August 2011

Kenya Day 2: Return to Simon’s farm in Nyahururu

Nobody walks with another man’s gait. —Kenyan proverb

Tuesday, August 2, was Day 2 of our African odyssey. We were up early to have breakfast in the outdoor dining area of the Southern Sun Hotel. It was very cool, and we ate poolside and had a wonderful breakfast of hot tea, eggs, rolls and fresh fruit. Mary, Julie, Kara, Jeff and I reviewed our plans for the day, which involved driving to Nyahururu, over four hours, to see Simon, a hemophilia patient. Despite some jet lag, everyone was excited to have this adventure.

Maureen Miruka drove up around 8, along with a van, and several members of the Jose Memorial Haemophila Society—Paul Kamua, secretary at the society, Adam, and Isaac, all of whom have hemophilia. The biggest problem in Nairobi is traffic, which held us up for almost two hours. We finally broke free and hit the highway, unexpectedly spotting a lovely little herd of zebras alongside the road. The highway was deteriorating and very bumpy. We were jostled around for four and a half hours, until we finally came to Nyahururu. Along the way we passed lush countryside, and had a brief pause at the famed Rift Valley! Everyone admired the beautiful Masai blankets, did a little souvenir shopping and haggling before climbing back in.

Once in Nyahururu, we sought out Simon’s home. I had been here just last year to see Simon, and was really struck with how isolated he was. We climbed the rich red soil road, twisting and turning around every bend, rocks churning under our tires, until we reached his farm on top of a hill.

His farm gives a spectacular view of Kenya, and the sun was shining brilliantly. We piled out, and stumbled our way up the path through his farm. Scampering about were three yellow dogs: a mother and her two pups. One of the pups I easily recognized from last year. Now grown, he remained as friendly as he was last year, though his brother was completely untrusting. Chickens clucked about, and the family gathered around to welcome us.

Simon has a cell phone and texts me now and then, but aside from a cell phone, there wasn’t a single luxury. No electricity, no plumbing. We all used the outhouse, which was actually the cleanest outhouse I have ever used, and I have used many. There is something to be said for simple, optioned-style rural living. I imagine the stars are spectacular from his farm. Still, there is no doubt: Simon lives in total rural poverty.

As we sat down to a homemade lunch of fresh-killed chicken and nutritious mokina, a national dish made of pumpkin leaves, we all asked Simon questions about his knees, health and treatment of hemophilia. His knee remains completely unstable from the deterioration of the joint. Simon is one of the few in Kenya who knows how and is allowed to self-infuse. This is great, because it means he can infuse immediately when he has a bleed, which will spare him much pain and crippling.

As we ate, I looked about his interior: sheet metal roofing (very noisy when it rains), and two-by-fours covered with—get this—stapled cardboard. Very crude, very poor. Yet we ate delicious, fresh food that could have been served in any restaurant!

After lunch came a mug of steaming hot tea. Then a trip up the hill to the outdoor “mountain spring water” which pipes down to an outdoor pump. We can imagine that this is what our American ancestors had to deal with two hundred years ago!

Simon has been asking for a micro-loan so he can start a business, and our Kilimanjaro mountain climb can definitely help him accomplish this. I am really hoping to write within the year to let you all (or “y’all,” as Jeff likes to say) know that Simon got his micro loan and his business is underway. I’m counting on it, and it’s part of what motivates me to climb!

After a lovely afternoon with Simon, his brothers Richard and John, we gathered ourselves together and hit the road. Another 4.5 hours back to Nairobi and we were exhausted. Whenever we thought we were tired or sore, we all thought of Simon, what it must feel like to travel all this way to Nairobi for treatment, when you are also enduring a horrible bleed. It seems inconceivable, and made us silence any complaints. Simon, limping, in pain, still wants to start a business and do something with his life. For a brief time, Simon allowed us that rare opportunity to walk in another man’s shoes. Now we know what he needs—a micro loan—and now we can pool resources to make this happen.

Kenya Day 1: At the Harvest

At the harvest, you know how good the millet is. Kenyan proverb

I have been traveling to developing countries for 15 years and usually travel alone. When I reach my destination, my hosts become my companions for the duration. This trip is quite different: I have my daughter with me, and three other Americans I hardly know. Sometimes you worry about how newbies will act when confronted with extreme poverty, pain and all the inconveniences of the developing world. I didn’t have to worry. We’ve only spent two solid days together, but it’s clear we have bonded and are excited about helping Kenya, learning from its people, and the upcoming Kilimanjaro climb.

The only bad news is that Eric Hill and son Alex are stuck in Switzerland, when they should have arrived tonight! And worse, Eric’s climbing gear is missing!

But our trip has been uneventful as far as bad luck goes, and eventful as far as mission goes. Mary, Julie Winton (a nurse who works with BioRx) and I arrived Sunday after a 12-hour delay in Paris. Kara Ryan, 20, a medical student, and Jeff Salantai, who has hemophilia and also works for BioRx, had already arrived on Saturday.

We met Sunday afternoon with Maureen Miruka, president and founder of the Jose Memorial Haemophilia Society-Kenya, and her colleague Kehio Chege, who has a son with hemophilia. We mapped out the coming week in detail. Lots of patient visits, a TV spot, a meeting at the health ministry, and a meeting at the MP Shah Hospital.

So I’m back in Kenya, a country I have grown to love, for my fourth visit. It is lush, green, rich with red soil, and bustling with people. The Kenyans are soft-spoken and polite as a whole. With a population of about 41 million, there are an estimated 3,000-4,000 people with hemophilia. But only about 400-500 people have been identified. The country purchases no factor, and remains dependent on donations from the WFH and Project SHARE. Our goal is to visit the Save One Life beneficiaries, while introducing Jeff, Kara, Julie, Eric, Alex and Mary to Kenya, Africa and the needs of those with hemophilia.

On Monday we were up early in the surprisingly chilly weather, and headed out to visit patients around Nairobi. We battled the traffic (called “jams”) for 90 minutes, just to go a few miles! First stop was in a very deteriorated project, with trash piles and low-lying laundry wires. Jacob is a 30-year-old with hemophilia A, who is very crippled. We all crammed into his sister’s small home, and learned a little about his life. It’s hard sometimes to hear of patients’ stories of suffering and pain, when they have not had access to factor. Jacob has a small business, selling used shoes by the side of the road. He hasn’t been able to work lately due to the numerous bleeds in his leg. He earned about $80 a month.

He wants to set up a new business, “tent making.” We learned what he meant is a tent-rental business. But to do this, he needs capital to get started. Well, Maureen and I have already discussed setting up a micro loan program for the adults and young men. Rather than just give them money, which is tempting to squander, the micro loan will ensure they will pay back the loan by working through a bank. Part of the proceeds of the Kilimanjaro climb will be used to start the micro loan program.

Jacob was having an active bleed as we were there, and Julie, still very jet-lagged, skillfully gave him an infusion of factor in the home! It’s amazing considering this is not only Julie’s first trip to Africa and it’s only day 2, but it’s her first trip outside the US!

While she cleaned up the medical supplies, Jeff and Jacob compared war wounds!

While saying our good-byes, the neighborhood children gathered round. Mary played catch with them while I snapped photos and then showed them the photos in the viewer, which delighted them to no end. Dozens of children romped about in the project square, with no adults supervising them.

On to Michael’s house. Michael is a sweet-tempered, charming youth of 21, wheelchair bound. He lives in a very small home, just two rooms and a small kitchen. Michael suffered a stroke in 2008, and has had epilepsy since, in addition to his factor VIII deficiency. His father Anthony just lost his job, and his mother’s company is downsizing and she fears losing her job, and then home. They live life on the edge. Michael’s medical concerns have overwhelmed the poor family. He is paralyzed on half his body. They have no car, and must use public transportation, in all that traffic. We can only imagine how difficult it is to get this young man into a wheelchair, down the street, on to a bus, and then to a hospital. Julie looked at his CT scans and saw the damage done to his brain. “One half his brain is dead,” said his mother. Yet Michael spoke very well, and told us he dreams of being a doctor one day, or at least to work with the JMHS-K to help the children with hemophilia, like him. I think we all had tears in our eyes when we left.

Michael needs a sponsor desperately, so please consider sponsoring him!

Another patient we visited was Stephen. He lives in his aunt’s nice home, which is large and clean. His primary family lives “upcountry” and they have given Steve to his aunt to be raised. The mother, simple and uneducated, thinks Steve has an evil spirit living in him—why else would he have this mysterious disorder? The aunt works for a bank, and is not a young woman, and also cares for other relatives. Steve doesn’t get to see his mother or sisters very much. On top of all this, his father just died in May. The aunt showed me a photo of a tall, handsome man. Life is so hard and brief here!

Last of all, we visited the Odwars, who I have visited three times in three years now! Daughter Moline and son Jovan have von Willebrand Disease. We hugged and hugged, and I finally gave Jovan something I had been saving all year—art supplies. He is a prolific sketcher and artist! Our group was very humbled by their small home, yet impressed by their immaculate attire and manners. It was heart wrenching to hear that they were 6 months in arrears with rent payement, and were being threatened to be homeless. We quickly paid off the rent, which brought tears of relief. All too soon we had to move on.

At dinner, back at the hotel, eating steaks at the “Golden Spur,” which ironically is decorated like the South West, Texan Jeff happily said he would sponsor Steve. As always, when you meet these amazing people, who live in poverty, with personal loss, pain that never yields, and a gentle grace, you come away feeling more grateful, more blessed, more compassionate and more powerful—you realize you have the power to change someone’s life.

I am already feeling a harvest from our trip, and know that these new friends in our lives represent the rich millet that can only produce such a harvest.

More bogging will come soon!

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