come out when I hear over the radio, "Irene Brown, an mzungu who's working with the museum, needs to borrow some diesel." Don't ask me where they got Brown from - I wrote my last name very clearly!

Well, the warden at Mt. Elgon gave the warden here the OK for us to get 10 liters of diesel, which should be more than enough to get back to Lodwar, provided that we then buy 10 liters in Lodwar and deliver it to the KWS offices there. The Turkana warden commandeers my seat once again, and we drive right back down to the beach, where we displace two very old and frail looking Turkana from a shelter which is also sheltering drums apparently full of diesel that they use to power the KWS motorboat. Our high friend siphons the diesel out of the drum and into a jerry can using a piece of tubing and his mouth - I've never been so grateful for gas pumps before! After filling up the tank, a man wearing a bright yellow tanktop, crazy Hawaiian board shorts, and wrap around sunglasses comes over to ask if we're heading back towards Kalakol and if so could we transport him and someone else to a small settlement nearby. We oblige, and he goes over behind the shelter and hoists the oldest, sickest, frailest, most emaciated man I have ever seen onto his back. He and the old man, who is wearing only a plaid blanket around his waist, sit in the back seat. B tells me to get in the front again and the Turkana warden waves us off.

After about 10 minutes of driving, we get to the settlement where the two men wanted to be left, and let them out. I'm sure that the old man died by the end of that week. And ... we drive back to Lodwar.

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