Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sawa Sawa

The last few days of ministry have been taxing yet fruitful. Yesterday we prayed over a woman who the medical team had just coded and then prayed with her husband while he was told the news that she had died. From there it was back to a young woman with a head tumor that had grown so much that one of her eyes was swollen shut. Here at Kijabe, and I imagine at other similar hospitals, the family often comes in before the patient’s surgery to give blood that will be used during the operation. That is just one of the ways that patients’ families are very involved in their care.


It was a welcome relief to go for a run yesterday evening. Running here is challenging, since we’re more than 7000 feet above sea level and there are very steep hills. The roads are more like trails, and between the surface of the paths and roads and the elevation change, I’ve been logging my runs as trail runs. Fortunately, there are many distractions that require some rest breaks, like monkeys. We came across some Colobus monkeys swinging through the trees and crossing our path. One of them sat in a tree, ate some leaves, and watched us as we watched him. They have beautiful, long fur and huge, white, fluffy tails. A short while later, we stopped to take in the view over the Rift Valley.


Today was a special treat for me as we had a visitation scheduled. At Kijabe, when a staff person is sick or suffers a loss, the chaplains visit him or her en masse at their home with their family. This time, it happened to be one of the chaplains who had missed a few days of work due to a motorbike accident over the weekend. Fortunately, he healed quickly and didn’t suffer any broken bones. We took another chaplain’s beat-up Subaru (though it proved to have an extremely strong engine) down a rocky road into the woods. The scenery changed dramatically, as if we had entered the rain forest. This was the view from his front door, looking across a ravine.


We visited, sang hymns, prayed, and read Scripture with him and his wife as his children were at school. Then, as is typical when inviting someone into your home, they gave us tea and mandazi, a less-sweet version of a beignet. Kenyans are utterly hospitable and welcoming, and it was a treat to be invited into their home.


They also have a cow, several chickens, dogs, and rabbits.


Most of the houses we enter are the domain of other missionaries, so it’s enlightening to see how real Kenyans live. In this case, their family is solidly middle-class, and yet they lack many of the amenities that those of us in the Western world take for granted. Pastor Manyara hopes to build a second story onto his house so that they can have three bedrooms. I’m unclear as to how many bedrooms the house currently has, but they have four children, two of whom we met on our way back to the hospital.

Tomorrow we travel to the Masai Mara for safari, so we’ll be gone for a long weekend. I’ve heard thoughts on the attacks from the other chaplains, but it’s hard to tell what is politically motivated and what is in the best interest of the Kenyans. We’re off to see lions and elephants and gazelles, oh my!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Prayers for Mpeketoni

On Monday morning, we woke up to the news that 48 people had been killed overnight in a coastal village near Lamu. Although that is quite a ways away from where we are, it is unnerving since it’s the largest attack since the shootings at Westgate Mall in Nairobi in September. We knew our families and friends would be concerned as well, but everything here is peaceful. There has been a lot of talk of politics and security as a result.


In addition, Monday was a demanding day at the hospital. I attended a family meeting in the ICU after which the medical team withdrew to comfort care on a woman with malaria that had shut down her kidneys. We had a non-compliant patient in the women’s ward with HIV and a fistula between her esophagus and trachea. Somehow, she’d eaten some porridge even though she wasn’t supposed to and had aspirated into her lungs. She kept crying out that she wanted to die. While she didn’t understand English, she let me hold her hand and stroke it, and she gradually settled down. She died later that afternoon.

Every day at around 10-10:30 and 4-4:30 we have chai break. The cafeteria staff delivers a mixture of warm water and milk with which to brew tea, and the chaplains all converge on the office for tea and fellowship. It’s a wonderful time together, perhaps my favorite time of the day.


Monday evenings are always dessert and chai/coffee nights hosted by the long-term missionaries. We made our way across town to Dr. Bird’s house. The former medical director of the hospital, he and his wife have lived there for fourteen years. Of course, the World Cup game was on! It was a good opportunity to visit with other people (mostly short-term missionaries) from various parts of the hospital who we might not see otherwise.


Fortunately, today was quieter at the hospital, and we were able to walk over to the market at lunch to get a few things we needed. The market is like a farmer’s market in the US and is comprised mostly of women selling their wares. We bought the things we came for (namely, eggs and bananas), and a few things we didn’t come for like a bag of samosas and English muffins. I didn’t know how the packaging for the eggs would be, but they just asked us how many we needed and then put them in this plastic bag.


I was terrified that they wouldn’t survive the walk home and that I would drop them, but they were fine. People’s animals here are all free-range, quite literally. They roam around eating whatever they can get. Without even having labels like “organic” and “cage-free”, that’s exactly what kind of eggs we got, for a fraction of the cost.

One of the benefits of getting some sun is witnessing the sliver of sunset over Mount Longonot.


Asante sana for reading!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

I Kissed a Giraffe, and I Liked It

Friday afternoon, I went back to the maternity ward with Pastor Kithae. Several women were having complications that required them to terminate their pregnancies, so we prayed with them. After our afternoon chai break, I went to find Joe in the ICU, and though the rest of the day had been calm, craziness had broken loose. He explained to this large family that their father’s heart is basically a ticking time bomb. It has so many problems that any medication to fix one aspect will make another one worse. Then the ICU was getting a new patient, so he had to wait to get her settled. I went back to our house, changed, and went on a walk around town.


Dr. McAvoy, the residency director at Vanderbilt, has been here at Kijabe with his family, and Friday night was their last night so he invited us along with the KRNA (Kenyan Registered Nurse Anesthetist) students over for chai and dessert. His wife had graciously baked a bunch of wonderful American-style desserts, which the Kenyan students ate but found very sweet for their palate. By the time we had said our good-byes, it was raining quite hard. Somehow, I managed to not slip and fall in the mud, but there were some close calls!

The next morning, we woke up early to journey to Nairobi where Joe was giving a four-hour lecture. The fog in Kijabe and at the top of the hill was incredibly thick and unforgiving. The last time I’d seen fog that thick was in January 2012 in Sewanee! By the time we got to Limuru, the fog had dissipated a bit. At one point, a car trying to pass on the two-lane highway, swung out in front of us, and we narrowly avoided a head-on collision. While Joe was doing that, Philip took me to the Giraffe Centre and the elephant orphanage.

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The Giraffe Centre is home to ten Rothschild giraffes, a sub-species that is endangered due to humans taking over their habitat. For 1000 Kenyan shillings (~$12), you can feed the giraffes up close.

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Since I was the first guest that morning, I had the giraffes to myself for a while. One of the educators taught me to fold my lips over my teeth and put the pellet between them to get a giraffe kiss!

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Their tongues are long, purple, and rough to strip the leaves off of the acacia trees, so it felt a little bit like a bigger, slightly more slobbery version of my cats’ tongues. They are beautifully awkward animals, and while I’ve seen them in the wild, this was an incredible experience.

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We had some time to kill before the elephant orphanage opened, so Philip and I took tea at the Giraffe Centre, and I watched the reactions of other families and groups as they fed and kissed the giraffes.

The elephant orphanage is open to the public only from 11 am to 12 pm daily. We got there a little early to get a prime spot to watch the elephants come in. There are currently 25 elephants who came out in 2 groups. They range from 3 months old to 5 years old, though most elephants prepare to transition out of the orphanage at 3 years old. Of course, the babies are adorable.

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One of them was a spunky little guy and had his trunk wrapped around the scarf of the girl next to me. We watched them eat, drink, and spray themselves with mud. Their trunks are truly remarkable.

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Many of the elephants in the orphanage were orphaned by poachers and human-wildlife conflict. The caretaker told us all about their names, their ages, how they were found, and any other distinguishing details. Many of them were found by the Mobile Vet units that patrol the natural areas, and it was heartbreaking to hear how they would stand guard over the bodies of their dead and mutilated mothers.

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You can adopt an elephant for a minimum of $50 a year, though it costs $950 a month per elephant, and they receive no special funding. Philip and I went to lunch at Nairobi Java House before picking Joe up. Philip had said you can buy anything you need on the streets of Nairobi, and that seemed to be true. Not just newspapers and additional money for your cell phone, but we saw a guy carrying a full-size coat rack and others selling giant stuffed animals in addition to bundles of corn.

The drive back to Kijabe was less eventful than our trip to Nairobi that morning, though just as we were getting close to Kijabe, Philip pulled over the car and told us to get out and to bring my camera. In the trees above us were some Colobus monkeys, a species I had never seen. They look almost like flying skunks with big fluffy white tails.

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We both slept hard last night, our first good sleep since we’ve arrived, and we’re getting ready to go to church. It’s nice to be able to sleep in on Sunday and get to worship in the pews!

Happy Father’s Day!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Back in the Swing of Things

Look what showed up yesterday!


We also got a water filter and a working showerhead/water heater. Never underestimate how a shower and clean clothes will effect your mood. Of course, retrieving the suitcase was a story. The driver called us at 8:30 pm, and we had some difficulty in translation. It was really dark. No moon, no stars, let alone streetlights dark, so we took our flashlights and booked it up the hill a kilometer or so to get the bag. Fortunately, he took pity on us and drove us back to our house with the suitcase.

That morning, two men came to pick up the 50 lb suitcases full of medical supplies to bring them to the ICU. This is what that looked like:


They just slung them above their shoulder and hiked up the hill to the hospital. Kijabe is situated on the side of the mountain, so everything is either up or down. Our house is on the down-side of the hospital and the business district, on the edge of the forest. Our little pink house with a view of the Rift Valley:


And the view of the main road on my walk home today for lunch from the hospital:


Yesterday I was mainly in Salome, the women’s ward, with Pastor Abraham. It took me a few visits to get in my chaplaincy groove, but I found that many more of the women spoke English than I remembered from a year and a half ago. One woman was healing from a brutal attack by her husband that very nearly killed her. Today, I went to Wairegi, the men’s ward, with Pastor Gitau. We met with a man with a horrible face and neck tumor. It was difficult to see and looked incredibly painful. Pastor Gitau told me that some of the relatives believe that a curse has been put on the family since this man’s mother died of the same kind of tumor, and every time the tumor is removed, he requires a blood transfusion. Then I visited the maternity ward before the other chaplains needed to prepare to lead worship for the visiting family members.

Pastor Benjamin playing the piano:


The group of visitors waiting to get in to see the patients. Visiting hours are restricted from 12:30-2 during the day in addition to morning and evening hours.


Pastor Kithae preaching on Revelation:


Today’s unexpected challenge was that the gas ran out for our stove in the middle of cooking some eggs for breakfast. Fortunately, the stove has one electric burner, so I was able to finish up the eggs. And now we have another gas tank for the stove!


Of course, we have to light the stove with a match, so I’m praying I don’t burn off my eyebrows before we leave here!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

I Always End Up In Tears in the Nairobi Airport


Karibu means “Welcome,” though the Nairobi airport is anything but.

Last time it was post-24 straight hours of travel by myself, wrangling two large suitcases (one full of medical supplies), and a tense customs exchange when I walked into the large receiving hall ready to see my husband, a tall American face in a sea of shorter African ones. I looked and I looked, but he wasn’t there. I had no phone with which to call or text, and while I rightly assumed that the driver and he were stuck in traffic, I was all alone in a very foreign country with two big bags fending off people offering me a taxi. Joe showed up probably fifteen painfully slow minutes later, and all was well.

Monday and Tuesday’s travels were obnoxiously difficult. Weather delays led to us hanging out in the Nashville airport for nearly three hours, though fortunately we were able to change our flight to London and still make our connection to Nairobi. We had limited time in London, made worse by people unfamiliar with security screening procedures. Luckily, our flight to Nairobi was not full, so we were able to stretch out. Flying British Airways is fun because your tea comes with milk in a stick!


Our flight to Nairobi was slightly delayed due to security measures which prohibit the plane from flying with baggage belonging to people who don’t make the flight. When we arrived in Kenya after a “short” (according to our pilot) flying time of around eight hours, the deboarding process seemed unusually slow. A fire last year required that we exit onto the tarmac and take a shuttlebus to the baggage claim. Since we were at the back of the plane, everyone had arrived before us to fill out their various forms that all ask the same information and stand in line for visas. After switching lines several times to insure we were in the right line, made it to the front, nearly an hour after our plane had landed.

The upside was that the crowd at baggage claim had thinned out, and we easily spotted three of our four bags. My personal bag was the one missing. Six weeks ago, on our way back from France, my bag decided to stay in France rather than come home with us, though since we were going home, it wasn’t as stressful. When the baggage handlers started pulling the remaining bags off of the carousel, I knew I was in trouble. The line at baggage services assured me that I wasn’t the only one with this issue, but the single agent was overwhelmed with the number of people needing assistance. I was exhausted and hungry, and my body hurt in that way only squeezing into an airplane for hours on end can cause.

Joe decided to attempt to go through customs by himself to meet Phillip, our driver, while I stood in line to file my claim. While I stood in line, he was arguing with the customs agents over the taxation of medical donations (apparently a new policy). He paid up rather than risk them confiscating the equipment, and I learned my bag was still in London just after midnight Nairobi-time, over two hours after our plane landed. I was promised that it would be on today’s flight and then be driven to Kijabe tomorrow (Thursday). Once we got that sorted out, we ran through customs to see Phillip, our driver, still waiting patiently for us. We were all thrilled with the reunion and tried to relay to Phillip the circumstances that delayed us for so long.


He hurried us to the Amani Gardens Guest House where we were shown to our room, took a much-needed shower, and went to bed. After my experience coming home from France, I took care to pack a change of clothes, pajamas, basic toiletries, and all of my chargers in the carry-on. This morning, we awoke to a cool, gray mist over the gardens, had our breakfast in the dining area, and prepared to travel the rest of the way to Kijabe. I spent a few moments in the prayer labyrinth, a path of eye-level bushes leading to a bench in the center for meditation.


Phillip took us to the market on the way to purchase SIM cards and a 3G dongle modem as well as some groceries. Our house in Kijabe is much more spacious than our last apartment but not quite as nice. We’re waiting on maintenance to fix the water heater/showerhead-thing and bring us a water filter. For now, I’ve boiled some water to keep in the fridge for drinking and brushing teeth. The weather is much chillier than in January, hovering around 55-70 degrees. It feels good coming from 90 degree weather, but some of the Kijabe hospital staff were wearing scarves!

We both start work at the hospital tomorrow, three days after initially departing Nashville. Between the travel, time zone change, getting settled in and set up, and everything just moving much slower in a developing country, it’s been a long few days and a rough adjustment period. Hopefully my bag will arrive in Kijabe tomorrow, and we’ll get started at work.

Karibu Kenya!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Back to the Land of Harambee

On Monday, Joe and I will depart Nashville to return to Kenya. All that stands between me and that is a Daughters of the King meeting, a meat CSA pick-up, a triathlon, two baptisms, and a Pentecost sermon. As we did last time, we will be involved with Kijabe Hospital – Joe in the ICU and me with the chaplains’ department. As I navigated the highways of Nashville with cars zooming around each other trying to get wherever they’re going faster, I realized how much I was looking forward to slowing down for a few weeks, to not having a car, to after-work hikes and mid-afternoon tea.

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“Is it safe?” people keep asking me. True, the state department currently has a travel advisory issued for Kenya, mainly for Mombasa and the Nairobi area, due to threats from Somali terrorist groups. After all of the mass shootings we’ve had here in America, nobody asks me questions about going to spectate a marathon or if it’s safe to go to a movie theater. Everything we do carries a risk, and since we will predominantly be in areas that the U.S. State Department believes are safe, I am not very worried.

Currently, our guest bedroom looks like this:

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Those are medical supplies that we’ll be taking to Kijabe Hospital with us. Last time, I took a huge supply of non-latex gloves since one of the surgeons has a latex allergy. Apparently one time they ran out of non-latex gloves and he operated anyway, ending up with huge sores and blisters on his hands.


We’ll have some time for rest and relaxation as well, with a trip back to the Masai Mara planned and a couple of nights in London on our way back to the States. Joe is also lecturing at the University of Nairobi one day. I’ll try to keep up the blog a bit better than I did last time provided internet and electricity are stable. Asante sana to those who will be praying for us as we travel and maneuver a different culture!