Monday, October 22, 2007

From Lwala to Kisumu

October 18, 2007
During our flights I had a chance to read and reflect on Psalm 146. It has been a refuge for me over the past year, a great encouragement that God is both capable and committed to his image-bearers on earth. The unlovable find love, the unmerciful find mercy, the betrayed find trust and reliance in him. And I am one of them! When I was dead in my sin and flesh, Christ breathed life in the Spirit into me.

I can think of few things better to focus on. That God sought me and loved me first, and I am invited and equipped to be his arms and feet into the world. That is freedom, and I ask him for grace to bleed this freedom in all I do on this trip, to the glory of God and for his kingdom’s sake.

After a good night of sleep at the Gracia Guesthouse in Nairobi, we flew to Kisumu (western Kenya) and drove 3 hours in a matatu (van) to Lwala. Lwala is a community that BWM has been working with for the past 2 years, initiated through a friendship with Milton Ochieng’. Milton came to America from Lwala to go to college at Dartmouth and is currently in medical school at Vanderbilt (his brother Fred is at Vanderbilt as well). His father had a dream to build a medical clinic in his community, but HIV/AIDS took his life before he could fulfill his dream. Milton has been working hard to bring this dream to reality ever since. After much preparation and work, the clinic opened in April 2007. BWM has been a core part of seeding the clinic in resources and planning.

The ride to Lwala was bumpy and long, but great for taking in the scenery and conversation along the way. The landscape is beautiful rolling lines of green, with lofty trees and hut roofs throughout. Occasionally we would drive through a more populated area, and a market would be in full swing or people would be walking and riding bicycles around. Sometimes it was best to not look ahead, as the road is narrow and sometimes passing cars made for close calls!

A few miles from Lwala we turned off the main road and entered a dirt road that would take us to the village. Thankfully the rains had not been too heavy, and we were able to make it fine except for a flat tire as we neared. The driver and his friends took care of it quickly and we continued a few more minutes into the Ochieng’ family’s homestead (their group of houses in the village). As we came to a stop, the ladies ran out and surrounded the van and sang “Welcome, welcome the visitors…” to us.

We spent some time meeting the locals while walking through the village. Though I only know a few words and phrases, smiles and gestures go a long way. As the afternoon went on we relaxed in the homestead and sat around and kicked a soccer ball around with the kids. A beautiful peace exists here as you sit in the gentle breeze and listen to the cows, goats, chickens and birds calling.

The sunset was stunning. The sky seems so wide and deep here. As things grew dark we grabbed flashlights and headlamps to supplement the lantern light inside. Our main hang out is the Ochieng’ “big house”, where Milton’s parents lived. A couple of people played chess and some of us played cards as we passed some time discussing the day. Meanwhile, a delicious meal of rice, beans, cabbage, and boiled egg soup was prepared for us, and we ate around 8:30. The meal provided an opportunity for us to hear some background from each of the clinic workers, whom we would spend time with at the clinic the next day.

I climbed into bed at about 10:30. This included pulling a bed net over the bed and getting things situated for sleep, and I must have done well because I don’t remember a thing (except for a few early morning rooster crows) until waking up at 7:30. I took an Ambien to assist in a good night of sleep, and wore earplugs to help block most of the animal noise, especially as the sun came up.

October 19, 2007
This morning we all went to the clinic to observe and help the staff. In its 6 months of operations, the clinic (now officially a “health centre” due to its success) has seen almost 5000 patients from the surrounding area! At least 25% of the patients were treated for illnesses that otherwise would have resulted in death, which is incredible as well. There is typically a line of people waiting along the outside of the building each day. The clinic is unique in the area regarding its cost to the patients. It is free for patients under 5 and over 70 years of age, as well as expectant mothers and those with HIV/AIDS. For anyone else it is about 60 shillings to see the doctor, which is not quite $1 (US). This includes treatment, whether filling prescriptions or dressing a wound.

The clinic has 10 staff members, including a manager, doctor, nurses, a secretary, lab technician, security guards and groundskeeper. They also have a pharmacist, named Joash, and I had the privilege of working with him to start out. He showed me the pharmacy (2 rooms with shelving filled with bottles and boxes) and explained how to fill prescriptions. Since it wasn’t too busy yet, I pre-filled some of the anticipated doses of popular medicines, which allowed him to get ahead. I used my counting skills and carefully filled packets with their respective medicines. I was impressed with the variety of drugs they have on hand, which is a huge blessing to the people here.

During tea time (a morning break—they love their chai tea here!) we had a chance to talk more with Peter, the head doctor. With all the challenges they face here, its incredible to see the progress and growth. If it closed today, it would be beyond success. People are more healthy and living longer, and that is beautiful!

After lunch we walked to the Lwala Primary School for a special presentation. There are about 350 kids in the school, ranging from 5-18 years old. When the Jars guys were here last summer they sang to the kids in the school. This brought great anticipation to our visit since Dan and Steve were coming again. All the students brought their seats into the courtyard area and Damaris the head teacher started the festivities. Jena made some introductions and then Steve and Dan sang a couple of songs for the kids. We then had the joy of receiving a song from a group of kids. One of them led the song and the others would chime in with a repeated phrase. They were dancing and clapping and by the end Jena got up and joined them. It was quite the little party.

Dan then read his children’s book to the kids, which is called “The One, the Only Magnificent Me”. Afterwards we passed out children’s books (several suitcases worth), which we brought from a friend in the US. The kids looked over the books and shared many laughs at the pictures. The books will be added to their library and enjoyed for years to come.

A little rain could not prevent the soccer match later in the afternoon. Lwala has a team and occasionally plays neighboring villages, and we had requested a game if possible. There is a formality in it all, as beforehand one team sends a note of invitation to the prospective team, which is either affirmed or denied. Thankfully it was accepted and at about 5:30 both teams went out on the pitch in their red and blue uniforms to begin play. One highlight was the mzungu (“white person”) on the Lwala team, our very own Barak. He is our 1000 Wells Project Director. What joy to see him jump right in there and play well, especially with a few close calls on scoring plays. I’m sure he was worn out from the altitude (about 5000 feet above sea level) and constant motion! The Lwala team won 1-0, scoring on a header that was pretty amazing.

From there the evening remained fairly relaxed. We were able to spend a little time reflecting and sharing our thoughts among the group, and played some cards again too. At about 9pm dinner was served: lentils, rice, some meat and pineapple. The meals have been tasty and filling, which has been a pleasant surprise from what I imagined beforehand.

After dinner came dance time as the ladies of the homestead cleared the tables and pathway around them and started singing songs about us/to us. They started a dance train around the tables, clapping and bobbing around freely while they sang. There is sadness in the midst of joy remembering that we’ll be leaving the next morning. The love, care, grace, and strength exhibited has been contagious. It changes you in many ways, which are mostly yet to be known.

October 20, 2007
I enjoyed another good night of sleep in the hut, waking around 7am. Omondi (Milton’s oldest brother and the head of the house now) made some mandazi for us for breakfast (similar to donuts). They are served with chai tea, and taste wonderful when dipped into the tea. After breakfast I played with some of the kids, kicking around a ball made of plastic bags and string. The morning was relaxed, providing a good opportunity for me to reflect and refresh.

Goodbyes are hard, especially when you’ve just gotten settled and more comfortable. Our friends were very generous beyond fixing food and hosting us with lodging. They gave of their hearts and their treasures trusting that we would honor them and speak well of them when we remember them.

Spending 3 hours in a matatu is not what I’d choose to pass an afternoon, but it was our best means of getting back to Kisumu. This time around there was less conversation, as the day promoted reflection during transition. I think it is helpful to have that in the midst of new experiences when comforts are removed. It is vital when it comes to processing events and emotions in order to best share stories upon returning.

We checked in at the University House and had a little time to clean up and rest before dinner. Then we walked a block away to meet with the staff of GWAKO, a partner BWM has been working with since 2004. They have a great gift in the opportunities and ways they work in villages around Kisumu. About 10 years ago Benjamin started GWAKO after seeing a need for clean water to fight diseases in his region and doing something about it. They focus on creating women’s groups to address village needs beginning with clean water and hygiene and sanitation training. In the process a water committee is formed and there are multiple opportunities to strengthen the community’s ownership of the project. The community members aren’t just asking for help; they are actually helping to put the wheels in motion and then carrying out programs that will add sustainability and dignity. We at BWM have learned how critical hygiene and sanitation are in the approach to clean water in addressing the needs and health of a community.

Shem is in charge of the drilling preparations and training as well as implementation. Lillian and Elizabeth lead the hygiene trainings and follow up with communities. Benjamin’s wife Norma is a school teacher in addition to the various things she does with GWAKO (particularly helping with follow up in the months and years after a project).

After a brief meeting and introductions, we walked across the street to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. “Chinese food in Africa” you may wonder? Well it was a helpful transition from the village foods not to mention good Chinese food too. Our stomachs have hung in their, but its nice to have something a little more familiar occasionally.

Barak and I spent the night at Benjamin’s house just outside Kisumu. We arrived around 9pm and his 3 kids were sleepy but so excited to see us that they hadn’t gone to bed yet. Since we were all tired we talked for 20-30 minutes and then went to bed. His home was wonderful with tile floors and bedrooms for Barak and I. They moved into the house a couple of years ago and have done a lot of work from the dirt floors and plain cement walls it had at the time. They enjoy hosting visitors and take great pride in having a place available that is not much different from a guest house or hotel.


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