After a night of malarone-infused anxiety dreams I awoke to the sound of young fruit dropping on my tin roof from the gnarled olive tree above my hut. The winds had arrived. As the dawn broke, the intensity of the wind increased and by the time I was up and dressed I could barely hear the cooing of the morning doves above the sound of the wind. This was a sign. Change was coming.
The Gumpsmobile was packed. Besides all of our supplies, including food, water, vehicle parts and diesel on the roof, we had 12 passengers: on the two back bench seats, squished between luggage and tires, rode the four men: Semeji, Omar, Ali Turuga from Kargi and Hosea from Gatab. In the second row rode the women and babies: Judy and baby Brian, Carol from Olturot, Damaris and baby Anon and Teresa from Loiyangalani, the headmistress of one of the Gatab primary schools. Kura and I, the laptop backpacks and some food supplies rode in the front. We also had to pack up some of the Mentor’s purchases from the relative lush valley of South Horr: young mango trees, grain sacks of lentils, spinach and vegetables and mysterious bags of medicinal herbs and seeds.
The dirt and sand road out of South Horr is initially the same route to Loiyangalani. Kura had decided that we would not make the trek to Loiy and Lake Turkana this time as we wanted to see new villages and he was concerned about the security of the Loiy road. The livestock from the north had been moved to the nearby Baragoi region in a desperate attempt to save them and so the potential presence of armed gangs of cattle rustlers could not be dismissed. At the “junction”, the critical point where Semeji “mans up” by riding in the front seat with the AK47 safety off, we turned right to Mt. Kulal.
The wind cooled the rocky land where two years ago I had recorded our highest temperatures – 117 degrees Fahrenheit. This time, the air had hints of moisture – the wind was bringing rain. The mountain was shrouded in clouds as we made our way up the road that is cut into the solid red clay and boulders of the mountain. On the other side of the road is an unmarked edge that drops off steeply, at times into fields of sharp volcanic rocks. Abrupt curves and vehicle-swallowing potholes added to the excitement. But Gatab is always worth the trip. After rounding a hairpin turn you come upon the village – a hanging Shangri-la perched on the edge of one of Mt. Kulal’s many canyons.
We came upon an unusual scene. Gatab is a community of 560 households and today hundreds of residents were sitting or standing in the fields below the main part of the village. Most were groups of men with their walking sticks and shukas over their shoulders. There were also huddled groups of women with babies and older women sitting on the ground. It was a scene of quiet protest against one of the missionaries that lives with his family behind a tall chain link fence. I was only a casual observer and the circumstances were, I am sure, complicated. But it is hard not to notice, amidst the simple poverty of this village, the relative wealth of a family who I am told do not interact socially with the village – multiple ATV and lorry vehicles, a backhoe, a wind tower, a satellite dish and a trampoline for children that do not attend the local school. All of this infrastructure was in support of a clinic and Haven Home – a boarding school for nomadic children and orphans.
After nine-plus years of living in their midst, the community was protesting the actions of one of the preachers. A number of years ago a local woman had received a divorce after years of abuse by her husband. She was employed by the missionaries and had finally decided that she wanted to have a baby but she would do it without a husband. She was fired. According to a number of village leaders that I spoke with, this was the last straw.
The police and local commissioner were called and through the night a security patrol was provided to protect the missionary family compound. It was unclear how much of a threat this siege scene was. But clearly the community felt strongly that they wanted the missionary and his family out. They wanted them to leave. “We’ve had enough,” was what I was told over and over. I tried to find out more and later that evening I did a search on the web (yes, you can get slow internet through a mobile phone modem) where I found this description of Haven Home: “Haven Home provides a Christian environment for these young people from many of the immoral and destructive tribal practices.”
It was going to be an interesting night.