Desert Revelations

story and photos by Christopher Clark


As the bus eased through the gears, through the green corn fields and farther away from the small terminal in the town of Kitale, I tried to cast my mind back to the beginning, to figure out what it was that had drawn me to the wild and volatile Turkana region of Kenya in the first place. I guessed that the people I would meet once I got there might want to know. But the truth was that I still didn't really have an answer.

I could at least have said that it stemmed from books by long-dead explorers; and that I was looking for something very different; and that Turkana seemed a long way away from pretty much everything I had previously known. At 28 years old I had grown bored of and disillusioned with much of what I had previously experienced. Wasn't that enough reason? 

Either way, it was too late. I was on my way, heading north, already half way there. Soon the bus rose out of the the Rift Valley and gradually left the rich, thick vegetation behind as we entered a place of sparse open space and scorched earth.

The rumours about the poor quality of the dirt road to Turkana were by no means exaggerated. At times the bus seemed to defy physics, leaning precariously to the side, the ground suddenly almost within touching distance of the window. Many of whom I assumed were the more seasoned passengers whooped, laughed and slapped thighs as though it was all part of the fun. I held on to my armrests for dear life.

A few hours into our journey the bus passed a group of five or six men slouched on the sand with T-shirts covering most of their faces like balaclavas and AK-47s slung over their shoulders. As I stared out of the window at them, one of them saw me, stood up, lifted his gun aloft with one hand and waved at me vigorously with the other, and then they were gone.

We arrived at our destination, Lodwar, at a little before 11 p.m., roughly five hours late. Patience is a must for travelling in Kenya.

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by Judy Crawford

It may have started in 3rd grade—this need for transformation. Unlike most kids who would say, if asked, that their favorite holiday was Christmas,  mine was Halloween. Whether dressing as a ghost, a witch, a gypsy, or a bum the idea of becoming someone else for even a short time held and continues to hold a fascination for me. Junior High brought other attempts to change - experimenting with make-up, trying to adopt an exotic accent, changing my name from Judy to Judi. High school was a time to learn more about who I was, but mostly to try not to stand out from the crowd. Then, at university all hell broke loose. It was the early 70’s at a very liberal university in Colorado. My liberation that year consisted of wearing jeans to class, letting my hair grow long and straight, shedding my make-up, and trying on radical, new ideas.  But then as I got older, I lost my edge.  I became a woman who is personable, somewhat outgoing, active in my church and community, but most often enjoys just staying at home, reading or doing art projects. I suppose this places me in the “Boring, but nice” demographic. 

I didn’t even think about transformation as I packed my bags for my trip to Kenya. I work for a non-profit, Waterlines, located in Santa Fe, New Mexico, that funds clean drinking water projects in developing countries. One of the great benefits of this work has been the opportunity to visit projects that our donors have sponsored. The two week period was spent in rural areas of Kenya, four hours from Nairobi. Most of the projects we visited were schools where Waterlines, in partnership with the local communities, has funded  rain collection tanks. These large tanks (33,000- 50,000 liters) are filled with rain water collected through gutters from the roof of a classroom during one of the two rainy seasons Kenya has each year.  Without these tanks, children are required to bring water from home or spend class time going to a river several kilometers away to haul back polluted water for drinking and cooking. Obviously neither is a good solution to the drinking water problem. For me, a former public school teacher, visiting schools is a holiday!  It is both inspiring to see how much teachers do with so little in resources, and sad to see how the students struggle to pay fees for secondary school and learn without adequate books, lab equipment, or even pencils and paper.

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