Monday, July 23, 2007

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)




Post a Comment

<< Home