January 2, 2006
Today’s Swahili phrase: hakuna matada, which means “Disney marketing phrase.” No wait, it means “no worries.”
I’ve received a lot of encouragement to continue this series – we’re about halfway through – but this next day was a very important day, full of eye-opening experiences, and frankly, just hard to get a grasp on everything that happened and put it into words. I probably started and stopped this post a half-dozen times in the last month, and I think you’ll see by the end why it took so long. While bathing the orphan children was a revealing experience 2 days ago, today really impressed upon us the great need and problems of the people of Kenya.
Today we went to visit Sister Freda and her hospital, and I met one of this planet’s finest women. Sister Freda runs a hospital near Kitale, Kenya, as well as an orphanage and a school. She told us that only 2 of every hundred patients can afford to pay, so she provides most of the care for free and operates entirely on faith. We had come to serve Sister Freda for the day, but she waited on us hand and foot and humbled us by showing us what a real servant was like. Here is Sister Freda; click the thumbnail to get a full size view.
Sister Freda first gave us a tour of the hospital. In the US we’re used to gleaming stainless steel so the concrete building didn’t appear exactly state-of-the art, but it was very clean and sterile. Plenty of care was taken to keep things clean and neat. We met some of the patients. A woman with AIDS and malaria who had had an allergic reaction to the drug combination and who’s skin appeared to be disappearing; in her case, the rich black skin of a Kenya had turned an off-white color. We stopped to pray with her. We met a pregnant woman; pre-natal care is almost non-existent here, but this woman had stopped in for a checkup and some vitamins. We met a little girl with sickle cell anemia. Another young child, perhaps 2 years old, was asleep; her mother lived in the nearby forest and had carried her baby in a backpack for so long her legs were folded under and misshapen from the lack of use, and Sister Freda was providing the physical therapy to help her walk. The baby was taken from the mother by other villagers when the mother drowned her eight year old daughter.
Next, we went outside to visit the orphanage and school. In Kenya, they don’t have public schools funded by taxes like the United States; instead, each parent has to provide money to pay for their children’s education. The result is that many children from the poorest families and all orphans remain uneducated. Sister Freda not only has 30+ children she feeds and educates, but she’s been doing this such a long time that some of the earliest orphans have grown up and now work in her medical clinic. Here we visited the children while they were having breakfast.
When breakfast was over, the children returned to the classrooms. I think there were three rooms, each about 20’x20′ with a door, a window, and a blackboard, and not enough chairs for the children. That didn’t seem to be a problem for them, though, as the children happily sat on each other when necessary. The children sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in English and were genuinely surprised that we knew the words, too.
Sister Freda also has a fruit orchard and we toured the bananas, papayas, and avocados growing there. Many of the medicines prescribed are supposed to be taken with food, and for many of the patients food can be difficult to come by. Sister Freda solves that problem by growing her own food and cooking in her own kitchen. We were blessed by lunch with her as she served a meat stew with ugali and some of the most wonderful bread I’ve ever had called chapati, made by rolling whole wheat flour and salt into a circle, browning in a pan, then held briefly over an open flame to puff up.
Sister Freda was a fabulous host, and we found out the reason our day of service in the town of Mbasagan was cancelled was because of a funeral being held that day. On a moonless night, dark black men are hard to see, and such a recent night saw the murder of six people in town. Possibly in retaliation for a tribal disagreement, the six were murdered in their homes. We were reminded that we were far away from home and not necessarily as safe as we felt. Sister Freda instead served us lunch and presented each of us with a rungu, an African fighting stick. (I’ve tried to look this up on a web search, but the rungus I found don’t look like the ones we received. Ours look more like a samburu war club.)
After lunch, we went to Mbasagan town to visit. When Mzungus like us visit, we cause a stir, and all the children turn out. The children are incredibly friendly and have none of that “stranger danger” has ever been taught to them. They walked right up along side and took our hand – those that were brave enough to come so close to a mzungu, that is. They ask for nothing but their needs are great. Some of the children would hold our hands for a while as we walked… then would also help us hold our water bottles. One by one we relinquished all of our water to the children, for we knew we could just get fresh water bottles later. What were the children drinking? The children save their bottles and walk to the river daily to refill it. Take a good look at the color of the water in this water bottle this young girl was carrying. How could we refuse? We only had maybe 6 or 8 bottles among us and there were two dozen children and I didn’t know how to choose, but that was my western materialism at play again. It didn’t matter which child we gave the water to, all the bottles ended up in the hands of a single, older girl. We were told once they had collected all the water, she’d divide it among the children fairly so they could all have a taste of fresh water.
One of the women we met showed us some maize that was at the foot of her house. It didn’t look like much, and it wasn’t. She told us that it was all she had to eat until October, but she wasn’t going to eat it. She was saving it for the rainy season to plant. She was an educated woman with a university education, and then married a local Mbasagan man. There was no opportunity to use her education and said matter-of-factly that this was just her lot in life. Her husband provided the living, carrying fruit from the market to the highway for about 35 shillings a day, about 50 cents. With that, they bought food daily. It was her job to collect firewood and water every day.
She told us of the needs of the town; many of the adults and children were dying of dysentery, cholera and malaria. The town shared a latrine, dug by hand 30 feet down, then covered with a board with a hole in it. The only well in town was also dug 30 feet down, and waste seepage had long ago contaminated the well. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was no cemetery, so people buried their dead on their own land, about a 20′ x 20′ piece of land. They only buried them two or three feet deep, so heavy rains would wash remains into their neighbor’s yard where they cooked. They asked to get word to a group like Living Water who could drill water wells 200 feet, well below the contaminated layer of ground.
We walked back to Sister Freda’s in a somber thoughtful mood, but our day was just beginning. When we got there, a man on a bicycle had carried a woman to see Sister Freda. The woman was in obvious pain; her ankle was very swollen, she could not move her arm, and she was bleeding from one ear. She had been riding on a boda-boda, a bicycle, and had a bicycle accident. She had leaped off at the last moment. Sister Freda took her inside, cleaned her up, but said she needed x-rays, something Sister Freda could not provide. We had a van, so we split into two groups. One group went back home, picking up groceries for the night. The rest of us gave the injured woman – her name was Rosa – a ride to the Kitale hospital. Our experience here convinced us of two things. One, I would never complain about US hospitals, and two, if we became injured in Kenya, please ship us to England for emergency care.
The hospital had an admission room where they grudgingly admitted Rosa because of Sister Freda’s letter, and that’s where the hospital care ceases. There are no orderlies, no nurses, nobody that comes to help. Injured people must be accompanied by friends or relatives to move them around or… they just die. There’s a payment for admission, and all transactions are handled up front with cash. If you don’t have cash… well, I guess you die. We found a metal gurney and lifted Rosa onto it and she yelled in pain; it had been several hours since her accident and she had no painkillers. Then we waited for a doctor to arrive to take the x-rays. He was traveling among other hospitals at the moment, taking x-rays, and nobody was sure when he would arrive at this hospital.
After two or three hours, Rosa lying on the metal gurney in pain, we decided we had waited long enough. It was getting dark and Rosa was getting cold, so we went back into the ward. Beds were available back here, but there were three times as many patients as there were beds, so injured and ill people shared, 2 or 3 to a bed. When we brought in Rosa, one woman moved her injured child into another so three children shared a bed, making room voluntarily for Rosa to have a place. We wheeled her as close as we could, then lifted her to the bed, cringing because she yelled in pain. We felt hopeless, unable to compensate for her hurting.
And 2 minutes later, we found the doctor had arrived. And we lifted Rosa again in pain onto the gurney, bumped her across the concrete walkway back to the x-ray room. Then we lifted her for the 4th time that day onto the x-ray table. The doctor looked at us seriously and asked us some direct questions about whether we were missionaries. I don’t know if that would have been a problem, but we answered truthfully that we were visiting sister Freda. One of us was a pastor, the rest were engineers, accountants, miscellaneous. Not full time missionaries. The doctor looked at us for a while longer, then asked for payment. We paid the doctor and waited outside.
After a few moments, he told us her foot was merely sprained, but her clavicle, her shoulder was broken. The blood from the ears indicated some head injury, but his equipment could not x-ray a skull. There would be no way to tell if her head was damaged seriously, nor any way to treat it.
We lifted Rosa for the 5th time back onto the gurney, wheeled her along the bumpy path, then lifted her for the 6th time back into bed. We now had a prescription for a painkiller, so again we divided up, half walking down the street to get the medicine, the rest staying with Rosa for comfort. We could pray for her, but she spoke no English. Jason translated for us that we had been visiting a local church and would stay with her as long as we could. At a nearby store before they closed we bought a shawl for Rosa to stay warm, milk and fruit for when she became hungry, and made a quick trip home to grab some personal pillows we had brought from the US so she would have something to rest her head on.
In the meantime, the rest of our group, waiting in the van, had spent the afternoon witnessing to the security guard. I didn’t get the whole story, but he was Muslim and afraid of what would happen to him, but then gave his life to Christ. I hope one of our group gets the courage to post in the comments below what happened out there. 🙂
That was all we could do for Rosa that day, so we left, vowing to come back and check on her when we could. Her brother was with her so her needs could be met. The needs of the Kenyan people showed so greatly in even this hospital – no assistance, no food, no medicine, and you had to pay first or you didn’t receive care. The Lord had opened our eyes today on many things, things we would never forget.
Again, I apologize for the length of time it took to write about this day, but it was such a powerful day, and I haven’t had the time at lunch lately to write like I did earlier in the year. If you thought our day of bathing the orphan children was the most emotional experience, today was exponentially more powerful. And tomorrow? In Day 8 we will find that there’s even more needs than we could have possibly imagined. That’ll take a while to write as well, so I hope you’ll be patient. And those of you that went to Kenya with me, and especially those friends still in Kitale, please comment and correct anything I didn’t get quite write, I’ll be happy to fix it. Just comment below or email me.