Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Too much sadness - Feb 20th

The clinics have been very successful. In 8 days (with only a half day left), we saw over 6000 patients. That is a new record! That’s 3400 in medical, 1200 in dental, and 1400 in vision. The teams have worked so well together, and considering our Canadian team is the smallest it’s been in years at a mighty twelve people, we are doing extremely well! That is, of course, because there are 50 Kenyan professionals, students, and volunteers involved in the operation and success of the clinics.
It has been rewarding to see clients from previous years, such as Purity, a woman who two years ago was being carried on her husband’s back with her baby on her own back. She arrived at the clinics by herself, walking with arm and leg braces. There was also a girl that came that I recognized from last year that just wanted new shoes. She had a prosthetic leg and her shoes had worn to nothing. It’s so nice to be able to help people in what we consider small ways, but actually make a big difference for them. Then of course there are the patients that were rushed to the hospital and could have died without some intervention. The reward there is obvious.
The best part of the clinics for me this year has been the attitude. The volunteers have even told us, that this year, we are happier. The clinics are more laid back. Things are being done efficiently without yelling or confusion. This I attribute to two factors: 1. The prep work that Martin, Lloyd, and Francis spent a copious amount of time and dedication. They have everything ready when we arrive. 2. The team leaders: Shawna, Cheri, and Jennifer. They’re fantastic! I don’t even need to be there to coordinate, and when something goes wrong, there’s no arguments, just ‘how do we fix this’? It’s like the clinics have been blessed. (I am worried I am jinxing myself for the last day, but we’ll see). Another nice part of the clinics is we have not had to turn many people away. We’ve been able to see nearly everyone, and only had to tell people to ‘come tomorrow’ on Wednesday, when we had over 900 patients already registered. In past years, we had to tell many more people ‘no’ each day, and that’s hard.
Now our evenings are another story. As soon as the clinics are over, people wander ‘home’, clean off their legs (or if they have enough energy, shower), then head into Mikinduri Market to shop, relax and chat, play cards or our newfound ‘ajua’/mancala game, and visit sponsor kids. On Monday, Jennifer and I were off to visit her sponsor kid in a taxi going down a dirt road, when I could honestly feel every blade of grass and misplaced rock that touched the bottom of the cab. The cars are something else. They have thick tinting on every window including most of the windshield. Very little is visible. People cram into the cars, (sometimes called Ma-tat-two-s), with 3 more people than is comfortable. They have dents, scrapes, and are worn. It’s amazing that the suspension system is still intact. Tuesday was a late day at the clinics, so I was late arriving home and just got started with inputting data from the forms before it was time for bed. Today was sad, so before I get to that, I want to mention how much fun Saturday and Sunday were. Saturday, we headed to Kagwuru and Thuuri Mountain, always the highlight of my trip. We had a 45 minute climb up a mountain and spent time interacting with happy kids. Renate and Gaylene both mentioned part of that day. My favorite part was walking into the seventh and eighth grade classes with my Lego Mindstorm Robot, and showing them how to program it. We discussed the relationship between velocity, position and time, what programming is, and problem solving. It was really neat to see the 16 – 18 year olds (yup, they’re in 7th and 8th grade) interact with something completely new. Even the doctors here stared, mouths agape, at my laptop when I pulled it out to show them results of the data. Technology is slow to come here. Iphones are just entering the market. On Sunday, I had more fun. A few of us hiked up the mountain next to our hotel and found a couple of cute kids to show us the way up. Hiking isn’t really a recreational activity here, so we were quite the spectacle. It only became more ridiculous when at the top, I wanted to take my annual yoga picture, and we decided to do a quick yoga class up there. The children joined in while wearing their polyester pantsuits and did a great job. We had a nice stretch and came back refreshed to start another week of clinics. Jennifer and I then went to visit Leanne and Greg’s sponsor kid Riann (Ryan). He is the sweetest boy with great English. After we passed along the gifts, he had a smile permanently affixed to his face. It was adorable.
Okay now for today. I find that while in Kenya, I have a mixture of conflicting emotions. I see people in poverty who are happy and accept life the way it is. That’s beautiful. The sense of comfort and acceptance, simple joy in life, it just seems so pure. It makes me think about how caught up we get in Western society with things and staying busy, when people here find joy while spending their entire day to get enough water to live on and wood to cook food. When I am walking down the street, I can smile at someone and they smile back, stretch out their hand and say ‘mouga!’ In Canada, if you try to give the same big toothy smile to every stranger, you’ll get pointed at. And it’s not just because we stand out here – people are friendly. They wait all day in the sun and under tents to be seen, and I can walk up to the last group of people waiting, say ‘Mougani’ and they all in unison respond ‘Kwea’ with smiles and laughter. I then apologize for the 7 hour wait many endured and assure them they will be seen, then thank them for coming. Can you imagine the riot in Canada if this happened? Their response is cheering and clapping. It’s beautiful.
Right…I’m stalling. So today I was in a cab with Jennifer on my left, a new mom on my right, her mom on her right, with three people in the front (where there are only 2 seats). We’re crammed into this car heading around a beautiful mountain with incredible, lush scenery. I nudge Jennifer as I notice the driver put a piece of Miraa in his mouth. This is a drug that’s a stimulant that is a leaf that men chew on. (Some women do, but it’s rare). The drug is legal (but shouldn’t be). It was not a comforting feeling. It was neat though to realize how much time I’ve spent with Jennifer because all I did was to lean into her with a little pressure than look at the driver, and she knew what I meant. (Scary).
The only sound you could hear in the cab was the suspension squeaking as we went over bumps with bota-bota (motorcycles) whizzing by on both sides of the car and people walking along the edge of the street. Oh and crying. This cacophony of emotions is indescribable. I was amused by the driver, awed with the scenery, soaking in the cab experience, scared by the drugs and crazy traffic, and had a profound sadness for the mom on my right, who’s two day old baby just died at the clinic. She was the last patient of the day and her baby, who had been delivered the previous day and was a healthy, happy baby, was no longer alive. The nurses tried to resuscitate her to no avail. What makes this hit home a little harder is the baby was the niece of one of our volunteers. It is unknown what she died of, but it is suspected that it had something to do with her breathing after she went home. Death is not dealt with in the same way here. After the baby was pronounced dead, she was wrapped back up in the blankets she came in with, sent home to be buried, at which point the family started wailing. It is unusual to see so much emotion and it was unsettling, perhaps moreso than the news of the death. People here are typically so stoic, even in sad or scary situations. The family wouldn’t touch the baby, though they realized they had to go home. Jennifer held the baby, and we climbed into a cab with the family as we headed to their house in a single, mournful procession.
I have not mentioned that the previous day, the baby was named after Jennifer, something she was so proud of, and now held in her arms. So sad. When we arrived at their house, our volunteer (who I was trying to comfort), said in a quavering voice ‘Jennifer, Libby, welcome to our home’. Soon after, she pointed out her mother and step-mother (as her father had more than one wife), as both were crying loudly nearby. The hospitality seemed so inappropriate in the wake of such sadness, but the volunteer was even trying to insist to follow us and buy us pineapples for coming. After convincing her to stay with her family and grieve, Jennifer laid the baby on the bed for the father to come home, and she and I left in the matatu. Such an odd combination. After we arrived back at the clinics, after a 20 minute drive, and wandered home, it was hard not to ponder how they got the baby to the clinic, whether a long walk by foot or they hired a motorcycle. It was surreal to arrive at the compound and find everyone doing normal evening activities and chatting. I was sad, but really more confused. Powerlessness is a tough thing.
There was a little girl that came in today that was taken to the eye doctor. She had burns over much of her body, including her eyelid, face, and stub of her right arm. As a 3-month old, her mosquito net caught on fire. Her family was trying to protect her from malaria and other illnesses, and yet she was still in harm’s way.
I don’t want to leave this blog with such a sad ending, because even though it was heartbreaking, it was a beautiful day, and I saw my Maker through all of it. So many people were helped. So many smiles were passed back and forth. So much was accomplished. And it was felt with peace in my heart. Here in Kenya, I feel peace. I feel as if I am in the right place, at the right time, and I just pray each morning to see God in the faces of those I’m serving. The simplicity of life here is beautiful, and easy to focus on. I dread leaving Kenya in a few short days, yet I feel that I can’t stay any longer. I don’t want to separate from my team as we work so well together to accomplish great things, but I’m looking forward to spending a few days at an orphanage without them. I can only describe it as a cacophony of emotions: conflicting yet they reside beside each other.

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