31 Oct Reflections on a Week Spent in Kenya
Before I started my race of a day called Monday and zoomed back into the reality of American culture, I wanted to stop and share some reflections from my trip to Kenya last week.
It is a little perplexing to think that just a week ago we were driving the bumpy steep mountain road on the way to our first day of clinic. I wish I could put you in my memories so you could share in all the scenes I try so hard to remember: the steep mountains that are being farmed by hand, the motorcycle taxis carrying four people (or sometimes even couches) treacherously avoiding potholes or oncoming traffic, the smell of both fresh-tilled earth or diesel as we drive on highways. There are the rows of homesteads that, in the United States, we would think are sheds or storage buildings, but in Kenya each of those doors represents a family—families in houses unlikely to have running water, electricity, or toilet facilities of their own. Lastly, I see a scene of new cinderblock buildings that are going up hastily with crooked scaffolding, lending to the lean of the new construction. Again, I wish I could paint a better picture but these are some that I try to burn into my memory.
We saw around 600-700 people over the course of about three days. On other trips we have seen more, however they are in the middle of some political strife and people were busy getting to places to vote. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the number of people waiting, but I avoid looking at the line and instead only focus on the person sitting at my table and try my best to give them my full attention. I have no expectation of giving them all that they need, and they have no expectation that I can, but come only for the hope that someone may actually listen to them and care.
I have no expectation of giving them all that they need, and they have no expectation that I can, but come only for the hope that someone may actually listen to them and care.
The most important thing that happens at the clinic is that these people are connected to the local church. My medicine will not have the power to erase the years of carrying 60 pounds of coffee in bags which they secure around their heads and carry on their backs up mountain trails likened to climbing steep parts of Table Rock. The pain in their upper backs and numbness in their hands will not disappear. These aged females laugh as I massage their weary backs, and I joke that they need to teach their grandchildren to do so. Some weep at the pain. I cannot help but join them.
The question rolls in my head, “Why do I come? Does it make any difference?” Bernard Kabaru (our Kenyan partner) is quick to answer this question in our weekly wrap up. He has been asked many times “Wouldn’t the money it takes to accomplish a trip like this be better utilized if it was just given to the organization?” His answer is an emphatic, “No! I don’t want your money. 600-700 people this week were seen, loved on, and connected to others. That reality and your experience in being part of this process is priceless.”
The most important thing that happens at the clinic is that these people are connected to the local church.
I agree with him wholeheartedly and that is why I go back. That is why I will ensure my children will be back with me some day. Our God created us to be relational. He created us in His image. He created us to be loved and our clinics help ensure that these battle-worn people know that they are cared for—that there is hope. They may not see relief this side of Heaven but there is hope on the other side.
My time in Kenya opens my eyes to all the things I am quick to shut my eyes on or ignore back at home. I had a young man sit down at my table. He would not look me or my translator in the eyes as he talked about the pain he had in his shoulder. He had brought records with him, but I didn’t read the cover at first. He was shy, his shoulders hung heavy. I arranged for another physician to come and give him a trigger point injection in his shoulder. We tried to engage him in conversation about his family, and as we sat, he finally shared with us that he lost his wife and child when he went to prison. He had only been out a few months. He shared how all his brothers were deceased and now he was farming and helping his mother.
He created us to be loved and our clinics help ensure that these battle-worn people know that they are cared for—that there is hope. They may not see relief this side of Heaven but there is hope on the other side.
I was silent, battling the curiosity of his conviction, and the tears I felt in my heart for this man who obviously was battling the scars of his life, the shame that is so heavy. We sat long enough that I had an opportunity to tell Bernard about him, and he came over and approached him, touched his shoulder, and quickly recognized him. A huge smile crossed this patient’s face as he was recognized and treated as a friend. Even better, before the man left, Bernard connected him with a mentor in the church and set up accountability between the two, a relationship that would be initiated by my patient. This was the best medicine he could have received this day and will have longer lasting effects than my shot or Ibuprofen will ever have.
This is why I am obedient and go. I pray I will continue to have eyes in my own country for the poor in spirit and be brave enough to take the chance to make someone feel seen and cared for.
–Wendy Arnold, Downtown Campus