by Sr. Prisca Ovat MMM Nigeria/Kenya 04.03.2023
My experience of a desert was live, not the one watched in movies, nor read in books. And I would say that not much has changed from the time I first saw photos of Turkana malnourished children many years ago. As we travelled along, I rather marvelled at the resilience that existed in the land. Both humans and animals learnt to survive with what was available. Cattle ate sticks, paper bags, and dried grasses which they would not have if they had a choice. They gazed eagerly at travellers for whatever they ate at stopovers, only to satisfy their hunger.
The long journey was endless as we travelled for hours. Just when I learnt we were in Lodwar, we could no longer travel to our destinations. Something was wrong. There were banditry activities ahead. Regrets soon replaced my excitement “Did we have to make this journey”? We waited by the roadside for so long, with hopes that a police van would accompany us through, but it was not to be. The driver then took the risk of proceeding. Thoughts came rushing through my mind, “If I opt to alight here, where I would go to, in the middle of nowhere, in a foreign land?”, and for a moment, I wondered if my companions and other travellers felt the same. Yes they did. The expression was all over their faces. Getting on to our host who zealously awaited our arrival at the other end, I said , “Just in case we do not arrive, this is what would have happened.” I explained that was me who had an opportunity to communicate. Many fall into death’s hands without a chance to reach out nor say goodbye. So, I began a silent prayer with my companions and waited for what laid ahead.
A few miles later we came upon a group of nomads with guns over their shoulders. I was so completely overwhelmed with fear that I suffered instant gastric pain. I knew why. They looked everything like the Fulani herdsmen I see on the news from home in Nigeria. T heir demeanour, the manner they held their guns, and their sad/angry looks. And I could not help but think of all the pain and suffering of my people – the kidnappings, killings and abuses people have been subjected to. I thought it was our last day.
Earlier on the journey, I watched the driver saving half-used bottled water, for whatever reason. Now the reason was clear. Every time we came across an armed Turkana, he threw out a bottle of water, and we just get a sad smile and moved on. Water was our saviour, so, all the bottles of water reserved for our journey were brought out “to save our heads”. And water indeed saved our heads. I reflected on water as a giver of life and a bringer of death. For thirst, we would have been victims of a government’s corrupt practices. There was no greater lesson on the judicious use of water than this. And if conscience is truly alive, no one would consciously misuse water after an experience as this.