Christmas in Turkana

Imagine spending Christmas time in a desert in 35 degree heat, in a lovely mission house in the middle of nowhere (which has a name, and it’s Kainuk)… imagine taking 13 hours to get there and realising that this place is going to be just a lovely adventure..

That what it was like on the 20th of December… stepping off the bus in the middle of the desert, being picked up by our Mexican friends and taken to a lovely house not far from the Weiwei river. I felt that this was going to be the best Christmas ever, and I was perfectly right.

How did we pass the time there? Easy. Imagine the Africa you see on television. Goat-herders with bow and arrows, and a kalashnikov by the side. Women singing Turkana songs, jumping with every beat, with neck-beads at least a stretched-hand width thick. Spending the day just relaxing, playing sherades or watching a good film, or even setting up a crib made from chicken bones and local materials.

In other words – Bliss!

I also got down to do some good work, namely finishing my CV and doing the first draft of the personal statement for Oxford. I must say I managed to do work, even though I was sweltering in the heat. Also, we had a great time just being with each other.. Marlene, Chiara, myself, Sandro, Xochitl, Francisco, Raul, Riccardo and Roberto. What better company to have than 6 mexicans, 2 italians and a maltese?

Happy Spicy Christmas

Mexican food is not traditionally associated with, in the minds of Europeans, Christmas. But I must say, a dish doused in chilli on a hot desert night with Mexicans is the best way to spend Christmas. Even if you run out of tears in the process. In other words, I’ve just elevated Mexican food up there with Korean/Japanese Cuisine.

Children Children everywhere

And not a moment of peace!! You try taking a walk out of the fenced compound to the river and suddenly over 60 children come running around you, begging to use the camera! That is what walking to the Weiwei river was like! It was fun being with them, but after a while it gets tiring. You know… children, little bundles of energy that never seems to dissipate!


On Christmas day we set off with Francisco (a Guadalupe priest, by the way) to the nearby village of Lorogon. There is no road to it, so we stopped the car a good half hour walk away from it, crossed the river on a bridge and headed into the shambas surrounding it.

Lorogon is one of those African hut villages, with goats everywhere, palisades and a general feeling of simplicity all around. The church building itself is a small low solid building, with paintings of the “Via Sagra” all around with an african theme – Pontius Pilate, here, is a village elder by his hut! We had a long, Turkana mass with people singing at every opportunity, however it was an enjoyable experience. Turkana people, when speaking, tend to shout out loud, and the fellow who was translating from Swahili to Turkana for the local people seemed so angry you’d think he’s screaming about a fight he had, not joyously proclaiming Christ’s Birth! Something on the lines of “Today Jesus was born” would be translated into “ABARKADIGO APPOLON YAGA YAGMENZA” (invented words btw).

After that stuffy, hot mass we handed out sweets to the kids and left for the car. Francisco kindly decided to stop at a little shop where we bought ice lollies to slake our thirst and cool our heads! I can vouch for the old saying – “nothing in the desert is more precious than water”.

I’m poor but I’m happy

We have a lot to learn from the Turkana people. They have very little of our comforts. A good number of them live in tiny straw huts with no electricity, and basically none of them have running water. However they are HAPPY people. Not just plodding along, as they do in Kibera. They are Happy, and you realise it when suddenly out of nowhere they burst into song, like some musical or something. They truly have an enthusiasm for life that we can’t really understand, we who have cars, television sets and internet. They have so little, but they are happy, and they are happy because they are not attached to material things, but to the spiritual and to their families. We are losing that.

And then us westerners go to these regions, convince them that they need this, and that, and destroy their way of life forever. Sometimes I think that leaving these little communities as they are, with all their defects and all their issues, for themselves, and not lead them into our rat-race world with no purpose. This is not to say that the Turkana live perfect lives. Their generations -long conflict with the Phokot has caused them much pain and grief (as much as they have undoubtedly caused to the Phokot). But western technology in the form of AK-47s has brought them great pain and devastation; whereas bow and arrow technology does not necessary kill a person, a bullet to the head would. Thus it is yet again western intervention that has brought about their greatest sorrow.

Basically the Kenyan government, through China, is giving arms to both the Phokot and Turkana peoples, accelerating the intensity of the conflict. The Kenyan government has nothing to lose, only to gain from this situation… basically, if ever Sudan intends to attack Northern Kenya, it will have a free firece army that trains on itself waiting for them!

All good things come to an end…

And so, on the 26th of December we woke up to pack our bags and plod our way to the 4 wheel drive cars that would take us home. I was not in the mood for packing… and the worst bit about it was that this was just the start of a long series of farewells, packings and going away. Back in Nairobi all that awaited me was farewells and packing, and moving of furniture. Not something to look forward to. At 11am on the 26th of December, I finally realised that this was the beginning of the end, and that in less than a week I’d be back home, for better or for worse. This left me in a sour mood all day, although I tried my best not to think about it.

I must say, however, that Christmas in Turkana was a splendid ending to what will probably one of the most meaningful years of my life. Whereas Europe and US was enduring a big freeze, I was there, in the middle of the harsh Turkana desert, enjoying a genuine African experience that I will never forget.


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