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!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Frustration


It doesn’t matter how long I have been here. There are some days that I am just dumbfounded by what I hear and see. Times that I find myself asking, “Why is this happening?!” Times when I just want to bang my head against the wall because it doesn’t make any sense. Let me share with you some of those frustrations.
-20 year old comes in for an obstetric ultrasound. This is her fourth pregnancy. She only has one living child, the other two dies as infants.
-A man is told he has cancer but we don’t have the drugs or resources to treat cancer at our hospital. He needs to travel to Nairobi, 8 hours away, to get proper treatment but he doesn’t have the money to travel there.
-A sick woman needs to be admitted to the hospital for further treatment but she doesn’t have the $12 for the admission fee. So she goes home and asks family and friends to borrow some money. Once she has collected enough money (which can take days or weeks) she then returns to the hospital. By this point she’s very weak. Shortly after arriving at the hospital she passes away. (Its not unusual to hear about patients dying on their way to the hospital or at our front door.)
-A man has a spiral fracture of his tibia. An hour after x-raying him I see him standing outside washing his clothes.-A teen finally gets tested for HIV. It comes back positive and he’s started on ARVs. After a few months he stops taking them because he can no longer afford to travel to the hospital to get the weekly/monthly supply of medication. (ARVs are completely free thanks to Catholic Relief Services)
-An HIV positive mother continues to breastfeed her baby beyond the recommended first 6 months and risks transmitting HIV because she has nothing else to feed him/her. The child ends up testing HIV positive by age 2.
-Students becoming pregnant is common, sometimes it is the result of teacher/student relationships.
-X-raying a toddler and an hour or two later I see the child being rolled away to the morgue.- A woman fractured her arm. She was beaten by a neighbor. The neighbor’s cow was on her property and eating her crops so she whipped it trying to get it to leave. The owner saw this and didn’t approve so he beat the woman.
-A newly admitted patient has never seen a toilet before today. All of her life she has squatted over a hole. She doesn’t know which way to sit on it, and she doesn’t know how to flush. Hand washing is a foreign concept. (Cholera outbreaks are a problem. No running water in the region=no flush toilets and little hand washing)
-Life expectancy is decreasing. Its now 47 years old, compared to 52 a few years ago. Anyone over 50 is considered elderly.
-Most of the community does not have health insurance. They cannot afford to pay 160 Shillings a month to cover their entire family. ($2 USD)
-HIV positive mother doesn’t want her newborn to be put on a HIV prophylaxis because then her husband will know that the wife is positive. Which means the woman has been unfaithful, or the husband is also positive and they aren’t revealing their status to each other.
-A woman doesn’t want oxygen placed on her ill husband because she had another sick relative who was given oxygen and he shortly died after that.
-Teen pregnancy is common. Oftentimes these girls are orphans and can barley support themselves. How are they going to support another life?
-Parents die of AIDS leaving the children to be looked after by the grandmother. The elderly grandmother can’t do it so the oldest child drops out of school to care for the siblings and the ailing grandparent.
-Single moms turn to prostitution in order to put food on the table for their children. They then get infected, die, and the children become orphans.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Neighborhood


“Obama! Obama!” The chorus of small children yell this as they run to me wrapping themselves around my legs and begging to be picked up. I grab a few of the lightest ones and toss them into the air and spin them around. This is a frequent occurrence considering every time I walk to or from my house I’m bombarded by the neighborhood kids. Really, I just passed you 10 minutes ago you don’t need to attack me again!
There is never a dull moment thanks to the kids in the neighborhood. Living in the hospital staff compound I’m surrounded by about 50 children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, of my coworkers. These kids are fascinated by the muzungs living next to them. The first few weeks of living here I felt like an animal at the zoo. Children would stand at our windows and gawk all day long. They’d pound on the door chanting, “Muzungu, give me sweets!” No! Parents warned us never to give the kids food or else they would always come back asking for more.
My house has become a play room. Our toys consist of a Where’s Waldo book, and a few bouncy balls. But most of all the kids are interested in just watching me do everyday things. They watch me brush my teeth, comb my hair, do my dishes, sweep the floor. Sometimes they assist in helping hand wash my clothes. Freddy, it really isn’t necessary for you to be washing my underwear! But everything is more interesting when a white person does it.
You never know what “toys” the kids are going to bring a long with them. Zedi once brought in his little truck with a dead bird in the back of it. Allen comes in holding a rusty saw blade. Samuel is chewing on some pills- go figure his dad is a doctor. Olga is trying to scare me with a goat skull (probably the remnants of a recent slaughter). Baby usually comes over without shorts or underwear and likes to sit on our furniture. You can’t turn your back on them or else they’re scouring our food bin looking for a snack , or they’re running away with our belongings. Hey, come back here with my hairbrush! I’ll be walking home from work and I see a 1 ½ year old dragging my running shoes across the compound. One afternoon I watched a group of preschoolers chase cows away by throwing rocks at their behinds. Cheap entertainment! Who needs a swing set and sidewalk chalk when you have cows and rocks!?
Not all of the children enjoy us. Some of the tiny ones are afraid of the big white monsters living near them. One little guy, Bradley, screams and bolts home if I am within 20 yards of him. The older kids know how afraid he is and they’ve made a game out of it. They carry him to our front step (unbeknown to him that it is my house) knock, and leave him stranded. So when we answer the door he’s alone, face-to-face with the white girls. The horror-stricken boy bolts home at lightening speed. The first few months were tough for Bradley but he’s finally get use to me.
It’s great having the kids around. I’ve improved my Swahili learning phrases like “Don’t touch that.” “Take off your shoes.” “Go home, return tomorrow!” They are overall well behaved, cute kids. I’d compare it to having 50 nieces and nephews, they are fun to play with but when you get tired of them you can send them back home to mom and dad!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sundays in Sori

Sundays have become my favorite day of the week because its market day. The open air market is bustling with people, produce, and poultry. Goats meander through the market, and the smell of dried omena (like sardines) is potent. Mounds of tomatoes line the isle way. Villagers come from their homes, miles away, carrying their tomatoes, onions, maize, beans, and fish to sell at the weekly market.
Armed with my plastic shopping bags and 350 Kenyan Shillings (about $4) I trek to the market in Sori 2.5 miles down the road. This past weeks shopping list included onions, cabbage, sugar, and papaya. Bargaining is essential. No price tags, and no ads telling you what the weekly specials are. Being white usually causes the price to double. When I was a market rookie I inquired about fair prices on items from friends before I went to the market. I want to pay the “mafrika price” (black man), and not the “muzungu price” (white man). When people see me their eyes turn into dollar signs. Being a veteran market goer I now know what the fair prices are and I fight for them. If their was a Price is Right Karungu, I would definitely win. I hate being over charged, even if it is just a few shillings. Usually, ‘mano maan yen’ (that’s too much!), putting down the item, and slowly starting to walk away is a good tactic. Most of the time the seller will agree to my price.
My favorite part of the market is the second hand clothing piles imported form the US and Europe. I love rummaging though the heaps of Goodwill leftovers. Some of my best purchases have been: a Xavier U. t-shirt, American Eagle tank top, and Aeropastle pants that fit perfectly. They have spruced up my wardrobe of ten shirts that I have been wearing the past eight months. A shirt is about 50 cents and pants are $1.50. Not bad considering that they sometimes still have the $6.99 Goodwill price tag on them.
The first few trips to the market I was a spectacle. I think the entire market stopped what they were doing to look at me. Seeing white people in the market was unchartered territory. Usually visitors come just to take pictures then leave, but I was actually there to make some purchases. At one point, I looked up from rummaging through a pile to fine 4 women lined up in front of me just staring at me in amazement. Yes, I am a white girl and I’m looking to buy some second hand clothes. Small children also liked to follow me around and to observe the purchases I am making.

What’s the cost of living? (74 cents=100 shillings)
Bread 35 shillings
4 Tomatoes 20 shillings
Cabbage 30 shillings
Sugar (1kg) 110 shillings
Pineapple 40 shillings

A Sunday afternoon of haggling at the market…..priceless!
For everything else there is Mastercard

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Meow




At 5am I hear Christy get out of bed. (We have bunk beds) She’s convinced she hears a cat meowing inside our house. So she turns on the flashlight and scopes the place out but doesn’t find anything. I heard the meowing but think its coming form outside. “Christy, you are nuts! You probably just dreamt about it (our malaria prophylaxis,Mefloquine, has side effects of vivid dreams which we‘ve experienced).We haven’t let any cats in the house. Its 5am- go back to bed!” So she does. The next morning Christy heads to work as I’m still getting ready. I hear a meow, and its definitely coming from inside the house- under the bed to be more exact! I look underneath and there is a little kitten. Shoot, Christy was right! No wonder she thought it was coming from inside, the cat was about 10 inches away from her head! I move away our suitcases and discovered three more! Are you serious, we have four kittens living underneath our bed!? My first reaction was to leave them alone and head to work, I can deal with it over my lunch break. I‘m running late. “Um sorry, I’m late for work I have an infestation of kittens in my house.” But then I didn’t want these little guys getting into our food, pooping, and tearing up our stuff. Plus, what kind of predators are they going to attract? If they can get in the house, so can a snake that wants to eat them! I get out the broom and a dust pan and plop all four of them outside. Hopefully the mother will come back looking for them. When I came back from work for lunch two of the kittens were still laying in front of the house. I guess the mother took the other two home. Well, she did take them “home,” she jumped through the window with them and plopped them back underneath our bed! (our windows have bars over them but no screens) So this time I take the cats and plopped them REALLY far away from the house in some tall grass. Either the mother will find them or a hungry animal will. Sorry all you cat lovers, its the circle of life. So now I am paranoid about what’s going to come through our windows. Cats? Birds? Bats? Snakes? Iguanas? I take extra care tucking mymosquito net in at night. It’s the only thing that separates me from the bush.
A little update since I wrote this blog yesterday. The cats are back! Last night at 3am, the cat brought all the kittens back to our house.We heard her outside the window with them and chased her away before she could carry them inside! I’m not sure why she is attracted to our house, we rarely cook fish or meat in our house compared to our neighbors who prepare fish at least once a day. If we close the windows at night we’ll roast. If we leave them open I’ll live in a cathouse. I don’t want to be a “cat lady!”

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Kids having (or not having) Kids

All too often teenage girls come to the hospital for an ultrasound and find out they are pregnant. Girls becoming pregnant at 14 and 15 years old is a common occurrence. If it’s a 17 or 18 year old pregnant I feel like, “Oh good, you waited a few years before getting pregnant good job.” Lately, I’ve seen an increase in teen pregnancies thanks to the one month holiday the school kids had in August. Their isn’t much to do here in Karungu, its not like you can go to the movies, the mall, or a restaurant, so instead they spent time having sex. I’m convinced that if Karungu had some kind of entertainment pregnancy rates would drop dramatically!
The saddest part of this is that many of these pregnancies end in abortion. Staying in school and having a baby isn’t an option. A girl can’t breastfeed and attend classes, and baby formula is too expensive for most people living here. This is why you see a woman with a 7th grade education, and four kids by the age of 23. They get pregnant, drop out of school, and become a housewife for the rest of their lives. Even if the girl doesn’t go to school she may decide to abort because she can’t afford a baby. If she cant find food and shelter for herself how is she going to care for a child?
Upon finding out about their pregnancies many go to traditional healers (witchdoctors) in the community for an abortion. Oftentimes they are given poisonous herbs to kill the baby or it is manually extracted with unsterile instruments. In both situations we see girls return to the hospital with complications such as poisoning, hemorrhaging, or infection. (Side note: abortion is illegal in Kenya but the law isn’t enforced just like many other laws here.)
These girls are scared out of their minds when they discover they’re pregnant. They never want to reveal who the father is. Either they don’t know because they’ve been sleeping around, or they are afraid to tell because of what the father may do to them. Its not always consensual sex; uncles, brother-in-laws, classmates, and even school teachers are to blame in many cases. Yes, even teachers get school girls pregnant!
As these girls leave the ultrasound I just want to yell, “Your baby has a beating heart and fingernails. Please don’t kill it!”

Saturday, September 12, 2009

eHarmony...Kenyan Style

Daily Nation is the Kenyan national newspaper. It covers the sametopics over and over, political corruption, famine, cholera outbreaks,road accidents, and bogus health advice. Its unreliable and repetitivebut it’s the only news source I have so I occasionally read it.However, I am a faithful reader on Saturdays because of the singlesads that are featured. No, I am not looking to find a husband out ofthese ads, but they give me a good laugh. Here are some of my favorites. Enjoy!

Women looking for men:
-I’m a born-again professional lady of integrity searching for asingle, God-fearing man, financially stable man between 50 -58 years,with or without children, for a serious relationship leading tomarriage. Flashers, married men, jokers, and prisoners, don’t try. HIVtest a must.
-Polly, a single lady, 34 years is seriously looking for an honest,caring, God-fearing, and financially stable black or white man who issingle, a widower, or separated and aged between 35 and 65 years. He should be ready for a serious relationship leading to marriage. He should be from Kenya, USA, UK, Canada, Australia, or any othercountry. I have a 9 year old son. I’m HIV negative, so a HIV test is amust.
-Phenny, 36, HIV positive, simple business woman, committed Christian,and very healthy would like to meet a handsome, focused Luo* man aged37 and 45 years of the same status, with or without children. He must be a committed Christian, resourceful, and ready to commit to a relationship that will lead to marriage.
- Jean, 20 year old, university student looking for a man aged between 43-48 years for a relationship. He must be financially stable, from Nairobi, and willing to go for a HIV test.

Men looking for women:
-I’m a fun loving, ambitious business man and single parent of twoteens who is prayerful, tall, caring, lonely, healthy from CentralKenya, living in Nairobi. Are you a committed Christian, of good character, mature, medium height or tall, brown, a homemaker, a business woman? Then you could be my gift from God. Please text your profile to me for a blessed, lasting relationship and adventure.
-A professional man with a lovely child, medically fit and a Christian who is in his early 40s seeking a mature, down to earth,caring, loving, honest, humble, and God-fearing lady for arelationship leading to marriage. Full medical test a must. Serious ladies can send their details and MUST include a full size recent photo via email.
-Are you a God-fearing, supportive, cute, caring, humble, financially stable, big hearted lady from Nairobi? Paul, 27, a barber, well built,medically fit, romantic is looking for you! Age and tribe don’t matter.
-I’m Owen, 40, an engineer with a one year old daughter, looking for a mature, elegant, successful, self-confident and independent lady for a mutually respecting, no strings attached, intimate friendship. Herreligion, tribe, or race are not an issue.
- 30 year old Kikuyu* shopkeeper in Kwangware is looking for a seriousbrown** lady aged between 20 -30 years to start a true relationshipleading to marriage. She must have completed high school, honest,faithful and business minded. If a single mother the child should be a girl not aged more than two years old.

* name of their tribe** a light skinned African is referred to as brown, not black

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Census Survey or Senseless Survey?

Every 10 years Kenya does a national census. This year happens to bea census year. Surveyors were suppose to come on August 24 between 6pmand 10pm. They ended up counting Christy and I on August 27 at 3 pm.Fashionably late as usual. An accurate national count is almostimpossible because some homes are so isolated. Homes can be miles andmiles apart from each other, and its not like they have street signsor addresses directing you where to go. The census was suppose to bedone in the evening when people were home from work. I definitelywouldn’t want to be a census worker wondering through the bush bymyself in total darkness. Anyhow, the census worker found us at work, she had a questionnairefor us to answer and decided it would be better to return to our houseto complete it. It was completely unnecessary to return to our house,I just think she wanted to see where the white girls lived. She seemeddisappointed when we opened our front door and she found a tiny flatwith bunk beds, metal folding chairs, and a cement bench. Nothingspecial here. First she introduced herself. She is Emelda from Rongo, Kenya. A 28year old school teacher from the Luo tribe. She’s single and doesn’twant to marry a Kenyan because she fears getting HIV. She’s appliedtwice for a US visa and was rejected both times. Her next plan is totravel to Uganda and Rwanda to get more stamps in her passport, thenapply for the US visa again. Apparently, this shows you travel a lotand still return to your home country which increases your odds ofgetting the visa. She even whipped out her passport and showed it tous. Is this really pertinent to the census? We should be at work rightnow. Finally she gets to the census survey. The questions started outpretty normal; name, age, place of birth, religion, tribe, and numberof children. Then it got more interesting when we got to the livestockcategory. Do you own any of the following: chickens, cattle, donkeys,goats, beehives, or camels? No, I don’t own any livestock but we dohave many spiders and chameleons in the house. Next category wastransport. Do you have a bike, car, bus, motorbike, of tuk-tuk(like arickshaw)? No, we walk. Emelda told us we should buy a car and give itto her when we go back to America. Yeah, sure. The last categoryincluded things like computers, TV, and refrigerators. She was shockedwhen we answered ‘no’ to all of them. “You don’t have a refrigerator?How do you keep things cold?” We don’t keep things cold like the restof this community- no perishables, and no leftovers. Then Emelda got on her soapbox about getting to America. Can I goback with you as your visitor so I don’t need a visa? No. Do you havebrothers or friends I could marry just for a month until I get mygreen card? No. Can you find a sponsor in the United States to send meto a university there? No, its not that easy. When you go back to theUS can I have all the things in your house? NO! I just met you 30minutes ago and now your asking for everything in my house? Howprofessional. Of course by the end of the conversation she asked for our contactinformation so we “won’t forget your dear friend Emelda,” as she putit. Usually I use the line “My American phone doesn’t work here and Idon’t check my email very often.” But I gave her my email, she shouldconsider herself lucky. Hopefully “our dear friend” Emelda surveyed other homes quicker. Atthe rate she was going everyone will be counted in a year of two. Ithink the actual results will be published in December. I’ll be sureto update you with the findings. I’m sure all of you are interested inthe number of camels and beehives in Kenya!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rest in Peace

Recently I had my first experience with Kenyan funerals. It’s surprising that after living here for 6 months this was my first one. A little 9 year old girl named Michelle died. Her father, Boniface, works at the hospital and I had been to their home many times. Michelle, her mother Saline, and her 4 month old brother, Angelo, were on an overnight bus travelling to another part of the country. The bus was in a head-on collision with a truck that didn’t have its lights on. Michelle and six other people died at the scene. Saline had cuts on her face, and baby Angelo miraculously escaped without a scratch considering he wasn’t in a car seat. (I’ve never seen a child in one)
For the funeral me and 6 of my co-workers crammed into a tiny car, about the size of a Ford Escort, and made the 2 ½ hour journey to the funeral. The funeral was at Boniface’s family homestead near Kendo Bay. After travelling down a bumpy dirt road we pulled into the compound consisting of two mud huts, with thatched roofs. A tiny white casket is sitting on a table next to the house. A big pile of dirt sits beside the house with a freshly dug hole for the burial (very common practice here). We pay our respects at the half open casket and have a seat underneath a tent set up in the front yard. The funeral program says it starts at 10am, however it is 10:30am and we are one of the first people to arrive. So we sit and wait and read the newspaper to pass time. Stray dogs wonder by and sit in the shade under the casket. Extended family members bathe their children in the front yard preparing them for the funeral. Slowly more people come. Vans of wailing women are dropped off. They yell, scream, and drop to their knees at the casket. After about 5 minutes of mourning they stop, are completely compose and have a seat. This happens over and over. It’s almost like its exaggerated mourning. One minute they are hysterical the next minute they are fine.
Finally at 1pm, 3 hours late, the funeral begins. That is even late by Kenyan standards. A pastor invites friends and family members to give speeches. Everybody from school teachers, to grandmothers, to priests say something. So after an hour of listening to this, we’re instructed that all the guests from St. Camillus should go eat lunch. But the funeral is going on? We’re just going to get up and leave? Yes, about 12 St. Camillus employees get up in the middle of the program. We wonder through the bush to a neighbour’s compound. All the neighbours have brought their chairs and plates from home to serve lunch. We eat as other funeral goers trickle in.
Eventually we head back to the funeral tent. Mass is now going on. After 15 minutes of being there, the sky turns black and it begins to pour. The casket is covered with a tarp and everyone huddles under the tent. The rain picks up even more so they move the body into the house. My co-workers agree that we better leave because the dirt road is going to become impassable if we wait until the rain has ended. So 9 of us (we picked up two extra people) cram into the car and head out in a hurry. We slide down the dirt road, unable to see because of the steamed windows. Nine sweaty bodies sitting on top of each other create a lot of heat! Maybe next time, I’ll experience the funeral in its entirety.
Finally at 6 pm we arrive back home. Recap of the day: 12 hour journey, 5 hours of travel, 3 hours of waiting, 30 min of eating, and 1 ½ hours of the actual funeral.
Please keep Boniface and his family in your prayers.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Half way there, ooooh oh livin’ on a prayer…


I am halfway through my stay here in Kenya. Some days I feel I left home years ago, and other days it seems just like yesterday. I have a feeling the next six months are going to fly by. Here is a random sampling of things I've learned the past six months. ( In no particular order)

1. Nobody is ever in a hurry. It doesn't matter if someone is dying or you're an hour late for a meeting. Nobody rushes to do anything.
2. Human life is less valued compared to home. When somebody dies, the common consenus is,
" It was her time." My reaction, "She was six months old! I think she deserved to live a bit longer!"
3. Kenyans are terrified of chameleons ( which are harmless). They would rather see a poisonous snake.
4. Words have different meanings. The word 'sweet' is synonymous with 'delicious'. People describe everything from meat, to carrots, to beans as being 'sweet'. The word 'smart' is synonymous with 'beautiful'. When I wear a dress people comment, "Oh, you look so smart today!"
5. People believe all Americans carry a gun, have two children, are rich, and are tall.
6. Television and the the internet are overrated. Yes, when you're on the other side of the world internet makes communication easier, but other than that it's a time waster. I now have so much more time to do other things since I'm not on Facebook or watching TV shows.
7. Less is more.
8. Life isn't fair.
9. The most beautiful sunsets occur in Karungu.
10. I'll answer to any of the following names: Loreeeeeen, Christine ( I'm often confused with the other volunteer), Obama, Akinyi (Luo word meaning woman born in the morning), Muzungu ( Swahili for white man), Ciao ( due to the large number of Italian volunteers)

Friday, July 31, 2009

Kevin, Collince, and Sharon


“Eat your dinner. There’s starving children in Africa.” We’ve all heard that line. We’ll let me put a name and a face with those children. Their names are Kevin, Collince, and Sharon. They are some of those starving kids and there are millions more just like them.
These siblings were brought to the hospital by a social worker. She filled me on their story. Apparently they were living with an alcoholic father who neglected them. Dad kicked the mother out of the house so she now lives in a different part of the country. All they had been eating was maize from neighbors’ farms. And Kevin, the 8 year old, stopped going to school so he could take care of his two younger siblings. Can you imagine a second grader in America dropping out of school to take care of his family?!
They came from the Children’s Ward for chest x-rays one morning. They patiently waited while their x-rays were taken. None of them made a sound. They just sat in a daze, too weak to really do exert any energy. I looked at these kids and wondered when the last time they had eaten. They were wasting away with distended bellies and stick thin arms and legs. Chigger bites covered their legs, the result of sleeping on a dirt floor every night with no covers. These are the faces of the starving children in Africa! All they need is some food and some love!
So for the next week they stayed at the hospital receiving food, medicine, and some TLC. Sharon, the tiny 3 year old, and I became pretty good friends during her stay. She just wanted to be held, something that she’s probably never experienced in her life. The first day she arrived she threw up all over me because her stomach didn’t know what to do with all the food it was receiving. I’ve never seen so much vomit come out of somebody so little. And by the end the week she referred to me as her, ‘Obama Mama.’ (Obama is synonymous with American here in Kenya.)
Collince, was the most malnourished out of the three kids, and he also started treatment for TB. He’s the most selfless 5 year old I have ever seen. One morning I was sitting with them as they ate breakfast. They each had a chuck of bread and some tea. Every tiny crumb that fell into their lap was scooped up and eaten. There was one remaining chuck of bread. Collince took is and split it in half and gave a piece to both of his siblings. This child is literally starving, and he’s giving the little food he has to his siblings! Wow.
By the end of their stay all three of them were bouncing off the walls, causing trouble around the hospital. A welcomed site compared to the condition they were brought to the hospital in. It’s amazing what a little food and love can do. They left with the social worker and hopefully were placed with a relative or foster family.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Fishermen


Every night Lake Victoria is illuminated from the lanterns of the fishing boats. The fisherman use the light to attract bugs to the water's surface which subsequently attracts fish that are then caught in a net. Hundreds of white lights flicker like Christmas lights. It's gorgeous; but that is the only beautiful thing about the fishing industry here in Karungu.
Here is the "dark side." The fishing industry draws men from all over the country to the lake to try to earn a living. They leave their homes, wives, and children to come here. In order to stay awake for a full night of fishing they often take illegal drugs to keep them going. This leads to addiction. Along with the drugs they are also involved in immoral sexual behaviors, since most of these men stay away from their families for long periods of time they look for casual sexual relationships with prostitutes. This only contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS in the region.
Fishing is dangerous. The boats that are used are old and leaky. Every boat has one man it whose sole responsibility is to bail water out of the boat all night long! Most of them don't know how to swim. They go out every night even during the rainy season where big storms with thunder and lightening last all night long.
The fish caught from the lake are exported to other parts of the country. Big companies buy the fish at rock bottom prices from the fisherman, just to turn around and jack up the price and sell it to people in other parts of the country that have money. These prices are too high for the majority of people here. It's insane that the people closest to the lake cant afford to buy the fish.
Those twinkling lights on the lake don't look so pretty anymore.

Friday, July 3, 2009

I Love Orphans!





I love orphans! Well, it stinks that they are orphans in the first place but these kids are amazing. The 60 kids at Dala Kiye (Luo words meaning ‘orphan home’) are the most resilient kids I have ever met. All of them are HIV positive, and have horrendous stories of what their life was like before coming to the orphanage. Some of them were ‘half orphans’, and lived with the surviving parent who was also infected and too sick to care for the child. Others are ‘complete orphans’ and lived with a grandmother who was too old to care for them. Most of them were neglected, malnourished and not on ARVs (antiretrovirals). Most of them came to the orphanage after being treated at the hospital. The reality is that if these kids were not at Dala Kiye they would probably be dead. Since coming to the home their lives have changed completely. They eat, receive medications, go to school, and now have 59 other brothers and sisters. I often forget they are HIV positive because they are so healthy and active, but every evening at 7pm I am reminded of it when all playing comes to a halt and they go take their meds.
Here are some of my favorite photos of the kids.


Tony and Mercy



Sunday afternoon at the lake

Simion and his soccer ball.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Not all of Africa looks like this...


What comes to your mind when you think of Africa? Mud huts with thatched roofs? Naked children with distended bellies? Nala and Simba? Elephants, zebras, and giraffes? Women with babies on their backs, carrying a load on their head? Nelson Mandela? Oprah? Angelna Jolie? HIV/AIDS? Malnourished kids picking through the trash dump?
Many of these descriptions are a part of my life here in Karungu. A typical home is made of mud. Children do have big bellies. Women carry everything imaginable on their heads. HIV/AIDS effects about 75% of the patients at the hospital. Here, kids die of starvation. My mother always told me to finish my dinner because there are “starving children in Africa.” I see those starving kids die.
But this in no way represents Africa as a whole. This is my own personal experience, in one small part of Africa. I don’t people to think that all of Africa looks like Disney’s The Lion King. In an eight hour drive I can make it to Nairobi where people live in mansions, work in high-rise office buildings, and drive Mercedes. All of America doesn’t look like New York City, just like all of Africa doesn’t look like Karungu.
One of my favorite conversations to have with people is about homelessness. Sounds kind of strange but its true. People here have a hard time believing that there are homeless people in America. They have a hard time believing people sleep on the streets and go hungry. They think all of America looks like the movies. It's a common belief here that everyone in America is fat, rich, and has two kids and a dog.
Don't believe the stereotypes.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Aging in Kenya

It’s tough getting old. If you think its tough aging in America listen to this story.
A few days ago we had a patient named Dorcus Atieno. (Yes, her name was Dorcus! …that is really the only funny part of the story) She claims to be born in 1911, meaning she is 98 years old. I find this extremely hard to believe, most people don’t know their exact date of birth so they just make up a random year. Considering the average life expectancy in Kenya is 47, I have seen very few patients over the age of 70. Dorcus looked old, wrinkled, and feeble but not 98 years old.
She had fallen at her home on Rusinga Island, in Lake Victoria and was brought to the hospital by her daughter, also very old looking. She came to the x-ray department sitting in a wheelchair. The doctor ordered a hip x-ray on her. She was unable to stand so I scooped her up, all 70 pounds of her, and laid her on the table. She didn’t complain once as I positioned her for the x-ray, not a peep. The x-ray showed a fractured right hip and a fractured left ischium, the bone you sit on. I’ve never see somebody with a crushed hip joint and ischium sitting upright in a chair! Ouch!
Anyway, I inquired more about how she got the hospital. They certainly don’t have “911” in Kenya! How does somebody living on an island get to the hospital with two pelvic fractures!? She took a boat to the mainland and from there she took a taxi, at least a 3 hour drive, to the hospital. I can’t imagine being tossed around in a car with a broken hip for hours! At least she didn’t come via motorbike!
Her story doesn’t have a “happily ever after” ending. An orthopedic surgeon didn’t come and put her back together like Humpty Dumpty. There was little that could be done for her no matter where in the world she was. Ideally, she needed an operation but with somebody her age (whatever age that is!) it’s too risky to give her anesthesia. I don’t think her heart could have handled it, and her bones were so demineralized they would have never healed properly. Dorcus, was given some pain medications and sent on her way after a few days.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Can I have your....

“Muzungu(white man), give me money!” I hear this phrase on a regular basis. Most of the time little children yell it as I walk down the street. Most likely it’s the only words of English they know. That is just one thing people have asked me for. Here is a short list of other requests I have received since arriving in Kenya:
-Will you pay for my school fees?
-Give me some sweets
-Will you sponsor me to get to the US?
-Will you ask your friends in the US if they want me to be their house maid?
-Will you marry my son? He’s HIV negative and has a college education.
-Can I have your shoes, watch, shirt, skirt, earrings, hair band, pen, camera, etc.?
-Can you donate blood for me?
-Will you give money to my church?
-Can I use your phone to call home?
-Will you pay my hospital bill?
Pretty much anything I have people want. Usually when people ask me for something they tell me a sad story to go along with it. Their husband died and they are left to raise six kids on their own. Their wife died in the postelection violence last January. They had to sell some of their belongings just to transport their family member to the hospital. Their father was killed in the Kenyan army. Some of the time I believe their story but other times I can tell they are making it up.
It’s a sticky situation to be in. Yes, I come from a wealthy country, but just because my skin is white doesn’t mean I am Donald Trump or Bill Gates. I try to explain that I am volunteering for the year and not an employee of the hospital. On the other hand, I have more money than these people will earn in a lifetime. Some people I really would like to help out. They legitimately need the money and would put it to good use. But the principle of the matter is, if I give money to one person I have to give it to everyone. How do I be fair without being stingy? Do I give and not count the cost?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Happy Graduation, Tim!


Sorry I can’t be there to celebrate with you. We’re proud of you and amazed that you actually finished high school. At times we thought this day would never come!

Love you, little brother!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Reminders that I work in a hospital in rural Africa...



1.I ask a coworker, “What did you do on your vacation?” They tell me they plowed the fields and planted their crops
2.Man came to the hospital because he was bitten by a black mamba snake
3. 14 and 15 year old girls having babies is a frequent occurrence
4. Coworkers charge their cell phones and flashlights at work because they don’t have electricity at home
5. People ask me, “How do you fetch water in America?” I tell them that everyone has water piped into their house. They laugh in disbelief
6. Little girl falls down the steps and breaks her arm. What steps?! Other than the hospital, I have yet to see a flight of stairs in Karungu
7. Hospital parking lot has 4 parking spaces. I have yet to see all 4 spots occupied
8. Each patient has a mosquito net hanging over their bed
9. The hospital laundry is hung outside to dry
10. Toddler was accidentally dropped in the fire by an older sibling. The little girl has burns all over her bottom
11. All garbage is taken to the trash pit where it is burned. Next to the trash pit is the BPP: Body Part Pit. A covered pit for the disposal of arms, legs, placenta, etc.
12. On patient charts it asks for a patients, name, date of birth, village, and chief’s name
13. A man was cutting the grass with a machete when he accidentally sliced his foot

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Harsh Reality

After lunch I returned to work around 2pm. One of the staff told me they were bringing an OPD (Outpatient Department) patient to x-ray for a femur x-ray. Lots of people were standing around in the OPD so I popped my head in to see what was going on. All I could see was a man with a blood stained hospital sheet. Great. I went to the x-ray department, put some latex gloves on and waited.
A 30 year old man named James came in on a stretcher. I pulled back the sheet and cringed. He had split his skin open from his groin to his knee. It was about 14 inches long and 4 inches wide. I could look in the wound and see his muscle and bone which was visibly fractured. Really, there was no need for an x-ray to confirm it but we did one anyway. I slid the cassette underneath his leg on top of a pool of blood, hoping the blood didn’t seep onto the x-ray film. After taking the x-ray I pulled out the cassette and blood streamed off of it. Surprise, the x-ray showed his distal femur split into two pieces! It’s hard to get the full story of what happened with any patient, but apparently James was up in a tree cutting down branches, when a large branch fell on his leg and pinned him. This all happened around 8am, but he didn’t get to the hospital until 2pm. Where was he all that time? Well, this is when you can say, “Sorry, you were born in a third world country. Life isn’t fair.” He was miles away from any kind of road when the accident happened, there is no 911, nobody he knows has a car to come and pick him up. So his friends had to carry him to the nearest road to wait for a ride to the hospital. In this part of the country cars don’t pass by that often. If you’re not on a main route, it could be hours. They first tried to put him on a motorbike (popular form of transportation) but his leg was literally cracked open. So six hours later he finally made it to the hospital by car.
So his leg is split open, broken, and he’s losing lots of blood, now what? He needs surgery as soon as possible to clean out the wound, stop the bleeding, and but his bone back together. We do surgeries here, but this type of orthopedic reconstruction is out of our league. So what hospital can we send him to and how much money does he have for the ambulance ride? It stinks that the amount of money you have determines the level of medical care you receive, but this happens in the US to some extent as well. He doesn’t have the national health insurance either. For 160 Kenyan Shillings ($2USD) a month it covers all medical expenses for your entire family yet most people can’t afford it. When you have to choose between food and insurance, you can’t blame people for not having it.
So it was decided that James was going to Kisii Public Hospital. Kisii is the closest town to us. It’s about 90 km (55 miles) away but it takes a good two hours to get there. We tried to clean out the wound, gave him some antibiotics, and splinted the leg for the car ride to Kisii. Some how it was decided I was going to ride with him the ambulance. Sure, why not send the x-ray tech?!
So in the back of this ambulance is James, me, and 2 of his friends that brought him to the hospital. James speaks no English but one of his friends did which was a big help. The only supplies we have in the ambulance is a shoe box size first aide kit with gauze, syringes, saline, and gloves.

The next two hours were the longest of my life. I prayed that James made it to the hospital alive. The dirt roads here are terrible. They’re full of potholes, bumps, and rocks. It’s like being tossed around like a popcorn kernel in an air popper. Holding on to something is necessary. James’ stretcher bounced off the ground as we tried to go “fast.” I put one hand on his pelvis and the other on his knee, trying to keep his leg attached. With each bump more blood seeped through the gauze, and the white sheet turned red. James cringed in pain with each bump. It was another one of those moments, “Sorry, you were born in a third world country. Life isn’t fair.” By the end of the ride it was a relief for me to see him cringe, at least he was still conscious and feeling the pain. I was afraid with each jolt his femoral artery would burst. His foot was going cold but was still able to wiggle his toes. Along the way his friend wanted to stop and get him a soda because he hadn’t eaten all day. Sorry, no stopping, he desperately needs a blood transfusion not a soda!
At 6pm, 10 hours after the accident we arrived at Kisii Public Hospital. This was my first time seeing a government run hospital. It was disgusting. Think of a hospital from the 1950s and cover it in dirt and dust. That is what this place looked like. I had this idea in my mind that when we arrived medical staff would be eagerly waiting for us. What a silly American idea that was. When I got to the OPD there was nobody that looked like a doctor or a nurse. Everybody was in plain clothes just standing around. I was the only one in hospital scrubs- is this really a hospital? Who is going to help this man? He’s dying. Turns out you have to buy a blank patient chart booklet for 20 KSH (30 cents) before a patient can be seen. It doesn’t matter if you’re dying, you have to go to the other side of the hospital and buy this booklet. So while Duncan, the ambulance driver, went to buy the booklet I was on a mission to find a doctor or a nurse. You would think this was an easy task but it wasn’t. So I got out the x-ray and started showing everybody the femur cracked in half. That kind of received some attention but nothing ever “stat” happens in Kenya. I tried not to be the rude American but his guy has been losing blood since 8am! Finally, with our 20 KSH patient chart we were told to go to Ward 3 to be admitted. But first we had to do other paper work. I pushed James to the ward, while Duncan took care of the politics.
After being at the hospital for 25 minutes I encountered my first doctor and nurse, what a pleasant surprise! They agreed about the blood transfusion but there is a catch. If a patient receives a blood transfusion, a family member or friend of the patient must donate to replenish the blood bank. Sounds simple, but with the HIV rate highest in this part of the country it can be difficult finding a donor. I had another moment of, “Sorry, you were born in a third world country. Life isn’t fair.” So I tried to talk James’ friend into donating but he was hesitant. I would give blood but I donated a few weeks ago. Please, somebody just get him some blood!
I’m not sure what ended up happening. It was time for me to leave, as the doctors took over. Who knows what will happen to James. Will this father of five survive? Will he lose his leg? Will he ever walk again? Sorry, you were born in a third world country. Life isn’t fair.
If you’re at home reading this asking, “What can I do to help?” First off, you can pray for him. Secondly, go donate blood. No, you’re blood isn’t going to save somebody in Africa but it will make a difference. Isn’t a needle stick and 30 minutes of your time worth it when you can save somebody’s life?!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

My First Kenyan Wedding



The wedding bells were ringing last Saturday, when three couples tied the knot. I knew some of the brides and grooms because they work at the hospital. The wedding was scheduled to start at 10am, however the bridal party didn’t arrive until 11:00. There were about 10 flower girls and 10 bridesmaids shared between the tree couples, and each had their own maid of honor and best man. The brides wore traditional white dresses and two of them had battery operated flashing tiaras. They looked like they came from a little girl’s princess costume. And the grooms wore suits and ties. They had to be burning up considering it was midday and we were in the same sweltering church that we went to for Easter Vigil. The church is named Kiranda, but I like to call it, “the oven.”

The wedding party processed into church. Pachabel’s Cannon was replaced with drumming, clapping and tambourines. The brides sat scattered among the congregation. I thought this was a little odd considering it was their wedding, and they don’t even get to sit in the front of the church. Turns out, after the Liturgy of the Word, the grooms roam around the church “looking” for their future wife. After “searching” for awhile the best man leads them to their bride. It was cute. The vows were said and the rings were exchanged but they never kissed.

After the three hour ceremony concluded everyone moved to Dala Kiye. Yes, that’s right, the reception was held in the dining hall of an orphanage. The guests feasted on ugali (a warm starchy carbohydrate), chapatti (flatbread), sukuma wiki (cooked leafy greens), goat, and fish. After the meal guests present their presents to the brides and grooms. One of the gifts included a live goat! Now that is something you can’t register for at Target of Macys! Then people started giving speeches. The wedding couples’ parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters all got the chance to talk. So they talked, talked, and talked some more. It was like a never ending toast, except they were missing the champagne. Around 6:00 the gift giving and speeches came to an end. Their was suppose to be dancing but everyone was tired, including the brides and grooms, so they called it a day and everyone went home. My first Kenyan wedding was an interesting experience.

(Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes! Especially for the letters and packages- Caitlin, Heidi, Claire, Jocelyn, Aunt Barb, Aunt Mary, Aunt Jonna, Mom, thanks so much!)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Holy Saturday


Easter Vigil in the US is the marathon of all church services. Easter Vigil in Africa is even longer. The mass seemed to go on for eternity as I sat in a hot, overcrowded church with a 3 year old on my lap. People were shoulder to shoulder sitting on the wooden benches. The mass was said in Luo which didn’t help matters. About 100 children received baptism. It was an assembly line of sacrament; the water, the chrism, the candle, done. The most miraculous part of the entire night was that nobody caught on fire. The majority of the congregation was children from the area boarding schools and the orphanage, Dala Kiye. No matter how young the child was everyone got to hold a candle, including little Mercy sitting on my lap. I prayed, “Please God, don’t let her light herself on fire.” Luckily, nobody went up in flames.
After 3 ½ hours, church concluded at 12:30am just as it started to rain. The heavens opened and it poured as people left church. It was a relief after roasting in church for all that time. I hitched a ride home with Fr. Julius. About 20 of the kids from Dala Kiye piled into the van too. Slowly we made our way home through the mud and rain. Driving on a muddy road is a lot like driving on ice and snow; you slide easily and have little control over where you’re going. We dropped the kids off at the orphanage and then Fr. Julius offered a ride home to Evans, who lives about 3km further down the road. He gladly accepted considering it was 1am and raining. We were almost to his house when the road turned into a river. A normally small creek had turned into a raging riving flowing across the road. There was no way we could drive or walk across it. We had to turn around and go home- easier said than done. When Fr. Julius tried to turn around, the car tires sunk into the mud. We were stuck. So Evans and I hopped out to push the van. Its one in the morning, raining, thundering, lightening, and I’m wearing a dress trying to push a car out of the mud.Is this really happening?! Thanks to my beastly muscles we pushed the car out of the rut. (Just kidding!) Thank goodness Evans was there to push or else we would have been there all night. So we were unstuck but still headed in the wrong direction. Turning around was impossible so we drove in reverse for about 2km until we reached a paved driveway where we could turn around in.
Finally, at 2am I arrived home, wet, muddy, and tired. It was an eventful Holy Saturday in Karungu. This place never fails to amaze me.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Indian Ocean, here we come!

Christy and I took our first trip last week. We went on a seven day cross country trip to Mombassa, which is on the Indian Ocean. Getting there was a two day event. We left Karungu at 6:30 in the morning and arrived in Nairobi around 4pm. Its amazing to see the soci-economic difference between the two places. We went from dirt roads and tin-roofed huts to skyscrapers and rush-hour traffic like an American city. It was the first time I had see paved roads and traffic lights in almost two months; a very welcomed sight! The next morning we made the 7 hour journey to Mombassa by bus. The drive was so beautiful. Along the roadside we saw monkeys, zebras, gazelles, and elephants. So beautiful!
We spent three nights at Diani Beach, just south of Mombassa. The Indian Ocean is beautiful, white sand and clear blue water. Our Cottage along the beach was home to many monkeys and baboons. One morning we were eating breakfast on our porch and had to run inside because hungry baboons showed up. They invaded our porch in search of food as we watched from inside. The area has such a high monkey population that the community has built rope ladders in the trees, across the roads, so the monkeys are hit crossing the street.
One of the highlights of the trip was riding camels along the beach. It’s a lot like riding a horse except it’s about 12 feet off the ground. The camel sits down, you get on, and then it stands up. Scary! The name of the camel was Obama, just like everything in this country. ( I’ll explain the “Obama mania” another time.) How many people can say they rode a camel along the Indian Ocean?! In the off chance you get to ride a camel, you should definitely do it!
It was exciting to see another part of the country but it’s also good to be back in Karungu. It’s starting to feel like home. All of our co-workers missed us and were excited to hear about our trip. People thought we had gone back to America when they hadn’t seen us for a few days. Leisure travel is unheard of in Karungu. Some people around here have lived in Kenya there entire life and never been to the coast. Many were just satisfied with looking at our pictures.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Polygamy alive and well in Karungu

So today stated off like any other. I was sitting in the x-ray department waiting for patients to come. This guy walks in, shakes my hand, and sits down. The first thing out of his mouth is,” You don’t remember me? I’ve met you before.” I was thinking, “No, I don’t remember you. Tons of people shake my hand, introduce themselves, and chat a little. The only reason you remember is that I am one of three white females in this village. I stick out like a sore thumb.”
We make small talk. His name is Timbay and he lives in Karungu with his wife and two kids. He does some kind of work in the fishing business. His father had four wives. The first wife didn’t produce any sons so he kept on marrying more women. Timbay is the 3rd son of his mother; I’m not quite sure what number wife she was. Wow, four wives?! Polygamy at its finest- no wonder the HIV rate is the highest in the region. One man can have two, three, five partners at one time!
Then Timbay starts asking me questions about relationships. Do I have a husband in the US? He says I should marry an African since I now live in Kenya. Great, I know where this is headed…a marriage proposal. But wait, he’s married and has two kids. That’s right; he proceeded to ask me to be his second wife! In total seriousness he wanted me to marry him. I declined (big surprise!) and told him that his first wife would probably not like it. Just then his wife walks into the room and says it is okay if he marries me too! Note: the first wife has command over the second wife and uses her like a maid. I just laugh in front of the two of them. They claim to be happily married, yet, they want me to join them. I tried to explain to them that in my culture and having more than one partner at the same time is very sinful but it didn’t matter to them. Timbay said he would come back again to see if I changed my mind. Great, I can’t wait to continue this outrageous conversation!
A side note: if I accepted his proposal he would have to pay my parents a dowry (a gift of gratitude in exchange for their daughter.) For a woman like myself, with a college education, a suitable dowry would be about six cows, a few donkeys, and some money. Mom, I am sure you would be thrilled to have some cows and donkeys running around in the backyard in Anderson Township!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tough Stuff

Infant mortality. Its not something uplifting or inspiring but it needs to be addressed. I have witnessed way too much of it, for me not to talk about it.
I’ve seen a lot of tough things since I arrived in Karungu and today the list grew longer. My first patient of the day was a two month old baby boy named Edwin. His mother carried him over from the children’s ward. He came in with malaria, but the doctor wanted a chest x-ray to check his lungs so I was doing a chest x-ray on him. I laid him down on the x-ray table and he squirmed a little as I positioned him. This was a good sign because some of the kids are too sick to even cry or put up a fight. Apparently, before he arrived at the hospital his mother took him to a traditional healer where he was given some herbs to try to cure him. This is a very common practice in this part of the country. Going to the hospital is seen as a last resort, oftentimes the patient is so sick we cannot do anything for them.
Well, around 4:30 just as the work day was winding down, I looked outside the window and saw the man from the morgue. He was pushing a steel gurney to the door of the children’s ward. Oh gosh, which child has he come to pick up? My heart sank as he carried baby Edwin out to the steel gurney. He was wrapped up in a white blanket, about the size of a loaf of bread. The mother walked behind the man as he pushed Edwin to the morgue.
This is 2009, babies shouldn’t die! It really didn’t even phase the nursing staff. They carried in like nothing big happened. To a Kenyan, having an infant die is just a part of life. Most people I’ve encountered have had a child of sibling die. That’s just the way things are. In a way, it appears that human life is valued less here, especially when a girl dies. Why is an African baby dying less mournful that an American baby dying? No matter where on Earth that child is born its still a human being!
If I was born in Africa, that could have been my baby who died today. That could have been me walking behind the gurney to the morgue. Why was I chosen to be born in a first world country where I enjoy clean drinking water, adequate food, free education, and quality healthcare?
Will I ever be accustomed to seeing babies die? I hope not.