Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Report on 2007 OACS Service Trip to Lwala Kenya

From June 25th- July 19th, I had the privilege of accompanying four Vanderbilt undergraduates to Lwala, Kenya. From day one, Kat, Natalie, Dani and Ben blended seamlessly into the rural, African village life that Lwala encompasses (except, of course, for the occasional mosquito bite annoyances). The first night I remember watching Kat play peek-a-boo with a little girl in the kitchen hut while the girls’ mother cooked dinner over an open fire, and thought, “We’re going to have an amazing month.”

Aside from integrating ourselves culturally into Lwala (think fetching water in buckets from the well, walking miles every day, doing laundry outside by hand, living in mud huts, and eating things like chicken feet and fish eyes), we accomplished four main projects in the village: we facilitated the building of a protected spring, raised money for malaria-preventing bed nets to be sold (at a minimal price) in the clinic, started pen pal programs at the Lwala Primary School for sixth and seventh graders, and continued working with the Nyarego Women’s Group microfinance enterprise.

I was both moved and inspired by the students’ energy, drive and passion to complete our service projects. I’ve included descriptions of each service project, and some general advice for next year’s Lwala group. If you’d like to read more stories from our adventures, please go to

Water Protection Project

Ben Murphy, a Vandy engineering student who graduated in May 2007, was the driving force behind this project.

Currently in Lwala there is no running water, which makes finding potable drinking sources very difficult. Villagers drink rainwater when available, and use dirty well or spring water for laundry, cooking and bathing. During the dry season, villagers must boil their water to drink, a time-consuming and lengthy process (when you not only have to build a fire, but you also have to chop the wood). Often times, both children and adults can be seen drinking out of non-potable springs and wells. Drinking of water contaminated by human or animal feces, which contains pathogenic microorganisms, causes water borne diseases, a serious health risk to the village.

Before arriving to Lwala, Ben fundraised and collected water-testing supplies, so we could test water sources for bacteria and microorganisms once in Lwala. Ben tested various springs and wells around Lwala, finding that most were contaminated.

We also collaborated with local leaders in the village to determine whether a protected spring would be beneficial to the community. A soko (“spring” in Dholuo) about five minutes from the Ochieng’ homestead was found to be perfect for such a project. In addition to discussing the project with the Village Chief and getting permission from the owner of the land where the spring was located, we asked community leaders their opinion of the project (which they wholeheartedly endorsed), and worked with a Ministry of Water consultant, who ultimately saw the project through.

before picture of the spring...

spring before we protected it

the stagnant water was a breeding ground for bacteria and pathogens.

The construction of the protected spring was a village effort. Women hauled rocks to the spring that would act as a sediment filter and men dug trenches and wheel-barrowed mud away from the site. The Vanderbilt group participated in the construction efforts as well, but the majority (if not all) the work should be credited to the men and women of Lwala.

On July 13th, we had the grand opening of the new spring. The water now constantly flows through two pipes into a concrete trench. The turbidity (amount of particles suspended in the water) is significantly decreased. The water appears clear and clean, whereas before the water was murky and at a standstill (it was a breeding ground for pathogens and bacteria). The workers built a barbed-wire fence around the spring to decrease the number of cattle in the area, which ultimately protects the spring from further contamination.

The group in front of the new spring.

On July 14th, a day after the spring was opened, we did our laundry in the newly clear water. We were not alone. Many, many people had already begun to use the new spring. It was great- each person who filled up a bucket of clear water looked at us and said a big, “erokomano,” which means “thank you” in dholuo. We hope that this new spring will bring clean, running water to Lwala for years to come.

opening day of the new spring

clear water!

new flowing, clean water

Malaria Bed Net Distribution

(Daniela Buscariollo, past president for Vanderbilt group “Students for Kenya” and current first year medical student at Vanderbilt, headed up this project).

Malaria is a serious problem in Lwala. In the clinic, it is the most common ailment with hundreds of patients diagnosed every week. If not treated, malaria can be fatal. Prevention of malaria is key, since the parasite is spread via mosquito bites. Using bed nets at night to protect against mosquito bites is a highly effective preventative measure, but because of limited availability and high cost, most families in Lwala do not own a bed net.

While in the US, Daniela fundraised for the project. Once in Lwala, we consulted Lwala Clinic Manager, Omondi Ochieng’ about the best way to distribute the bed nets. We hoped that this project would be self-sustainable, so that the clinic could continue to distribute bed nets in the future. Omondi suggested that we follow the government’s suggestions for dispensing bed nets to assure consistency and reliability when it came to pricing. The government sells bed nets for 50 Kenya shillings, the equivalent of about 75 cents. Omondi told us that this amount would be affordable for villagers. We donated the fundraised money to the clinic, specified that the money should go toward purchasing bed nets, and coordinated with the clinic nurse, Rose, and the clinical manager to begin selling nets as soon as possible.

Now, thanks to Vanderbilt’s efforts, the Lwala Clinic now has the funding and coordination to sell bed nets to patients at an affordable price.

Kat and Joy under a bed net

Pen Pal Program at Lwala Primary School

The Vanderbilt group did a lot of volunteering at the Lwala Primary School during our month in Kenya. Natalie taught 8th grade math, Kat taught English, and Dani and Ben taught science. Someone from the Vanderbilt group was working in the school every day, and we became good friends with both the Headmistress and teachers in the school.

Toward the end of our month-stay, we decided to continue the pen pal program that I started in summer 2006. Connecting students from the US and Lwala is a great way to promote education and understanding- plus, the kids love it and were so excited to receive their own pen pal.

seventh grade class that wrote pen pal letters

The Lwala kids happily wrote their letters, we took pictures of each class, and brought the letters back with us to the States. Both Daniela and I will give presentations at the schools in the US that will receive the letters. We’re looking forward to connecting kids from Denver and St. Louis to children in Lwala.

sixth graders writing their letters

Women’s Group Baskets

The Nyarego Women’s Group of Lwala, Kenya is a community-started group composed of about 30 women in a region of Kenya where HIV rates for women are 40%, and where women’s rights and education are often ignored.

All of the women in the Nyarego Group rely on subsistence farming for survival, which means that families only farm enough to eat: they don’t generate an income. The resulting poverty means it is very difficult for a family to send their children to school or to pay for healthcare.

In summer 2006, I spent time with the Nyarego Women’s Group in Lwala and noticed how beautifully crafted the women’s hand-made, colorful baskets were. Caitlin Reiner (another student in Lwala at the time) and I brought ten baskets back to the US to sell, and over $400 was generated for the Nyarego Women’s Group.

The Vanderbilt crew with the Nyarego Women's Group and the baskets.

With the money, the Women’s Group decided to construct a chicken house to raise and sell both chickens and eggs. This would generate a sustainable profit for the women of the group, empower the women to provide for their families, and increase the amount of protein in Lwala (which is important for malnourished individuals).
However, the chicken house is not yet finished. The women still need to build doors, finish painting, and purchase both chickens and chicken feed.

This year in Lwala, the females from the Vanderbilt team (Daniela, Natalie, Kat and I) met with the Women’s Group often. We danced and sang with the women (one of my favorite memories of Lwala), and figured out a way to sell more baskets so they can finish their chicken house. We discussed business with the women, and they decided to meet with an agricultural consultant who will advise them in their chicken house enterprise.

We brought back 30 baskets to sell in the US. All of the proceeds (we’re projecting around $1,200) will be sent to the women’s group account in Lwala. The hope is that eventually, we will connect the women with a buyer in the US (and find a way to ship the baskets from Kenya) so the selling of baskets will be less dependent on American students and more self-sustainable. If everything goes well with the chicken house, the selling of chickens and eggs should be self-sustainable within the year.

me with Yuca, the leader of the Women's Group.

Initial Suggestions for next year…
1. Limit group size to three undergraduates.
2. Any US bills brought into Kenya should be year 2000 or higher (they don’t accept earlier bills).
3. Participate actively in chores. We would wake up at 6:30 most mornings, do the dishes, clean the main house, fetch water for the day, etc. Helping out with the chores is an important and necessary part of living in Lwala.
4. Bring a wind-up flashlight.
5. Buy a converter and a transformer so you can charge camera batteries in the clinic!
6. Contact the Kenyan organization “I Choose Life,” an HIV/AIDS peer mentoring program, and bring them into Lwala. Participate in their activities and learn from them (they know what they’re doing!).
7. Definitely go on a safari at the end of the trip, but arrange payment beforehand.

Vanderbilt group in front of thousands of flamingos at Lake Nakuru

All in all, this trip was highly successful. The students gained invaluable international experience living and working in a rural, African village. We debated and discussed international development issues on a regular basis. We made friendships that will forever change us. We met the face of HIV/AIDS and were immersed in the social, cultural and health consequences of the disease. We were challenged to live without electricity, running water, a refrigerator and other daily conveniences we often take for granted in the US. We laughed and sang and danced and cried and played the African drums with villagers, and fell in love with several families. We walked 10 miles to use the internet once a week, took public transportation (which was often crowded and uncomfortable), and we built some serious arm muscles hoisting huge buckets of water on our head every day. I’m confident that our time in Lwala changed the way the Vanderbilt students view their world, and that they’ve been inspired to continue offering their talents, resources, energy and education to serve needy communities across the globe.

**A special thanks to Omondi, Fred, Grace, and Milton Ochieng’ for allowing us to live in your beautiful home. Also, Dr. Young, we thank you for your support and guidance during the trip and wonder, are you missing chapatti as much as we are?**

Monday, July 23, 2007


After saying goodbyes in Lwala, a 4 day safari, and 39 hours of sitting in airplanes and airports, I’ve finally arrived home to Denver. Jet-lagged and missing Kenya, I’ve thought multiple times, “I should’ve just stayed in Lwala,” but then I fill up a glass of water using a faucet, or switch on a light to read by at night, or stand under a constant stream of hot water in the shower, and I’m reminded at how truly easy (and wonderful) life in the US is.

Our safari was incredible. We saw giraffes, elephants, a pride of lions, hippos, thousands of flamingos, a rhino, a migration of zebras and wildebeests, and monkeys galore. Our guide pointed out a cool bird called the “Secretary Bird” and asked us if we knew why it was named this. When we didn’t know, he replied in his thick Kenyan accent, “It’s called the Secretary Bird for two reasons. One, it walks like a secretary. Two, it looks like it has black leggings.” We should have known.

One of the highlights for me of the safari was when we saw a group of 10 elephants- two of which were babies- literally fifteen feet from our vehicle. One baby elephant crossed right in front of us, stopped to face us, and waved his trunk like he was saying “Hey! What’s up!” It was pretty great.

Looking back, the trip to Lwala was very successful. I’m left with amazing memories of both people and moments in Lwala- I’ll never forget the baby who came to the clinic with blistered, peeling burns over both legs, the man with late stage malaria (sweating, shaking, with a fever of 105), the pregnant women who heard their babies’ heartbeats for the first time in the clinic, the man who came to the Ochieng’ house with a bad snake bite, dancing with the women’s group, listening to the choir, playing the huge African drum, walking miles every day, and the kids at the school eagerly writing their pen pal letters.

I included some pictures of the village. If you want to see more, just click on the links below.

Thanks for the support during my travels, and if you’re interested in making a donation to the Lwala clinic, just let me know!

Abbie Atoti

Album 1:

Album 2:

July 13, 2007

Talking Kenyan Goats?

There are goats all over Lwala. Big goats, baby goats, pregnant goats, skinny goats (you get the idea) are everywhere chewing on grass. So a common noise to hear walking down the dirt paths is the familiar (and constant), nasal goat sound, "beeeehhhh." One evening, over a kerosene-lamp-lit dinner of sukuma and kwon (kale and millet bread), Fred tells this story of Flo, his younger sister (who sadly couldn't come to Lwala this summer… she's in nursing school in the US). Apparently, when Flo was a little girl, she'd always walk around the village saying "ber ahinya!" ("hello") even when no one was in site. People were confused at tiny little Flo who would say "hello" to air- and then one day, she went up to her mom and said, "Mom, the goats talk to me!" Her mom, probably trying to hide her amusement, said "Really, what do they say to you?" Flo said, "When I pass them on the road, they always greet me, 'Ber!' And so I say, 'Ber ahinya' back to them!" ("Ber" means something like "good day" and when goats make their "baaaaaahh" noise, it really does sound like they're saying "Ber.") So now, every time a goat goes baaaaaah when we walk past it, we all say in return, "Ber ahinya!"

It's our last Friday in Lwala. We (Dani, Ben, Natalie, Kat and I) leave for a four day safari in Masai Mara on Monday, and although we're so excited about the famous "game drives," we're all incredibly sad to leave Lwala, the clinic, our friends and of course, the chapatti.

Today, Friday July 13th, is a big day in Lwala. Not only is it Friday the 13th (a cool day in general), today we (1) had an opening ceremony for the brand-new protected well that our Vanderbilt group facilitated building, (2) started selling malaria-preventing- bed nets in the clinic that our group raised funds for, (3) met with Yucca, the chairman of the Lwala Women's Group, to discuss future plans for the chicken house the women have built with funds we raised selling their hand-made baskets in the US, (4) collected letters written by grades 6 and 7 at the Primary School for their pen pals in the US, and (5) will be swimming in the river and cooking chapatti and leso (mmm) for my 23rd birthday dinner. It's been a good day.

My time in Lwala this year has been very different from last summer, due in great part to the open clinic. Rather than trying to treat patients in the Ochieng' home (and encountering patient after patient who had really no option in healthcare), this year sick villagers have had access to a fully-functioning clinic, free medication, and excellent medical supervision.

Last summer, I went with Fred and Milton on several house calls to patients who desperately needed medical care; a woman gored by a bull, a severe case of tuberculosis, a man who overdosed, a severely malnourished baby, a women with horrible stomach pain, case after case of malaria, a baby with burns all over her body, and the list goes on. Fred and Milton would do the best they could to help the patients, but they aren't doctors yet…. and the feeling of helplessness we experienced not being able to help these people was overwhelming. Now, we can send sick villagers to the clinic- the one that Fred and Milton and so many others have worked so hard to start.

But even though the clinic is open, I still see sign of poverty and disease in the village.

Onyango, the little 5-year-old who lives next door, runs around with ringworm on his scalp; it's a fungus infection that causes loss of hair, and produces round, white patches on the skin.

There's a one-year-old baby who lives a few huts away from ours named Ouma. This sweet, quiet baby (like so many in Lwala) is so tiny… and who I expect has kwashiorkor- severe malnutrition. His little face is swollen, and his belly is inflamed, but his arms and legs are shockingly skinny… this is caused by not getting enough proteins (or food in general) in his diet.

85% of the school children (tested so far by Johanna, a med student here in Lwala doing research), have some form of worms or parasites in their intestines.

HIV/AIDS is rampant in Lwala with something like 40% of the women infected and 30% of the men. So many women in the women's group I work with here are HIV positive. About 8 of 20 of these strong, beautiful women who stand so tall and proud and graceful- and who have endured so much in their lifetimes- are infected. My friend in the women's group, I'll call her Faith, told me with sad eyes that "I won't be here to see you as a doctor in Lwala, I have HIV and will be gone by then." I try to spend as much time as I can with the women; they sing and dance and laugh and play with my hair (all while holding their babies in cloth on their backs). They've made my time here so memorable, and it breaks my heart to know that almost half are suffering with HIV.

Five children who I've grown incredibly close with during the past two summers live with their HIV positive father and his two HIV positive wives (polygamy is practiced in the Luo tribe). The youngest child breast-fed from his HIV positive mother so we're not sure if he's infected, and one of the wives is pregnant again (and HIV is passed soeasily from mother to child during birth)…

In one of the letters written by a sixth grader in Lwala (for the pen pal program we're starting), she says, "I am 11 years old. I like to run and play football (soccer). When my mother and father were living, they were very loving of me because I was [the] only girl. But they passed away a long time ago with my baby brother and now it is just my older brother and I." This was most likely due to HIV. Dani and I found this while going through the stacks and stacks of letters this morning- and were silent for a really long time after reading it… it's hard to know what to say or do when there's such tragedy in the life of a child.

So clearly, work is just getting started in Lwala. In the next few
years, the Lwala Clinic Committee will develop an extensive HIV/AIDS program, providing testing, treatment, counseling, support, and medication for HIV. The clinic is also starting a maternal-child health program, focusing on pre and postnatal care for mothers and their babies. Education is paramount in changing the health of a community, so we also hope to partner with leaders in Lwala to improve health education (prevention, caring for the sick, etc.) in the community.

It's been an incredible 3 weeks in the village- to say our time here
has flown by is an understatement. Our last few days will be spent doing one last load of laundry (hand-washing everything takes forever, by the way), hanging out with Fred, Grace, Dada, Harrison, Apiyo, Onyango, Rastus, Toby and Joy, dancing and singing with the women's group (on Saturday night… I can't wait), and learning to cook a few last meals over an open fire.

And of course, I'm excited to write about our upcoming safari (it will be my first one!).

(Oh, and Owen… happy 1st birthday, buddy! Can't wait to see you in a few days)



Saturday, July 07, 2007

“Mama Africa”

… is the name of a song we often hear while traveling in crowded matatus (mini-buses that serve as public transportation). They’re supposed to fit 14 people, but just today we squished ourselves in one that held, get this, 34 adults. I had two babies sitting on my lap, and was pressed against an elderly man wearing a tattered top-hat. Practically sitting on his lap, I apologized to the elderly man for cramping his space. He laughed and said “Don’t worry mah sweet child. Welcome to Africa.”

I’m rounding week 2 here in Kenya. I spend my mornings waking up to roosters, washing dishes outside in buckets (usually using rain water), walking to the well to fetch water (either to shower or for cooking), and drinking chai tea (with fresh ground ginger, masala, and milk from the cow outside our door). The sky opens, the hot African sun rises from the horizon, and I leave to go spend my day in the clinic, or at the Lwala primary school, or to visit friends in their mud huts with thatched roofs.

I love going on afternoon jogs around the village. I imagine it must be quite a site to see this white woman with long, red hair running down the dirt paths. Children always run up to the road to greet me (they want to shake my hand- and afterwards, run away looking at their palms to see if any of my whiteness has rubbed off like paint…hahaha).

It’s kind of hard to get very far on my run before someone stops me to chat. Not many people in Lwala jog just to jog, so there’s always confusion when people ask what I’m doing. Here’s how a typical mid-jog conversation goes (Milty and Fred, sorry for all the spelling errors- I’m still learning how to write in Dholuo):

Villager: “Ber ahinya!” (“hello!”)
Me: “Ber ahinya!” (“hello!”… trying to wave and just keep running without being rude)
Villager: “Idhi nade?” (“how are you doing?”)
Me: “Adhi ma ber” (“I’m doing well” … slowing down a little)
Villager: “Intie?” (“are you here?” … a typical greeting)
Me: “Antie!” (“I am here!” … slowing the jog)
Villager: “Idecanye?” (“where are you going?”… walking toward me, reaching out to shake my hand)
Me: (I have to stop jogging to shake hands) “Onge, ringo” (“nothing, to run” –and this is where my grammar declines rapidly)
Villager: “An’go? Idecanye?” (“what? But, where are you going?”- as in “you must be going somewhere… nobody just runs without a destination”)

And this is where I get stuck. I don’t want to try to explain in my broken Dholuo that I’m just running for exercise, and that chances are I’ll just be running in a big circle, because that will take lots of time and probably cause lots of confusion (since I sound like a 2-year-old when I speak Dholuo). So I end up just saying,

Me: “Ade dala!” (which means, “I’m going home!” I feel badly because this isn’t totally true, but it’s the only thing I can think of that I know is grammatically correct- and I’ll eventually be going home, right?)
Villager: “Eeeee (pronounced like the letter ‘a’), erokamano” (“ah, yes. Ok. Thank you.”)
Me: “erokamano ahinya. oriti!” (“thank you very much! Goodbye!”)

Repeat that exact conversation about 15 times, and that’s what my jogs are like in Lwala. It’s pretty funny.

Just yesterday I was shadowing Nurse Rose in the clinic (or “hop-si-tal” as they say in the village), and our last patient of the day walked in. The mother wore a dress of bright orange splashed with a lively pattern of green and brown mangoes. Her baby lay on his stomach, weak and skinny with tiny arms and legs. The child looked no more than a year old, and so I was shocked to hear that he was in fact, three and a half years. The mother unwrapped the child from his blanket and lay him on the examining table, face down. Excuse the graphic description, but coming from his skinny little bottom was this huge, swollen, red mass of tissue- the baby had a rectal prolapse, which means his rectum had bulged out from his thin body. Apparently this condition is a result of severe diarrhea, which is extremely grave for children because it causes serious dehydration and malnutrition (which explained his shockingly small size).

Rose said the prolapse was the largest she’d ever seen- that she wouldn’t be able to treat the child in the clinic by herself. So it was 5:00 on a Friday, and Omondi (the clinic manager) agreed to take the boy (who I’ll call “Samuel”) and his mother to the nearest private hospital (2 hours away). Bill Young (who is here working on clinic stuff), Samuel, his mother, Sam’s 9-month-old sister and I piled into Omondi’s car. Sam, who couldn’t sit or lay on his back due to the prolapse, lay his head on my lap and fell asleep, despite the bumpy ride down the rocky, dirt road.

We arrived at the hospital (nice by Kenyan standards). It was dark and POURING rain. I’m talking sheets of rain, so torrential it feels like the sky is falling down; rain so loud you can’t hear your own voice, or cars on the road, or the babies crying (no, screaming) in the injection room.

Two hours later, after several attempts to insert an IV into his hand (and lots of whimpering on his part), Samuel was sleeping soundly from some Valium. His prolapse had been fixed thanks to a kind Clinical Officer (who’d never preformed the procedure before, but managed anyway).

I felt for Samuel’s mother, who’d never been in a hospital like this in her life. Coming from Lwala, from cows and maize fields and mud walls, to this huge hospital with electricity and multiple floors and plastic everywhere- it must have been a huge culture shock. Eyes wide, looking out of place in their Lwala-style clothing, the mother with her two young children agreed to spend a night at the hospital in the wards (sharing one bed, of course). We plan on returning today to visit them in the hospital. And already, Omondi (Lwala clinical manager) is looking into getting an ambulance for hospital referrals from Lwala.

In the past 6 days I’ve also seen in the clinic: a man with a serious snake bite, several babies with kwashiorkor (extreme malnutrition), a severe case of malaria that required IV, pregnant women galore, a older man with the biggest open leg wound I’ve ever seen, two cases of shingles, and tons of kids with bellies full of intestinal worms. They’ve all received excellent medical care, and most are doing much better after taking their prescribed medication. It’s incredible the difference this clinic is making in the community.

So now it’s Saturday and we’re off to walk the five miles back to Lwala (after, of course, purchasing some rabolo, sweet, small bananas that women sell on the side of the road).

Hope all is well wherever you are reading this.
And just in case anyone was curious, if you need to use the restroom here, you say “lach oh ewa” which literally translates to “the urine is defeating me.”

I love Lwala.



Monday, July 02, 2007

July 2, 2007

I walk down the dirt paths of this peaceful village and my heart
tumbles with a love I can't answer or explain as two little kids in
their school uniforms run toward me giggling and yelling "Atoti!
Oyaore! Edenade?" -which translates roughly to "Atoti (my nickname in
the village), good morning (literally, 'oyaore' means, 'the sky is
opening'), how are you?"

I'm back in Lwala, Kenya: home of the Luo tribe, where there is no
running water or electricity, where you must greet every single person
you pass on the road with a handshake, where children play in trees
and walk cows, and women can balance practically anything on their

Coming home to Lwala, I've been overwhelmed with feelings of
familiarity and comfort. I didn't realize how much I missed the Kenyan
accent, the nights we spend cooking over an open fire in the kitchen
hut, carrying buckets of water on our head from the well before we
bathe, the home-grown food (kale, beans, rice, tomatoes, onions,
lentils, peanuts, etc.) and the dear Ochieng' family who so graciously
hosts us in their home. It's amazing to see Onyango, Apiyo, Rastus,
Harrison, Dada, Toby and baby Abbie after a year- they're all so much
taller! It's amazing how quickly these kids have grown. When I arrived
in the village after a long 3 days of traveling, tears literally
streamed down my face as Apiyo and Yuka and the rest gave me the
typical hand-slap greeting followed by a hug (first to the right side,
then to the left side).

And the clinic is now open. Nestled in corn fields, tall grass, and
banana trees, the clinic has already seen more than 1,000 patients in
the 3 months it has been operating. Every day, all day, lines of men,
women and children wait outside for hours to see Rose, the nurse in
the clinic. Rose is beautiful, with kind eyes, a warm smile and a
gentle Kenyan accent that reminds me of fresh linens drying on a sunny
day. I get to shadow her in the clinic. She is an excellent teacher,
always encouraging me to do as much as I can with the patients (blood
pressure, weight, etc.) and to "check heh tempehture please."

The other day a pregnant woman came into the clinic for a check-up
(something that never happened before the clinic opened- before, women
had no pre-natal care and would just give birth in their huts,
sometimes all alone). The woman, tall and elegant, dressed in a
bright, thick African print, laid down on the examining table. Rose
brought out a metal fetoscope (looks like a short silver trumpet) and
pressed it up against the woman's pregnant belly. Rose said to me,
"listen heaaa, Atoti." I put my ear up to the fetoscope and faintly, I
could here the baby's heartbeat! It was amazing. And then the baby
kicked me, literally. The pregnant woman laughed and said in dholuo
(the tribal language that is spoken in Lwala), "there's a person

The four Vanderbilt undergraduates that are with me in Lwala this year
are integrating themselves beautifully into the culture. Dressed in
their skirts and head scarves, Dani, Kat and Natalie are perfecting
their carry-a-bucket-full-of-water skills. Ben, wearing the long pants
typical of Luo men, can be seen sitting under the large tree next to
grandma's hut talking to other elders of the village. While we're
here, our group will facilitate the construction of a protected spring
(where the village can get cleaner water), and will sell hundreds of
bed-nets for about 10 cents each (so everyone in the village can sleep
under a bed net to protect themselves from malaria).

We're also working on becoming conversational in Dholuo. So far, our
favorite phrases are:

- "kiki wondre" which means, "don't cheat yourself." You say
this jokingly to someone at meal time when they're too full for a
second helping.

- "nang'o" which means, "whaddup"

- "owimore" which means, "the sky is closing (goodnight)"

- "lik lik mamit" which means, "sweet dreams"

- "awacho Dholuo matin" which means "I only speak a little Dholuo!"

- and finally, "akia" which means, "I don't know" (its really useful).

In other news…

Last night, the Lwala choir came to our ot (house) to sing. There was
only one kerosene lamp in the room, giving the performance a magical
feel. The women in the choir wore beautiful headscarves and kangas (a
colored fabric) wrapped around their long, lean bodies. Their voices,
rich and deep and melodic, sent chills down my back. At one point the
choir began to dance rhythmically around the room, making me have one
of those "Wow, I really am in Africa" moments. The other night I
made chapatti in the ktichen hut with Dada and Grace (Kenyan sweet
bread that is on my "top 10 foods of life" list). Oh, and in the past
two days we've walked twenty miles… yes, twenty miles. (That's what
happens when you're in the middle of nowhere and you don't have any
means of transportation except your own feet).

Hope all is well in the US (or Nicaragua, or Spain, or Taiwan, or
China, or France…or anywhere else you may be reading this). Wa biro
nenore bang'e.

Oriti (goodbye) for now!

Matek ("in a strong way"),


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hope For Lwala Trailer

here's Milton and Freds' story about Lwala- filming done by Barry Simmons. In the video, you can see Lwala, the house where I'll live (the Ochieng's home), the living room where I'll eat all my meals, and Olga (a good friend) carrying water on her head from the stream.

This was filmed my first night in Lwala last year

I hadn't been in Lwala for more than a few hours when Fred and Omondi (with the help of a few of their cousins) had to carry this sick woman to the nearest health care facility. Fred and Omondi are speaking in the video.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Back to Kenya, June 25th 2007

On June 25th (in about a week), I'm headed back to Lwala. It's been a year since I was last there and I can't wait to see all my friends in the village. The clinic opened in early April this year, and I can't even begin to describe how elated I am to see all the progress the village has made because of it. I already know that it will be one of the most moving experiences of my life to walk in the newly-opened clinic- a clinic that as I learned last summer, was so desperately needed.

I just finished up a 9 month stay in Managua, Nicaragua working for Manna Project International. In Nicaragua, we had an international phone that we used for work. I guess I'd given that phone number to friends in Kenya, because several times my co-workers in Nicaragua would pick up the phone, not recognize Japollo or Kevohs' Kenyan accent, start talking to them in Spanish, get a really confused look on their face, and just hand the phone over to me. Japollo and Kevoh would laugh about people trying to talk to them in spanish and then briefly catch me up on Lwala-happenings before their phone cards cut out (usually 2 or 3 minutes later). And one of my favorite parts of the conversations would be when they called me by my Lwala nickname, Atoti. Hearing that name brings back floods of memories of cooking over an open fire in the kitchen hut, showering outside with a cup and bucket, carrying water from the spring in a bucket on my head, hand washing clothes, singing at night over the light of kerosene lamps, and hugging Apiyo, Onyango, Toby, Olga and Dada.

I absolutely cannot wait to return to the tiny village in the middle of Kenya, that one year ago captured all my heart and soul.
Until Kenya. . .

Saturday, September 23, 2006

SUMMER 2006, photos

me, in Lwala

cleaning wounds


at Sally Orphanage

babies at the AIDS orphanage where I stayed

with Apiyo at a soccer game