This comes to you from the spacious veranda of Lale’enok Resource Centre, on Friday, 21 July. The sky is a cloudless blue, the air warm and filled with varied birdsong and the view is one of dried earth, numerous elegantly formed acacia trees and many scraggly bushes. The ‘Kenya crew’ has just come back from a hike up the western escarpment of the Rift Valley and are relaxing and rehydrating. (I am on my fifth litre of water today!) We should be in school but, for reasons associated with the imminent Kenyan elections, we got a ‘free day’ today to, paradoxically, ‘chill out’.
Last Friday night, when I left you, we were preparing our trip to the Shompole Group Ranch Conservancy area. Up ‘dark and early’ we headed out at 6am and reached the swamp by 7:30. We saw wilderbeest, giraffes, a Goliath heron (the world’s largest heron), Egyptian geese as well a young kudu and some Grey Crowned Cranes with exquisite head colouring and feathers. Lions are commonly spotted in the area as well as an elephant with one tusk, though we didn’t see them. A second purpose of the trip was to visit Oloika School. It has only two proper buildings; the other classrooms are just corrugated iron on cement floors. It is high up, hot, windswept and barren. It is clearly greatly in need of help. One wonders why the highly salaried government officials (among best paid in the world) don’t spend some money here! We didn’t indicate the purpose of our visit but were well received. This school broadens our knowledge of educational facilities in the area in case Glenstal would ever want to organise another ‘Kenya crew’ project, alone or in partnership. The hot weather (approx.30 C in the shade when we visited) and the distance from Lale’enok (20kms over sand tracks) would present challenges.
On leaving we spotted the Chinese ground pegs indicating their future oil field and headed to ‘Shompole Wilderness Camp’ on the Ewaso-Ngiro river (‘brown water’ in Swahili), downstream from Lale’enok. It is run by Samanth du Toit and her husband and caters to international groups of well off nature lovers and photographers.
Sunday, the boys say, was marvellous. We just had Mass with visitors of various Christian denominations, presided by Fr Simon, and relaxed, caught up on sleep, played cards, toyed with the idea of a swim but instead visited a Maasai village (‘manyata’) and had a campfire dinner under the stars of the southern hemisphere. The Maasai straddle two cultures. Their roots are in their pastoralist lifestyle looking after cows,sheep and goats. Each species has its own pen in the ‘manyata’ (homestead) and various human generations also live there, each with its own access point, in a markedly patriarchal society. But they are also acquiring some benefits of modernity such as veterinary medicines, mobile phones and motorbikes. Their culture is under strain, not least from climate change, and one wonders how they can keep the best of it and yet benefit from the modern world.
On weekdays the Crew continued teaching computer skills, in this sequence: turning on a computer and using a mouse on day 1; Paragraphing and Wikipaedia (one boys discovered the sea!) on day 2; Saving & Filing on day 3; Formating and typing their I.D. etc on day 4; doing Inserts of pictures, charts as well as copying and pasting from Wikipaedia on day 5; using the computer camera on day 6; using the Tablets on day 7 (not so useful as a laptop we believe) and, always, Games which make them feel at home with a laptop. The crew works very well and relates very well with the young Kenyans inside and outside the classroom. Fr Simon gave a class on Genetics which was a marvellous introduction for many here to the fact that one can believe in a God who is the ultimate origin of creation as well as in the theory of evolution. Very many people here think these are mutually exclusive! I delivered a lesson on the varied kinds of writing in scripture, and that Genesis 1 is not to be taken literally, but metaphorically/symbolically. (I can prove that.)
The food is just great, with eggs (protein) in some form every morning. Hot lunches such as pasta or meatballs, as well as salad, brought to Olkiramatian most days. Our target is to drink between four to five litres of water a day. All are well though we did slip over to Magadi hospital on Wednesday to get medicine to counteract the venom of the Nairobi fly and skin infections that can arise from our change of temperatures.
During the week we have been able to incorporate three visits to additional local areas. We went to Patterson’s Seconday school, near Olkiramatian, for our now annual soccer game. The team played excellently despite the high bounce of the ball on the hard and uneven ground and the consequent different timing for kicking it. Though fast the light-weight Kenyans could also be kept from the ball, when required, by our heavier guys. Aran Egan scored all the scores of the game, four, which was impressive, though my pleasure was the lack of injuries. We also went to Mount Carmel Private Primary school. It is on a beautiful hilltop and has, according to the boys, the most charming young people we have met to date. Again, conditions are deplorable. They have hardly any books, no footballs etc.etc. Finally, we went to the local Maasai market, I was not there but the boys say it was not worthy of note. So, I’ll end now and write towards the end of next week. Thanks for reading!
Fr John OSB
P.S. Allow me give credit for the first photo of the Crew on our Toyota Landcruiser. It was taken by our driver, Arif Hussein, with the camera of Jack Wall O’Reilly.