Water for Life

Kajiado, Kenya

The Conklin Presbyterian Church is supporting a Church World Services project in Kajiado Kenya to improve the water supply for people living the the Great Rift Valley in Kenya.

Church World Service's description of the project

Tea At Kajiado - Linda Robbins

A day trip from Nairobi to the bone-dry heart of Kajiado District is measured not in hours or miles, but in bounces. For me, it was a journey that began benignly enough on the deceptively smooth city streets of the Kenyan capital which turned into intermittent macadam washboard a few kilometers beyond the urban limits.

Our ride was the lumbering 20-year old Landrover that Church World Service Nairobi staff continue to cajole forward until funds for a newer truck can be budgeted. Prospects for this are still bleak, but my East African colleagues continue to peruse the ads and dream.

As I mounted the high step into the co-pilot seat of the battered old white beast, a charitable impulse to offer up leg room to a taller travel mate passed though my mind. The impulse quickly degenerated into shameful silence as I clung to the roof strap above the window ( which couldn’t be rolled down), and offered up instead a bit of thanksgiving for the motion-sickness patch behind my left ear.

Lurching in and out of chuckholes through the outskirts of Nairobi, past the estates of the late Karen Blixen and other well-known early 20th century expatriates, wonder at the stark contrasts between contemporary and ancient East Africa assails the senses. Huge lorries roar by carrying the prodigious plenty of new commerce; thousands of ordinary folk continue to walk the walk of everyday life, carrying amazingly large bundles of everything from sticks to crates of produce and poultry on their heads.

It had been 22 years since I last visited Nairobi, and there were so many changes. The buildings in town were bigger, more modern; the roads beyond were decidedly more rugged. Before the day was over, I had formed a profound preference for dirt roads over fractured and pothole-pocked asphalt.

Our destination was the site of a de-silting project in Kajiado District. Our hosts would be Masaai herders who were waiting to give us the tour of a defunct dam, now filled with crusty, cracked dirt and scraggy brush. Over the years, the once useful dam and catchment basin slowly filled in with the washed away dregs of soil eroded by the brief torrential downpour of many rainy seasons.

As we approached the project site, dirt road devolved into irregular rutted path, which disappeared into a moonscape desert, as we dodged thorn trees-upright and prone-boulders, and errant bits of fleet-footed wildlife.

In the dry season, this is a land for browsers, not grazers. Gazelles and dik-diks do well; likewise the industrious and none-too-picky goat. I saw an ostrich making tracks away from our advance. Yet along the way-whether paved or punishing path-one noted the persistent vigil overhead of Nature’s tidy-uppers, the winged watchers for all that falls and breathes its last. It’s hard to love scavengers.

At last, even the Landrover could go no farther. We climbed out and walked the last meters through field and scrub to the object of our quest. A relatively low ridge of earthworks surrounded a great expanse of shallow depressed area. The bowl that should hold the rain was empty and dry

Greeting us were the sub-chief and other leaders of the community-a large contingent for such an isolated place. Again, the contrast was remarkable: men of all ages, some in the modern garb of the rural agri-professional, some barefoot or sandaled, outfitted in the gay red, white, and black blanket robes of the Masaai tribe. Their greetings were warm and gracious , losing nothing in translation. We stood in rapt attention as they described their plans to repair the walls of the dam and pull out the volunteer trees that sprouted from the dry sides of the basin.

It wold be a lot of work, done by hand. And they needed to do it quickly, because the earthmoving rig that Church World Service had hired to dig out the silt that filled the basin was due to arrive in three days.

We saw the disbursement pipe at one end of the catchment area that would siphon the water from the filled catchment basin and draw it off into another pipe that ran underground to a community tap and watering trough many yards away. As we climbed the dam bank to look at the tap, a gazelle that had also been monitoring the site for possible refreshment was chased down by some of our hosts and restrained for our admiration. The gazelle bleated frantically until it was finally released amid much laughter.

We learned that a lot of “invisible” work had already been accomplished. Training of a water management committee had been completed. Now there would be regular monitoring of the facility’s condition. Repairs would be made promptly and the cost borne by the community. Further training would provide conflict mediation skills to mitigate disagreement about water apportionment. Here would be dispensed “ounces or prevention” to forestall violent disputes over water rights-a serious and growing issue in much of Africa today. Furthermore, seed and tools had been distributed to encourage these historic cattle herders to settle down, rather than follow their animals from watering hole to watering hole. Perhaps, now their children could go to school.

As the tour drew to a close and we prepared to accept the sub-chief’s invitation for a drink before departure, may God forgive me, I wondered about the source of the water for the tea. We had just been introduced to the source of the milk (Maaa!). I shuddered.

The men of Kajiado poured. They passed the metal basin of roasted goat ribs. They apologized that their wives and daughters were not there to receive us. We had been very late in our arrival: the road had been long and bumpy, and I had the backside to prove it. There had been rocks along the way.

Yet the women of Kajiado could wait for us no longer; they had many kilometers to walk to fetch the large jugs and basins of water they would carry back home on their heads for the day’s needs-all the cooking, all the drinking, all the cleaning and all the hygiene that could be realized with such small quantities of water. They would do the same thing tomorrow, and tomorrow, but perhaps much less frequently when this dam was rehabilitated.

The women set off on their daily mission well before we arrived. They would not return for hours after our departure.

Parasites, bacteria, water-borne disease-one kind of reality-it was why help was needed. Compassion, hospitality, a mutual hope that together people of good faith can shape a different future for Kajiado and the world we share-these form another reality altogether. Far from the highway of whatever condition, the dirt roads, and the footpaths of men, women, children, and beasts, Church World Service is there. So, are we all.

I bowed my head: closed my eyes: I took a drink. Love potion-2004


Conklin Presbyterian Church     P.O. Box 151, 1175 Conklin Road, Conklin, NY 13748     (607)775-0365     info@conklinpres.org