The ladies in the row behind me on the plane were talking about the spa appointments awaiting them at their destination and I couldn’t help but smile at the dichotomy between their trip and mine.
Seven days ago we arrived in Olepolos Kenya at 3am. The flight from Asheville, 39 hours earlier, had been the first of three flights. There were 11 bags between the three of us, eight of which were filled to the brim with medical supplies for the Health Post. I packed all of my clothes into a backpack with a second backpack of food and computer equipment as a carry-on. Jono crammed my backpack, sleeping bag and running shoes into one of the bags of medical supplies, we paid the $800 fee for the checked bags, and off we went.
The Health Post sits within the compound of a school built by the UK charity, Osiligi. The Post consists of four rooms where we would live, work and sleep for the next two weeks. That first morning we awoke at 8am to the sound of the children singing around the flag pole just outside our front door to begin their day of school. Because Christmas vacation would start on Wednesday, we quickly unpacked and organized the Health Post to hold the first Children’s Health Day on Tuesday.
Some of the children were underweight, but for the most part they were in good health. One class was in the middle of a chicken pox outbreak, another class had runny noses, but all but 3 of the children had extraordinary eyesight – something we learned is common in this area. Some of them could read the very last line of our eye chart.
The school’s graduation ceremony was held on Wednesday. Each class gave a presentation – a play, or singing and dancing. They wore matching outfits with beads and silver charms that clinked when they danced. As I watched them I realized we were witnessing the traditions of this land being practiced by this next generation of Maasai. Some of their traditions should be buried in a hole as deep as the very core of this earth and forgotten forever, but the singing, dancing and the boys jumping the highest they can to attract the prettiest wife, these are priceless.
Children who had earned top grades in their class were presented with awards of cups, bowls, rulers, toy trucks and soap. The ceremony ended with a delightful demonstration by one of the teachers on how to use the soap.
At the end of the day’s events, we assisted the Osiligi charity in distributing a gift of food to the parents. Kenya has suffered from severe drought for over a year. Without rain the grass does not grow and the cattle do not eat. Many families have lost more than half their cattle, which has put the community in deep poverty. This donation of food included sugar, cornmeal, flour, lard, tea, and one cabbage. Simple you might say, but there were smiles on every face, including ours.
Life in Kenya has been an adjustment. There is solar power at the school, but cloudy days give new meaning to conservation. We use the largest room in the Post as our kitchen/gathering area/office/clinic, the surgery room is Jono’s bedroom, a storage room is Karl’s, and the doctor’s office is mine. There is a shower (no hot water), but the latrine is on the back side of the complex. The wind howls at night worse than a hurricane but the days are generally warm.
Last week Karl began teaching a First Responder course to four candidates from the local community, Jono has made a gazillion trips into town for supplies, and my primary job has been to create a patient database system. Our days are very busy, but eventually we have all had moments of homesickness. The more I learn about the Maasai, however, the more I realize we can make a difference here. Education is the missing link, and they crave knowledge.
On Sunday we went to the local church to promote Thursday’s Community Health Day. The Minister’s wife pulled us aside and pleaded with us to provide a class on Women’s Health. She’s invited all of her friends and Jono and I will take turns teaching them basic CPR and discussing women’s health issues.
Today Jono and I are working with the First Responder class while Karl begins mapping the homes in the community. Tuesday will be my turn to map the communities, some of which are five miles away.
After dinner Sunday night we divided up all the tasks left to be accomplished and realized a week is hardly enough time left to finish. Jono decided he could spend several months a year here and several months at the clinic in Belize and be happy going back and forth all year. Karl wishes he had organized his trip differently so that he could spend at least two more weeks here in Kenya. For me, this is a fabulous experience and there is much more I would like to contribute, but when the time comes I think I will be ready for the long journey back home.