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.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Its all fun and games until...

Last Sunday afternoon I headed over to Dala Kiye, the orphanage, to play games with the children. Christy and I were in charge of organizing a game for all the kids to play. We started off playing one of the games the children already knew. Their English isn’t that great, so it was hard to think of a game that would be easy for them to understand. So we played a game a lot like capture the flag. It was fun but I decided that we were going to change things up after playing for a little while.

I decided it would be fun to teach the kids how to have three-legged races. It would teach them how to work together with one another, and I’m sure its something exciting that they had never done before. So I choose two of the boys, Simeon and Jordan, they are about 8 years old, and very outgoing. I thought they would make good examples. I proceeded to tie their ankles together with a piece of cloth. I linked their arms together and pointed to a nearby tree for them to walk towards. When they got to the tree they were to turn around and come back towards the rest of the children. Well, things didn’t go exactly as I had imagined and they never made it to the tree. Theses rambunctious little guys took a few steps together, and then tried to run in opposite directions. They ended up falling down and laughing. Then they got up and took another step and fell over again. This wasn’t working at all, so I decided to untie them-easier said than done. When they ran indifferent directions it made the knot tighter. I couldn’t get it undone. Panic overcame them and they both started bawling. I think they thought they were going to be linked to each other forever. A huge group of kids gathered around as I franticly tried to get them undone. Yikes, this doesn’t look good at all. The white lady is making the Kenyan children cry! Fortunately, about 15 minutes later I finally loosened the knot and separated their ankles. Simeon and Jordan were pretty shook up. I gave them hugs and tried to explain them that it was a fun activity but they didn’t see the fun in it. Needless to say we will not be having anymore three-legged races at Dala Kiye!

The next day I went over to Dala Kiye and Simeon ran up to me and showed me his soccerball the he wanted to play with. I was surprised he even wanted to be around me after the events of the previous day! So from then on Simeon, the rest of the boys, and I play soccer. Mom, all that money you spent on select soccer is paying off! Simeon and I are always on the winning team!

Here is a link to some pictures: