Jack and Eoin

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Africa Extracts #1 Marsabit

The wailing in the vehicle was deafening but concentrating on keeping the jeep on the dirt track made the screams seem distant. The jeep needed to be kept moving at speed to push through the sand and get her to the shack hospital in Marsabit town.

Twenty minutes earlier two volunteers arrived to check on their teachers in a rural primary school of Dirib Gombo, Marsabit, North Kenya. Each morning the jeep run was made to check the Volunteers safety in the local medical dispensary, Hekima and Dirib Gombo primary schools.

School starts at 6am to finish early and let the children home before the heat of mid-day. A local male teacher came running towards the jeep as they approached the hedge school. In obvious distress, the teacher tried to convey the serous nature of what was happening in one of the teachers homes, a small mud hut close by. The Volunteers ran with him and entered the hut to find a woman lying rigid, bloated and semi conscious on the floor. Two women knelt beside her, rocking back and forward and crying.

The town of Marsabit is an outpost of urban civilization in the vast desert of northern Kenya. The town is situated on an isolated extinct volcano, Mount Marsabit, which rises almost a kilometer above the desert. The hills here are heavily forested, in contrast to the desert beyond, with their own "insular" eco-system. The town currently has a population of about 5,000'. - Wiki

Marsabit was over an hour drive off, across rough and dangerous terrain, and should only be driven in convey. The Volunteers needed to move, they did not have the capacity to deal with her needs in the local dispensary. They carried the woman to the vehicle. 

She was one of the local teachers, her body was bloated and her limbs seemed locked. She was unrecogniseable. One of the Volunteers, a teacher and basketball player, was a very fit strong man, but even this group found it difficult to lift the teacher. She was weighed down. The only way to get the sick teacher into the jeep was to raise her high across the top of the seat heads and close to the ceiling. Her legs came across the two Volunteers in the front of the vehicle as they started the drive to Marsabit. It would be much later that the bruising journey would be felt by all. The project leader drove on and hoped for a peaceful road. 

The Volunteer passenger constantly tried to calm the occupants as the vehicle bounced towards Marsabit. Taking the teachers vitals was almost impossible. The jeep seemed packed. The male local teacher, two local women, the patient and the two Volunteers were consumed by their task. The sounds within the jeep were now to the back of the drivers consciousnesses. 

The track from Dirib to Marsabit is stunningly beautiful but the beauty belies the danger of the terrain, the crazy possibility of hitting an Elephant and the ever present instability that comes with tribal unrest and bandits. The jeep ploughed on and on and those inside could not have imagined the journey took a hour, time actually flew. 

Marsabit regional hospital is not what we could imagine in Ireland. A collection of buildings, shacks, mud huts and corrugated boxes deliver medical care to the top third section of Kenya. The lost area of Kenya, above Archers post, beyond Isiolo up to the Ethiopian border and flanked by Somalia to the East and Sudan (lake Turkana) to the west. A massive area left by the government to basically fend for itself. The hospital director, Mohamed, knew the Lasallian volunteers were in the area and would always look out for their needs. His hospital gained from the

generosity of Irish volunteers and Lasallian Brothers, for many years.

The jeep pulled close to the emergency entrance, a large open area screened by a mixture of plastic and textile drapes. Mohamed was there, the male teacher screamed for help. The volunteers removed the patient from the vehicle and more people helped, more nurses came. The group faded and the volunteers knelt down to ponder what had just happened. No words. Mohamed thanked them soon after and did not hold out much hope for the patient. The volunteers needed to return to Dirib Gombo and the Lasallian compound. The passengers remained. 

It may seem strange but there was not update on the teacher. She came to mind daily but other distractions and difficulties focused the mind of the volunteer group and their project leader. Each day brought challenges. Each hour brought humility to the people lucky to be exposed to the most humble community imaginable.

14 months passed. The Project Leader returned to Dirib Gombo and Hekima with a new group of volunteers. Was she alive? ....