Thursday, January 13, 2011

no worries, no worries

Hello Everyone

On my very first visit to Kenya our very large plane was beginning its decent when all of a sudden the plane jerked up. Everyone was stunned and quite, after what seemed like a very long time but was really a few minutes the pilot came on and said "No worries, no worries we just have to clear the livestock off of the runway!" Well we certainly did not have to slear any of the live stock off the runway--the landing was smooth. The Jomo Kenyatta Intl Airport has done some renovation and looks very good. Getting our visas went without a hitch and then it was to retreive our baggage. It all went pretty well--all of our bags made it. Now customs--Lauren had made a connection with one of the customs officer so she lead the way. Some of the bags were damaged in flight and he began inspecting them--we quickly handed him a packing slip. We are a pretty large group and he began to address the whole group and then I stepped up and said who I was and that this was a medical mission. At first he would not make eye contact with me and I thought in that moment that I was about to lose this effort and have to try and negotiate a payment plan. "You have medicines?" "No", I replied "I am an eye doctor." "You are eye doctors?" and he immediately waved us through. He must have had a second thought as we were making our way through the doors "Wait, what is in this box?" "Handles for garden tools", I replied. By this time half of the team had met Juli McGowan one of our mission contacts. He looked at me, looked at the packing slip looked out of the door and once again waved myself and the rest of the team through. Yee-haa!! The team smiled and high fived one another as we made our way to the waiting vans to take our supplies to Kipkaren and the other waiting van to take us to Mayfield, which is a very pleasant and beautiful home that has been made into a hostel. It's only 3:30 in the afternoon in Cedar Rapids but it is 11:30PM here and we need to get up at 4am to be at the airport by 5am to catch our 6am flight to Eldoret. So I am going to sign off soon for now-- but all I can say, if I am a cat with nine lives, getting through customs, I am grateful to the "powers that be" that I have a few lives left.

Mayfield house

We made it to Kenya and in good order, but what a long day. Not to often you travel with little or no issues. (knock on wood, we still have to get home) The biggest problem we had was that a lot of our action packers were open when we got them. No lost bags or totes, we won't know if anything is missing until we get to the village. (Keep your fingers crossed) One more leg of our journey tomorrow and we will be in Kipkaren. Everyone is excited to be here and ready to get to work.

Hello to everyone back home, hope all is well there.


Jelly Bellies over the Sahara

Hello everyone

We have arrived, at least as far as Nairobi. And yes, I got a little homesick somewhere over the Sahara Desert. Fortunately a modest handful of Jelly Bellies brought me back to the reality that I am on the most exciting adventure of my life. Okay, I may have eaten the entire bag. The flights were fine. I've seen enough movies to last me for a while. I did watch 15 minutes of one movie before realizing they were speaking French. Guess I should have been napping instead.

At this moment we have checked into Mayfield Hostel and it is so much like a camp retreat center that I feel right at home. Even a dining hall. It will be a short night, though, as we will be up and off to Kipkaren by 6am. I suppose I should try and sleep but who can sleep when there is so much excitement. Sleep is highly overated, as my friend Fitz would say. So I shall save my sleeping for sometime in March.

My love to all those who have given me the encouragement and support to step out of my comfort zone and travel so far to help other people.

More Jelly Bely tales later.

Going to sign off now.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Eye Care Kenya 2007 Pictures

Photobucket Album

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A Patient's Story

Alestar woke up early in the morning to begin his journey. He had been told that eye doctors were visiting the clinic in Kipkaren and his grandmother, his Gogo, had been squinting for months. He pressed his pants the night before, so that he would not waste the morning light. He could hear the rain falling lightly on the metal roof of his small hut and he tucked his pant legs into his socks, so that they would not be muddied and caked in the red clay.

He walked, he took a bus, and he walked a little more. It took him over an hour to reach his Grandmother’s house in Nagong Hills. When he arrived, she was patiently waiting for him. Her small frame draped in a long purple skirt, she wore a black Nike stocking cap to keep the morning cold from her ears. In one hand, she held a knotted wooden cane that supported her like a wise, arthritic finger, her other arm wrapped around her grandson’s youth for support. She was 83, she took very small steps and the journey would be long.

They walked slowly to the bus stop. The bus would be able to take them close to the clinic, but there was still more walking to do when it stopped. Alestar began to worry that they would miss their chance to see the doctors. Heavy rains from the night before had soaked the clay roads into mud and Gogo’s cane kept getting stuck. When the bus dropped them off, Alestar rented a bicycle porter to carry gogo on the back of the bike. Alestar walked beside them to the clinic. At 9 a.m., grandma and grandson were climbing the incline that led to the clinic doors. People were already lined up waiting to be seen, but there were open spaces to sit on the wooden benches. The nurses were not turning people away. Alestar breathed a sigh of relief. His gogo would be treated today.

When it was their turn, he helped her into the clinic and took an old, worn, yellow booklet out of his backpack. Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIt was his grandmother’s medical history, recorded in Swahili, in no particular order across the pages. “See,” he said pointing to a few penciled markings, “that is where it says blindness.”

After the appointment, Alestar stood talking with some of the men that were waiting to be seen, Gogo rested in the grass underneath the shade of the large tree in the front lawn. New gold frames sat on her nose.

A young woman approached her there, as she sat in the grass, and asked her how she was doing. Gogo turned toward the girl and bringing her weathered fingers to her eyes, she touched the golden frames. “This,” she said, tapping the glasses, “This is God.” And a knowing smile crept across her windswept face.

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The Clinic's Debut

Visiting a dentist or an eye doctor in the city of Eldoret costs the equivalent of $10. A pair of eyeglasses is typically about $45. The average Kenyan, in this area, makes $1/day and an average family can have between 5-12 children. The combination of low income and multiple mouths to feed often relegates medical attention to home remedies. They use blades of grass to remove bugs from their eyes and to relieve an eye infection they squirt the eye with breast milk.

Word had spread about the visiting team of eye doctors and the missionary team told us that we should expect to see many people and that these patients would come from villages near and far. The team was excited to begin treatments on Monday morning.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe clinic opened at 8 a.m. and when the doctors arrived at 7:30, there was already a line of people, young and old, patiently waiting on the wooden benches outside. The front yard was littered with bicycles. Between 8-5, the optometry team served 135 patients—doling out roughly 120 pairs of glasses.

From a rare ocular nerve disease, to untreated diabetes, to debilitating cataracts in the old, to advanced cornea disease in the young, children without eyes, foreign bodies, allergies, to just needing reading glasses, and, sometimes, just needing a little attention. The doctors treated as many patients as they could, as well as they could with the means available. The most striking thing about many of these patients was that their infirmaries, if caught earlier in the U.S., would be completely treatable—cataract surgery, cornea repair, diabetes medication, etc. Here in Kenya, however, these people would go blind.

Michele and Sharon also spent time with Kiptow—the resident nurse for the Kipkaren clinic. Kiptow does everything—delivers babies, treats malaria, administers AIDS tests, diagnoses ringworm, and much, much more. Both Michele and Sharon were amazed by the variety of pathologies presenting at this walk-in clinic on a hill, on a red clay road, through the corn and banana trees.

The Kipkaren Clinic is not a free clinic, but it is affordable to the poor. This is an important change that has occurred between Doc’s visit last year and this week. It costs 50 Kenyan shillings to visit the eye doctor at this clinic. That translates to 76 cents. Medications are not charged by the bottle, but by the number of types of medications that each patient receives: multiple bottles of 1 type of medicine costs 200 schillings ($3), 2 types of medicine 300 schillings ($4.50), reading glasses are 100 shillings, prescription glasses 200 shillings. It is a fraction of the cost of a downtown clinic, but the small cost creates two very important benefits in this Kenyan community. 1) it helps generate capital to sustain the badly needed Kipkaren Clinic, which even though it provided free services in the past, was not free to operate. 2) The Kenyan people may be poor in dollars, but they are rich in dignity. These people are not looking for hand-outs. They were proud to pay for the medicines and glasses. And, by providing a service that they paid for, they were more willing to get involved, have an opinion, select glasses that they liked, that fit well and improved their vision.

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Last day of clinic

Hi Everyone--Thank you for logging on and watching us. Even the best laid plan can be foiled. We started with two computers andf now we are down to one and a few technical difficulties. This will be our last offical day of clinic we have seen well in to 200 patients in two days. We have seen my maladies--it has been very interesting to say the least. Thgis blog will continue to tell the story of our trip and the many things that still need to be done. So even when these dates of this trip are over we will continue to blog on and give updates. Thanks to everyone who made this possible in every way. Thanks Dr. DeAnn Fitzgerald

a few pictures

Hi Everyone! Our ability to upload pics is a little hit and miss, but the bandwidth is good so we are going to get a few out while we can!

Here you can see the library, which doubles as our cafeteria--its the open door to the left. Before you eat, everyone washes their hands in warm water from the tin with soap. Rub a dub dub Dr. Kingus.

Michele poses with our latest glasses model.
Doc Fitzgerald officially opens the Kipkaren Optometry Wing.

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Roy works his magic on a Kenyan boy receiving his first pair of glasses.

It has rained every afternoon--which is one of the reasons for the email difficulty. Isn't it beautiful still?

The Dedication

When the EyeCare Kenya team arrived at the clinic, the people of Kipkarin had already encircled the clinic and they were singing and clapping. David called Doc into the center of the circle and unveiled a hole in the ground and a tree. The type of the tree escapes me, but the story behind the tree is that it is the hardiest tree in Kenya, it is also the most expensive, and it is actually illegal to cut these trees down. “The tree will stand forever,” said David, “So years from now you can bring your children here to see it, your grandchildren, even your great-grandchildren to see the tree that you planted that stands in front of the clinic that you built.”

Doc planted the tree with Julius, the man responsible for running the eyecare clinic day-in and day-out after she leaves.

In Kenya, the power of the elders is highly regarded. So, David asked the Grandfather of the family from Cedar Rapids to anoint the clinic. He poured blessed oil in front of the doorstep and said a beautiful prayer for healing.

With that, a plaque honoring Dr. DeAnn Fitzgerald was unveiled to grace the entryway.

This clinic was dedicated to the glory of God by

Dr. DeAnn Fitzgerald on September 30, 2007.

We treat. God heals.

A piece of twine was stung across the doorway to this clinic, just as it had been strung across the entryway to Kipkaren one day earlier. Doc cut the fraying rope and took the last step of the Kipkaren destination. The clinic was open. It was time for treatment to begin.

Sunday Morning in Kipkaren

Sunday morning started with a first, slightly late, attempt to catch a Kenyan sunrise. Then there was French press Kenyan coffee and a bird-watching, photo shoot on the Kipkaren river.
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“Sundays in Kipkarin are spent in church,” David the director of the entire ELI Kipkaren development explained. “Here we do not understand the concept of weekends or holidays. But on Sundays, we thank God for all that he has given us and we pray to God, because he is our Father and we should tell him how we are doing.”

At 10:00, the team joined the community at church in the ELI compound. We sat in the back of this cafeteria/classroom/church, just soaking it all in. We watched two boys that couldn’t be more than four walk in, one with his nose running and crusty. They walked up to two girls—one of the girls was one of the assistant parents at the orphanage. The girls immediately scooped the boys up onto their laps and cleaned up the runny nose of the one. About a half-an-hour later, the girl was taking the long-sleeved shirt off of the boy with the runny nose. Sharon turns to Michele and says, “I think this little boy might be sick.”

“I know,” replied Michele quickly, she had obviously been thinking the same thing, “I brought 25 digital thermometers with me. I can’t wait to see him tomorrow!”

Then David addressed the congregation. “You do not appreciate your eyes until they are infected,” he began. Then he told the story of Jesus curing the blind man. After the story, he said, “This week Jesus is passing the community in the form of these eye doctors and he wants to visit with the people that are having trouble with sight.”

He then told a personal story. “One year ago, I was visiting at my sister’s house. We were talking and suddenly we heard her daughter, my niece, cry out like a baby in a great amount of pain. When we ran to where the child was, we found that she had dumped hot water all over herself.” David described how he scooped up his niece and took her to one doctor’s house, but the doctor was unable to see her. So he and his sister carried the girl to a nurse’s house, but she would not help the girl, because she was in the middle of fixing dinner for her parents. As David continued walking with his niece in his arms, it began to rain. Her skin turned to blisters and the blisters were rubbed and broken from the journey.

In that moment, David decided, through God’s guidance, to create a more compelling future for himself, his family and his community “ You can’t control the events of your life but you can control what they mean to you.” Ultimately, it is the internal struggle we will all face many times, that David faced that night—to be a victim of experience or to be empowered through experience. To find a higher purpose—a compelling vision.

David said that night that he stood in the middle of the mud roads, in the rain, and asked God for a clinic that he could take his niece to. He would be empowered to make his world a better place. One year later, on this day, they were opening the addition to the clinic that would serve as a general medicine and optometry wing. Proof again that a single idea, a single action, can move the world.

“Now we are going to open the clinic,” he told his group. “I want the choir to pick a song, a lively song. I want the people to sing and dance and show God how much we thank him for answering our prayers. Now everyone, let’s go to the clinic.”A few minutes later, you could see a line of people in bright colored clothes winding their way across the river, around the corn field, through the banana trees, and up the hill, headed toward the new clinic, singing and dancing as they walked.

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“Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men”—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Happy Birthday

On Saturday afternoon, the EyeCare Kenya team was invited to join a Birthday celebration for 33 of the kids in the orphanage. Since many of these children were orphaned and found, many of their birthdates are unknown. So ELI picks three days per year to celebrate birthdays. For the celebration, the entire orphanage gathers together. They sing and they dance and have cake and candy. (They have candy in Kenya that is, I believe, called Milk Candy. It is a white sucker that tastes like very sweet milk.)

When we came walking up to the central party area, all 96 orphans ran out to meet us. It created this wash of emotion over the group. These happy, bright-eyed kids came running up to our group, grabbed our hands, said “hello” and “welcome” over and over, and smiled and giggled. The energy they generated is nearly indescribable.

I will venture to say that the travel-worn and weary hearts of EyeCare Kenya melted in those few magic moments. Those returning team members were reminded why the long journey was worth its weight in gold and each newbie was finally able to completely wrap their hearts around a mission that had taken them to the small Iowa town on the other side of the Equator.

An Overview of ELI

Empowering Lives International (ELI) is an international organization that essentially works to elevate the standard of living for people around the world through education that focuses on how to best use readily available resources. It very much embodies the, “Teach a man to fish” motto, with a strong undercurrent of spiritual faith and hope. In Kenya, ELI has at least two locations, one at Ilula and one at Kipcarin. Last year, the EyeCare Kenya team visited both locations, but this year, the goal is to finish equipping the eyecare clinic that was recently built in Kipkaren.

Just as there are many immediate needs of this community, there are many services provided by ELI.

  1. The school/orphanage started because so many people in the town were dying of HIV/AIDS. In Kenya, 700 people die of AIDS every day. This epidemic leaves a lot of orphans in its wake. ELI Kipkaren currently houses 96 orphans. 90% of these orphans have lost both parents to HIV/AIDS. One of the main goals of this orphanage is to make each of these 96 children feel loved. They accomplish this by dividing their 96 kids into four families. Each of these families consists of 12 girls and 12 boys, a husband and wife parental team, and an assistant parent. For each family, there is a parental hut, a girls hut, and a boys hut. The separate boys/girls huts are each filled with 6 bunk beds and a central table for discussion or homework. They accept children ages 3-10 and these children keep a bed at ELI until they are finished with school, which differs from most orphanages that kick kids out at 18. This ELI standard encourages the children to earn higher degrees.
  2. The school not only teaches the orphans, but ELI has opened it up to the children in the surrounding community as well. They even host adult education courses in reading and math to help empower adults that think they are too old to learn.
  3. ELI also hosts a development program that accepts near college age students from around Kenya and educates them is sustainable agriculture and community planning. Some of the ideas that they are sprouting—puns are fun—include vertical gardens, self-contained tilapia ponds, and tree replacement.
  4. Tics are a big problem for Kenya’s cattle farmers, so ELI built a cattle dip. Every Tuesday, farmers are able to dip their cattle for 15 Kenyan schillings per cow. 15 schillings is a little less than 25 cents. Geranimo Bessie, Geranimo.
  5. They have started a home-based day care clinic to instruct families around the area on how to care for their family members living with HIV/AIDS.
  6. And they just completed an entirely new wing to complement their existing medical clinic. The new addition doubles the size of the Kipkarin clinic and offers an area specifically designed to provide eyecare.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Welcome to Kipkaren

Imagine an Iowa farming town where the roads have been created only by back and forth travel that has worn the grass away. Now imagine that Iowa town at an elevation of 6,000 feet, set amongst rolling hills and rivers and banana trees, on a bed of red clay. That is Kipkaren. About forty-five minutes outside of Eldoret, the van turned off of the one major road that links Kenya to Uganda and the team bounced along for a few miles before the caravan finally pulled into the mouth of the driveway of the ELI compound. As we all hopped out of the cars, we could hear singing. When we walked around the corner of the dirt parking lot, it was filled with children 4-10, teachers, staff missionaries, and the ELI administrators standing in a large U. A flower-adorned piece of twine had been strung from one end of the driveway to the other, the final thing standing between EyeCare Kenya and the people we came to help.

"Welcome, Karibou, Welcome!" the gathering shouted and sang to us.

We were then officially welcomed to Kipkaren. The director of ELI, the director of the school, and the pastor at ELI each made very touching speeches welcoming us to their home.

They handed DeAnn scissors for her to cut the twine. After the finish line fell, we followed Doc in single file, shaking hands with every child, volunteer, and administrator on the compound. Some of those little kids have very powerful grips.

Trip to Eldoret

Hello Everyone! Sorry about the delay in blogs, we were experiencing some technical difficulties, which I guess was to be expected because, hey, we're in Kenya. So you will see many new postings today, because we are operating on all 6 cylinders here again, which in Kenya is akin to being back up on the bicycle. Happy reading...

In Nairobi, the team stayed at a place called the Mayfield House (pictured on the left). The Mayfield House is a missionary guest house set in the northern suburbs of Nairobi. Many missionaries stay here before trekking out to their various posts throughout Kenya. At the same time that EyeCare Kenya team was there, we met a team of ministers from North Carolina, a religious group from South Africa, and another family from Cedar Rapids who had come to Kenya to visit their two daughters that were interning at the ELI compound where the EyeCare Kenya team would also be staying.

Mayfield House was a lot like a sorority house…lots of couches in a few large common areas, a kitchen, large dining hall, dorm rooms with bunk beds and mosquito nets, flushing toilets, HOT showers, and temperamental email access. Sharon is modeling one of the lovely mosquito nets below.
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We arrived to Mayfield House around midnight on Friday night, got up early the next morning, had breakfast—chai tea, bananas, peanut butter and honey, and cereal. Loaded the van and left for a small commuter airport in Nairobi, to board a prop-like plane that would take us to Eldoret.

Driving through Nairobi in the daylight was a very different experience. We passed a parking lot filled with people and short buses—about the size of hotel transport vans—that had wooden coffins tied to their roofs. (In Kenya, when family members die in the hospital, the remaining family must pool their money to buy back their beloved family member, so they can provide a proper wake and burial. That burial, incidentally, often takes place in the family’s yard.)

When we had all loaded onto the plane, the pilot turned around and gave us the safety speech usually reserved for American Airline stewardesses—emergency exits and all. Even though it was the same speech we had each heard a million times, I can tell you that when the pilot is pointing out the nearest exits, everyone pays attention. It was a smooth 40 minute flight—a hop, skip, and a jump from Nairobi to Eldoret.

Once we landed, we still had to travel about an hour-and-a-half to the ELI compound in Kipkaren, so we hopped into a van and set-off, yet again. A few sights to mention from the road:

  1. Free-range livestock roams at will along the roadside, completely uncontained and only mildly tended. Animals we passed include: cows, lambs, goats, and chickens.
  2. Charcoal is a product that people manufacture in Kenya. We saw families gathering sticks in a field. Then they pile the sticks together, set them on fire, cover them with dirt, and let them smolder for 1 week. When they return, they have charcoal to sell.
  3. Bikes are used to transport almost everything. Milk, charcoal, and people and apparently, while women can take bike-taxis, you almost never see a woman actually riding a bike. There has been some broad speculation that the reason is that women here are required to wear skirts, which would make bike riding difficult. But I digress…The bike riders bravely share the road with cars and trucks that pass at will and are governed by loose speed and traffic etiquette laws, and on top that, there is livestock to avoid. Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The van stopped in downtown Eldoret in order to pick up half of the Cedar Rapids family that had made it out on the first flight from Nairobi to Eldoret earlier that Saturday morning. The second half had landed with us.

Downtown Eldoret (pictured below) looked a lot like how I have always imagined Tijuana would look except instead of run down lime green and piñata pink stucco buildings set to salsa music, Eldoret was decorated in turquoise, purple, and red mud walls and dilapidated wooden structures squeezed so closely together it felt like the town was holding its breath.

Nairobi smelled like metal. Eldoret smelled like dust and dirt. People were everywhere. Teenage boys begged in the streets, their noses and upper lips coated in white from sniffing glue. Adele told us there were shelters they could go to for food, but they could not sniff glue at the shelters, so, instead, the boys sat in the dust and the dirt and they waited.

We, however, were not waiting, and quickly jumped back into the vans to continue on to our final destination: Kipkaren.


Good Morning All

Kenya is filled with patients with many diseases. Yesterday the eye team was very busy.
I was able to spend time with kiptoe the nurse in the clinic. He works as a physician delivers babies, does call all acute and emergency patients. He was kind enough to ask me to help him, I laugh he is teaching me way more than I am teaching him. Hello to everyone in Urbana-miss you guys. Hello family-I love you guys. See you soon
love michele

Sunday, September 30, 2007



Saturday, September 29, 2007

from the airport to the hostel

(Picking up where we last left off...we had just left the Nairobi airport)

The van slowed to a crawl--inching past lamp stores, OiLibya gas stations, and billboards for Coca-Cola.
"There must have been an accident," said Adele (our South African liason).
"No, I think it is just construction traffic in Friday Night Niarobi," our driver Vincent replied.

After a few more inching moments, we could see a construction truck with a heavy trailer hitched behind it parked off to the left-side of the road, facing the wrong direction. (In Kenya, people drive on the opposite site of the road, like they do in London. Unlike London, however, the roads in Kenya are not marked with solid lines, dotted lines, white lines, yellow lines or any other type of line. Game on.) As we pulled around the trailer, we could see a bus--exactly like the one we were in--completely demolished. Half of the van was gone.

A young man in civilian clothing stood on the opposite side of the road--a semi-automatic rifle hung nonchalantly at his side. On the left side of the road, bodies that had been thrown/carried from the wreck were laying bleeding and badly bent in the grass. One man was practically bent in half--the wrong way--back to calves. A woman was lying on the gravel, her legs covered with a blanket. Another young man, maybe fourteen, had a bad, bloody gash on his head. He was still blinking, but that was all the moving he was doing.

As the van passed this horrific sight, the health care professionals inside were startled and were trying to figure out where in the 28 boxes and three vans they had packed their gloves and other medical supplies that these people would need. The supplies were not in the passenger van.

"Should we pull over and help anyway?" they asked aloud.
"No." Adele said forcefully. "Over 40% of the population here has HIV/AIDS. We cannot safely stop and help here." And so we drove away in silence.
(Another note about Nairobi. They don't have enough hospitals and they are understaffed. It is common for patients to share beds--up to three people in a bed at a time alternating--head--toe--head. Even women going into labor are required to share their bed up until the last final few pushes.

Despite the similarities at the airport, the car accident aftermath we witnessed only moments later reminded this group of the magnitude of the problems facing Nairobi. It was a very poignant experience to illustrate that there are many problems that Kenya faces to which these helping hands from Iowa are still helpless to relieve.

That night, the van wound through Nairobi, past the new electric street lamps and lit hotel lobbies, past the flicker of the firelight dancing on the tin-roofed slums, introducing the EyeCare Kenya team to shadows of Nairobi washed in a moonlight glow.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Landing in Nairobi

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Tonight we landed in Nairobi. The full moon looked so bright and so close—nearly twice as big as the largest full moon I have ever seen from the Mid-West. Oddly enough, the Kenya airport looked more familiar than the moon. It was just slightly bigger than the Des Moines airport. The planes looked the same, except they had names like Kenya Air instead of Delta or Southwest.

At the baggage claim, we were met by Adele, our liason between the village of Eldoret and Kipcaren. She has a rich South African accent and short curly brown hair. A native South African, she has lived in Kenya for two years, and she immediately began showing us the ropes. For example, the baggage claim carts that must be rented in many American airports, are free here, but there is a trick. In order to get the wheels to rotate, you must push the cart handle (similar to a shopping cart) down. She pointed this out as Michele and I were dragging our stuck-wheeled carts across the tile floor, immediately revealing that we were not native Nairobians.

Out of the 29 bags and boxes that were shipped, 28 arrived. The missing box contains sutures and sterilizing drapes—so we have made it here with practically all of the supplies we unloaded in Cedar Rapids. In the Kenya airport, you cannot leave the airport to load a few things and return to grab more from the baggage claim area, once you’ve left the building, you’re out. So the seven of us, 6 on the Kenya team and Adele, packed all 29 bags on 7 of those small luggage carts and headed toward the man Doc has been having nightmares about since her last Kenya adventure…her nemisis, the Customs man. She actually journaled 12 pages of attack and counterattack strategies before stepping off of the plane tonight.

Just to recap, last year she spent 2.5 hours haggling with the Customs man. He wanted money. She was unwilling to bribe. And there they stood, deadlocked. Their conversation last year went:

“Tell me what these supplies and medicines are worth in your country,” he said. (Visitors bringing materials into Kenya, through customs, are required to pay a fee based on the value of what they are bringing in.)

“Nothing. They have all been donated,” she replied.

“Oh, I don’t believe that. Come on, what are they worth?” And so they went. Round and round. When finally she said, “All of these supplies are here to help your fellow Kenyans. If you do not let them in, you’re people will not get the medicines they need.”

And with that he said, “You should have said the supplies were for doctors’ personal use.” Then he paused. “O.k. You may pass.”

Doc and team stood there for a few seconds—probably from surprise—and so he said, “What are you still doing here? I said you can go. Go.”

This year, with 7 packed carts in tow, she walked directly up to the man in the gray suit.

“What are all these supplies for?” he asked.

Doc bowed her head and said, “Doctors’ personal use.”

“You may pass,” said the Custom’s man. So we ran with our medicines out through the airport doors and into the air of Nairobi.

The air had a metalic twinge, as if the breeze had been sucking on a spoon or a penny. We stood there, many of us smelling Kenya for the first time, as our things were loaded into three vans by Adele’s team. We all piled into one van and took off for the place we would sleep for the night.