Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cat Hawley Post #2: Nukuru

A stretch of the road from Nairobi to Nakuru overlooks the Great Rift Valley. We passed men transporting coal on bikes with bags stacked well over their heads. Most the scenery consists of small verdant farms.

Our destination is a home for street boys just outside of town. When we arrive the rain is coming down and the sky flashes purple and red with lightning. We enter the kitchen and the tin roof makes the big drops ring and we talk above the roar as Megan introduces me to Bev. She founded the house 14 years ago and is a retired teacher from Maine with a big heart and plenty of energy.

Once word gets out that Megan has arrived the boys pile into the kitchen. They crowd around a bench with us and we teach them thumb wars. Soon I’m playing two kids at once with both hands. Everyone is having fun and they want to play again and again.

The boys are darling but it’s hard to imagine all the challenges this shoestring operation faces. Nearly all the kids (there are 13 at the home – a few are at boarding high schools) have been on the streets. A recent arrival has a distended belly due to malnourishment, one boy in the home has Aids, others have learning disabilities that the Kenyan public school system is not equipped to address. The ones that have beaten the odds and excelled in school or have the ability to attend university won’t get the chance unless funds become available. Sometimes behavior problems are an issue and the older boys will beat up the little ones, or have been caught selling donated clothes.

Despite these harsh realities, real good is done here. The boys have four adults who care about them and provide shelter and fresh food from the shamba (garden). There is a goat that produces 3 liters of milk a day, chickens for eggs, and the children are clean and smiling. Somehow, there is order in the chaos. Last night they were crowded around the dining room table watching a documentary on boys who competed in a traditional dance competition in Uganda. Tonight they will hold an informal dance competition of their own.

This is a vast improvement from the alternative; sniffing glue on the streets of Nakuru. On the way to the market, Megan and I were approached by two little kids maybe as young as three and their seven(?) year old caretaker. They were in tatters and had little bottles of glue with them. Although the conditions at the boys home might not meet western standards the kids are offered a childhood and dignity. Megan has given thoughtful time, energy and resources to the boy’s home and as someone who has this bond with the children and she can’t help but constantly seek to make improvements. I’m hoping this visit was also a reminder of the tremendous impact she has already had on these young individuals.

(If you are interested in learning more about any of these kids, please visit here.)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Guest Blogger: Cat Hawley

Cat arrived early Saturday morning for 3 glorious weeks in Kenya. As one of our shared loves is writing - she'll be guest blogging here during her stay.

Megan and I have literally followed each other around the world. She went to Vladivostok with her children’s choir, then I went on a good will tennis exchange. I went to Beijing and her trip came a few ears later. Megan studied abroad in Costa Rika and I joined my family the following December. I moved to Hong Kong and Megan visited. She went to Italy and then I got my chance. I lived in Ireland for two summers and she has been too. Although I'm well, traveled I'm a bit intimidated by Africa but couldn't be more pleased to follow Megan.

Kenya is a myriad of curiosities both in a personal and social, political and economic sense. On one level I miss Megs and I've been wondering what she is up to? I look forward to sharing in the rich context of her daily experience. Sights, sounds, smells and characters who I have heard much about but don't have much of a sense of how these things come together to make up her routine. I'm still wondering what its like to get from point A to B on a Matatu, visit a university with no set calendar and meet a variety of people and organizations that Megan has reached out to and grown to love. I'm curious to see Megan living the experience she took chances to have and in which she deeply believes. Threw our friendship I've seen her gracefully fill many roles, as daughter, student, girlfriend, auntie, friend, sibling, coworker, etc. I look forward to seeing Megan in new roles she has created in Kenya that I trust she is filling just as gracefully.

Then there is the larger marvel of Africa. In a weak attempt to gain some understanding, I read a " Biography of the Continent" by John Reader. It is comprehensive but did little to connect the dots in my head. A few years back I was attending a presentation titled "global investment update" or something to that extent. A world map was displaced that there were dots everywhere except Africa... not one dot? The lecture was not about Africa but in my mind that was the strongest statement. It has stuck with me along with various other associations: diamonds, AIDS, the great migration, female circumcision, and of course a certain song by Toto that won a 1982 Grammy. I don't know how any of that translates to the feeling, pace, attitude and sensations of being there . . . Megs and I will keep you posted. . .

The pictures in this come from our visit to the Mt. Olive Academy for girls where we helped deliver some tables as part of a joint Rotary project between Newport Sunrise and Megan's club in Hurlingham. In small world occurences, Fr. Henry is good friends with one of my college team mates father's, Terry Donahue - go fig!).

Friday, February 19, 2010

Light at the end of the tunnel

In the last seven days, a run down of the numbers:

# of births attended: 1
# of hours slept: 30
# of exams taken: 4
# of visits to the hospital: 8
# of times I misplaced my phone: 20
# of times said phone was right where it should be: 19
# of times I almost left house wearing mismatched shoes with one on wrong foot: 1
# of times I spilled an entire water bottle over my partially completed exam: 1
# of semesters completed for my coursework: 3
# of semesters left: 1 (it's all research now!)
# of dear friends arriving in the middle of the night tonight: 1
# of celebratory goats to be eating this weekend: undetermined.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A birth story

This past week marked two events that will stay with me and impact the rest of my life. The first was my induction into the Rotary Club of Hurlingham, my host club here in Kenya, and the place I have chosen to make my Rotary home for now. The great thing about joining Rotary is the knowledge that no matter where I go in the world, I know exactly where to start in finding people who share my goals and values of promoting equity, access to opportunity and service above self. I am honored to have found my path in life coincide with the Rotary mission and I hope as a member I can give to others the incredible gifts my fellowship gave to me.

The second event started last night at approximately 10:03 p.m., when after a late study session I came screaming into the house needing to make some quick dinner and then jump on an skype chat with my eBay boss. Egg thrown in frying pan, juice poured, computer on, internet up. Maureen appears in the doorway, looking slightly dazed saying, “I think my water is breaking.” My reaction? Giggles. Partially because it took my brain awhile to translate “water breaking” into what I expected to hear, which was “water broke.” More so because I couldn’t believe the day was finally here, that one of the very last nights in which I could afford to sacrifice sleep and let the unknown steer us (exams start on Tuesday) was before us and a real live baby was about to join our funny family.

I grabbed housemate Judi, a sixth year medical student from Germany and we headed a couple blocks away to the hospital we had chosen for the birth. I have been impressed with the hospital thus far – Maureen likes the doctor we’ve seen for her antenatal visits and we made the choice together to pay for a package with a midwife birth – much less expensive than having her private doctor come in or even one of the on-call doctors at the hospital. I wouldn’t have been comfortable with that option if I didn’t believe in the facilities and their reputation for serving victims of violence and rape. That said, our check-in was one of the least professional and utterly frustrating things I’ve experienced. They misread Maureen’s I.D. card, continued to ask us to pay (even though I’d paid the bill 3 weeks prior), and generally acted disinterested and bored as Judi grew impatient knowing that once the water breaks the baby could come any minute, and we needed to get a basic exam to see her progress. I kept my cool while maneuvering the baby bag, my backpack, my purse and both Maureen’s and my wallets (you know those funny commercials with the dad trying to take the house with them to the hospital when it’s time? That was me). Long-term living in Kenya has its perks (or perhaps I should restate: lack of medical training has its perks), one of them being an ability to not freak out when a dear friend is literally leaving puddles behind her and the staff is more interested in watching the t.v. in the waiting room.

I can’t go into details about certain aspects of the night because they are simply too personal to the nature of the birth and those involved, but we eventually ended up in the communal labor room with the support team of Judi, myself and Megan White in place. I officially lost my cool when they told us that no one was allowed to be in the room when they did the initial exam – having asked this expressly during our initial visits and assuming the role of partner/spouse/father or more importantly, chief hand holder. Megan and Judi did a much better job of approaching the situation diplomatically, I felt incredibly resentful that as is so often the case in Kenya, “procedure” trumped all. After explaining a bit to the nurses and midwifes they conceded to let Judi stay with Maureen as she understood the procedure taking place, and I must say that Judi did an incredible job of asking informed questions but conceding authority to the medical professionals on hand.

Once the exam was done we began a series of rotations (they wanted no more than one person with Maureen at a time as there were two other women in the room, though neither appeared to be in labor – one snored consistently) to hand hold, give back rubs and accommodate the immediate onset of active labor. Maureen was incredible in sharing her wishes, telling us what she needed and what she didn’t want. As anyone who has gone through a labor knows, you see all sides of a person. What I can say is that through it all, the pain and the hurt and the fear, Maureen remained a woman of pureness in a way that makes the whole situation that much more awe-inspiring. We were a funny trio of child-less mzungus doing whatever we could to provide comfort and encouragement as the birth approached. From 10:30 to 3:45 we labored, and when she was at 9 cm they wheeled her to the delivery room, wherein bureaucracy resumed its trump.

Maureen just needed a hand to hold; she said any of us could come in (the other two could hover at the door) so we let Megan go as she has known Maureen since she was 8 years old and is the one in the group sure to call Kenya home the longest. Judi and I stood at the door, speaking words of encouragement and anxiously awaiting those first yelps that would tell us the baby had arrived. Maureen says there were no more than three major pushes and the baby was here. The chord was around her neck so she didn’t cry immediately, but Judi and I lucked out in standing right next to the warming bed that awaited. We watched as the nurses cleaned her up, rubbed her skin and brought forth those first pensive cries. We watched as she drew her eyes open wide, blinked in the new world around her and stretched her tiny limbs. When the nurse had finished she wrapped her up and handed her to me to take over to her mother to meet her face to face.

I don’t know what else to say other than this birth was a community effort, led at the helm by an incredibly strong young woman who has embraced what has been set before her and is on her way to becoming a wonderful mom. Mama Maureen (grandma to baby Mukoya) came this morning to celebrate her daughter’s strength. She was surprised and overjoyed by it.

Maureen had kept quiet on the name, though she told us she had one in mind. Many people were hoping for a namesake in this baby, and any number of people would deserve the honor for the friendship and support they extended. But Maureen chose a name that represented her understanding of this time and the daughter she was welcoming: Christabell Andola Mukoya. The ‘Christ’ is Maureen’s way of recognizing that through all of this, the trauma and the journey and the hope, Christ has been with her. The ‘bell’ is for the beautiful daughter now before us, and the ‘Andola’ is in honor of her mother. I believe she will be known by many as Bella.

I haven’t been as good at sharing the nature of my time here as I feel I was in South Africa. The saturation is different – I’m not immersed in the struggles of humanity in the same way, nor am I so far from my comfort zone and the world I know. Nairobi is a modern city, my social life is pretty comparable to home, I take a hot shower every morning. The developing world has its challenges, but the longer I’m here the more I learn what it is to simply be human, to be a friend, to be a family member. This time with Maureen and sharing the birth of Christabell is enough to make it all make sense. If I came here for only one thing, this would be enough. To witness this journey, to learn from the people involved and most especially Maureen what it is to do the very best with what life throws at you. To understand so clearly that some things are beyond our control, that no matter what order we try and approach our life with, we can at any time be asked to deal with something from left field. To learn how to do this with grace and honesty from such a young woman, and at the end of it all find such joy. Such faith.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dumb Sunday

Nairobi's hot streak finally gave way to scattered (and sometimes strangely heavy) showers this last week which has made for days of infrequent bouts of glorious sun. Though today presented a multitude of opportunities in which to enjoy said sun (from climbing, to football to live music), I took the high road in the hopes of savoring a productive day at home. That was dumb. I sat at home, glued to my computer, willing myself to work, and then doing just the opposite. One of the residual lessons I am learning in my time here is to seize the day (a favorite mantra of my father, though it once came through in an email as "sneeze the day" - somewhat fitting if you know him). And yet today I broke my own rule to take advantage of friendship and fun opportunities, because the work load is extreme right now, and I've had so little time to catch up on sleep, get my affairs in order and get stuff done at home. Lesson learned: school work at the library, paid work at home in the evenings - use the day to seek the sun and the people that make your heart sing (or might, if you got to know them better!).

As I think about next steps (which I do, often), it's days like this that throw me for a loop. By the end of it, I wanted to jump on a plane tomorrow, take the first job offer I've had and settle back into a life in which I am known and comfortable. To be able to have those Sunday afternoons with family and friends that simply fall into place, that don't require great plans or trade offs by nature of their flexibility. And yet had I done any of the things I could have today, I know I would have been in high spirits, caught in the feeling of wonder that smacks me upside the head so often here with a simple statement of "look what you get to do/be/see/know here." The world of my heart and my history is so far away, but the world of my hands and my mind is all around - ready to be made into something of purpose. It makes knowing what comes next, or what should come next, so incredibly difficult. And yet even in the down times, the undercurrent of blessings remains, giving some comfort to all the decisions that lie ahead.

(On the topic of blessings, it's all coming up babies these days...welcome to the world Maggie Charlize Obrist and Shaifali Rose Nagase! Maureen is due in a week and a half - on the third day of my exams, in fact. Keep her (and me!) in your prayers).