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?