Taking time to count blessings: reflections on northern Kenya

It’s been an eventful week in the Latham household, one that’s been a powerful reminder of how much I have to be thankful for.

Ten days ago, my manager asked if I could take a last-minute trip to northern Kenya to gather stories about how people there have been affected by the East Africa food crisis. I work as a writer and editor for a humanitarian organization, but this is not normally part of my role. I’m usually chained to my desk.

I had three days to prepare for the trip. The day before I left, my husband had a job interview in the Netherlands – and got his dream job. So among the excitement and nervousness of traveling to a corner of Kenya that most tourists don’t see, I also had the excitement and nervousness of realizing I’ll soon be leaving London for a new country.

I flew to Kenya a week ago today, and had my first day free, so I spent it cruising around Nairobi National Park – apparently Nairobi is the only city in the world with a national park within city limits. And it’s amazing. Zebras, giraffes, buffalo – I even saw a lioness stalk some zebras (she gave up after about ten minutes).

Zebra

Nairobi National Park

Then I met my team of colleagues from around the world and flew in a twin-prop up to Lodwar, a town in the county of Turkana. Turkana is populated by nomadic herding people – also called Turkana – who have been severely affected by the failure of the rains over the last year. The men have to walk further with the animals to find pastures, and they leave the women, children and elderly behind. But since the animals provide the main food source – milk – women, children and the elderly are left searching for food in an arid semi-desert.

Many of their animals have died. People have lost their livelihoods as well as their food source.

Goat skeleton

A common sight

I had the privilege of visiting Turkana villages and seeing how resilient the people are. They have almost nothing. The women are tough. They build their own houses out of acacia and palm branches. They raise the children. They walk up to an hour to collect water and carry it home balanced on their heads.

Turkana woman carrying food

Turkana woman carrying food

I went to schools where my colleagues are providing food for thousands of children, often the only meal the kids get in a day. Not surprisingly, school enrollment has shot up in the region.

And the kids were full of energy. My Kenyan colleagues described how desperate the situation was six weeks ago, and I was amazed to see the kids dancing, singing, and shoving each other aside to get in front of my camera so they could see the photo of themselves afterward.

Turkana kids

Turkana kids after a meal

The emergency is by no means over. The next rains aren’t expected until later this year, and if they fail like the last two rainy seasons…it doesn’t bear thinking about.

Easy access to food. Water. Showers. Flushing toilets. A toothbrush. Medicine. Houses I don’t have to build myself. Time with my husband. Opportunities for the future. I’m so fortunate.

I arrived back in London at sunrise this morning. My husband moves to the Netherlands tomorrow. I’ll join him sometime in the next few months.

If this post was a bit heavy, I’ll leave you with a short video of a different face of Kenya – this lovely giraffe made me smile. And I’m quite jealous of her flirty eyelashes. Watch with the sound on and you’ll hear what kind of music my guide loved.

What are you grateful for this week?

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9 Comments

Filed under About Katrina, Thoughtfulness

9 responses to “Taking time to count blessings: reflections on northern Kenya

  1. What an amazing experience–and now a huge move! 2011 is turning into a major year of changes for you, Kat. Your fellow mutineers will help however we can!

    • Katrina

      I know – it’s been a huge summer! Thanks for your friendship and support, Suz! It’s one more blessing I’m grateful for.

  2. Thanks for sharing. I try to be grateful most weeks, whether for visits with elderly parents, connecting with old friends, or even just a nice piece of chocolate. But having the reminder that we need to put everything into perspective of the realities of the world makes my level of gratitude for day to day conveniences sky rocket. What an adventure for you to Kenya and then on to your move. Good luck. Have fun!

  3. Gemma Sidney

    Wow, that must have been such an interesting and enriching experience… I am very much looking forward to visiting Kenya in two month’s time. I’m hoping to see the real side of the country (ie. not just hang out with tourists on safaris) as we have a Kenyan friend who will be showing us around. I’ve heard the people there are inspirational and very welcoming. I can’t wait to meet them and see all the animals…

    Best of luck with your move!

    • Katrina

      Have a great time, Gemma! I absolutely loved meeting people there. They were really friendly and welcoming. And you’ll be in a great position, having a local friend show you around. Let me know where you go because my husband was so jealous of my trip I promised him we’d take a holiday there soon!

      • Gemma Sidney

        No problem, I’ll let you know how we go! Sounds like your move will be to the Netherlands – look forward to hearing about your experiences there. It’s a country I haven’t had the chance to visit just yet…

  4. What this post was, to me, was an amazing glimpse into a world very different from my own . . . and an equally amazing reminder how deeply I am blessed. Sometimes I watch my Li’l D bathe and despair at the knowledge that at any given moment, there are many other mothers praying for enough water to keep their children alive. I wish so much at those moments that I could just transfer the water via magic portal, but that is not realistic. Donating to water-bringing organizations, OTOH, is possible, and I’m thankful to you for reminding me to turn my intention to donate again into a reality.

    Thank you. And congrats to your husband, and to you for your adventures to come!

    • Katrina

      I love the way your mind works, Deborah! Transporting water by magic portal would be amazing. I visited a water project on the trip, where local people are building several miles of pipeline from a fresh water spring to seven villages. Girls collect the water right now, walking up to an hour to get it, and the spring is a few feet away from a crocodile breeding ground. Can you image? So while it may not be magic, I’m sure the girls in those villages will think the pipeline is magical anyway. Talk about transforming your life!

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