We are waiting for a few minutes for Samuel to arrive. He meant to meet us at 8 so that we could get on the road right away and spend a little time in Nairobi at the ADRA office talking about the peace initiative. He is running a little late. It gives me a chance to reflect on this trip.
I feel terribly conflicted. I am sitting in the breakfast room at the modest hotel where we are staying, a bed and breakfast put up by the Presbyterian Church. In the background a TV preacher from the U.S. is explaining his version of the prosperity gospel. He is one of those guys who sounds like he is speaking truth, but something is missing. “Following the principles of Jesus is meant to give you more cash” something like that. I wonder if he understands that while this may prosper us spiritually, we may become impoverished financially, yet we are not poor. “Sell all you have and give to the poor, then come and follow me.” I think it was Jesus who spoke those words.
So we give of our resources for the chance to create peace, to bless others in another part of the world, as well as in our own backyard. We are impoverished, and we are made richer. We make no apologies for such a life.
The TV preacher is annoying, but the truth is, there is something else that is bothering me. I miss those kids in Kapedo. I remember them, five boys, big wide grins across their faces, holding onto a soccer ball that we gave them. Girls in school uniforms, orphans who have a future, and hope, because we work on peace in Kapedo.
But I didn’t have a chance to see them, to greet them on this trip. They are on an island of flooded rivers and I am on the other side. In my mind I see them, waving to me as I drive by in my limousine, hoping a few crumbs will fall to them. But the gulf between us is too wide, and I can only hear their voices just above the roaring waters, still full of hope, trusting that somehow we will find a way.
I can’t explain why they matter to me. I can only say that they do. The truth is, I miss them.
It may sound like we have some kind of a Savior complex, and I can understand that. I have heard that critique of people who do what we do in various forms for decades- criticism of people who choose to live their lives differently, to make of their lives about more than just themselves and their own comforts. In residency, my advisors suggested that my desire to work in another part of the world was driven by guilt, sort of their psychoanalysis of my motives. People make a living by accusing good people of being flawed. Of course we are. Can we move on now?
What motivates us is something far deeper. It was never about ourselves, patting ourselves on the backs, medals, trophies or recognition. People who are self-centered and egotistical get recognition, publicity, position and power. Look at Donald Trump.
It is the joy of walking with other humans for whom injustice has overwhelmed them. They have no clout, they have no voice, they have no resources. To come alongside them, to open a door for them and to give them hope and a future. That is a life worth living. I love that life. If no one else notices or comes along, so be it, it doesn’t matter, because it was never about other people and what they thought. The truth is, we are not alone- there are others who are also moved by the suffering of people. They are quietly going about in the world discovering the good they were meant to do in it. These are the righteous.
Samuel arrives and we talk about future plans, getting the supplies to Kapedo when the rain allows, working with some of the other partners in that area for peace. We talk about budgets, last minute details, getting him a little more money to finish out the year. He prays with us, he thanks us, he blesses us. He wants us to know how dear we are to him. He is changed, and the people in the conflict areas are changed because we don’t give up on them, even when we might have, we keep believing that peace will prevail. “A light at the end of the tunnel,” he says.
We become curious about his family. I know only that his mother is still living, last I knew in the wild Akoret area beyond Kapedo. She is Turkana, but since her deceased husband, Samuel’s father, was Pokot, these are her ancestral lands in that remote Pokot area. We ask if he has children. Yes, there are three. The oldest is named Barry, the second is named Precious, and the youngest is named Shelley. My wife wakes up as if from a sleep. “Did you name them after us?” she asks, surprised. I smile. It is the custom of African cultures to name their children after people they wish to honor, to remember, people they wish to tell their children about, to live up to. “Of course,” answers Samuel. “Because you have changed my life, I want to remember you each and every time I say my children’s names.” He promises to introduce his family to us next visit.
We smile, say goodbye, give hugs, last minute instructions, and we are off down the road. I reflect on what Samuel is telling us in naming his children as he has. I think he has said in so doing what I am feeling. He has made us his people. We are united through a bond that is as profound as our biology. We are his family. And so is he to us. The children in Kapedo, I cannot lay down their memory because I have made them my people. If they succeed, I will cheer for them. If they fail, I will sorrow for them. If they suffer, I will suffer with them. That has made the difference.
The children are waiting on the other side of the river. I can hear them calling out to us as we leave this place. They are waving goodbye. They are asking us to remember them. We turn to board the plane, hot, sweaty, beat up, jostled by a thousand potholes, frazzled by a thousand donkey carts, matatus, pedestrians, cows, goats and motorcycles with bedframes strapped on the back. How can we forget them? We will come again.
Samuel has worked so hard for peace, and what is amazing about him is that he was a victim of the violence. In the early 1990’s his father, a Pokot, was killed by the Turkanas during a raid of sorts. In those days the Turkanas had the upper hand and the Pokots were on the run. Cattle rustling, thievery, violence, perpetuated over decades. Samuel identifies with both sides of the conflict since his father was Pokot and his mother Turkana. He isn’t bitter, but works for reconciliation on both sides. He finishes his nursing degree next month and he will graduate in the spring. He dreams of finishing a master’s degree in nursing and becoming the first Pokot lecturer in one of the nursing schools. He hopes in this way to inspire other Pokots to obtain an education and transform their lives in the process.
Proposal for reconciliation
Overnight I looked over the documents that Samuel gave me. In one document, he outlined the programs conducted in 2015 as part of the peace initiative. It is an impressive list of building, nurturing, nourishing, healing, counseling, meeting, etc. He wants to do more. He has put together a proposal for 6 million Kenya shillings or so to work on reconciliation between the tribes, educate the young, counsel the traumatized, bring violence as a way of life to an end. It’s a good proposal. I have no idea where the money would come from. We will talk to ADRA on the way through Nairobi and see if there is interest in partnering with us on developing peace.
Conversations with Everlyne:
Everlyne is the chairperson for the peace initiative. She is a school teacher from Kapedo. She is one of the women that I remember from 2012 who gave an impassioned speech about the disaster occurring in their community as a result of lack of peace. She personally lost several family members as a result of violence against them. Samuel set up a phone conversation with her today. Here is her perspective.
She mentioned again the challenges with insecurity and water. She stated that overall the communities are very happy with the support, and that things are going well with the project. She mentioned the cholera outbreak that occurred this year as a result of contaminated water supply. Two children died. Samuel responded and helped with medicine and IV fluids, clinical evaluations, transfer of the sickest patients to Nakuru. Specific areas that are going well include the orphan support, student support, housing and bedding and food for the orphans, building of the orphan shelter, etc.
Areas that are a priority for the committee include:
Some of the biggest challenges that remain include the life of the cattle rustlers. In Samuel’s proposal for reconciliation, he mentions engaging the prophets and seers. He explained further the significance of this means. The prophets are almost untouchable from the outside, very powerful figures in Pokot culture. They typically call in the young men, slaughter a goat and “read” the intestines. They will tell the young warriors that they will successfully capture 100 goats and cattle without harm to themselves. This drives the culture of young warriors stealing cattle, and there is economic gain for the prophet as well, since he gets a share of the cattle. There are economic and spiritual reasons why cattle rustling with its violence and poverty perpetuates itself. It is literally the light fighting against the darkness.
What amazes me is that Samuel with two of his partners in this peace initiative went house to house among the Pokots persuading people to give back to the government the guns they had taken when they killed the 22 policemen and security men. Samuel and his partners in peace are fearless. And they pulled it off. They were often met with a Clintonesque response like “I don’t have the guns, but I think I saw where they were hidden.” Then the person would lead Samuel to where a gun was buried a few feet from their house. After completing this daunting task, they met the Vice President of Kenya and returned the guns to him. So our work in Kapedo and our partners in this peace initiative are known all the way to the top government officials in Kenya.
You have not really lived until you have shopped at the hardware store in Nakuru. You can’t actually get to the hardware in this store. You have to talk to a person behind the counter and describe what you want, they plug it into the computer, give you a receipt, you pay the different cashier guy, then he gives the receipt to a different dude who finds all the stuff, then you go somewhere else while that is happening and come back and you find your stuff piled in the back and wonder if this is really what you ordered. “Everyone comes here,” explains Samuel. From Baringo, Marigat, all over the area. That is why it is so busy.” Dozens of people are wandering through the waiting area and dozens more behind the counters. When you go outside the lady with mangoes wants to sell you some and the parking guy wants to be paid.
Good news, we hooked everything together, solar panels made in Kenya, batteries, wiring, hoses, water pumps and they work great. Now it is up to Samuel with some help in Kapedo to put it all together since we can’t accompany him.
How do you convince desperate people ruled by violence, thievery, revenge and mystical beliefs that there is a better way to live our lives, and it involves laying down our differences, reconciliation, forgiveness? The peace initiative has found a formula that works. It involves a bull, a sleepover, and a whole lot of guts.
When bullets are flying, your vehicles are being torched, your security force are being shot up, things can look pretty desperate. You might even consider packing your bags. Unless you live in Kapedo. Here, the chance to create peace trumps whatever fears you may have. The peace committee came up with a different plan.
What if we slaughter a bull, invite our enemies to the feast, share our food, assure them of our good will and convince them that we are serious about putting aside our differences and living together in peace? We’ll place ourselves in the hands of our enemies, even sleep over for a couple of nights in enemy territory for the chance to change the way things are and stop the violence. What do you think?
They voted on it and decided that this was the plan. A feast out in the wilderness, talks of peace over two days. Sleep in the desert. In the end? The Pokots agreed. They would lay down their guns. They would stop the violence. The Turkanas could pass through their territory without risk. No vehicle attacks. No road blocks. Their promise has held.
Pretty cool. It really worked. A little much for the vegetarians in the crowd. Remember the power of a bull, a feast and a two night sleepover next time you run into an impasse with your church board. Sometimes just thinking about it is enough to change our perspectives and bring our squabbles to an end.
We met with Samuel this evening, one of our Kenyan partners who has worked diligently on the peace project at Kapedo. If you look at news clips on the Internet about the violence that happened at that location as recently as December of last year, you will understand how fragile this process has been. Multiple lives lost. Atrocities on both sides. Here’s what we know so far:
We can’t make it to Kapedo this trip. The roads are washed out, cars have been washed away, and it will be two weeks before the roads can be repaired enough to allow some traffic through. Nginyang River is washed out, bridges are gone, the message is clear, we can’t go this trip.
The violence started when a Pokot man was beheaded in Kapedo. We don’t know the circumstances. When the Pokots asked for his head so that they could bury him, the Turkanas said they didn’t have it. That started the violence. Attacks on the road. The chief who has worked with us barely escaped the attack on his vehicle by running off. All others in the vehicle were killed, and the car was burned. Guards from the government joined forces with local security people to go and meet with the Pokots and bring in those responsible. They were ambushed from the hills above and all 22 of them were killed and their guns were taken. The Turkanas responded by destroying the water supply for the Pokots’ livestock and filling the well with rocks. The government responded by saying “give us back the guns, or you will all be killed.” Samuel and two other friends from the peace initiative went house to house to convince people to give back the guns. They were able to recover 20 of the guns and no one else was killed. The president of Kenya came to Kapedo for the first time and begged them to stop the violence and to use the vehicle of the peace initiative that we created to develop peace. Samuel and the peace initiative leaders met together to create a plan for peace. They went together, Turkanas and Pokots, to meet with the Pokots living in the remote site beyond Kapedo. They slaughtered a bull and invited them to a feast and stayed with them three days hoping to bring about peace.
The Pokots agreed not to kill anyone, not to put up any roadblocks to people passing through, no wrecking cars, no attacking travelers. They also agreed that if we put up a structure in their community, a multipurpose structure to be used for education, for healthcare, and for spiritual care, they would come. There is community buy in.
The challenge now is that though we have the stones, cement, roofing, etc., the builders don’t want to build there due to the security situation. Samuel talked to the district commissioner in a place called Chemolingot and was able to get a promise from him for a tent, three security guards and water for the builder to complete the task.
Samuel handed me the reports from the past year. I will be reviewing these overnight tonight, and tomorrow we will put together a couple of 12 volt water pumps to be used to pump river water up to the two communities to develop a fish project, or a garden project. I also have a donated ram pump that I hope to explain sufficiently to Samuel to make it work in doing a similar process. I have some supplies to put the electrical generator back on track and a backup generator that can be retrofitted in, we hope. Finally, I am going to see if anyone can create a dual chamber pump that harnesses the power of the salty hot waterfall of Kapedo and use that power to push more river water up to the village for agricultural development. This we will go over in detail tomorrow, then we leave it in Samuel’s hands. He will put this together with the communities’ help. Water is still critical to make the program work. Peace is essential or the water we develop will never last. Water becomes the target to be destroyed because it strikes the enemy where they are most vulnerable. Without water, the livestock die, their livelihood, their food source, their lives are destroyed.
Tonight we will meet with Samuel and make a decision based on the best information that we have. Do we move ahead to go to Kapedo, ford the rivers, get stuck in the sand, float down the river and end up in Lake Turkana where we are rescued by the El Molo tribe and live out the rest of our lives living off crocodiles and fish while providing medical care and English classes to the dwindling band of people? Will this be our fate? My understanding is that if Ethiopia follows through on their plans to build several hydroelectric schemes on the Omo River that Lake Turkana will start drying up, in which case the El Molo will need to diversify their economy, and Shelley and I will need to help them raise other sources of food or we will all starve. I hope that you will come and visit us. We will be on the east side of the lake. Ask for the sunburned people.
We decided to visit a place called Ol Pejeta Wildlife Reserve yesterday and it was wonderful. Expensive, but a great time seeing some amazing animals including seven white rhinos and one black rhino in the wild. We fed a blind black rhino by hand. We also learned that there are only four living northern white rhinos in the world, one in San Diego, and three in this reserve. One is infertile and the other has weak back legs, having been in captivity for so long. There is only one living male. The subspecies was wiped out to sell the horns to Asian markets in exchange for weapons during the Congolese civil war. (NOTE: The week we returned, the northern white rhino in San Diego died.)
Because of poaching, the remaining animals have to be guarded all the time. There are 87 or so black rhinos in the reserve and 64 white rhinos. We saw two baby white rhinos, so there is a healthy breeding population.
Unfortunately, about eleven rhinos were killed by poachers in Ol Pejeta since 2002 or so, so it is really slow going. I have to say, it is pretty sobering to stand at the gravesites of the eleven who were killed, knowing that their deaths were for nothing more than some mystical unproven aphrodisiac medicine in Asia related to the use of their horns. How can you justify murdering animals at any cost? But the market is such that the poachers are willing to murder these magnificent animals. We watched a family from about 25 feet away, incredibly wonderful experience. They are truly glorious creatures.
The hardest part of the whole experience was finding the place. We used google maps, which has saved us several times on this trip, but not this time. Google maps first sent us down a side road past a British military base to a gravel pit, and the second time past the Pentacostal Church to a rocky alleyway. “Your destination is on the right,” the reassuring Google lady told us. We looked out the car window into the face of a bewildered shopkeeper selling cellphone minutes in a rusty tin roof shack in the middle of a slum. We were supposed to be in a wild game reserve at a resort. Five stop and ask for direction adventures later, we made it. Definitely worth the trouble.
Part of the plan for this trip was to look at another potential site for teaching family medicine. I heard of a spot on the eastern slopes of Mt. Kenya from a family doctor who practices in Grand Marais, Minnesota, just up highway 61 from where I grew up. Bruce Dahlman works in the emergency room in Grand Marais so that he has time to go on trips to east Africa developing family medicine here. He currently works at a place called Kabarak University near Nakuru and has three sites for teaching family medicine at mission hospitals in the works. The newest spot and arguably the best spot is called Chogoria, an older Presbyterian mission hospital where we will be visiting. The hospital is situated at about 6000 feet making malaria a rarity. TB, HIV, gastroenteritis, malnutrition, infections and chronic diseases are common.
Jim Ritchie and his wife Martha and son James entertained us and showed us around the place. They have been expecting us for several weeks, but didn’t find out until this past Monday, two days ago, that there was also a big shindig for church leadership planned for today and they also were called unexpectedly to visit their daughter in boarding school. Our visit will be cut short just a bit and we will need to find something to do in our sorrow, like see some animals at Samburu National Reserve.
We learned a lot in the short time that we had together. There are several very exciting aspects to this site for teaching family medicine. There is a great level of need. Faculty is being developed and the hospital is gearing up to be a teaching hospital. There is already a nursing school here. They have started their first class of family medicine residents this year, one of which is from Burundi and plans to go back to develop family medicine there. They see their mission as being considerably more than just teaching good doctors for hospitals in Kenya. They want to improve the health of countries the region, and develop family medicine in places like Burundi and South Sudan. Security is not a concern here, there is a nice campus to stay on, they are not so busy that creating an academic setting is difficult, and they have adequate financial support for the residency, all important considerations. The two concerns that I have include whether or not there are sufficient patients- in part because of some interesting insurance changes by the government- and whether or not there will be sufficient need for us to be involved as support faculty. It looks like there will likely be enough help so that we may not be needed. Either way, if I end up working at another site to help with family medicine, these people are worth knowing about since they will be developing physicians who could become faculty in Bururndi, South Sudan, and elsewhere, helping to establish family medicine in those places. The only other drawback is that the concentration of road bumps between Nairobi and Chogoria is like nothing else I have ever seen in the world. This is the highest concentration of road bumps anywhere.
On the morning we left, I talked to the medical director for the hospital, a family doctor himself, a Kenyan named Franklin Ikunda. He is very supportive of developing family medicine training here and asked “when can you come?” He has been in Grand Marais Minnesota in Bruce Dahlman’s home. His recollection of Minnesota was beautiful and very cold. He said the lake was frozen over when he was there. Bruce, who would invite their African friends to northeastern Minnesota in the dead of winter? Ice fishing? Snow shoeing? What were you thinking?
I got a call from Samuel, our Kenyan partner in the peace initiative in Kapedo. He said again that the rivers are flooding and cars are stranded on either side of the river. It is very possible that we will not be able to travel to Kapedo in that case. We will therefore work on a backup plan, in terms of our itinerary. We will make a decision tonight, Sunday, on whether it makes sense to try to ford the rivers of northern Kenya in flood stage to visit the project there, or to give Samuel the equipment with instructions and let him work it out. Crunch time is tonight. We may not have options. At the very least, we will put the whole system together and test it to make sure it works and hand things over to Samuel. Not ideal, but better than floating down the river with our luggage.
Some of you have expressed concern about the terrorist attack in northeastern Kenya. This occurred in a place called Garissa, far from where we are, the same location as a university attack a year or so ago. Very sad, and I don’t want to diminish its significance, but I also want to reassure you that we are very safe. We are able to continue on with our plans, unless the rivers rise and we can’t move forward. We will send you updates after tonight’s decision.
A trip like this one seldom works out the way you expect it to. For one thing, you run out of time. Life has a way of crowding itself in on you so that all of the things you need to do before you go are eclipsed by the immediate things that jump to the front of the line. The children in Rwanda, Kenya, places far from our minds are calling to us, but their voices are drowned out by the loud cries of our jobs, our bills, our other obligations, the frantic cawing of the other birds in our nest. Their voices crowd out the quiet voices of the poor who stand quietly along the sides waiting to see if perhaps a few crumbs will fall their way. Despite the best plans, there are things that remain undone. You stay up all night and load the luggage into your wife’s car at 2 in the morning, drive to the airport after running a couple of last minute errands to pick up your son’s cell phone and insulate some windows on the way out of the country and drop into your airline seats utterly exhausted after debating over luggage rates, pointing to the printed statements from your travel agent saying the luggage was free, but just too tired to argue any more.
In the last 30 odd days my wife and I have taken out two 75,000 dollar loans, refinanced our mortgage in the process, bought a house in Spokane for our son, bought the building next door to my clinic for future expansion, sold my shares in an old business investment. In the last 24 hours I’ve made arrangements for the care of a handful of sad undelivered pregnant patients, made some new keys for our new tenants, fixed a lock on a door, counseled with some friends, raked the leaves, made arrangements for some visiting doctors, finished some medical charts, given last minute instructions to my nurse, withdrawn some cash, deposited some checks, written checks, tried out a couple of 12 volt water pumps and wondered multiple times if these trips are worth the effort. Shelley, bless her, worked harder than I at getting ready and we both spoke of the same quandary as we sank into our airline seats. Is it worth the trouble of going half way around the world for a couple of weeks to help a few children, visit a few orphans, develop better water sources and food sources for strangers on another part of the globe? Isn’t there enough to do back at home?
Our lives are so incredibly busy and full and happy. This past week we, along with other interested people from the Colville area, launched a homeless project in partnership with a Spokane based organization called the Inland Northwest Fuller Institute for Homelessness. They caught my attention in their plans for building tiny homes for the homeless. We want to be a second manufacturing site in Colville for their organization. Not a free program, but an opportunity for homeless people to build themselves a tiny home alongside us. This partnership will keep their costs down, allow them to learn new skills, encourage training for marketable skills, allow them to step out of addiction or mental illness where appropriate, help to reduce adverse childhood events, and end poverty for them. Transform lives. It is one of the most exciting chapters of our personal lives, and we are only just getting started. The new homeowners will pay for the homes at no interest, payments of $300 or so per month over the course of seven years, and the money will be reinvested into the project.
The question of whether or not it is worth the trouble is an appropriate question of our trips to Africa. However, the same question could be asked of our project for the homeless. On the surface the answer is a clear, unabashed “no.” Why bother? What do we think we can accomplish in Africa? Or in Colville for that matter? Don’t I have enough to do managing a family practice, seeing patients who come through my doors every day, making a living, caring for my patients? Now a landlord? Restoring a house for my son just being released from prison? Taking care of things at home? It’s ridiculous. And overwhelming. Even a wonderful life can become too much of a good thing.
But here is what I am discovering. There is a promise that every good and honest doctor makes to his or her patients before they step into a practice, before we see patient without supervision. It is a promise, a covenant really, that I promise over every one of my patients before I know them. To the degree that I am able as a fellow human being, I will do you no harm. I will accept what is fair. I will not turn away the poor simply because they are poor. I will not take advantage of anyone, but will give my best advice regardless of the financial or other consequences to myself. I will put the welfare of my patients first before my own comfort.
The question that I am discovering is harder to answer is this: who then is my patient? Am I responsible only for those who come through the doors of my clinic? Or do I have a moral responsibility to those who cannot come, because they are fearful, or destitute, or too ill or impoverished or uninsured to come? Do I have any responsibility to them?
I think it is a fair question, and one that I am only beginning to answer. If I accept as my patients not only those inside my clinic walls, but also a portion of those who cannot come, then I must step outside my clinic in order to affect their lives, and I must ask the question of them, “what do you need from me? How can I serve you? What is causing your suffering?
A few weeks ago, on the 6th of October this year, I invited the community, anyone interested in the health of the communities in our area, to come together and talk with us about what they see. What are the greatest unmet needs in our communities and how are we addressing them. I asked everyone at that meeting 40+ in all, to answer three things- who are you, what do you see in our community that is causing disease, and what would you like to work on in the future? We developed a laundry list of unmet or incompletely met needs. From this meeting the Colville Homeless Project was born. Together we will accomplish far more than any of us could accomplish individually. It will be exciting and fun, and transformative and hard work and Shelley and I can hardly wait.
And here I am resting for a few days in Dublin, Ireland, ready to take on the next part of my journey to Rwanda and Kenya, having thoroughly enjoyed the company and culture of Ireland, and learning a bit more of the history of the Irish. Funny how you can think you know something, until you talk to the Irish. Suddenly the scales come off your eyes and you see things differently, because history told by the Irish is not the same history I learned in the textbooks. Depends on who’s writing, I suppose.
I’ve chosen to listen and try to understand the Irish from their experience and view of history, not because I’m Irish but because their point of view is valid, I like them and they have great music. I’ve chosen to listen to try to understand the homeless from their experience in life, not because I’m homeless, but because their point of view is important, I’ve chosen to make them part of my care, and because they are my community. I’ve chosen to listen and to try to understand orphans of a genocide in Rwanda and impoverished people in conflict in northern Kenya, not because I am African, but because their point of view is important, I’ve chosen to make them my patients, my friends, my neighbors. They cannot come inside my clinic doors, so I will go to them.
Does it matter to the Irish that I now see things differently, and I understand why Easter 1916 is so significant today to the Irish, and in particular to Dubliners, those who live on the street where we are now staying? I don’t know if it matters. It matters to me. I see things more clearly than when I came.
Does it matter to the homeless that I am thinking of them? I’d like to think that it does, if not today, then a year from now, or 5 years from now. I know that because of my work in the jail treating addiction, I have been made more aware of the links between homelessness, addiction, mental illness and poverty, children at risk. Because I have put my hands into the messiness of human life, it is changing me. I see things differently.
Does it matter to some local people in an obscure place called Kapedo that Shelley and I are four years into a peace project in northern Kenya, trying to find ways to connect development to a peace process between two tribes? I can say yes to this, though I don’t know exactly in what ways. I know that it is changing the way I see the world. I see an chance to purchase hand crafted palm branch weavings and sell them in the U.S. to support a few women who are trying to support their families with a little skill, where three years ago they were risking their lives to just get a few of these branches to weave because of the conflict between the tribes. Having heard the stories of the women who were risking their lives on that first trip in 2012, I realized that if I had it in my power to do something to relieve their suffering and change the way things were, then I must. A peace initiative was formed with our promise to them to bring financial and technical support to help them with the things that matter to them, and their promise to work on peace.
With the rat race and chaos and busy ness that have become our lives, I can only answer for myself. Carving out time to help the poor in their despair makes absolutely no sense. And it is precisely the right thing to do, for my soul and for theirs. What I don’t know today is whether or not I will get there. Our flight on Ethiopian Airlines out of Dublin has been cancelled, something about el nino and its effects on Africa, floods or something.
As I write this (this is Shelley), I am watching the broadcast of a 3ABN Today show we taped in January of this year. We hope some will visit this site as a result of this broadcast and join us in this ministry. Barry has written many compelling stories, shared on this blog. We hope you read, enjoy, and are moved by the stories of fellow human-beings in need.
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.