Saturday, July 30, 2011

Out of Kenya Already??

My time in Kenya has come to a close already, it went extraordinarily fast and I'm already missing being there. Here are some things I will miss most:
  1. Taking chai multiple times a day
  2. Karibu Sana (Very welcome), and the hospitality that follows that when you are visiting
  3. Eating fresh fruit from the open air markets
  4. Learning/speaking Kiswahili – even when that requires me making a fool of myself
  5. Jamming to hip-hop tunes down the road in a beat up matatu with Jesus bumper stickers all over it on my way to work
  6. Kenyan foods - chapati, mandazi, beans, dengu, pilau, ugali, sikuma..all of it (except for matumbo maybe - goat intestines)
  7. Nairobi weather - between 60-85 degrees Fahrenheit pretty much all the time
  8. Afternoon snacks of coke (in a glass bottle of course) and cake
  9. Greeting everyone with handshakes or hugs when you see them, even if you hardly know one another
  10. Actually using coins to purchase things
  11. Cheap fare rides around town
  12. People dancing and taking joy in their praise for the Lord at Church
  13. Working with people who have great hope and desire to be part of the change in Kenya that is so needed

Friday, July 22, 2011

Funny Things of the Late

Kenya is great. There are always things happening that make me unsure of whether I should laugh or just be in amazement. Here are some examples:
1.       Explicit instructions on how to use every kind of contraception known to man…on the family Christian radio station
2.       Debating with Kenyan women over who can eat more chapatti in one sitting
3.       The harmful side effects of the Marula tree’s fruit on wild animals (just go ahead and youtube this one, it’ll be funnier that way)
4.       The addiction Kenyans have with late night Mexican soaps dubbed in English
5.       Speaking Kiswahili to children
6.       Exodus 2 Stardom – the Kenyan, Christian version of American Idol
7.       Stirring the ugali pot – much harder than it looks
8.       The burning ginger sensation that you breathe out of your nose after drinking a bottle of Stoney Tangawizi cola.
9.       Waking up in the middle of the night because of a mosquito buzzing in your ear
10.   The winter jackets and hats that Kenyans put on when the weather is around 15 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit)
11.   My favorite verb to say in Kiswahili because of the response it gets: Kucheza ngoma – to dance the African way
12.   Instructions on the radio for how to gain weight
13.   A recent encounter I had with a child on my way back from work: “Mzungu, give me a sweet”. I had no sweet…sorry mtoto (child).
14.   Negotiating with Kenyan businessmen
15.   The insane quantity of maharagwe (beans) I have consumed every day for the past 9 weeks..and the harmful side effects of that.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Feet Washing

The other day I was on my way out of Kibera to catch a matatu back to Karen when a boy came into the office with blood pouring out of his foot. He was tracking blood with each step he took, so I pulled him into the first aid room and instructed him to take a seat. Like most of the Kibera children I’ve dealt with, he didn’t complain or even appear to be in much pain, but it was clearly something that must have hurt at least a little bit. I’m not very squeamish around blood, so it didn’t bother me that there was so much of it, but it got a bit tricky when I saw that his foot was so plastered in dirt and mud that I couldn’t even figure out where the blood was oozing from. I began to look for rags or sterile wipes to sop up some of the blood, but we had none of those items in stock.  All we had were gauze pads about 1” by 1” in size and my attempts to use those were a complete fail. The problem was that his feet were just so dirty that I couldn’t imagine even bandaging anything up in that filthy state. At the end of the day, we are almost always out of water, and this day was no different. There was no running water left on the school grounds. It became a trying moment for me because I couldn’t imagine what to do with the child and the mess he had brought in. I knew something had to be done because I couldn’t just send him away, and then someone reminded me that there is some extra water left in the kitchen usually for cooking the next morning. I sent one of the other interns to grab some of that in a bucket and bring it back. When he brought it in, the only thing that I figured could be done was to submerge the entire foot so as to wipe off all of the blood and grime completely. After dipping in and out a few times, his foot was clean enough for me to see that the cut was on one of his toes, from a broken glass bottle according to him. I had to spend some time picking dirt particles out of the deep cut before I could even apply antibacterial and bandage it up. It really needed stitches, but the bandage was the best I could do given the lack of resources to treat such a wound. After cleaning it out and bandaging it up, I washed the blood off of the worn yellow sandal he had been wearing and instructed him on how to keep the wound clean before sending him off.
I didn’t even realize how biblical this all was until later, but I guess I can say that I now understand how humbling it is to sit at someone’s feet and wash the dirt and grime from the streets off of them. In the United States we wear shoes everywhere and hardly come into contact with the amount of dust, mud, and garbage that they do on this side of the world. When Christ washed his disciples’ feet, they were probably similarly gross in appearance, aroma, and everything else that goes along with that. The experience of washing served as a really interesting microcosm of the human condition that I needed to be reminded of.

A Sunday in Kibera

Sunday I was invited to go to church with a friend of mine named Raphael who lives in Kibera. I met Raphael a few weeks ago because he had come by the Karen property to see the orphanage. As a product of the Kibera slum himself, he has hopes of starting some kind of children’s home to give children growing up in dangerous situations a chance at life. Raphael had a very difficult childhood and his testimony is one of the most intense I’ve heard. He found Christ at a time when he had basically tried out every immoral thing he could do that he had access to in the slums. It’s refreshing to hear how the presence of God in his life has been able to really reshape his priorities and purposes in life.
The church he brought me to was actually right outside of the slum, maybe a few hundred yards away. When we first walked in, there were only about 20 or so people that seemed to be present. I wasn’t sure if this was to be expected or not, but even as the worship continued and we transitioned into the sermon nobody else arrived. It was a bit confusing to me because they had enough chairs to accommodate about 150 people, I guess that one will remain a mystery to me. I can’t say I was super enthralled with the sermon, and the service went on for about 3 hours which made it somewhat difficult for me to retain focus for the whole time. But afterwards I was introduced to the pastors and a few of the other people at the church, and the way their welcoming nature reaffirmed to me why I love Kenya. Being a complete stranger, you can be welcomed in right away and appreciated. Yeah, Kenyan hospitality is pretty legitimate.
Afterwards Raphael took me to his home in the slums. To get to it we took a matatu down the street and then entered into the maze of narrow alleys and low roofs. When we got to his place we stepped in and had me sit down on one of the beds after lifting the sheet that divided the room. We sat and began a conversation and a few minutes later someone came out from behind another sheet that was hanging in front of the other bed. It startled me because I had no idea that there was anyone else in there. The room is about 10’ by 10’ like most of the rooms in the slum, and this one houses about 5 people. They share beds at night to accommodate everybody. I was impressed at how clean they kept the place despite having so many people living there. After about a half hour Raphael brought us plates of mcheli na maharagwe (rice and beans). I’m not sure where they actually prepared it, but it was delicious, and their generosity in giving me a meal in their poverty meant a lot to me. Raphael lives in a pretty broken family, but the ones I met were still very inviting, and it was nice to be able to spend time talking with them.
The next day I saw Raphael and he thanked me for coming. I told him that I was the thankful one for them inviting me in, and he responded by telling me that they hardly ever see any white people venturing into that part of the slum and feeling comfortable with everything. Raphael told me that I’m the first American he has met that he really considers to be his friend, and his family had appreciated me being there. It’s something that amazes me. I don’t feel deserving of such thanks, I did nothing other than spend time with them. But it means a lot to many families here to have a visitor, so I guess I can say I am thankful to be able to fill that role.

Cleaning Day

Toilets in the slums are a messy business to tend to. However, today was the day that we finally got together to take care of the mess that was the restroom situation at Raila Education Centre. I had been working through a group at the school called Christian Union to encourage some of the students to organize for a Saturday community service day. The student leader, Benson, became my point man in the effort to try and make this happen. Benson amazed me in his ability to spread the word and encourage students to get involved. We had over 30 students show up after classes on Saturday for a job that had to be the least appealing thing anybody could be doing to start off their weekend. What started as a task of simply pouring disinfectant and scrubbing quickly turned into several tasks. We had to form teams of students that could fetch water (which became even more difficult when the school ran out of water and we had to send people to the nearest pump to buy more), scrub walls, brush the roofs off, clear jiggers out of the latrines, pick up trash, fix the gravel outside the latrines, and replace stones around the walkway.
At the end of it, the latrines were much cleaner and the rancid smell had been greatly reduced. Aesthetically, some aspects were hard to fix. Weather damage, stains, and writing on walls were impossible to get off in some areas. There is still plenty that can be done to fix these problems, but funding wasn’t exactly present for this project so my limited personal budget could only take care of so much. After the work, we provided lunch for the students who helped. I felt bad because all we were able to get for them was juice and sandwiches. They seemed very appreciative of that, because many of them may not be eating anything else until school on Monday anyway. But I still kept thinking to myself that they deserved a feast for the kind of work they put in voluntarily on their weekend. It’s difficult because I’m limited in what I can provide for them too. On my long matatu ride back through the dense Nairobi traffic I just felt a heavy weight of empathy on my shoulders. My time here is limited now and I feel like so much good is coming along, but I also feel like I have a lot more to learn if I am going to be able to fully give in a manner that benefits the people here.
The following Monday, I worked with one of the deputy principals to get some people to come out to lower the waste in the latrines by using some chemicals. It was cheaper and supposedly would take care of the “wadudu”, or bugs as well. The problem was that I didn’t know these people that were called up and the head principal didn’t either. A lot of Kenyan businessmen are pretty corrupt, and as these men began to lay down prices and feed us their fake empathy, I began to question whether they were even qualified to do the job. Their request for a down payment before any work had even been done was my first indicator that we needed to be pretty firm with them. To make a long story short, however, things worked out well in this area. The school finally paid for the job, which was something they were responsible for, and the job got done in a timely manner at a good price once we talked firmly and explained what was needed. So I guess some good has come to the school through this.

The Stinky Problem

The project I’ve been looking to work on for the past couple weeks has come in one of the least desirable, yet strangely very important, ways. Raila Education Centre schools over 1,100 students currently, all of which use an outhouse with about 4 stalls for the females and 8 stalls for the males. Of those, only about half are in “operation”. I’m not exactly sure what this means because you don’t need much technology to operate a squatty potty, it’s a hole in the ground where you simply squat and let it flow. But nonetheless, about half of the stalls are boarded up and can no longer be opened. Of the ones being used, none are in very good condition. They are covered in residue from the wastes children have left on the floor when they couldn’t quite get their aim right into the hole. Doors are broken on some, and no attempts to clean these latrines has been made to my knowledge since they were first put up, about 3-4 years ago. Additionally, you have the problem of locals from Kibera climbing over the fence at night to break in and use the latrines themselves as well, which contributes even more to the lack of sanitation. Water was once running by the latrines to allow children to wash hands after using the restroom, but unfortunately the tube that connected the faucet to the water store was stolen at night, so water is no longer available by these latrines.
The reason I’m so concerned about this issue is because as an intern here I’m also involved with treating sick students that come into the makeshift nurse’s office we have in the First Love building. Nobody qualified works in the office, but this gets even worse when you consider that the reason we see so many children every day is because of some of the very easily solved, yet unattended, problems with sanitary practices. Students come in all the time with stomach aches or scrapes that could easily be infected. Just yesterday, I had to perform my first tooth extraction when I found a young boy trying to pull the tooth of his even younger friend. Kenyans living in Kibera have much stronger immune systems than most people, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the health concerns they face. Their life expectancy is consequently very low because of such health risks.
So what started as a plea to just get clean bathrooms has turned into a pretty big task. I started by working through Christian Union, a group of students that gather bi-weekly to discuss how they can grow into their Christian faith as young adults. I spoke at one of their meetings about responsibility, as it is presented in the Bible, and proposed the idea of working on cleaning up the school. An initiative like this really can’t come from me, because the important part of it is maintenance which is going to take place once I’m gone. They need to be empowered to work on this project themselves, so I guided them through some planning and we tentatively set up a work day. The other factor is the involvement of the school. I found out after talking to some people that the latrines hadn’t been exhausted (i.e. sucked out) in a very long time, so our efforts to clean them may be put to waste if they are not exhausted before we start work. This, and even the larger problem of lack of school sanitation, should be coming from the school and their funds, not First Love. I set up a meeting with the deputy principal of the school yesterday to discuss funding of projects like this. He admitted to me that the school is not spending money properly, they have incorrect priorities. The school receives funding from the government and also charges a fee from every student for attendance, this means that there is a lot capital floating around, but I am still unclear as to where this goes. It’s a mystery I’m still working on figuring out in the coming days and weeks, but am eager to find answers for.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Internet..or Lack Thereof

My inability to put up posts for the past week has not been a product of personal laziness, but rather a product of laziness from Access Kenya, the internet service provider here. Our internet went out last week on the compound and they simply don't have much of a concept of customer service and what that means I guess. That being said, I have been using the internet cafe or the school computer when I get on, which hasn't given me enough time to write posts. Hopefully I'll be able to put some up in the near future..we'll see if Access Kenya ever gets their act together.  

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Medical or Spritual?

Every day we’re constantly faced with choices and dilemmas. Last week was one of the strangest dilemmas I had ever faced in my life. Although I’ve hesitated sharing this story, I think it’s served to stretch me in many ways and therefore I believe it to be beneficial for others to hear.
Last week I went into work at the school on a regular Thursday morning. I had taken public transportation to get in and was a bit distraught at the amount of time it took because of all the traffic, but nonetheless, I had made it and went into the office to greet my co-workers. It seemed as though less people were around for some reason. A few were outside sifting through maize and stirring githeri as usual, but normally I would come to find everyone outside the kitchen working on something. I went back into the office to drop off my bag and when I opened the door to the first aid office/intern office, there was a child laying on a mattress pad on the floor who appeared to be sick, with a few adults that I had never met before standing over her muttering words that I couldn’t make out. There were also two students that appeared to be her age, about 13 or 14, sitting next to her by her head. I quickly closed the door, not wanting to draw attention to myself. The room seemed pretty serious and I didn’t want to be the Mzungu who caused some kind of problem to occur.
I threw my bag on a chair in another room and stepped outside. I found Patrick out there, the supervisor for First Love at the school, and decided I could ask him what the deal was in the office back there. He proceeded to tell me that the young girl was an orphan that they had little history of, but she had been sitting in class that morning and had fallen unconscious. They took her into the first aid office and Patrick said she regained consciousness, but began kicking and flailing her arms, complaining that somebody was choking her. She had been in the room for about an hour at this point, and Patrick mentioned that in his attempts to pray for her she would show discomfort and start shaking.
I was pretty interested by this because I’ve heard plenty stories of demonic possessions (aside from the corny American horror films that have been made), but even through the stories it is something that has always been pretty confusing to me. Scripture speaks many times of demons and people being possessed, and although it’s not seen very often in the US today, I believe that it is still something that occurs. I spent a while sitting outside of the room, wondering if I should step in and try to see what was going on for myself, or lay back because it wasn’t my place to get involved. The door kept swinging open and closed as people were going in and out between their work. Eventually, however, everyone had left and the door was open, only the sick girl and two of her classmates remained in there with her. As a firm believer that you should enter in when God opens doors for you (this time very literally), I opted to go in. I started off by having one of the young girls read a passage of scripture out loud while I assessed the situation, doing some simple first aid surveying I learned when I was a lifeguard and boy scout. The problem was that I couldn’t tell if anything was medically wrong because she was breathing, albeit very heavy, her eyes showed movement, her heart was beating, and her pulse was fine, though a bit fast.
After a few minutes, the school’s headmaster, a teacher, and one of the First Love cooks came in. They began muttering back and forth whether or not this was something for a doctor or if it was a spiritual matter. They debated back and forth until I suggested we just pray over her, which turned into just me praying as nobody else volunteered. When I finished praying, she was still shaking all over and reaching for her neck as if being choked. At this point, I was called to go help in the kitchen, so I left.
The next chance I got, I went back into the room. This time the teacher was in there with the girl’s aunt, her closest relative still alive. A few boys no older than 13 years old had also been called in. I asked the teacher what was happening and he said that they had decided to have these boys carry her over their shoulders back to her shack in the slums. They would deal with her over there. I was very much not okay with this at all, but it wasn’t my decision to make. I questioned what would happen to her there and the teacher said that they would have a pastor or local minister come see her, he was sure it was something spiritual. I still didn’t like the idea of this, but I didn’t really have an alternative myself, so they picked up the girl, who was like dead weight, and began the hike with her over their shoulders.  The teacher told me he would let me know the status of her the following day.
The dilemma I faced was that in this circumstance the problem feasibly could have been a spiritual or medical concern, but, in my opinion, there was nobody qualified to make that kind of assessment. We still have no qualified nurse on staff at the school, a problem that continues to plague us each passing day, and an orphan in the slums wouldn’t have the kind of insurance to get a qualified doctor to look at her. Even if a doctor had, they would likely operate under the assumption that spiritual possessions such as this do not exist, and proceed to search for something they simply could not find. On the converse, people at the school had mainly jumped to the conclusion that she was possessed because they didn’t know what else it could be and had little exposure to medicine. In this regard, I believe our ideologies are a bit opposite between the US and Kenya. In the US, we almost always turn to science or medicine first, denying that spiritual occurrences could be the reason behind something. In Kenya, they tend to turn to spiritual occurrences as the reasoning much earlier on, sometimes without fully considering that there may be real medical concerns.
The next day, I never found the teacher, but Patrick told me that the last he had heard was that she wasn’t much better. I don’t know where this girl Sharon is right now, but what I do know is that she is facing a matter of life or death and most of the people around her are responding nonchalantly. Sharon is not the only child in this situation. There are many children I have yet to face who are in situations of medical or spiritual concern without the proper attention being given to them. I call you to pray for these children. My hope and my prayer is that God will show me what can be done, but ultimately it will never be me that is going to make the change, it is going to be God and how he chooses to work through the hearts of the Kenyan people as well as myself.  Sorry if this story has seemed crazy, but the events that occurred are true, and I am still searching and praying for a just solution myself.