June 27, 2015
Current Location: Nairobi, Kenya
Current tunes: Shakey Graves, Dearly Departed (feat. Esme Patterson)
Note to self: Before coming back to Africa, snag a fiancé or wear a fake ring.
Currently in this village there are three American girls (including Michelle) that traveled to Kenya years ago to do ministry and now are married to Kenyan men and are living here permanently. In result, ever since I set foot in Kipkaren, people have been trying to marry me off left and right because a new unmarried American girl is in town. Michelle’s husband even told me that after their wedding, some one text him asking him for advice on how to get an American wife. So, to finally shake off some of the lovely but very persistent traditional birthing attendants (aka TBAs) students in our second HBB class, I succumbed to fibbing a bit….yes, I just flat out said I’m engaged after respectfully trying to deny the requests for my phone number to give to their sons. (And sorry Jasmine, I used you as a distraction by telling them my little sister is not married but cute and smart as can be! They want you now. Mwhahahahahaha!)
Our time in Kipkaren is coming to a close now that we have finished the training courses. 12 nurses and 25 birthing attendants are now officially certified in Helping Babies Breathe and have the skills to effectively resuscitate struggling newborns. As previously mentioned we held graduation ceremonies and certificate presentations followed by a luncheon for both the nursing class and TBA class. The nurses were a bit more reserved than the TBAs and those TBAs have this overwhelming and refreshing enthusiasm to learn. In fact, the TBAs were dancing, singing, and hollering as they walked up to get their certificates. I suddenly imagined Americans finishing a basic CPR course and having the same reaction after receiving their CPR card in the mail. That would not only be bizarre to have a “graduation” for that type of certification in America but to cheer and dance? But Kenyans truly value education and not every one has the opportunity to afford school or receive higher training so getting those certificates is very meaningful for them. That is one of the many unique characteristics of Kenyan culture I have picked up on during my stay here in Kenya. I have to say, I have been so blessed to have been able to explore so many places over the last few years and have found Kenyans to be one of the most welcoming people groups I have ever met. “Karibu” is the Kiswahili word for welcome, and these people just have it in their blood. After spending time in this village, here are a few more key aspects I have found to be true of Kenyan culture:
- Kenyans make it a point to shake hands and greet every person in the room. You can just feel their strong sense of community and it seems that everyone know each other in the villages. That phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” rings true for them and sometimes it’s hard to identify which baby belongs to who.
- As previously mentioned, education and the opportunity to learn is of utmost importance, which made teaching this course even more gratifying. Many children go to school more than five days a week and some schools often start at as early as 5 or 6 in the morning.
- Kenyans are very ceremonious and do not fear public speaking like most of America. Speeches occur on the regular and while Kenyans are more reserved in their tone of voice, they easily accept being forced to speak on command. When children are directed to stand up and talk in front of a crowd without warning (it often being a testimony or bible verse in the church setting), they do it without protesting, even if you can tell they are nervous. Also, a simple goodbye can easily turns into a 30 minute farewell.
- Public affection between spouses and couples is pretty rare. However, it is not uncommon to see two heterosexual males holding hands. Male bonding and friendships are strong and important.
- I did not interact with many men while in Kenya, but it clear that African women here work their tails off. Whether it’s getting those kids off to school by 6 am, walking miles and miles with a huge sack of maize or beans on their heads, rushing home to milk their cows, etc.
- Kenyan time is not like American time. We finally learned to stop freaking out if someone was supposed to meet us at 9 and they show up at 10 or dinner is thirty minutes late. Even the catered lunch we provided to the students during the course consistently showed up an hour late even if we called in advance to ensure it would come on time. That’s just how they work here.
- Children learn independence from a young age. Three year old youngsters may be seen alone or walking with another young child out on the streets on their way to school or just playing.
Speaking of the children, my heart melts every time I see them running along the road, happy as clams. It’s not really part of the focused ministry for my team, but that children’s group home I mentioned in my last post is just a short walk from my cottage and I have spent every afternoon hanging out with these kiddos. This group home is just phenomenal. There’s about 120+ kids that are separated into four different families and each family is headed by a real married couple and has their own eating quarters, living room, as well as one male and female dormitory. It’s intentionally set up in this way so that the children still get a sense of family and have stable steady parents that love them, help them with school work, take care of them when they are ill, etc… But the organization, Empowering Lives International, sets up sponsorships for each child which covers their schools fees and living expenses so that the parents do not have the monetary burden that comes with parenting 30 children and can focus on their emotional and spiritual wellness. Instead of an orphanage it feels like a really, really big family of aunts, uncles, and cousins all in one community. Two girls in particular have really captured my heart- Mercy, age twelve, and Flovia, age nine. They gave me a grand tour of the grounds have really helped me work on my Kiswahili. I can already count to thirty! Woot woot.
I also have been able to help out in the Hope Matters medical clinic in Kipkaren, Village of Hope. They have one main Clinical Officer (basically the Kenyan equivalent of a Physician’s Assistant), Kitur, that does most of the work and while he practices with limited resources, his assessment skills are pretty incredible. I guess part of it is knowing your patient population, but I was so impressed at his clinical skills and diagnostic abilities. The clinic does have a small lab to help confirm very common illness likes malaria or typhoid but I found myself getting really frustrated at the lack of resources I had to work with. I am so spoiled in an American hospital where I have everything at my fingertips. For example, a patient came in complaining of abdominal pain and some other symptoms that possibly indicated a potential hernia. In my hospital we would get an x-ray or CT scan of the abdomen but that is just not an option here. If the case seems pretty critical they will do a hospital referral but whether the patient can afford that referral or further diagnostic testing is another issue. We had another patient present with malaria symptoms and a fever of 104.3F. He was breathing quickly and could barely stand. The ICU nurse in me wanted to immediately throw in an IV, grab a set of vitals, and get some fluids started. But instead we gave him some antipyretic drug that I was unfamiliar with and let him sleep while we waited for test results and saw three other patients while he laid on the bed in the same room. I kept forgetting that Kitur sees malaria all the time so the urgency that I feel for such a sick looking patient is not necessarily shared.
Also, Kitur basically functions as the doctor, nurse, and pharmacist since he not only diagnoses but completes all the treatments such as starting IVs, giving medicine, and educating the patient on drugs. I was astounded to find that this small three room clinic has only been open for two months and is already brimming with patients and sometimes they turn people away because there is simply not enough hands or time. It’s clear that the need is definitely there. I kept thinking If I could just have a few days of training with the equipment and supplies they use here, I could do all the nursing duties and treatments while he completes assessments and prescriptions. With that being said Michelle pulled me aside and asked how I would feel about interning as a nurse with Hope Matters for three-six months sometime next year and assist in the clinic…Yikes. I’d be lying if the thought of doing a longer medical mission here hasn’t crossed my mind in the last few days. But the thought of leaving America to live in a rural village for even just a few months make me hyperventilate a bit. Definitely something I’ll need to pray about. Who knows what God has for me? All I know is I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to gain knowledge. I just am not sure what to do with it yet. Stay in the hospital bedside or move across the globe?
Anyway to finish up our time with Michelle and her family, she fed us a lovely American style BBQ dinner which really hit the spot after all the rice, beans, and potatoes we’ve been consuming. She also took us to a plot of land that Hope Matters recently purchased with the intent of building a hospital. Yes a HOSPITAL. Man, Michelle really knows how to dream big. Her vision is truly inspiring. We each planted a tree at the site and now we all are eager to one day come back and see our individual tree, and a hospital, standing tall here. Hope Matters International is still a baby NGO but they are doing (and going to do) incredible things. If you’re at all interested in helping fund the Village of Hope Clinic or the NGO in general, click here.
Currently back in Nairobi and tomorrow we head to the Masai Mara for a quick safari retreat to debrief on our work. All of my knowledge about African animals is from the Lion King so I am excited to see them up close. I am coming for you, Simba!
Cheers and keep on wishin’,