Camels, Counting, and More

Sunday we took off for Allale mid-day. While I had expected it to be a very rough seven hour drive into the bush, it turned out to go fairly smoothly (considering how it could have gone). In the end, the drive took just over five hours, in part due to the fact that this area gets less rainfall than Kapenguria, so the roads don’t get washed out as badly (except during the rainy season), and in part because the government has invested some funds in the infrastructure out here, and improved the roads over the past year or so.
The further out we drove, the more surprised the people seemed to be at seeing mzungus. We passed several market places that took over small villages, people traveling from several to many miles to stock up on what they need. While some people have stands from which to sell their goods, many just set tarps and sacks down on the ground, and stack their goods for sale on top. We did pick up some bananas on the drive, and they are fantastic. Rather than being like the usual bananas you get in the US, these bananas are about the length of your fingers, and sweetened on the vine rather than during shipping. They taste kind of like bananas, kind of like kiwis, and a little bit like a honeycrisp apple.
We arrived in Allale just as the sun was beginning to set. Fortunately, someone Michael knows was already at the spot we were going to spend the night, and had started a fire while waiting for us. Daylight has an outpost out here, where the Pokot tribe has donated some land for us to use for adult education and a nursery school. They cleared the land themselves , and helped create a driveway to access the main clearings where buildings are going up. We currently have two traditional Pokot huts (that the locals built for us) where Daylight visitors can stay while seeing Allale, and we also have a building that is almost completed where we will start the adult education program next week.
The first night, we pulled mattresses out of the huts, and slept under the stars. While it seemed like a fantastic idea (it had been a hot day, and getting some fresh air while admiring the stars while falling asleep seemed like the type of thing you should do while in the African bush—it actually got really cold!
The next morning (Monday) we woke up, had a breakfast of tea and bread, and watched as more and more people trickled in to our site. At 9:00, we took off to visit the nearby homesteads. In Pokot, homesteads are surrounded by a thicket of acacia branches, which have very sharp and pointy needles, as a form of protection. Up until several years ago, these thickets were about 10’ high and 10’ wide, a form of protection from the nearby warring tribes—the Karamoja and the Turkana. These wars (due to cattle rustling) still exist, but on a much smaller basis. This is in part due to Museveni putting the Ugandan army on the border to stop the tribes from stealing cattle across the border as easily (we’re only about four miles from Uganda here), and because the Kenyan government put government offices in Allale, leading to less fighting in the immediate area. While these wars still happen with bows, arrows, spears, and rods, they also happen with guns, as most of the local tribes gained access to weapons like AK-47s in the 80s and 90s.
Meeting the people in these homesteads (which are all pretty new, because this particular area only became peaceful several years ago—Michael told me a story about a man being shot through the chest three years ago during a cattle raid by one of the nearby tribes, on the land where we now have the Daylight outpost) was an honor. They were incredibly kind to the mzungus traveling through, showing us where they live, and even offering us tours of the inside of their huts. It’s a very difficult life, living out here. While I will try not to paint an overly bleak picture of the area, it is hard not the venture into poverty tourism when describing life here. Many of the children I saw had flies all over their faces, and their bellies were sticking out quite a ways due to worms. It felt like you could film a Save the Children ad here, with the dramatic music, saying send X dollars to help these children, but that denies these people their dignity. It is a different life, and a hard one, but they aren’t without joy. They make do with what they have, and are proud of what they have accomplished. Do they need help? Yes, but not help given paternalistically. I will get off my soapbox now.
The second homestead we visited provided quite a bit of entertainment for everyone. They had several camels (which is a big deal around here—you need to trade three cows for a camel, so owning several is a sign of success), and wanted me to attempt to milk one. As I have never milked an animal in my life, this seemed to be a bit of an undertaking for an animal that did not seemed pleased with my presence, and was quite a bit larger than me. But, I gave it a shot—if for nothing else than to see them laugh at the ridiculousness of the mzungu who doesn’t know how to milk a camel. It turns out though (according to the locals), that I have skill at milking camels, and I had done a better job than any white person they had seen before. They were sure that I milked animals back in America, and couldn’t believe that I had never milked anything before. I felt a little proud of myself, even if this skill is one I will never use again in my life! 
We continued on through several homesteads, with a growing entourage of Kenyans joining us. After 2-3 hours, we returned to our site, where it turns out a growing number of locals were waiting for us to return as well. After grabbing a snack, and drinking some water (it was hot!), we were informed that the locals wanted to have a meeting regarding the adult education center. So, we had to wait for everyone to arrive before we could start.
Starting around 12:45, more and more people started coming, until it seemed we had reached an appropriate capacity to start at about 1:15. There were around 60 people in attendance, almost entirely men (although there were about 7 women there). Michael started the meeting, and then gave Nathan a brief chance to speak. After that, it was opened up to the locals, and multiple men stood up and spoke. While not all of it was translated for me, most of it was.
I found it interesting that while they were excited about our proposal to start the adult ed program in two weeks, they made a counter proposal—they want to start next week. We agreed, but emphasized the importance of showing up daily, or this won’t be a success. Nathan also informed the group that the nursery school won’t start until the adult ed program is running successfully—they need to show their commitment and follow-through before we will start a second program.
We expect the adult ed program to function in three month cohorts, where the adults will learn to read, write, and count. This will allow them to trade their animals at the market with more success (they can be sure that they aren’t being taken advantage of), and that they can read official documents (particularly health-related documents) themselves, rather than trying to find someone who can read it for them. It will provide them with more dignity. We will have some kind of celebration at the end of a cohort. The locals also informed us that there is a growing movement and acceptance of adult male circumcision here (circumcision has never been practiced here on men). They want to tie-in the adult ed success with the celebration of circumcision, which we agreed with, and they seemed excited by.
Peter, one of the Daylight staff members, and a known warrior among the Pokot, took his turn to speak of the value of male circumcision, but the need to revisit female circumcision, and (from what I gathered) the consideration of starting to eliminate this practice locally. While the men were excited about Peter’s comments on male circumcision, there seemed to be no response on the female circumcision.
The group continued on speaking for awhile, and then Michael and Nathan asked me to speak to the group, one of the closing comments—on the value of female education. I took my turn to share my excitement with them on this new venture, and the value of adult education. I spoke of my expectation of good reports of attendance, and their hard work to make this a success. I then ventured into telling them about my own education, and how proud my parents are of the education I have received, and my hope that when I have children some day that they will also be proud of my education, and inspired to achieve their own educational goals. Everyone clapped at this part. I then challenged them, saying that the education of women is important (I was clearly speaking to the men at this point), and that I expect that there will be a number of women receiving adult education as well. I explained the value in this, not only for inspiring their own children, but also because they will be more help to the family as a whole when they have achieved a basic education. This received no response—I think my challenging them was not what they had expected. I wanted to continue on to speak about female circumcision, but realized internally that at this point that would be an unproductive conversation—only one major challenge at a time, we can save the female circumcision speech for later. I closed with how glad I was to meet them, and see the beautiful land where they live.
Overall, it seemed like a successful meeting, and a successful day. I was surprised at the end of the day to discover how completely exhausted and overwhelmed I was. After a meal of a granola bar (the rest of the group was eating boiled goat meat and ugali, but I just couldn’t do it), I went into one of the mud huts with the thatched roof, and fell soundly asleep.
It is now Tuesday morning, and we will be returning to Kapenguria in a few hours (where I will post this online). The cows have joined us in the field, being led by a local herdsboy who is probably about 11 years old. Local women are making us tea, and about five local men have joined us to talk (while they brush their teeth with small sticks). It has been a good trip, and I am very glad to be here, but I am also glad to know that I will get to sleep in my own bed back home in a few days.
More about Tuesday later!

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2 Responses to Camels, Counting, and More

  1. Aunt Kathy says:

    Oh Bri, how proud I am of how all you are learning, sharing and being open to all that is around you and also so clear that these people are proud and their dignity and worth is beyond people from the North coming in to ‘fix’ their lives. I can’t wait to have a long, long chat once you have slept many good nights and haven’t had to eat goat for at least a week. I do remember… I’m also so proud of your camel-milking expertise!

  2. Sherrie Kunkel says:

    WOW- what a description of experiences – of challenges– of insight- and you are being true to your nature of learning from the paternalistic mistakes of the past, to forge ahead in way you hope can be meaningful to their future. I agree,with your wise choice of looking at one issue at a time, and working to forge a trusting relationship. What you are doing is amazing and I am so incredibly proud of you and pleased for you. Can’t wait to hug you and hear your stories on Sat!!
    Love, mom

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