Saturday, September 11, 2010


On Saturday we arrived in Shirati, Tanzania, and man were we surprised
at how different it was from Kisii, Kenya! In almost every aspect the
two East African countries are completely different; first let?s start
with the pace. Kisii although not at New York speed is a fast paced
city with congested streets, motorcycle taxis that weave in and out of
lanes (sometimes causing accidents), and there is always a constant
clamor of street vendors trying to sell you their merchandise. But
when we approached the small town it was apparent that city life would
be forever left in Kenya by the unpaved, pothole filed dirt road that
led us into the town of Shirati. The drive on the dirt roads seemed
like years due to the constant bumps that our van had to endure, but
also the constant stares that we received from the people.
Finally we made it to the hostel where we would be residing for the
next three days, completely intact but exhausted from spending the
whole day driving in that sweltering van. The hostel was a big change
from Ufanisi Resorts where people wait on you hand and foot. We had
the house all to ourselves which was nice because we wanted peace and
quiet from the loud night life in Kisii, but we soon found out that
would not be the case here either. There was always loud music playing
in the distance, dogs barking, and an annoying clicking sound that was
unrelenting. Sunday I spent it sleeping while the others went to Lake
Victoria and Renee went hiking up the mountain nearby. Finally I got
up and went out to go visit the lake which was absolutely spectacular.
The next day was all work and no play, or should I say a lot of
waiting. The day started out very S L O W?My mother had to give a talk
to the whole hospital staff and for the life of them they could not
get the projector to work. We had to set up the rooms, start
interviewing patients (but really wait for patients to arrive), and
get things in order. By noon only nine patients had been registered, a
huge change in pace from Kisii (it continued at that pace for the rest
of the trip). Cryotherapy was needed to help treat the patents but
there was no gas! So no surgeries could be completed and all we could
do were cervical exams; which is very hard because patients would
probably not receive the care they need if we did not treat them. We
could refer them to a hospital several hours? drive away, but many
patients did or do not have the money to go get the help they need. At
the end of this very short visit, the whole group felt defeated and
even contemplated the fact if we should even come back to the hospital
again. We were all ready to leave and have a change of pace at the
next place and so we did?.
Bukumbi was a suburb of Mwanza (the second largest city in Tanzania
aside from Dar Es Salaam) we were all excited to get to Mwanza and do
some shopping! (It was an all women group besides our amazing drivers
Manuel and Mike) We set out around 11AM for the supposed 4 hour drive,
but of course while in Africa you are supposed to expect the
unexpected! And man were we surprised while driving through the
Serengeti, we came upon a bridge with Baboons!

We kept on driving and there were ZEBRAS and WILDEBEESTS!
see wildebeest in background

It was like a free Safari, BUT all the fun came to and end at another
bridge (cue the horror music). There was a huge truck that got a flat
tire in the middle of the narrow bridge, and unfortunately the truck
was way too heavy to push it off to the side of the road so we had to
wait and wait and?.. wait. Cars stopped and waited, people walked
around, and even vendors sold bananas and sugar cane! (I of course did
not get to eat anything because I was fasting) We waited for what
seemed like forever but it was only an hour. Anu and I began to get
antsy and thought that we would not reach Mwanza in time to go
shopping. Anu said to me, ?Soon people are just going to build houses
and create a village on the side of the road!? Finally the truck
received a new tire and we were on our way, but not in time to go
shopping. By the time we got to the city all the shops were closing
and it was even time for me to break my fast. We had dinner at a
surprisingly good Chinese place right on Lake Victoria in Mwanza, and
then we headed for the hospital in Bukumbi at which we were working at
as well as residing.
We got there, settled in, and everyone was very pleased with our
sleeping arrangements (it was quite an improvement from our less than
clean hostel in Shirati). The next day my mother gave another lecture
to the nurses and doctors that we would be training the next two days,
we setup the rooms as usual, and things were underway (way different
from Shirati). We saw close to 25 patients the first day, but again we
could not do any procedures because THERE WAS NO GAS; so all the
patients had to be referred again to the Mwanza hospital nearby.
Aside from the absent gas the nurses and doctors were eager to learn
and apparently liked to read as well because one of the male midwife
nurses (one of many) pleaded with me to let him borrow one of my
summer reading books that I desperately needed to complete. I
eventually gave in and let him borrow the book, and the next morning
he said, ?I love this book; I think you will leave this book with me.?
I had to finish it so I politely and as sorrowfully said no, but by
the end of the day I had finished it and decided to give it to him.
(see book in bottom right corner)
The day was similar to that of which before but sadly my partner in
crime and good friend, Anu and her mother Raji left mid day to go
visit family in Dar Es Salaam. And another person was also gone and
well missed, Monica, who had to leave abruptly for a family emergency,
and we continued to send her our prayers. There was also a huge
atrocity early in the morning?.NO ONE WOKE ME UP?.therefore I slept in
and people forgot that I was still in the house and so they proceeded
to leave and lock me in unknowingly. Finally the group realized that I
was not there and returned for me only to see me trying to break
myself out of the house, with arms dangling outside of the jailhouse
like bars that protected our house from burglars. The day went on and
we found out that at 3 PM it was time to pack up and leave for good
this time; back to America. Later that evening we had our last meal
together and reminisced on what a good and rewarding trip this has been.

(Dr. Kenya, Dr.Mutiso [the wonderful doctor head of Kisii], Me
[Rajaa], Renee, Monica, Carol, Raji, Rashmi, Anu )
Posted and written by Rajaa Numan (Sixteen years old)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Nurses of Kisii

After all their hard work and perseverence, I wanted to give you a glimpse of some of the wonderful, quirky nurses we worked with at Kisii Hospital. As a group they were charming, diligent, kind, hilarious, and a pleasure to teach and work with. We almost wish we could pack each of them into a little box, place them in our pockets, and take them home. But then who would help Dr. Mutiso with the LEEP's and CRYO's? Oh well, I know Carol and Dr. Kenya are very excited and eager to see them again in February!

Jerusa: Wonder Woman and Nurse Extraordinaire
Petite, small, 52 year old woman. As soon as she saw us, she sized each of us with quick up and down glances, bounded over, and planted two kisses on each cheek. Then, she flashed us her famous Jerusa smile, in all its mischevous glory, and gave us a tour of the facility. Now, when she talks about the hospital, she caresses each word, patting each medical device and instrument as if they were her children. This woman radiates vitality and passion and a love of nursing. She even stayed late to help with paperwork and clean up! What we loved most about her was not only her sweet nature and sense of humor but also her ferocity. Either when she's on the hunt for more speculums or bargaining with Carol for more swabs or even a headlight, Jerusa makes sure that she can take care of her patient. Really, that was this woman's first priority...and that's just how we like it!
Josephine: The Dimpled Mama
I bet, when children look at Josephine, they automatically think "Mommy" because she even appears caring and loving. A small. slightly chubby woman with the kindest face, Josephine is soft-spoken and shy. But as the days went by, she started asking more questions and particpating more when Dr. Rashmi was doing exams. As a nurse she is capable and responsible...and as a friend she is peerless. Often, at break, all you see her doing is pouring tea for her friends or offering them more bread. And finally, when the other nurses have been attended to, you see her reach for another piece of bread and another mug of tea...and offer it to a patient. Gerneostiy personified, that's our Josephine.

Regina of the gleaming eyes
Oh Regina, standing so very tall. At first, we heard nothing come from this woman's mouth. Not a peep. But those eyes...oh those eyes. Always crinkled, always dancing, those eyes look like they know something secret...something special. All we knew of Regina was what the other nurses told us. "Regina? Regina's hilarious! She's always joking around and smiling." A-ha! We knew it! Those eyes gave her secret away! Fortunately, as we became familiar faces, she showed us more and more of her endearing nature...and we were hooked.

The Mellens
Same name. They even look similar. Heck, they came from the same town! But those Mellens are very very different. There's young Mellen and an older, riper Mellen (sorry, that really wasn't very funny...But I couldn't help myself!) Young Mellen is more vivacious and curious, while the other Mellen is established, firm, solid. Really, I think they do it on purpose to keep each other in balance...otherwise, there would be all kinds of confusion! But both Mellens are wonderful people, excellent nurses. What would we do without our sweet Mellens? (Oh god, another pun!)
Euniah: "We will do 100 exams...EACH!"
What a promise! What a crazy, promise! Even though we only expected the nurses to complete 100 in 6 months, this woman promised that each nurse would see 100 patients! But, there's not doubt that it's going to happen. And if anyone could do it, it's Euniah. Euniah's not afraid to say what she thinks or even ask for something she needs. Carol agrees; "Euniah grounds me."

Teresa. A god-send.
Though not a nurse, Teresa deserves as much recognition. This woman would arrive every day earlier than us and stay late too. She made sure everything was clean, tidy, organized. Frankly, she had one hard job. And we respect her and admire her for her diligence and attention to detail. Without her, we would probably have been tearing our hair out and acting crabby. Thank god for women like Teresa!

A little philosophy to warm the soul...

You know those old, corny romance movies, especially the ones set during the Civil War? There's always this one scene where the man, lavishly decked in his Confederate braid and insignia, is bidding a sorrowful adieu to his little mistress. And he says something along the lines of, "When I see the stars, I will think of only you because I know you'll be seeing those same stars too." Well, here in Shirati, when the electricity suddenly died during dinner and we all whipped out our flashlights, we trudged outside to behold the stars...I guarantee, that you can't possibly be seeing the same sky that we see. Looking at the dark carpet of night, we awed at the brilliance of those shining white specks. And we reminded ourselves that even through the troubles we face, be they power outtages or a lack of nitrous oxide gas (oh drats, as Carol would say), we must simply take time to find the beauty of the moment.

And breathe.

-Anu Menon