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Friday, September 21, 2012

What's A "Type A" Mzungu to Do?

One of the most interesting aspects of  being here, as “the partner” which is a fairly common phenomenon among the IU community, is figuring out what to do with my time. I remember stating to various friends over the years, when I was SO BUSY at home that I would love to just have time to “read and write”,  two of my  favorite activities! However, now that I have the time, I am feeling a little strange. It’s probably good for me to delve into this topic because it is sort of deep and makes one do a little soul searching and face issues of self perception, self worth, etc.  If I were young I might not find it so interesting and just get out there and do some stuff, but alas, I am not young, and with the wisdom of age comes the knowledge of how important BALANCE is.  I am trying to find it.
I liked the idea  of  of coming to Kenya in order to  have the opportunity to learn a new language. I have learned several languages since I was young, and I really enjoy it. I also taught English for a long time to international students and came to love and appreciate languages with all of their nuances, idioms and idiosyncrasies.  It was such a thrill for me to spend some time in France on our way here,  and use my language skills which happens very infrequently (not a lot of French spoken in southern Indiana). There’s something really powerful about being able to actually communicate in another language and it allows for so much more in depth understanding. I think spending time in France was good for Liam as well, because he got to really feel and see what it is like to be able to communicate in another language.
 So, for starters, I am going to focus a bit on learning Swahili. It is called KiSwahili in Swahili. “Ki” means “language” and it is the common language of the Kenyan people. All Kenyans also have a mother tongue, and there are around 40 of them, but Swahili is spoken by most everyone (except maybe small children) and is taught in the schools in elementary. In fact, although English is also an official language, not everyone speaks it well. It is really the language of the educated class and since public school does not exist beyond secondary, and there are fees for public elementary, not everyone is learning English either. Therefore, it is important that we learn Swahili. Liam and I are taking it from a tutor at the IU House, which is where the doctors and med students stay when they come to Eldoret. Michael will pick it up as he tends to pick languages up easily (being the least self conscious person in the western hemisphere). It is fun to share my new knowledge with local folks on the street and I hope to be able to practice with the young women at the center where I am volunteering.
Volunteering is the second area in which I plan to focus some time, as there is a great need for help in all corners here. Health care is not my area of expertise, clearly , and it definitely puts me out of my comfort zone to a degree, but it is what is being done for the most part in this area of Kenya, but Americans anyway. There’s an endless amount of health related issues here.  Since I not a trained healthcare person, I think that I can provide a little TLC and some Caring Hands if nothing else.
The Sally Test Center, which is located in the public hospital here and was started by people associated with AMPATH, is a center for abandoned and sick children and babies. I have started going there on a regular basis and I have to say it takes all my courage to walk in there thus far as you never know what you’ll find. The 4 times I’ve been there there have been severely malnourished, severely abused and several  disabled little ones (I mean little, like from 3 months to 7 yrs old). They are being well treated and loved up in the center, which they come to for the day. Needless to say, it is heartbreaking to know that most of these kids, will end up growing up in a children’s home somewhere. I don’t know the ropes enough yet to ask as many questions as I have but soon I will. There are a lot of young and older women there caring for the kids and they are happy to have an extra set of hands willing to hold a crying baby, or change a diaper or feed a little one.
 One day last week I went  and there were 11 kids, 6 of whom were infants, and the next time there were 13, with 6 infants again. I was immediately taken by two of the kids both of whom are abandoned, and one of whom just clung to me the whole time.  I had to resist taking her home, believe me. I also had to resist crying when I changed her diaper and saw the scars on her little body. They told me she had been so sad and folded up into herself when she first came last month but now she’s slightly pudgy, she smiles and points and her eyes are bright. It’s a wonder and a testimony to the human spirit, I’ll tell you!
In fact, now that I’ve been there a few times it’s really amazing to see the difference in these kids who have been malnourished and neglected, if not outright abused. I have seen, with my very own eyes, in just two weeks, children who were so thin and blank looking become smiley, crawling little bugs, with a look of delight and desire in their eyes; the way babies should look!
Other opportunities will soon present themselves. There are a lot folks here doing research through the various universities associated with AMPATH. Last night I had a chat with a young woman who is here doing research (through Brown University) with HIV patients about the affects of drinking alcohol on people taking ARV’s (very toxic) and she is doing an intervention which has an educational piece and a tracking piece. So interesting! I am also connecting with a woman who has been here for 5 years and is on the board of the Tumaini Center which cares for street kids. They have a potential project which I am going to possibly participate in soon.
Tomorrow we are going out to Turbo, a village nearby, where AMATH has a clinic and our friend Lori is helping support a new school.  We will visit both the clinic and the new school. We are probably going to get involved in that project as they are going to try to get a new building built within the year and I’m sure would welcome our expertise. Lori is in charge of fundraising for the school and I am going to help with that. The educational needs here are great because, as I mentioned, a lot of kids don’t have parents and are left to fend for themselves. They will never get anywhere without a little education and the possibilities for advancement do certainly grow, the more education they get.  So a lot of small schools are started for the youngest and most vulnerable kids and they need help funding these schools. It only takes about $140.00 a year to finance a student for a school year, but they also need equipment and then the capital costs will increase as they grow.  We will be reporting on this visit soon .
I am excited and a little nervous about all the possibilities but definitely see my time here as having a lot of potential for growth  and learning  and also, hopefully making a difference!

AMPATH Turbo Clinic

Map of Kenya with AMPATH clinics

view of neighboring school from clinic

monkeys in Kakamega Forest

more monkeys


  1. Hey, Lizzy! Wow! It strikes me that you are in such a unique position to help out there, it's awesome! And adjusting your emotions to fit the scenario may be the greatest challenge. I am such a wimp, I don't know if I could handle it.

    Living there for two years as a member of a community, and not just passing through, will have it's pluses and minuses too, I imagine.

    The Serenity Prayer: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference" might help you out.

    I am supporting you from way over here!


  2. Liam reminds me of Jacques -- never looking at or smiling for the camera.
    I am not sure where or how my comments are posted.
    Anyway, your photos are exquisite. What kind of camera is it? (Probably just a cell phone -- duh!)
    Lizita: I am writing you a personal email soon re my dear children.

  3. Crap. LIz, the security on posting back is like Homeland Security!!! I am sure you'd get a lot more replies if the computer security weren't such a bitch.

  4. i can't do the security check!!!