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Last Thoughts From Kenya

So, it’s come to the end of my trip to Kenya. What a journey it has been.

The past week has been quite pleasant. I spent most of it in Kokotoni. I was reading my journal of the first week in Kokotoni, and there is such a remarkable difference in my attitude about the village, and about my little house there. The first night, we were in a completely foreign environment. There were loads of huge cockroaches, and we couldn’t lock our front door. A highway with terrible potholes went by the place fifty meters or so away, and all night trucks banged away along it. A five in the morning, the loudspeaker on the mosque next to the clinic and the house came one with a call to prayer by one of the worst singers to ever hit the soundwaves.  So, there was a tangible sense of discomfort that first evening.

Returning to the house last weekend for the final time, it was a bit like going back home. Arriving in the house elicited that sense of arrival you get when you step into your house. Being back at the clinic meant being surrounded by friends. So, instead of being justly uncomfortable in the village, I was quite happy there. I spent the week hanging around with the daktari and his family. It rained quite a lot, there weren’t many patients for most of the weekend. Naturally when the rains stopped, large numbers of patients with malaria and typhoid started pouring in. We visited a nearby town, Mariakani, which had been turned into a swamp by the rains. The doctor and I even came by matatu to Mombasa, where we visited a local beach and a nature trail. Nothing like a tour of Mombasa by matatu with a local; if there is one thing I can’t figure out, it’s that system of taxi-buses, going all over the city, I can’t seem to grasp where they all end up.

So, Monday was my final day in Kokotoni. It went as usual, there were a steady stream of malaria patients, while one small boy had a big abscess we drained on his belly, and another had a bean in his nose we removed. But there was a deep sense of sadness. I had packed my bags, which wasn’t too difficult, since I’d given away a lot of my stuff to people there, in part to make room for souvenirs. I also had a large amount of food stores, but since the daktari’s wife had made nearly every meal for me, little had been used, so that was donated to her. At the clinic, there were a lot of sad goodbyes and promises to visit again. My ride was coming in the late evening, so the daktari’s wife showed me the long and complicated process of making chipatis, which are essentially tortillas with a Kenyan flair. At some point, the van taking me to Mombasa arrived, and abrupt and quick goodbyes were made to my friends, the daktari and his family. It’s probably better that way; it would have been awkward to have broken down sobbing like a schoolgirl in front of them.

It’s a little strange how comfortable I had become, in no small part due to the support and encouragement of people I’ve come to know here. The house became my home away from home, the staff became my friends, and Mombasa and Kokotoni became more and more familiar as the time went on.

I’ve given a fair amount of thought to what I have accomplished here. I came here to learn about tropical diseases and medicine, and to see another culture and place. As for the medical part, I did have that experience—I saw a lot of diseases that I would have never seen in the US, and experienced the intense disparity of health facilities that much of the world experiences first hand. Beyond that, this trip has shown me much more. I know that abject poverty exists in the US—despite our wealth, we’ve not eliminated it, but cover it better. Here it is everywhere, it is on every sidewalk, it is along every road and in every town. You can’t pretend that it doesn’t exist, you can’t just live your life imagining that everyone has the same sort of lifestyle and material excess that you have. At the same time, having this knowledge of such poverty and need in the world gives a responsibility, one to act on that knowledge. It’s not enough for me to return to my life in the US and just go back to it, having done nothing to try to change this. I wrote earlier that one of the first reflections I made was there is so much need that it is overwhelming. Taking that a step further, how is it possible to do nothing to try to alleviate that need?

A comment that a friend of mine made really was true for me here. Africa is a place that visitors can either hate or love. If you come here with your mind made up of what it is and is not, if you hear the stories of dirty streets and violent crime and terrible poverty, that is what Africa will be for you. You won’t see the forest for all the trees. But if someone comes to Africa with an open mind, then the beauty and earnest potential, the energy and uniqueness of this place becomes obvious. Africa is like a virus, it gets in your blood.

So I have had much more of an experience than simply the medical aspect of it all. I’ve learned a lot about life, about the world, and about myself, and that was far worth the money, time and effort put into this trip.


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