Thursday, November 19, 2009

On Coincidences

We spent a lot of time prospecting for fossils as the second half of the season rolled around - the areas close to camp had been picked pretty clean. So one day, we began heading north. I don't remember how it was discovered, but for some reason, about a 40 minute drive north from camp over basalt scree, there was a road! The Inexplicable Road, as it became known, was just south of Dark Mountain, which in turn was just south of Dome Mountain.

The first day we went up around Dome Mountain, we all split off to prospect basically on our own. I ended up walking with Jen for a while, not being very successful at finding fossils on my own. Suddenly, we saw a Turkana woman sitting under a tree. She watched us approach, a dog sitting next to her. I waved and, since this was the day after I started Turkana lessons, yelled out, "Ejoka!" She waved me over. Jen continued prospecting, and I went over to the woman. "Ejoka noi," she responded. Then she looked at my backpack and the nalgene full of water. "Ng'akipi?" I knew what that meant! I gave her my water bottle and she drank the rest of the water that was there.

She started speaking to me in Turkana. Of course, I didn't know any other Turkana, and I didn't really know how to say "I don't know Turkana" in Turkana, so I said it in Swahili, and asked if she spoke Swahili. "Sijui Kiturkana, pole. Unajua Kiswahili?" She only spoke it a little, but between her minimal Swahili and my super super minimal Turkana, and the power of expansive gestures, I talked to her for probably 45 minutes or an hour She asked what I was doing, and I said we were looking for rocks that were bones from a long time ago (I have no idea what the actual word for fossil is in Swahili). She warned me that a sorceror lived on Dome Mountain and, while the rocks over where we were were were OK, the rocks on the other side were bad. After a little while, she said she had to go to the goats, so we said goodbye.

About two or three weeks later, we headed back up north to check out an area further north. Tab wanted to check and see how far the Inexplicable Road went. The wazungu went in one car, the Kenyans in the other, and we drove off. We came to the end of the road, but decided to push on a little more to get to a high point so we could look out and see if there were any more exposures. The Kenyans kept going, and Tab sort of grumbled about it, but we drove past a small Turkana settlement, parked the cars, and began climbing up this hill.

We could see so far from the top of that hill - if I recall correctly, we could see all the way to the southern part of Lake Turkana - but didn't see very many potential exposures, so we turned around to head back down. We could see a row of people sitting alongside our car as we came down, and Matthew went over to talk to them. They said that one of women had just had a baby, but the baby was sick. Tab went over to look at the baby, and it turned out he had a cleft palate. The women said he was too weak because he couldn't breastfeed because of his mouth. The mama looked terrified. She was probably my age, with at least two other kids. The Turkana guys were pretty wonderful - apparently cleft palates are relatively common and there is an organization that funds surgeries for Turkana kids, and they were all telling the mother stories of children they knew who had the operation and were now fine. It was decided that we'd come back for the mother that afternoon, explain the situation to her husband, and then bring her back to camp with us and ultimately take her to the health clinic in Lokichar for them to look at the baby.

We turned back down the Inexplicable Road and arbitrarily turned off the road onto a big expanse of metamorphic rock. Our path (avoiding big rocks and especially tree trunks, which had destroyed a tire earlier that week) was circuitous, but took us past a couple of Turkana houses. We drove past a little boy who ran as fast as he could in the other direction, and past another house - and standing outside of it was the woman I'd met earlier! We parked the cars a ways beyond the house, but she and her five children came over to say hello. It was absolutely the coolest thing in the world! She gave me a hug, and called me "Lokone" which is Turkana for friend, and explained to John Mark that she'd met me earlier. I met her youngest daughter, and pet the dog, and it was ... really awesome. She also had already heard that we were taking the mama and cleft-palate baby to Lokichar.

We spent the rest of the day collecting, and decided to send the Kenyan car to get this woman and not inundate the family with a big group of wazungu. We waited up by the inexplicable road. At one point in time, an older Turkana man came by and asked us to give him tobacco (EVERYONE in Turkana chews tobacco, and we brought some for the local town council at Loperot, where we got our water. One of the geologists in the first part of the field season also chews tobacco, and caused a big stir in Lokichar by taking some from the store where we bought it and chewing) - turns out he'd heard about Neil and the tobacco. Unfortunately, we didn't have any tobacco, so he headed off to find his goats.
Boniface said that the smaller stick he was holding was to use on his wives, but I don't entirely believe that.

After a little while longer, the Kenya truck came, and we drove back off to camp. The mama and baby slept with the folks who lived right around our camp - incidentally, the brother of one of the guys on our field crew was basically in charge of the settlement we were living next to, so Martin got her situated. The next day, we drove her into town to talk to the people at the health clinic in Lokichar. A few days later, we drove her back out home, up north. They gave her medicine for the baby and told her to come back to the health clinic in three or four months and they'd do the first operation on the baby.

That was probably the end of July, so hopefully by this point in time the baby has had his first operation. I keep wondering what would have happened if the Kenyan truck hadn't kept going a little while longer after Tab was ready to stop... and why the heck we pulled off the Inexplicable Road to drive right past my friend's house!

Organizations that fund and perform cleft palate surgeries:

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