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Medical Mission Kenya Trip December 2011 by Rowena Hernandez

This is to share with all of you and i hope to inspire you to travel, or help those in need. No matter how much you or I will see, there’s always something new to discover and experience. It’s good to get out of your comfort zone, let go of any preconceived notions and just embrace life as it is. We are all given special gifts and talents, not to keep to ourselves but to share.”Be a blessing, and you will be blessed”.

Saturday, December 3, 2011 6am Kenyan time.

We are here in the hotel room. I’m sharing a room with 2 other ladies. Within an hour into our visit, at the airport we already experience shadiness and greed. One of our Doctors had medical supplies and medications stolen from both of her bags (both of which had locks). The customs agent checking our luggage opened 2 or 3, and then he decides to take Milli aside. They walk along with Milli’s husband and Allison to a corner far from the other officials. The rest of us wait by the bags. Supposedly we did not not have complete paperwork and permits to bring medications and medical supplies; and they wanted to “hold” the medications until Monday. Eventually, we were let off with a warning…Aside from that, getting from the US to our “Guest House” was not too bad. Airplane on time, food was great, movies galore…. I noticed the billboards on the road to the hotel were pretty much all in English, which was a surprise to me. I don’t feel too far from home just yet. I was excited to sit in the front seat of the car because I was on the left side and we were driving on the left side of the road. It felt very odd. I can’t imagine a foreigner being able to drive around here. The road signs are small and some of the roads are ambiguous.

12/5/11 Sunday Drive to Muranga

We went to a local market place to buy some supplies. Made it to Blue Post hotel for lunch- buffet. There was a waterfall – Chania falls. It looked like Willie Wonka’s chocolate river.

There were tables along the lawn. Security guards of course. We then decided to go for a hike at Olo Donyo Sabuk- which means “the big mountain”, off Thika Road. It was barely sprinkling that day. When we arrived, the sun was out and we captured a gorgeous view of the area. As we hiked along the path towards the top, when we were about 6 km away from the top, it started to pour. So some of us went back to the van and drove up the mountain to get the rest of the group.

We loaded up the van with our group, the driver attempted to bust a bitch, aka turn around…and our tire got stuck in a ditch. Several attempts were made to help the situation, but ultimately what saved us from our despair, as the sun began to set, was the good old Lexus SUV. The men attached the Lexus to the van with some bungee cords and off it went. I was so worried about the luggage falling out of the trunk (because we left the trunk open for whatever reason), that i was frozen, and not able to record this amazing potential Lexus commercial. Who knew such a prissy looking SUV would have so much power and would be able to endure such a rugged terrain.

Anyhow, of course the rain was ALL over with by the time our car was stuck. Great bonding session to say the least. I had the chance to visit with Lord Macmillan and his wife. We reached our final destination- Milli’s house around 9pm. We had dinner and went to bed. I never felt too far away from home though mainly because Africa resembles the Philippines in more ways than one.

Just our luck the toilet coincidentally stopped flushing when we got here. “How do we flush the toilet then?” I just laughed to myself because I’ve experienced this before. My trips to the Philippines have definitely prepared me for Africa. Any sense of discomfort I might experience, I think I’ve been through something worse…

12/6/11 Mission in Muranga

Woke up at 5am to people snoring. Oh ….the joy of sharing a room. The cook made samosas “meat pies” (they resemble empanadas), sausages, sweet potato, taro, and veggies. By the time we got to St. Peter’s Church, the tent was filled with people patiently waiting.

Someone amongst the crowd had fainted and all of the volunteers rushed to him…we carried him onto a table. The patient was an 80 year old man, most likely dehydrated, hypertensive, blood sugar 97. Patient was rescuscitated with almost one liter of bottled water mixed with oral rehydration mix. Basically, the man drank normal saline. That was the height of the chaos. I would look up at the crowd once in a while and try to not get overwhelmed by the swarm of people. The weather wasn’t too bad, but it actually got hot.

Sometimes we’re so used to having things in a certain order. At certain times the flow seemed systematic. Each patient registered at a desk and was given an assessment sheet with a number on it. It was amazing to see the crowd sitting patiently waiting for one minute, and then all of a sudden flip out….as a whole they became so anxious and determined to move forward in line- it was like musical chairs. Once a patient left the vitals area to proceed to triage, someone would appear in front of me within seconds.

The work day was long. We had a break for lunch. Luckily I’m semi-used to holding my pee for hours on end. It was a repetitive task- blood pressure, temp, pulse, blood sugar, “please wait over there”. The numbers got all out of order, i was serving 135, then 240. At times I felt rushed because everyone seemed to be impatient. It honestly took a moment for me to “zen” myself….to remember that things don’t have to be perfect. We’re just going to get the job done no matter what.

Deep breath, deep breath…..and don’t forget to smile.

The majority of the people could not speak or understand English, so much of the communication was conquered through body language. Who would’ve thought having someone place a temperature probe under their tongue could be such a challenge? A lot of people were scared of us poking their fingers to check their blood sugar (assessing for diabetes).

At the same time, I was surprised when someone could understand me. Any English word was a sense of comfort. Lunch time couldn’t be more of a relief. We went back to Milli’s house in rounds.

The flip side to serving those in need is working with the native people here who know how to take advantage of you. Although, I’m sure that they are partially here for the cause…some of the workers are here to get something somehow. Some things were taken, and some people would keep asking for things….personal items.

Not only did we have to manage the flow of the clinic, but we had to keep one eye on our personal belongings at all times. I feel almost ‘wrong’ for even thinking like that, but how can you be too careful. At any given moment, temptation can overpower someone’s righteousness. Sad but true.

On a positive note, we saw more than 300 people. What baffled me was the amount of clothes that these people were wearing. Men and women wore a thick blazer with a long sleeve blouse underneath and had their head wrapped. During the peak of the sun’s heat a good amount of people had a low grade fever. It was difficult to decipher whether or not the patient had an underlying issue or if the patient was tachycardic from dehydration and the heat .

Drive to Samburu

9:09 AM 12/7/2011

Its 8ish pm Kenyan time. We are on the way to Samburu. I am currently in the car. We had to stop and wait for the police to catch up to us to escort us from Isiolo to Wamba. We had been advised it would be unsafe to drive there after dark without a police escort due to bandits on the road. Apparently the Police services are available like an escort service….money money money…that’s what it all boils down to. But in reality if no one was concerned, I wouldn’t feel a concern. Maybe it’s my ignorance. but I have no ‘spider sense’…no feeling of impending doom…no worry that anything bad will happen to us. So that makes us ok, right?

We had a choice. In life there’s always a choice; go with what you know, or live in the moment of authenticity and take what native/local products have to offer. Instead of my regular TUSKER beer, I tasted the white caps- lager…so smooth. I’m embracing the culture and all it has to offer. :)

I thoroughly enjoyed the ride here. Taking pictures- it is as if every person was something to be captivated, something special, and they don’t even know how authentic they are. They don’t even know how much i admire them. They don’t even know how weak they make me feel; to be so enduring; to let down your pride….for them to have joy in SEEING a tourist and be happy to wave “hi” as I pass them by. They smile.

Not to be unrealistically negative…I’m being real- where ever I go in America, I haven’t felt so welcomed as I do here. People are so willing to talk to you, to smile at you, to be thankful for your presence. I think at home we take a stranger for granted. I wish we can have the mentality to feel graced to be in the presence of another…as opposed to purposefully ignoring someone who passes you by. The police are behind us. It is dark. The clouds are beautiful and the moon is shining bright. On many occasions, we were stopped by other roadside police. On occasion there are roadblocks with spikes on the road…each side of the road in a zig zag fashion for the police to check you out. Anyhow we have our very own police escort driving behind us. Just in case!!!!. Since there are several Americans here- better safe than sorry.

I stare at the clouds as we drive on by and I think to myself…I couldn’t be happier right now- in this car, bladder full, a little brandy on board, and a car full of people who are here for a genuine cause. Right now, I couldn’t ask for more (aside from a toilet). I feel like no matter what, the people around you can see you through. Good people are good company, and these people are absolutely wonderful.

Maasai People

We finally arrived to Wamba, which is in the Samburu District, around 9pm on the 7th of December. This is an area where the Maasai people live.

“Women are responsible for making the houses as well as supplying water, collecting firewood, milking cattle and cooking for the family. Warriors are in charge security while boys are responsible for herding livestock. During the drought season, both warriors and boys assume the responsibility for herding livestock…

The Maasai are a semi-nomadic people who lived under a communal land management system. The movement of livestock is based on seasonal rotation. Contrary to many claims made by outsiders, particularly the Hardinian school of thought, this communal land management system allows us to utilize resources in a sustainable manner. Each section manages its own territory. Under normal conditions, reserve pastures are fallowed and guarded by the warriors. However, if the dry season becomes especially harsh, sections boundaries are ignored and people graze animals throughout the land until the rainy season arrives. According to Maasai traditional land agreement, no one should be denied access to natural resources such as water and land.”

Wamba Casa

As always…we start and end each day with a meal. Gotta love it!

On the night of the 7th, Wednesday…we made it to Wamba, in the district of Samburu. This was a long drive. Thank God, we made it with no problems! We had the latest dinner ever- around 10pm. This place has electricity via generator between the hours of 6-10pm. The water is warm from the solar panels, and you’re lucky to catch a drop of it after the sun goes down with our group taking showers.

Our new home during the day….

There are nets above each bed in our room. Automatically that makes me paranoid…but I didn’t get any mosquito bites from here. The flies were the most irritating! They know exactly where to land on- your face! They know that would be the least likely place you would slap (really hard)….so that’s where they land….haha.

Wamba Medical Mission

Our “clinic” was a local school. Each room had a specific purpose: Vitals, HIV and blood sugar testing, doctor stations for assessment, and the pharmacy. The sun is shining with no rain clouds in site…you just know its gonna be HOT. Considering our toilet situation, I’d rather be dehydrated and fluid rescuscitate later. There are flies going in and out of the toilet hole…lizards…and at one point I swear something had wings! Oh, once I saw that I turned right back around and held my pee ’till I couldn’t anymore. (yeah great going nurse…right??) haha. I forgot to mention, it stinks! Yes, at times like these I wish I were a boy. I’m sure I said that ten times during our trip- I’m the one who always has to pee! The people here are different in many ways. I’d say one out of 50, or more had hypertension. Barely anyone had a high blood sugar. I noticed that some of their blood pressures was difficult to hear; it would be so faint that at times I couldn’t even get a diastolic pressure. Mental note, bring pediatric BP cuffs because the majority of these people are very slim! I would be happy to see an arm with some “meat” on it. Their native garb also made it difficult to take a blood pressure…they would have bracelets around their wrists and right around the elbow.

Many women and children came to see us, especially on Day 2. Their baby would be wrapped around their body. Most of the time their breasts would be hanging out. When the baby started crying, right to the nipple they went! (no one has pacifiers). One thing I don’t think I can get accustomed to are the flies! These people had flies on their body, all over their face…even in the corner of their eyes and they weren’t even phased! It was disturbing to see the flies on the babies…but I was told that they come around especially if the woman is lactating. Since their breasts are exposed, this attracts the flies. I won’t forget seeing a child with depressed fontanels, the baby threw up as Nadia was taking the mother’s vital signs.

Another thing WE take for granted is accurate documentation of our age. I had an older looking lady with wrinkles and gray hair coming out…she told the registrar she was 35yrs old! SERIOUSLY?! I double checked with the person registering…all he can say is “that’s what she told me” and shrugged.

To read more of Rowena’s blog,

Notes By Rowena Hernandez, RN

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