Sunday, June 6, 2010

Toys For The Kids

The one thing Brykn, understood from all my stories about Africa, was the fact that the children had NO toys. He could not fathom being a child and having nothing to play with. Brykn had only two requests of me from this visit. First, was to take toys for the children and second, was to see if I could find an authentic African drum.

When I was lucky enough to have Brykn stay in Goshen for a few days, I would pay him money for a few small odd jobs. Then we would put it in the toy fund jar. A hundred and twenty dollars later, we were able to buy one hundred twenty bears and dolls for the kids. Passing them out the children in Molo were more than pleased and each one I passed out I explained they were sent as gifts from Brykn & Harlee.... Not that any of the children really knew who my grandchildren were, but it meant a lot to me to explain the kindness and generosity of a small child. I hope Brykn & Harlee always remember to share with others as if it makes a difference, because it really does.

It is amazing to have the support and enthusiasm from my family from the oldest to the youngest... Brykn's dream when he get old enough to go with me to Africa to rope and elephant and play with the kids... One day Buddy, one day.

I did find an authentic African drum complete with goat hide smell and all. Brykn had learned in pre-school how the native African people actually talk different tribes by beating their drums. He was so cute when he was explaining to me, that the African don't have telephones to talk on they just use their drums. Beat loud and clear Little Buddy, maybe they will hear you....

Treating the Human Spirit

Over the past thirty-seven years of being in the medical field I've tried to embrace two types of treatment--treating the physical ailments of the human body and compassionately treating the emotional side of the human spirit. I firmly believe that you can not heal one without the other.

I thought I understood how important both were years ago, but it wasn't until I travel to Africa, that I really understood the importance of treating the human spirit. Each and everyone of us here in US have had times in our life's when we've needed someone to talk to, or lean on. Yet, in Africa the troubles of everyday life are enormous compared to ours. Just surviving is a feat in and of its self. Each trip I make a promise those I treat and myself that I will not only listen with not only my ears, but with my heart as well. Reflecting back I hope I've made a difference in so many lives, by simply listening and caring.

Simply embracing all my girlfriends was such a good feeling for me and them too. It is funny they can't understand why a White woman from America, with all the privileges and the abundance life offers in America, comes to Africa, and embraces them and their cultures.

Surprising what a simple hug, or holding someones hand can do for the sole. In Africa, each time I have a patient sit in front of me, I greet them in their native tongue, shake their hand and I introduce myself. Now if you haven't been to Africa before, in all the small poor villages there is no toilet tissue. Therefore they use their hands, leaves, or whatever. Enough said about what is on the hands of so many of the African people. Yet, I never want any of them to feel just because I am a white, American, that I am better than they. We are all just human beings, with basic needs both physically and emotionally. At the conclusion of treating each patient I stand and embrace them in my arms. Many times tears roll down the cheeks of them and me and I am always thanked with "God Bless You!"

It never matters who you are it is always nice to have someone care about you and for you. Though were countless cases each trip, four such cases this past trip stand out in my mind and heart about the caring side of being a humanitarian. First a beautiful young woman in a small village near Molo, sat down in front of me. Her eyes had a lost, sad appearance. She had an African scarf wrapped around her head as if she was in mourning. When I ask how I could help her, she replied; I had a baby boy that was born stillborn a month ago. Now I can not eat, or sleep as I am worried about the baby I will never raise. She continued to tell me that she was not allowed to hold her baby, kiss his forehead or say hello or goodbye. Her baby was disposed of by the midwife as he was stillborn. I sat listening intently, with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Feelings from twenty-eight years ago suddenly surfaced like it was yesterday, when I to faced the same heart wrenching feelings. Feelings of emptiness, sadness, and aching arms to hold what was to have been my legacy. As I explained to this young woman that the feelings she was feeling, I had felt too. The young woman, named Faith, sobbed as she was sure her life would never be the same. As we talked, I tried to reassure her that time heals all wounds and her life will once again have happiness in it. From my hand and heart to Faith's, hand I place a guardian angel pin, along with reassuring thoughts that I knew that her son and my mine were sitting on Jesus's knee smiling down on us both. Faith and I embraced one last time and went our separate ways. May the Lord take special care of this young mother.

Then there is Joseph, the gentleman with the massive tumor to side of his face and head. I first met Joseph last year and honestly I was mortified when I first saw him. This year it was like two old friends being reunited. Joseph came directly to me and instead of shaking hands a hug on each cheek was the greeting as both of us smiled from ear to ear. Through the conversation I learned that though Joseph has lost the hearing in his right ear, but he has not lost his desire to enjoy life. As Joseph left he smiled and said I will see you in a year. It was as if his spirit had been rejuvenated with a simple embrace from an old friend.

Thirdly, near Naivasha, a barefoot young girl and her siblings caught my eye. These children obviously had very little and did not have the money to attend school as they did not have uniforms on. As I began talking to the young girl it was her eyes that spoke volumes to me. I could see despair, hope, and love in the dark brown eyes of this young girl, named Ester. Ester, told me she dreamed of going to school and getting an education, but she had to do hard labor so she and her family might eat. Funny how children in the US don't like going to school, yet this girl dreamed of it. I took her hand and told her to never give up on her dreams, that she was beautiful inside and out and she would have the chance to shine for the world to see. She held my hand so tight, it was if she didn't want to let go of the glimmer of hope that had found her.

Finally, going back to Africa this time was driven by a promise I made to myself, to return a photo of "Little Lisa" to her mother. The photo was taken in 2009 an hour before Lisa died in my arms. In the past year and half I have had a difficult time coming to terms with this death. Death is difficult any time, but working in the area I work in I walk away from each death feeling sad, but feeling like we did all we could. However, in Lisa's case, I could do nothing as I had nothing.

Mary, Lisa's mom continues to live in the high mountain village above Nakuru. She was teary, yet thrilled with my gift, but she and the tribe elders refused any more photos. So with a long embrace, few words, and a necklace with two hearts intertwined we parted for the last time. I hope Mary will cherish the photo always and think of me often. As I will never forget Mary, Lisa, and the day I held life and death in my arms, a a third world country.

Treating the human spirit, is just as important as treating the human body or maybe just maybe it is more important!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Girl Friends

There were many reasons I wanted to return to Africa, one of them being to be reunited with my "girl-friends or my relief society gals." Elizabeth, Susan, Lucia, Ester, Marcy, Joyce, and Mary were all there was we pulled into St. Catherine's. It was so nice to see them and embrace each other again. Elizabeth and I both have new grandchildren, however she has thirteen children so she is getting several each year. All my girlfriends were anxious to catch up on the past eighteen months. It is funny it is still just women being women and I love it. Each time I sit with them I seem to learn so much about life and happiness. It truly isn't about material things, and having all the newest, greatest, and latest. For me it is about going and doing, not having.
Though my life is far different than my girlfriends, it truly is so much the same. I love each and everyone of them and again they taught and gave me far more than I did them.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Alice In Africa

During this trip AILC had hired an in country nurse for the two weeks the team would be in Africa. Do to the fact that there were only three nurses on the team and as usual far more people than we could see. Alice was wonderful, she and I had so much in common and worked so well together. Alice has been in the medical field for 34 years and has worked all areas of hospital treatment. Alice was in fact one of the hundred who were displaced with the clashes, and was spared living in the tent city because of her son. Alice was fluent in five languages, very kind and her people trusted her every word. She was never late for clinics and even hitched a ride with some dude on a motorcycle one day because she had sleep in. Alice truly made the days of seeing several hundred Kenyans tolerable and actually fun. We laughed like a couple of school girls at times and cried when we went our separate ways. Hearing Alice's name will always bring a smile to my face, and I hope that each time she see the nurses cap pin I gave her she'll remember me. I am also hoping Alice, in white, will continue to keep an eye on Joyce my lady with elephantiasis. From one nurse to another, here's to you Alice in Africa!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Big Day

Well today was the big day! The revealing day of the "WALL Washing Stations" were introduced to the children at St. Catherine's School. As each station was being put into place the children were all smiles. Then I along with help from the team began the teaching process of why it is so important. I have never seen so many smiles on so many faces, including mine. I thought of those who helped me in this quest and wished you all could have been there with me. Amazing simply, amazing. At the end of the day the Principal had ask all the children of all the thing they had learned since the team had been there and they all shouted "WASH, WASH, WASH!"

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Tent City

June 1st and I have been gone a week and NO the second time around does not make it any less heart wrenching. Today was spend at a "Tent City" south of Nakuru. It is here that approximately 500 Kenyans live in tents. Two years ago most of these people had jobs, homes and land they farmed, however, when the clashes took place in Kenya this tribe was forced from their land, and their homes burned. This tribe was forced to leave with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Yet they are the lucky ones, as many of their family members and friends were killed in the violence. They now live on a hundred acres, with each family living in a large16X18 canvas tent. The women now do hard labor in someone elses land for less than a dollar a day, barely enough to buy food and clothing, but nothing else.

When the team arrived there was an outpouring of gratitude from the start. These people are the considered to be the left overs from the violence and for us to come to them seeking those who needed help was overwhelming for all the villagers. It was here that my heartstrings were again tugged on. When half way there the day a young mother sat down with her two small girls, one who looked about two and the other about four years old. She told the story of how one month ago her tent caught on fire, falling on to the girls as the sleep. Both had suffered second and first degree burns. This young mother had taken them to the hospital, but because she had no money and was from the tent city they would not treat her children. One month after the accident the burns headed on the four year old, but have left debilitating scars and a contacted left hand. The two and half year, however had a horrible infection to her head and face and lost the tissue off several fingers. The sight of this little girl's head and face were horrible, but the anguish of this mother was overwhelming for me. As a mother and grandmother, myself I cannot imagine the heartache and anguish of watching your children in so much pain and not be able to do anything about it. Simply because she was who she was, and lived where she lived and had not a single shilling. There is no live by the golden rule in East Africa, thats for sure.

As I prepared to treat the children with IM and oral antibiotics and dressing changes the mother wept and just kept saying "God Bless You, for helping me!" Each day since that day I have wondered about this strong little family, one thing is for sure I know they will survive, as they had made it through the worst and have no place to go but up.

Just as sad as so many of the cases are, there were just as many that made me smile. Two small children came running by me with a home made truck constructed of old plastic milk jugs. I thought of TJ and the "Jimmy Rigger" he is and I could totally see him creating something like this, not from necessity, but for fun. I then thought of the toys the children have in the US, toys every where. Toys in cereal boxes, toys in Happy Meals, toys in the check out line at Wal-Mart, toys, toys and more toys. Yet I really don't think our children who have such an abundance of toys love or appreciate them any more than a "Milk Jug" truck.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

African Beauty

In Africa right now it is actually winter, however, not like we know winter. All the natives wear heavy coats and continually ask why the team is'nt cold. Our winters and their's are two totally different things. They have cold spells of the low fifties, we drop to below zero, they get rain, we get snow. Here everything freezes, while in Africa everything flourishes and is so green and beautiful... Here we plant flowers, there flowers grow wild and are so amazing. Kenya has gotten a lot of rain in the past few weeks, thus making the hills and valleys so green and lush.

I thought about going to the Gardens at Thanksgiving Point where everything is labeled and meticulously manicured, fertilized and watered. However in Kenya no plants, or flowers are treated with so much care. The Kenyans do, however take great pride in their gardens. I suppose because it is what will sustain them for months.

Here are a few of the beautiful flowers I found so amazing. Though most will not find this entry to interesting I know Jeannie would have been just as amazed at the flowers as I was.