Saturday, February 6, 2010

Oh What a Year

As I conclude my time here in Kenya I am trying to prepare myself for the transition back into American culture. I am beyond excited to see everyone back at home but I am nervous to return to a place so different than what I am accustomed to. I know that I have lived the third world for a substantial amount of time when I refuse to pay more than $3 for a meal at a restaurant, I’d rather walk 6 miles than pay $1.50 for a taxi, I get mad when I am overcharged 10 cents on a loaf of bread. Please bear with me and my stinginess!
How was Kenya? It was a rollercoaster. I had some really great days and some really horrible days. Days I wanted to live here forever, and days I didn’t want to return to work after my lunch break. Days I questioned my faith in God with all the suffering , and days I thought to myself, “Wow, good job God, you’re amazing. Days when I laughed, days when I cried, and days I just wanted to scream in frustration. I doubted my survival in Karungu for the year but looking back I am so grateful for this experience. After spending the majority of the last two years of my life in Africa, it will always be a part of me. I love the hospitable people, and the beautiful scenery. And as they say in Wicked, “Because I knew I have been changed for good.”
Thanks to my family and friends who followed the blog. It turned out to be much more popular than I imagined. Thanks for all your love and support. (Sorry if this is turning into a cheesy Oscar’s acceptance speech.) You have no idea what every letter, package, email, and text message has meant to me. Thanks for all your prayers- they work! I stayed healthy and safe despite a bout of malaria and a car accident (Mom, I’m fine!). And lastly thanks to my mom for being my rock of support. Thanks for being okay (well, as ‘okay’ as a mom can be) with letting her daughter live on the other side of the world. I’ll be home soon!
And as for what is next in my life....“I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds my future.”

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Day from Hell

The other title I was considering for the blog entry was “Jiggers Suck” but my day was absolutely terrible. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Ever feel like you’re taking one step forward and two steps back? Well, I feel like that a lot here in Kenya and today was a prime example.
St Camillus was sponsoring a jiggers removal day at Otati Dispensary. (Wondering what a jigger is? Read a blog that I wrote in November.) Otati is a village about 30 minutes from the hospital. Our hospital staff visits there regularly to do child immunizations and HIV testing. This particular visit we were teaming up with the Kenyan Ministry of Health to remove jiggers from children in the community. The children are most effected because Otati Primary School is infested with these bugs. They breed in the dirt of the floor and then burrow into the kids feet while sitting in class. I cant imagine trying to learn as bugs are eating away at my feet.
Seven of us from St.Camillus were suppose to leave the hospital at 8:30am. Well that was slowed down by our driver who was busy washing the car. It’s a must that a car is sparkly clean before setting out on any journey. Not quite sure why this is because the car is covered in mud/dirt within minutes of driving down the road. Anyhow, we left around 9:30. Not too bad. We finally arrive at the dispensary after navigating the road that really could be a creek bed.
What’s a dispensary? Think of it as an outpatient clinic…from the 1800s. It’s nothing more than a two room building with a scale and some basic medications. No electricity or running water. I was expecting Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman to greet us on the front step. Really, I wouldn’t be surprised if they filmed that show here.
The Government showed up an hour late with a few nurses to help. But they didn’t bring any of the medical supplies St.Camillus had given them the previous day. A box full of razor blades, antiseptic, gauze, and antibiotics disappeared within 24 hours. It’s amazing how anything of value just walks away and is never seen again. I’m sure somebody knows exactly where they are. So we made do with a few blades and gloves we had brought. Together we set up a tent outside (the dispensary is too small) and got to work.
Thirty people from the community were told to come to the dispensary. They each were suppose to bring a basin and water, so we could soak their feet in water to soften the skin. Well, they brought basins and water….muddy creek water. So once we removed the jiggers we couldn’t soak them in water with antiseptic. Instead they were sent home with bleeding feet drudging through ankle deep mud. We had a heavy storm blow through in the morning.
Word spread like wildfire that we were removing jiggers and handing out shoes. Masses of people came from the hills, some with jiggers others came just to gawk (a popular thing to do around here.) You would have thought we were giving free pedicures not digging out jiggers with razor blades! By the end of the day we had helped almost 100 people.
I spent a good portion of the morning de-jiggering Brian, a seven year old special needs boy. He had one of the worse cases because he doesn’t realize when he’s being bitten and doesn’t pick off the bug before it burrows into the skin. Brian would not hold still and I cant blame him, I couldn’t either with somebody stabbing my sole with a blade. But his kicking made it almost impossible for me to remove the jiggers. Doing this I realized I could never work in a children’s hospital. I can’t bear to see children in such pain and to know that I am the one causing it.
The afternoon I spent dejiggering cute old men, with not so cute old feet. Wilson was one of their names. Through translation I found out he believed the jiggers were a curse because he didn’t go to a funeral of a close friend. Another man, needed much more medical care than just his feet. He had oral thrush and what I assume to be elephantitus. Yikes.
The day was filled with shrieks, cries, and screams of young kids as we sliced into their feet. We used some topical numbing cream but that didn’t do a whole lot. These poor kids- literally! At one point I saw a mother with a tree branch caning her son because he was crying too much. He’s your son, not your donkey! How does caning a child make them stop crying? One of life’s great mysteries that I will never understand!
By 4:00 I was exhausted, flustered, and ready to go. We packed up and almost headed out when the government workers realized they didn’t have a way to get home. Their vehicle dropped them off in the morning and couldn’t return because it was unable to navigate the muddy road. We volunteered to take them to the junction where their car could reach instead they wanted to be dropped off in another village much further down the road. We’re doing you a favor, don’t push your luck. Turns out that their vehicle never planned on coming back to get them; they had somewhere else to go. A perfect example of Kenya’s messed up government. Our driver made a special trip sliding down the mud path to take them to the main road. 45 minutes later he returned to take the St.Camillus staff home.

Was the day chaotic? Yes!
Was the day frustrating? Yes!
Was the day worthwhile? Yes!

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Years in Karungu

Happy 2010! Here are some pictures of the New Years Eve party we had. This is what you get when you celebrate with five Italian priests, four Kenyan brothers, one Tanzanian brother, one Kenyan priest, four American volunteers, and a handful of Italian vacationers.

Fr. Claudio ringing in 2010

The Camillian Brothers

The Obama girls representing. "USA"

PS. It was very anticlimatic without watching the ball drop in Times Square. I never realized how much Dick Clark means to me.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Things That Go!"

Buses. Matatus. Motorcycles. Let me share my experiences with you about three of Kenyas most popular forms of transportation.
There is nothing in America that can compare to a stick shift charter bus barreling down a rocky dirt road. Recently I spent 14 hours on one of these monsters to get from my village to Nairobi. The bus left Sori at 4:30pm. On the roof top were bins of omena (sardines) on their way to the markets in Nairobi. The bus stops about every 400 meters dropping off and picking up people. With each stop a new scent permeates the bus. Smells range from fish to body odor to over powering cologne. Fours hours into the trip we make it to the town of Kisii which is really only two hours away. Then it begins to rain. Water seeps through the cracks of my closed window. With each bump and turn water pours onto my lap. I cover myself with a plastic bag to prevent my jeans from becoming more soaked. At midnight we take a 30 minute stop at a roadside cafĂ©, just as I’m falling asleep we arrive there. I head to the bathroom. There are no toilets, just stalls with a hole in the ground, a common finding in Kenya. I’m fully awakened by the putrid smell coming from the hole. Back on the bus I doze off again enjoying the smooth paved roads for the rest of the journey. I toss and turn trying to get comfortable but really there is no point in trying to sleep because the old women in front of me is singing to herself. In a screeching, off-key voice she sings Duhluo hymns, and “I love Jesus.” That’s great you love Jesus, I do too! But for the love of Jesus its 2am! Please stop singing! At 3:30am we roll into the desolate streets of Nairobi. We pull into the bus station and nobody gets off, everyone sits there until the sun comes up when it is safe to get off. I finally get some sleep because the singing grandma has also fallen asleep. But at 5:45am just as the sun is starting to rise I’m poked by the bus driver, “Muzungu, twende.” (White man, let’s go) Half asleep I start my day in Nairobi. Suddenly, Greyhound is looking like first class!
Matatus. Imagine a 14 passenger minivan stuffed with 20 adults, add some massive speakers, and a huge decal of Brittney Spears, Obama, or Jesus on the back window and you have yourself a typical Kenyan matatu. Personal space is nonsexist in these crammed vans driven by lunatic drivers. It is a competition to see how many people can cram in. Arm pits are in people’s faces, half of your butt cheek is in your neighbor’s lap, and elbows are jabbed into your side with every bump. Here are a few of my most memorable matatu moments. A passenger in the front seat becomes sick, and starts puking out the window. The driver doesn’t want puke smeared down the side of the van so they decide to move him to the very back seat right next to me. So I am sitting next to this man with his head out the window barfing going 50mph. Another time I sat next to a man carrying a live chicken with him. He kept in on the floor between his feet. I smelled something and realize the chicken has pooped on the floor. Yuck! A few minutes later I feel something on my ankle. It is the chicken, apparently my white skin looks like chicken feed. How do I politely tell this man, “Um, your cock is pecking my ankle!”
Motorcycles are the most common transport around the hospital. It works like a taxi service taking people to other nearby villages. However, some of these motorcycles think they are moving trucks. They carry 3 passengers at one time. I’ve seen everything from beds, chairs, lumber, and suitcases carried on these things. These reckless drivers keep the x-ray department busy. I’ve seen way too many fractured arms, legs, and skulls because of them. Walking along the road isn’t much safer either. Pedestrians don’t have the right a way, and these drivers have no fear. Yesterday we had a woman who was hit my a motorcycle while walking along the road. She arrived at the hospital in her makeshift brace of twigs and twine with a compound fracture. The tibia and tendons were hanging out covered in dirt. Of course the man who hit her didn’t stop. Not because for fear of the cops, but fearing mob violence.
My favorite form of transportation? Walking….far, far, away from the road.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mzungu = White Person

By: Christy Stutsman
March 10, 2009

“Mzungu! Mzungu” you yell out to me,
your eyes brightly shining, your face lit with glee.

“Ciao! Ciao!” the toddlers chorus,
a greeting of the missioners who came here before us.

“America! America!” Lauren and I shout in reply,
we’re not European, we say “hi” or “good-bye.”

Warm greetings are common, a nod or a wave,
more often a handshake, it’s their absolute fave.

Wet hands, sticky hands, hands dripping nasal goo,
oh yes, what a pleasure, it’s nice to see you too.

We part and move on, striding down a dirt path,
by the lake there are children enjoying a bath.

No matter where we go, the landscape doesn’t change,
deep brown to vivid green spans the full color range.

Cows, donkeys, goats, dogs, and pigs,
a multitude of creatures wandering about on four legs.

African animals are harder to spot,
well…except for the hippo that Lauren just fought!

Both knees are gashed, left arm is achy,
but I’m the one who knows her story’s a fakey.

She was running with me when she tripped on a rock,
the blood began to drip in a jagged line to her sock.

Kenyans had to gawk, on Doc Balient’s door we did knock,
he gave a tetanus booster so her jaw would not lock.

We joked about ways to get out of here,
we were doubting survival in Karungu for a year.

But, our perspective is now brightening,
it no longer seems as frightening,

we’ll make it in this place
with just a little bit of grace.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"So much to be thankful for..."

What I’m thankful for..
1.My mom
2. Supportive friends and family
3. Food to eat
4. Roof over my head
5. Access to quality healthcare
6. Clean drinking water
7. Education
8. Non corrupt government
9. Thanksgiving traditions.. .my uncle John’s grilled turkey, my
aunt's stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie,
and of course Skyline Chili dip, and a competitive game of
Scattergories with my cousins that follows dinner.
Kristen, we’re going shopping at 5am tomorrow morning, right? I’ll
meet you in Eastgate.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dirt Poor

You’re about 16 years old. Not really sure what year you were born in. Your father died when you were an infant. You have never attended a day of school in your life. You cannot read or write- not even your name. You mix up the numbers counting to ten in Duhluo, your native language. Jiggers(pinhole sized bugs) burrow into your skin because you sleep on the dirt floor of your hut. Your brother is mentally handicap and doesn’t speak. Your mother is too weak to gather firewood to sell at the market. The straw roof of your house is falling apart so every time it rains you get soaked. You have no consistent food supply. In recent months your food supply has been the washed up omena (like sardines) dried up on the shore of the lake. This is the life of Gaston Omundi.

Two weeks ago Gaston and his family were brought to St. Camillus by a community health worker and fellow CMMB volunteer, Kayla. The first few days Mary, Gaston, and Michael just laid in bed so worn out by their living situation. Being admitted to the hospital was like checking into a five star hotel. They each had a bed, 3 meals a day, running water, electricity, didn’t have to worry about the impending afternoon thunderstorm and most importantly access to healthcare. We spent a week excising jiggers from their hands, feet, and butts. All the result of months of sleeping on a infested dirt floor. (Like bed bugs but more painful.) Hours were spent soaking and digging out the jiggers. Puss, blood, and larvae flowed out of the sores we opened. A painful process, but very much needed. I’ve seen lots of unpleasant things working in hospitals but this may be at the top of this list.

While all this was going on at the hospital, a new home was being constructed for the family. The old house needed to be burned down to prevent the spread of the bugs. Its kind of like Extreme Home Makeover..Kenya Edition. Instead of Ty Pennington flying you to Disney World, the white people take you to the hospital. To this family the hospital was Disney World!

Gaston and I became friends. He’d drop by x-ray always in a cheerful mood. I didn’t know weather to feel happiness or disgust that this child was so happy. He was always singing, dancing, and laughing which is great. At the same time, my four year old niece is more educated then this 16 year old. What does his future hold? He cant even become a fisherman or a farmer because he doesn’t know how to count. He’ll be cheated every time he tries to sell his goods. What is going to happen to him? It became my goal to teach him how to count to ten in Duhluo. Every morning he’d be waiting for me to arrive at work and we would count over and over and over. “Achiel, areiyo, adeick,…” He’d mix up 4 and 6 a lot and he’d just start laughing as I wanted to pull out my hair. How can I get this into his mind?! I have incredible respect for teachers! By the end of his stay he was almost counting to ten consistently. “Teach maber, Gaston!” (Good work!)

On Friday I had the privilege of taking them back home. They lit up as they saw their new house. With full bellies and no jiggers they started a new chapter in life. A social worker will continue to work with them to make sure they stay that way.

Welcome home, jigger family!