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Friday, June 4, 2010

May Update from the field

It seems like yesterday that I sat down to right April's update and here I am already late to send out May's.

May has certainly been interesting with new people, places and funny stories.

Firstly, I want to say thank you for all the prayers involving my visa. It has still not arrived but I am still in the country (legally). I went to Nairobi last Thursday to inquire about its whereabouts. After a long waiting period of many lines I was told that it was not ready yet. I was trying very hard to keep my cool and asked calmly, "What should I do about the fact that my current visa expires on Saturday?" The woman looked at me, rather exasperated, and said go to this room. I went to that room and they sent me to another, and another, and another, etc. Finally after about an hour I was brought around behind the desks into the back part of the building where a very angry old man was sitting. I was told to sit and wait and explain my situation to him. I got the feeling that he was my last chance of not having to leave the country.
I waited and listened as a 65 year old European woman in front of me burst into tears and started screaming! At that point I figured well, there goes my last hope of anything. After a few people escorted her away it was my turn. I put on a very big smile and addressed him in Swahili. I explained to him everything and did my best to not look as scared as I felt. After I finished I sat there waiting for his reply. He just looked at me. Finally after a few very long seconds he chuckled and then asked me "what is it you would like me to do for you?” I asked him if he could just give me a one month extension and that I was sure my work permit would arrive within that time. He looked at me and instead of answering he started asking me all about what I am doing and where I am from. He seemed genuinely interested so I decided to just answer without questioning. After a while he concluded by saying "Margaret, I will do better than that. I will give you a 3 month extension!” WoW! Apparently a smile and a little Kiswahili go a long way. I was the last in the line so he asked if I would stay and talk with him for a while. It was the first time I actually wanted to be in that building. So I am yet to be an official alien here but I am still legally allowed to be in the country. Praise God!

Last week I also came down with a pretty bad case of food poisoning. Now I have fully recovered but I thought I would share a funny cultural story with you. When I called into to work to tell them I was not coming in that day it seemed as though that news spread like wildfire. Next thing I know, my phone is ringing and everyone is asking to visit. Of course visitors are the last thing I want, so I politely decline their requests. About half an hour later I hear a knock at my door. Now I am sure you have all had the stomach flu at some point and there is that period where you know that, if you move, you will be sick again. I was right at that point so I gingerly got out of bed to get the door. I opened up to find my co-worker standing there. She takes one look at me and gasps saying "Oh, Pole sana!" which means very sorry! I told her I am fine and that it will be gone in a few days or so. She proceeds to come in and sit on the couch. I am trying to hold somewhat of a conversation with her and finally I had to get up to go to the bathroom and well, you know... After a while, I come out and she still keeps talking to me. In the Kenyan culture it is customary to offer a visitor a cup of tea when they come to your house. I had an internal debate about whether or not to ask her but came to the conclusion that she would probably say no, so I offered her a cup of tea. SHE SAID YES!
Now, to make tea is not as simple as heating up water and adding a tea bag with some milk. You have to boil the milk, add water, let that boil, add tea leaves, stir until the desired colour, and add sugar, strain and then serve. I think it was a pretty bad cup of tea and eventually she left.
Later on in the evening I realized that I should probably get something into my system for some energy. I called my friend Alex who works in town to see if he could grab some ginger pop and water for me. Half an hour later he shows up with 3 friends. The three of them turned on my TV and sat down, flipping through the channels. He told me that they didn't have enough time to go home before their favourite Swahili program came on so they would watch it here then go home. Yet again, I had to sit and wait for them to leave. This time I did not make the mistake of asking them if they wanted tea.

I have made a full recovery and now can laugh about the entire situation.

Work is going well. I have had many people ask me about the Home-based care program and what it is like so I will tell you a bit more about it.
The centre has selected 10 people who are severely affected by HIV/AIDS. They are chosen based on the fact that they are HIV+, without work, they live in the slums and they have a family to support. Every Tuesday morning I arrive at work and prepare 10 bags of dried beans and 10 bags of 'unga' (wheat flour) then Macharia and I, the director of the Home-based care program, head out. The slum regions are all located on the hill surrounding Nyeri so it is a tough walk.
The houses are usually made of thin wood and covered with different materials to keep the cold out. There are usually multiple people sharing a single bed or the entire family sleeps on the floor, close together to stay warm. The ground is bare and cold and there is no running water and so it must be gathered from the river. The toilets are communal and are shared with many people in the vicinity.
It is painful every week to visit with the people I have come to know, especially when you see how much they have deteriorated in just 7 days. Some days we stay and talk to them about their diets, medication and care of their children, and other days we just pass the food and move on. Every time we leave them with some words of encouragement.
Walking from house to house is a challenge in spite of the hills. Random piles of garbage line the paths and when it rains the mud makes some places next to impossible to pass. People have made make-shift stepping stones out of hardened mud in some areas where it is too steep. It is smelly and hot some days and cold and muddy others. The walk to deliver the food is never pleasant but I have not come to a week where I do not look forward to seeing their familiar faces.
The men and women, who are now very much my friends, always greet me warmly and welcome me into their homes. They offer me a place to sit even if it means that they themselves have to stand. They are so thankful for the food and always seem relieved when we arrive. The reality of their life is hard to see and I walk away from the deliveries with a burdened heart, thinking to myself “what more can I do for my friends?” I’ve come to realize that the Home-based care program is so much more than just delivering food. For some of the participants it is there to help them die well. I know three things in life: There is a God, we are born to serve, and someday everyone dies. I think about life in different terms now. I see my time here now as being spent with people to help them die loved and die well as valued people; to show them that they matter. I have known what it is like to feel like you don’t matter and I never want another human being to feel that way if I can help it.