Saturday, March 14, 2009

Over the desert and through the oasis, to Kalacha town we go

Every year, all the missionaries in Northern Kenya get together in Kalacha, about a three hour drive north of Korr and very close to the Ethiopian border, for a retreat. I made arrangements for other teachers to cover my classes, and I got to go along, too.

We set out after lunch on Monday, and just a few minutes into our drive we saw them – ostriches! Tons of them! There was a big… herd? gaggle? chain gang? of teenagers who were still grey and kind of shaggy (typical!) but a ways onwards there was a mama and papa ostrich with a little baby. We slowed the car to get a better look, but still we spooked them. The papa ostrich spread out his wings and started running away from the mama and baby in an attempt to distract us. Apparently, an ostrich will even fall to the ground and play dead so that a would-be predator will come after him instead of the baby (but look out when you get close! You’re in for a might big kick!). With another small group of teenagers on the road, we drove the car up to them and stopped. “Have you got your camera ready?” I did, and we stepped on the gas and chased them a ways before they all scattered. I know, I know, PETA would kill me, but chasing ostriches across the desert in a land cruiser? AWESOME!

In an hour and a half or so, we reached the Chalbi desert...

This is the kind of desert that I picture when I think of a desert – flat, baking nothingness, the ground cracked and dry, mirages shimmering in front of you, only to vanish as you come near, the scorching wind kicking up dust as it howls across the plain. It was incredible! The Chalbi is mostly a salt pan, so, had it not been for the searing heat as we drove across, you’d almost think there had been a light dusting of snow. The black rocks of the lava fields rose up in the distance to our right, and we could see the palm trees that grew in the oasis at the edge of the desert.

A herd of camels walking single file in the distance seemed to hover over the desert, their reflections visible in the mirage below them (I know! Reflections! Crazy!) Soon it was nothing but nothingness, too far from water or food for even the bravest camel herder to venture.

Side story: A number of years ago, some people from the Gabbra tribe raided the Rendille and stole 2000 camels. They took the camels over the middle of the Chalbi because they knew that the Rendille might come looking around the edges, where the water is (they usually walk them along the edge if they have to pass that way). Word got to authorities, who sent a helicopter looking for the thieves. You would think that two thousand camels would be easy to spot, but the pilot flew back and forth all over the Chalbi and was never able to locate the massive herd. It was later discovered that the helicopter pilot was a Gabbra, and the camels all made it over the Ethiopian border and disappeared.

When we arrived at the mission station in Kalacha, I was practically abducted by Barbara and Charmyn, two single girls about my age. “You’re staying with us!” they announced. Woohoo! I was glad to get to hang with these two for the week. Slumber party!!! Hehehe! As we were waiting for dinner, Barbara and Charmyn took me to the swimming pool (SWEET!). The mission station also runs a campground for tourists, and so operates a small (but fabulous when the only water where you live is at the bottom of a well!) pool. We climbed up to the deck and looked at the gorgeous water. “Aw, man! My swimmers are back in my bags at your house in town,” I told the girls. “So???” asked Charmyn as she jumped in in her clothes. SPLOOSH! In went Barbara, too, and I, not being one to spoil a party was in a split second later. Swimming is SO much better when you do it in your clothes. (But swimming in a near ankle-length skirt DOES prove rather difficult!). We got out and stood on the platform a while to let the wind dry us off a little. We were hoping it might make us a little bit cold, but we only got as far as “a little less hot.” Oh well, we took what we could get. We were still pretty much sopping when we arrived for dinner. To the questioning looks, we responded through giggles, “Ah! It was terrible! We went up to the pool to show Hillary and she fell in! I had to jump in and save her!” “Yes, and then they were both struggling, so I had to jump in and help!” “I’m so glad they did! I could have DIED!” We “fell in” three more times that week!

It was so wonderful to get to spend time with both Barbara and Charmyn throughout the week. We shared stories of how each of us had come to work in Africa, talked about our lives back home and our ministries here in Northern Kenya, prayed for each other, and enjoyed some general girlie silliness. One image (of the many!) that I have of my time with them is of the three of us sitting all in a line in the living room of their house and brushing our teeth. Barbara and Charmyn just leaned over and spat on the floor (it’s a gravel floor that gets watered daily to keep the dust and heat down). “Come on Hillary! Spit on the floor! Do iiiiit!” It took me a minute to get over the notion of “a good guest doesn’t spit out her toothpaste on the living room floor!” but I soon did and had fun spitting on the floor all week! (It all got washed away by the buckets of water we dumped on it when washing or faces and our feet, so don’t worry!) hehehe!

The sessions throughout the week were really good. We spent time praying for each other, and I got to hear about what is happening in different parts of the North. We spend some time singing together, and I realized how much I had missed worshipping in a language I understand. I sing along in Rendille at church in Korr, but I often (ok, almost always) don’t understand the words. It was so sweet to sing songs that I knew in my own language! One morning we split up into four groups and went for a prayer walk – we walked all over town praying as we went – for specific people, for the town in general, for the various difficulties that are facing Kalacha at this particular time. It was a pretty incredible time as some of us prayed, some of us walked, we met people at talked with them, and learned in relative detail about what is happening in Kalacha.

During the week, Nick also did a number of sessions on language learning – giving ideas and tips on how to learn a language when you can’t buy a textbook and sit in a class to learn it. I discovered that the idea of figuring out a language – learning bit by bit, discovering and figuring out rules and structures, working with a language helper and then going out in the community to use, use, and re-use what you are learning… it’s really cool!

One suggestion was to get a small collection of photos together of people doing something to things (a man cooking meat, a girl milking a goat, etc). You can do so much with your language helper using those photos: nouns – “This is a man. This is milk. This is a fire. This is meat…” verbs: “The man is cooking meat. The girl is milking a goat. The wood is burning…” adjectives: “This is a tall man. She is a young girl. This is a white goat…” Ah! It’s so cool! I would LOVE to learn a language like this! I SO wish I had more time to devote to learning Rendille!

One highlight of the week (ok, so there were a LOT of highlights!) was when we all packed up Thursday afternoon for an evening picnic out on the Chalbi. Kalacha is just on the northern border of the desert, in an oasis, really, and it doesn’t take long before you’re out in the middle of nowhere again. We made a quick stop at Kalacha goda, a natural spring that has been bubbling up for hundreds of years and provides the town with ample water, then headed out to the desert. It was quite the setup – four vehicles and a trailer, tarps, benches, chairs, and lots and lots of food.

Barbara and Charmyn skipped the trip to Kalacha Goda (been there, done that) and walked out to the Chalbi to meet us. The only problem was, once we got there (I guess there’s kind of a regular spot that they meet), there was no sign on them anywhere. We did, however, see something off in the distance. We weren’t sure just what it was… a hyena? A wild dog? Or was it just a donkey? It was too hazy and… mirage-y? to see, so we didn’t want to unpack until we knew for sure what it was. Nothing spoils a picnic like a hungry hyena!

Just before one of the men got in the truck to drive over and see what it was, I put on the zoom lens of my camera and took a photo. I zoomed in on it, and discovered it was Barbara and Charmyn lying face down in the desert with a dog Charmyn has “adopted” from the village – they were hiding on us! We honked at them and they came over, enjoying the mischief they had caused! :)

All dangers now out of the way, we unpacked and set up, and the kids all went out to play, finding a pile of bones in the dirt and using them to dig around in the dirt. Gotta love life in the desert! We frolicked and feasted, and talked and sang as the sun went down over the Chalbi. How cool!

The families with young kids went back a little early, but a few of us and Charmyn’s dog stayed out to talk and do some star gazing. The wind howled across the desert, but we positioned ourselves behind the truck for some shelter and enjoyed the desert night. Suddenly, the dog sat straight up and started growling. This definitely got our attention. What was out there? We shone our lights around, but could see nothing. The dog settled down, but still sat bolt upright and stared out into the desert, watching. We were on our guard a little, but decided that if the dog was not freaking out, neither should we. And then the dog freaked out – he shot up and ran a ways out, barking and barking like crazy at something unseen. He didn’t let up, so we quickly decided it was time to go. We jammed the remaining things in the back of the truck and jumped in – I’ve never seen a picnic get packed up so fast! We scooped up the dog, too, who’d never been in a car in his life, closed up the back of the truck, and sped away. We never did find out what it was the dog saw or heard (it’s probably better that way!) but it certainly made for a good adventure!

Friday was the day to pack up and say goodbye. We left after breakfast and headed back over the Chalbi, stopping in Kargi, just on the south edge, for a quick ten minute visit with a pastor there. (Of course, there’s no such thing as a quick visit in Africa, and we ended up there for lunch and nearly and hour and a half!) Kargi is the first Rendille town you hit on the way back from Kalacha, and, while Kalacha was wonderful, as soon as we hit Kargi, I felt like I was home again! It had been a wonderful week of new friends and new places, good worship, and exciting learning. I was sad to leave, but excited to come back and see the kids again and attack the language with some new ideas. I was encouraged and refreshed, and so thankful for such a fantasterrific week!

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1 comment:

Charmyn said...

I finally had a chance to read your blog... and its great! I love how you tell stories!!
Miss you Hillary!
have a great day!