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"),



Blogger A Scribe said...

Great work! Appreciated.

4:31 PM  

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