You can see the remains of the hydroelectric plant standing oddly beside the Kapedo waterfall across the river from the hospital. Electric lines span the river and then spread to supply the hospital and some of the homes and businesses in town. Except that at present, everything is defunct. We are on our way today to take some pictures and measurements so that we can salvage the power plant if possible. We have a U.S. partner who is interested in helping us by providing a generator that can be retrofitted into the existing structure.
In order to get to the generator, one has to climb down the steep basalt strewn trail from the town to the riverside. Early in the morning mist rises from the riverbed when the hot water of the falls drops into the cooler water and air below.
No one knows the origin of the hot salty water that cascades over the falls into the river in three places. Upriver above the falls, we have tasted the water, after filtering of course, and found the taste pleasant and low in salt. The water from the falls is salty and hot. The water cannot be used for drinking or agriculture. However, there is such a volume of water that if tapped appropriately, the steady strong flow of water can turn a turbine and produce electricity.
We three trek across the rock-strewn beach, Jacob, Samantha and I. No one else seems particularly inspired to come along. I warn Sam that the river is hot, too hot to wade through. I suggest we walk downstream a bit in order to cross the stream safely. Jacob and I make it across, but Sam makes it only half way across before the intense heat of the water overwhelms her and she has to turn back. Jacob suggests that she move further upstream and cross. I have no doubt that she can move upstream to cross the river, but then she has to wade or jump across the falls. I am skeptical as I look at the force and power of the falls, but Jacob says there is a way. I trust his judgment. Sam is successful in hopping across on some rocks with Jacob’s direction.
We took some measurements, height of 12 feet, diameter of 20 inches, water spiraling in a counter clockwise swirl. Chamber diameter 8 inches. I climb up on top where the small dam is diverting the stream so that the water is flowing over the falls rather than through the downspout. I then climbed back down into the framework that covers the generator to see how the water swirls through the system. I ask Jacob to open the port partway so that I can observe the flo depth for the turbine. Jacob complies by opening the gate partway. I observe the swirl of the water, then yell up to Jacob that he can close the gate again. Something gets lost in the translation and Jacob takes the gate completely out. Water erupts like a geyser out of the contraption. I leap like a monkey up onto the framework, clutching my precious tools. Scalding water splashes around me and runs over the floor in all directions. I jump out of the shelter and look up at Jacob peering down at me curiously. I laugh. “You can turn it off now” I shout. He nods and the water eruption subsides.
A few more measurements and we are ready to make our way back to the house. Sam stops every few steps to nurse her red and hot feet. The water in the river is just barely tolerable for the few seconds that it takes to wade through. One misstep into the waterfall, even for a second, and you would scald your skin.
This is an example of the untapped resources in Kapedo. The river. The sand. The sun. The soil. The geothermal energy. All with the potential for development in a way that is sustainable and enhances life. But if these are developed while causing further disparities, then further unrest will grow and such development will fall apart. Without peace no such development is possible. Investors will move away. Investments will fail because of lack of security. Technical support, knowledge, equipment will be lost. Living conditions will regress to basic survival again. This is why our peace initiative is so vital. More and more I am convinced, as I learned in rwanda in 2011, peace is the foundation for all development.
We hike up the side of the basalt strewn pathway, stepping aside for the Turkana women and girls carrying river water on their heads. We step back into our guest house and talk with the rest of the team who have stayed back preparing medicines for tomorrow’s activities. We describe to them the risks and struggles we have endured. None of them seem to be particularly remorseful for not coming along on the adventure.
I think of the places we have visited here and the potential for improvement. Gutter systems for rainwater catchment, falling apart without maintenance. Water pipes for running water, sitting plugged or busted without maintenance. Electric lines spanning the rough roads to power homes and hospitals, sitting idle without maintenance. They are shouting to us the same messages. These were developed by the missionaries who came here because they believed such development would improve the lives of the people. But without peace, and without an economy that supports such resources, life regresses to hauling water out of the river in buckets and sitting over a crude fire in the dark, as they are doing now. We can change that. It will take economic development. It will take a continued commitment to peace. We are starting with the community’s most vulnerable citizens, the orphans of Kapedo. We are building a place for them. We must develop these resources in a way that both sides, both the Turkanas and the Pokots benefit.
The Orphans of Kapedo
After breakfast this morning we waited for the arrival of some special guests. I am sitting at the table doing some paperwork when I hear the murmur of voices outside. I step out into the sunshine and smile. There they are squatting modestly near the gate, waiting to be welcomed, quiet smiles gracing their faces. I announce to our team that the children have arrived. I greet the teachers and other leaders who accompany them, then walk over to the orphans. I shake each hand and call out their names, massacring the pronunciation of several. This creates a ripple of corrections and giggles.
We talk a bit and bring them all into the guest house, chief, teachers, pastor, matron, others. We share some of our meager water with some lemon flavoring and pass around some nuts we brought along. Ian, the youngest orphan, cuddles on Natalie’s lap. We listen to the matron’s report and the secretary’s report. The children are all doing well. They look wonderful. They are well fed. The oldest girl, Abei, sponsored by my nurse has healed from her lung infection. The only one who still is ill is Daniel, the boy with chronic osteomyelitis of the leg.
The team hands out the gifts we have brought. Blankets, beanie babies, some footwear, a pencil and some supplies, a tote bag. The children smile and we laugh together. I give a soccer ball to the older boys. They are so jazzed. We pray with them, take some pictures and say goodbye. I ask the teacher to give them some paper so they can write a letter to their sponsors. They will bring these tomorrow. We watch the children walk out through the gate as we wave goodbye.
“That was cool,” reports Diane. I look at our team. Everyone is smiling. Our trip, the hardships, the challenges and disappointments have been worth it. This trip is awesome. We couldn’t do the things we dreamed of doing. We are instead doing the things we were meant to do.
Visit to the Orphan’s Shelter
Today s the day to look at the progress that has been made in the building of the modest house for the orphans of Kapedo. This year’s budget went in part for this structure. Cost overruns were inevitable due to hardship in obtaining materials and lack of local builders.
This part of the peace project is important because it is designed to help the most vulnerable of the Turkana community and because it is our only visible presence here. At the entrance to the city, a sign has been erected. Kapedo Ekisil Children’s Center, it reads. A picture of the ten orphans we are supporting graces its billboard. We take some pictures by the sign.
The modest three room structure will house the boys on one side, the girls on the other, and the matron in the center room. The walls are plastered, the roof is on, and a little remains to be done. A fence, toilets, some finish work. Then we will move the children in and have the grand opening. We are delighted.
We then walk to each of the schools in the community. We are unaware that there are six schools here. A preschool, four grade schools including a girls’ school, and one secondary school. Children come from around the region to these boarding schools because education is available. Half of the students are from outside the community. The schools provide education as well as income for teachers and the community. This is one of Kapedo’s greatest resources and also one of the strongest reasons that make this an ideal place for the orphans of Sudan to come here to be raised.
We look at a garden project at one of the schools. It is a good start, a protected location, but highly dependent on water. We can build on this. We crest the top of a hill overlooking the town. We want to know about the site that has been chosen by the community for the Sudan children. We want to visit it, walk over it, dream about it and pray over it. Those who are acting as our guides tell us that it is too far from here. We cannot go there today. We will plan to go tomorrow.
Jacob takes me aside later and explains what this may mean. He suspects that the leaders don’t want to show us the place because they know that it is too far from the center of town, and it is not secure enough to welcome orphans. They know the children are vulnerable and they realize that showing us their planned site will leave the children unprotected. They don’w wish to show us what they were considering. This may represent a misjudgment on their part. Worse still, it may represent a reluctance to have them come at all. This bothers me considerably. Perhaps we were making a mistake in assuming that the community could span the prejudice of races and tribes and welcome foreign children.
The following day we met with the community leaders again and prepared to go to the new site. The chief is with us today. He is the one who can show us and offer us the land. They have decided on a new site overnight. They have read our minds and realized after our discussion two days ago that they were expecting something different. They had thought that we were putting up something like another refugee camp, and they felt that such a large undertaking needed more space and its own identity. Once they understood that we were talking about only orphan children and starting out modestly, they realized that the site they originally chose was hardly welcoming for vulnerable children who needed protection and the support of the community.
The newly chosen site is right next to one of the primary schools, the nursery school, one of the churches and very close to the Kapedo Ekisil Children’s Center for the Kapedo orphans. A portion of the land is flat and has more loamy soil. It is also near enough to the river that we could put a ram pump to be used to bring water for a garden project, perhaps a fish project as well. I speak to the chief. He is supportive of the idea. This will work. This is an ideal site. These are the people we want to partner with. They are the greatest asset of Kapedo.
Our peace initiative is designed carefully around several principles, including inclusiveness, fairness, justice, development, compassion, community leadership. Every activity we participate in tries to bring the two sides together, improve the lives of the community and reflect the priorities of the community. So how is it that we found ourselves in the middle of a village riot?
It all started when Natalie asked the folks in Colville to help her bring 600 beanie babies or stuffed animals to the orphans in Kakuma. She thought the children there would love a small toy, perhaps as much as any other gift we could give them. One could argue that this was our priority and that orphan children might wish to have something more practical to begin with. Regardless, it was something that the Colville community got behind and we toted nearly 600 beanie babies across three continents hoping that they would enjoy them. I had suggested that we wait until we were nearly ready to leave so that we were not continually accosted by someone who didn’t get one hoping for some kind of gift.
We planned the event with the community leaders. I knew from previous experience that it is best not to try to pull this off without lots of local help. I related to the group one of our trips when our team attempted to pass out colored pencils and the pressure of many small hands all grabbing for the gifts caused the adult to panic, throw the pencils in the air and run for cover. This would be an organized event, we hoped.
We gathered under a large spreading tree in the sandy flats in the center of town. We waited as local adults gathered to help us with the process. The children were lined up so that we could serve the youngest first, then the others in order of age. Everything was going smoothly. Each child welcomed the dum-dum suckers, but many of the younger children were terrified by the beanie babies. We don’t know what a beanie baby represents to a small Turkana child, but their mothers appreciated the gift and grabbed the toys on behalf of their squalling infants.
These events are best completed as quickly as possible. As we handed out the gifts, infiltrators began showing up, mothers with infants who hadn’t heard about the event, other children of small stature who hadn’t received a gift, cutting line, etc. The older ones began to fear that there would not be enough for everyone, since we were already on our second suitcase of toys. Children and adults began crowding around. Shouting began. The leaders stopped the event and asked people to step back. Some shook sticks at the crowd. A semblance of peace returned, but only momentarily. We reached the end of the toys and the crowd knew it. There was a scramble. Someone tore a hole in the bottom of the plastic bag holding the remaining candy and some fell out. Kids immediately hit the dirt, scrambling through the sand over each other for the dropped items. Finally people feared for our safety in the press.
“Let’s get out of here,” Jacob said. “I’ll take the rest,” one of the young helpers promised. We grabbed our bags and handed the rest of the candy to our young friend. He ran off across the sand shouting and dropping candy along the way. The entire horde of children ran after him, shouting and laughing. We walked from the mob with little difficulty, having been extricated by our friends. So ends the story of how the peace project instigated a riot among the people of Kapedo.
The Rains Come
We sit at the table enjoying supper. We talk over the day’s events. I ask the three questions. What did you experience today? How did that feel? How can we do better tomorrow? To these I have added a fourth. Did anyone experience joy today? It’s a way to debrief, assess how the team is doing, and build our team.
Tonight there is something different in the air. A slight breeze is blowing. It feels a couple of degrees cooler than the past days. Perhaps our bodies are acclimatizing. Then lightning flashes in the west. The wind picks up. The temperature drops. The rain begins to fall. They have been delayed three months. The stress has been building. Would the peace hold in spite of the drought, I had been asking myself? Now the rains were coming.
One of the young ladies stepped outside, then another. Then we all stood outside in the rain and soaked in the coolness. It was good to feel cool, to feel wet, to remember how the rain feels on our skin. The Turkana women who had been preparing our meals gazed out at us in wonderment, then they joined us. We laughed together and danced around in circles. I took a picture of all of the women jumping together in the rain. It is a wonderful sight. I knew from previous experience that the people of this town sometimes believe that the weather is brought by the visitors. “You brought the cool weather, they had told us on a previous trip. Perhaps they are right, at least in part. Perhaps it is not us, but the peace we are bringing. Either way, I let it wash down and over me, wash the salt from my pores, the dust from my hair. I breathe it in. I know in my soul that I did not create the peace this community is enjoying any more than I brought the rain. I can only suspect that there is One who is responsible for both the peace and the showers under which we stand, and I breathe out my silent gratitude.
Last Day, Last Clinic
We had the good fortune of running into the Pokot chief during our stay at Kapedo. We had hoped to interact with the Pokots at least to some degree. We were warned by Samuel that it was not wise to go without a week’s notice to the people, since by the nature of their lives, the Pokots needed that long to prepare for a clinic. However, the chief assured us that we could expect some patients on the date we had planned. Jacob felt that it was important that we make an attempt, even for a few patietns, because the feeling is always strong that if we give to one side and not the other, we really are not being fair.
We set out on the day we had planned to return to Nakuru. We would spend the morning at the remote Pokot site and see some patients, give out some gifts, then return at noon, pick up a lunch and load up for the return trip to Nakuru. We arrived at the agreed upon site about 10 minutes after we had planned, not bad for Kenya time. We looked around. No one was there. Silence from the surrounding cliffs. We walked out to the main road. Nobody. We walked to the Patipat pan, a reservoir we had refurbished in order to improve water for the Pokots. We found one disappointed cow.
We walked back to the clinic site and met four Pokot warriors on the road, arrows, bows, AK47’s slung over their shoulders. We called for Jacob to translate for us. They were requesting a ride up into the hills, but we had a full load. We talked it over as the Pokots walked away. We thought the town center of Akoret was just a few miles away. Why not try to go and see at least a few people, leave some gifts behind, let the community know that we were serious about including them.
We drove into the hills. The road deteriorated rapidly from bad to wretched. We picked up the warriors along the way, all four of them standing on the floor boards of our vehicle. We drove for an hour and a half and stopped in the middle of nowhere. We couldn’t go further. We had run out of time. We were disappointed. We got out and stretched out legs. We looked across the valley and saw a camel, then another, then a herdsman and another. We called out over the edge of the cliff and realized that there was a small village down beside the dry riverbed. People came out at our voices and began making their way up to see us. Mothers with multiple small children beside them. Grandfathers and fathers. We began seeing them, passing out medicine, cleaning their wounds, wrapping them and giving away toys to the children, blankets and clothing. We stayed an hour, much later than we should have, but this was so important. We needed to make contact with the Pokot community to send clearly the message that we cared for them. We left two bags of toys and blankets behind and asked the community to distribute them for us. We left the remainder of our acetaminophen with them with instructions.
The mothers stood with their blankets and stuffed animals around our vehicle as we prepared to depart. The old men stood with their dum-dums and their t-shirts. We waved goodbye. One of the old women began clapping. Then the others joined her. Someone began singing and the others joined her. “What are they singing?” we wanted to know. Jacob interpreted for us. “We thank God for you our visitors. You have come in peace, now go in peace.”
“This was awesome,” exclaimed Diane was we drove away. “This was my favorite thing of the whole trip. Did you see how those old men liked those dum-dums? Did you see how poor the people are? I am so glad that we came here.”
We are late, we are tired, we are bumping back across the rocks and riverbeds as quickly as we can. We are on our way back home. This has been the hottest, stickiest, driest, unplanned trip I have ever been on, and everyone, everyone of us would do it again.
Reflections on a Trip Gone Terribly Wrong
Visitors to Africa on safari speak about the big five. They are, of course, animals that are highly desirable to see. Leopard. Lion. Elephant. Rhino. Buffalo. Our trek is of a considerably different nature. We have developed our own big five list for our trip.
Experience a childbirth in the village.
Drive through a river at flood stage. Twice.
Hit an African speed bump at full speed. Twice.
Close encounter with the world’s dumbest cow. Twice.
Start a riot in the village using only beanie babies and dum-dums.
We got them all.
Besides that, we have experienced far more. Seeing the struggles of daily life in the village from the ground level. Watching the Chemolingot singers put all of their energy into dances for peace. Seeing them surrounded by Turkanas and Pokots, chiefs, women, grandmas, warriors, children, all of them singing, swaying, clapping and smiling as songs of peace are ringing out. Wading through the scalding water of the Kapedo waterfall to evaluate and document the hydroelectric generator. Giving out 565 beanie babies or their equivalent to the children of Kapedo and Akoret. Seeing the orphans of Kapedo improving and continuing their education. Visiting the Kapedo Ekisil Children’s Center, our first structure of the peace project. Bringing basic care to the Pokots near the remote village of Akoret. Listening to the songs of the Pokot women who surrounded our vehicle as we prepared to leave. “God bless you our visitors. You have come in peace, now go in peace.” Experiences that change our lives and help us to see the world and our role in it differently.
We are sitting around the supper table in Nakuru this evening eating with Samuel and Jacob, our Kenya partners. Tonight we will have a warm shower, electricity, internet. Well, two out of three. We talk over what we have experienced and bring Samuel up to date. A lot of smiles, a lot of laughter as we consider our good fortune in being able to effect peace in Kapedo. We recognize that it is a fragile thing, but what is amazing is that the conflict that has lasted solidly for over a decade from 1998 to 2012 is measurably changed. People on both sides are working for peace, and we are only beginning.
The next steps are just as crucial and just as exciting. Agriculture development. Water irrigation out of the river. Restarting the power station. Building a clinic/adult education/worship center. Developing water for the Pokots. Partnering with Operation Planet and the Alliance for Sudanese Diaspora and others. Establishing a more consistent presence in Kapedo. Writing a proposal to the UN for the orphans from South Sudan. The future is bright with possibilities.
It’s time to end our meeting. The ladies sitting across from me are winding down. They are tired from being clobbered for 12 hours today on the roughest roads that I have seen. Before they go there is something I want to say to each of them. I have a tradition with our mission trips to pass out what I call the Azungu award. Azungu is the Swahili and Chichewa word for white person. Kids yell it at the top of their lungs in remote villages in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and elsewhere whenever a white person shows up. The word serves as an alarm of sorts for all the kids in the village to come and see the strange spectacle. Tonight, I will honor each of the team for their giftedness, their contribution to the project. Each will receive a large partially melted chocolate bar dragged from the U.S. across three continents and thousands of miles for this occasion.
I begin with Sam. I recognize her spirit of adventure, for wading across scalding hot rivers to help us with the hydroelectric generator perched on the Kapedo waterfall. Natalie for her kind heart, in bringing 600 beanie babies to give away to the Turkana and Pokot children and starting a riot in the process. Diane for tenacity, this being her fifth trip with me, each time to more challenging places. I wonder aloud if she will ever learn. Jacob I recognize as an honorary Azungu, a man of God who inspires us to do what is right and righteous. Samuel, also an honorary Azungu tonight is recognized for faithfulness in consistently working to bless the lives of his people at home. Shelley my wife for insisting on coming along though it compromised her job and was a significant sacrifice. We laugh again together and I look around the table. Every face is smiling. Everyone knows that on some level this trip was a disaster. It was nothing like what we expected. And yet we all know, this trip was far more than we could have ever imagined. It was a complete and lasting success.