One of my favorite gospel singers Keith Green, reminds us that “Jesus commands us to go” out and help the needy. It is a huge and humbling calling, but equally rewarding as we immerse ourselves in providing the health care and other basic needs of remote villages so far far away from decent civilization. I have a lot of respect for our volunteers who make our missions successful. The first volunteer to apply for our 2014 medical mission trip was Agnes Tan. Agnes is a Registered Nurse for five years at UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center in Geriatric Telemetry/Med-surg unit. There is something about Agnes that is hard for me to describe, some uniqueness and a sense of security; almost like you instantly feel that you can trust her with all your secrets. With a quiet demeanor and an engaging smile, Agnes was a hit with the local children who kept staring at her beautiful long jet black hair. When she talks about social injustice, her passion is evident in her eyes and her tone. She recently reflected on her Kenyan trip with MMK.
Agnes Tan, Registered Nurse at UCLA
I’m currently attending graduate school at UCLA for the Adult/Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program. In fact, during the Kenya trip, I met Alexis "Lexy" Davidge, and we discovered that we would both be starting grad school together! (She’s in a similar program to mine, but her program focuses on acute care).
I’ve always been passionate about serving those in need and I had been wanting to participate in a medical mission trip for awhile. I had been researching various organizations for quite some time, but none of their mission statements really connected with me. I first heard about Milli and MMK through a hospital-wide work e-mail that discussed her and the MMK trip to Kenya a few years ago. After learning that it was founded by a UCLA RN, I went to the MMK website to learn more about the organization. As soon as I read its headline on the website, “Basic health care is a right, not a privilege,” I knew it was the right organization for me! I strongly share that same belief and I hoped that since the organization was founded by a UCLA RN, I would hopefully be able to participate in their next mission trip (since I shared the same UCLA work connection). I applied right away and later found out that I was the first to apply! Needless to say, I was very eager to participate in their next medical mission trip to Kenya. Coincidentally, you floated to my unit twice and we exchanged report on our patients both times just prior to our trip!
This was the first medical mission trip that I had participated in so I didn’t know what to expect going into it. I had read some of the blogs on the website from the previous trip, and they did scare me a little (I read the blog about bugs crawling all over the person while he/she slept!). However, I put on a brave face and told myself that no matter what situation may arise, I would be flexible, easygoing, and fearless. This was the trip of a lifetime, after all! When else would I have an opportunity to travel to Africa? I was determined to have a good time. I never realized before how shy and introverted I was until I went on this trip and was with a group of strangers for 2 weeks. Everyone was friendly, welcoming, and equally fearless and adventurous – I couldn’t have imagined a better group to go with.
Some of the most memorable experiences for me:
1. Staying in the Lewaso Cottages in Lewaso.
The cottages had no doors. The “bathroom” had no ceiling, and the shower (bucket of water) /toilet were pretty much open (except for a hanging blanket to provide some privacy). It was a completely different experience and I loved every part of it! I felt that it added to the authenticity of the Africa experience. Showering under the starts at night was definitely one of the main highlights of the trip for me. How often do you get to shower under the stars in Africa? Also, knowing that warriors were guarding the property helped me sleep well at night as I heard animal sounds outside. I remember getting the manager’s contact info so that I could return to this location in the future (I’m convinced that I want to come back here for my honeymoon! This is how much I loved this place).
2. THE FOOD
I remember packing for the trip and wondering if I should pack dry snack foods because I didn’t know how much food or access to food we’d have. I bought a Costco-sized box of granola bars and tried to pack it into my suitcase, but alas, there was no room for it! So I left the granola bars out. I was pleased to discover that I absolutely loved all the food in Kenya! I remember hoping that I’d lose some weight after my 2-week trip to Africa, but I was disappointed to realize that I probably gained a little weight from all the food I ate there! The food was so tasty and delicious. I’m pretty sure I took a picture of everything single thing I ate there!
3. The Safari at Samburu National Reserve.
Being so close to animals like lions, giraffes, elephants, zebras, baboons etc, out in the wild was amazing and unforgettable! I definitely got a lot of great pictures and videos! A safari is definitely a must-have experience when traveling to Africa. I’m so grateful we were able to go on a safari. I remember taking an afternoon nap in my room and leaving my phone outside on the patio, charging with the solar charger. When I woke up from my nap, I saw a baboon sitting out on my patio and I wanted to take a picture of it, but couldn’t because it was sitting on my phone! I was so worried it’d run away with my phone! This definitely was memorable.
4. Eating Goat for the First Time in Wamba.
I felt so touched that the community gave us a live goat as a way to show their appreciation. I didn’t necessarily like the taste of the goat, but everyone was watching and encouraging us to eat more, so I held my breath and ate more so I wouldn’t be rude. It was a memorable experience and I’d try goat again (maybe just prepared in a different way!).
5. The Woman In Wamba.
She had necrotic fingers with some open wet wounds and the flies wouldn’t stay away from them! There wasn’t much to do with our limited resources, but I did my best and wrapped each finger individually with dry gauze and tape. As I was wrapping her fingers, I noticed these marks on her wrists and asked her what happened (with the help of the interpreter). She explained that shortly after she had given birth to her child, her community had tied her up to a tree for 1 month. I didn’t understand why they would do that, but from what I was able to gather from the interpreter, it seemed to be due to post-partum psychosis. It was a story that is forever seared in my brain, but what I will also never forget is her beaming smile after I finished wrapping her wounds.
6. Getting to Know Our Guides/Drivers for the Trip.
I was always in Fred’s van because I liked the way he drove and I felt safe in his van! But I also got to know the other driver, Michael, who loves photography and is always snapping pictures every chance he gets! There were a few times when I’d give him my iPhone for the day while I was busy helping out with medical care for the entire day. Throughout the day, I’d see Michael here and there taking candid pictures of everyone. A lot of my candid pictures from Kenya were taken by him! I connected with him (and Fred, Alfred, Kevo) via Facebook and still maintain communication with them that way!
I still remember that one of the most challenging parts of the vitals check was expaining how to check their oral temperature. I’d place a disposable Tempa-Dot thermometer under their tongue, but they didn’t understand that they needed to keep their mouth closed. The interpreter was often missing so we had to somehow communicate this to them ourselves. I often opened and closed my own mouth, so that they would see I wanted them to close their mouths, but it still took them awhile to understand. It was a humorous experience and even they found it amusing. Overall, I tried to be flexible and work in each area that needed me (triage, vitals/AccuChek®, pharmacy, wound care, etc).
7. Last But Not Definitely Not Least, The Entire Medical Mission Itself!
Because I had never participated in one before, I didn’t know what my role would be. I wanted to try doing a little bit of everything. The first day, I started “interviewing” the patients (with the help of the interpreter) and documenting their chief complaints. To this day, I still won’t forget some of the stories! One man had complained of shoulder pain and when asked if he had any recent trauma to it like a fall, he said that he had recently gotten into a fight with a buffalo! Classic triage stories that you wouldn’t ever hear in America. Soon after, I got pulled away into the pharmacy where they desperately needed more help. I definitely liked helping out in the make-shift pharmacy because it was much more organized, and I liked being able to give something tangible to the patient afterwards. Even if we were just giving them Tylenol or vitamins, I could see in their faces how grateful they were to receive something – anything. I spent a few days helping out in the pharmacy, but towards the last days, I wanted to have more interaction with the people so I took vital signs and did AccuCheks®.
All in all, Kenya was an amazing experience and I would love another opportunity to help out again! By 2016, I’ll be a NP (Nurse Practitioner) and perhaps I can even help treat the patients with the physicians. I am always happy to help out in all the other care areas as well. I fell in love with Kenya, its people, its food, and the MMK organization. I want to do so much more, and to this day, I still hang on to old glasses, shoes, medical supplies, etc in hopes of donating it for a future MMK mission trip!