by John and Kim Shumlansky, Mount Kenya National Forest, Kenya
It was an exciting time when our new water system was finally finished and water began flowing to the village. This excitement continued for about a week before we woke one day to find no water in the pipes. As the children went out to the stream with their jerry cans to collect water, a few of the village men accompanied us into the forest to see what had caused the water to stop running. As we followed the buried pipeline through the thick forest growth, we came up on an area where trees were uprooted and the ground was completely overturned. Elephants had apparently come through the night before.
The pipes had been properly buried so that nobody would mess with them, but they had not been safe from the herd of 20 to 25 elephants that had come sliding down the hill, one after another, each taking away more and more of the dirt that covered our pipes. The pipes lie halfway down a steep hill and thus the weight of the sliding elephants and the slope of the land had soon eroded the one foot of dirt that protected the pipes. Once the pipe was uncovered, it was inevitable that it would be shattered. When we arrived at the scene of the elephant crossing, a large footprint could be seen over the broken spot where water was pouring down the hill.
The following day we called together about 30 members of our village to re-bury the pipeline. This time we made sure that at least three feet of dirt covered every part of the pipeline. Burying the pipeline for a second time was hard work, but certain precautions are necessary when you live among elephants.
by Melissa Perry, Oyugis, Kenya
As you look at the names of the people in the pictures you will notice many have the same name. The tribe in my area is Luo; they are considered fishermen since they come from the lake area. The Luo tribe names their children by the time of day they were born. My Luo name is Atieno because I was born late at night. A girl's name starts with an A and a boy's name begins with O.
by Bryce Sitter, Mobile Clinic, Kajiado, Kenya
Kenyans can buy second-hand clothes, tools, and devices, and are always willing to accept anything. They are very good at fixing things and getting by without things we rely on. Learning to live here meant learning to go without things I thought I needed. But, it is also considered rude to write a note or letter on the back of "scratch paper." Likewise, a new plastic bag is given to a customer who buys fruits or vegetables in the market. There are no garbage bins or proper places to put trash, and plastic litters the area like an art exhibit. New modern conveniences like aluminum cans and cardboard are causing trash and littering, where a few years ago things were wrapped in banana leaves.
When you get into a car, it is likely to be a jalopy. Cars are repaired over and over. I've even held the door shut and watched the road pass me through holes underneath my feet. The Kenyans are so friendly, that it takes me an hour to walk the 4 kilometers (2 1/2 mi) to town, constantly greeting people. They are loving and social and very giving. They ask many questions about America. I was once asked if I have ever ridden in the space shuttle. Everyone knows your business, and if there is need, the community comes together to raise money, show respect, or help someone celebrate. Someday I will have to return here to see my Kenyan friends again.
by Patrick Campbell, Mombasa, Kenya
The handicapped in Kenya are severely disadvantaged by cultural superstitions and a social welfare system that is desperately underfunded. In Embu, a town two hours north of Nairobi in the foothills of Mount Kenya, I lived next to an orphanage, which was also a school for handicapped children started by the Red Cross. After a day of consulting business I would often come home and kick a soccer ball around to unwind. After a while I noticed I had an audience of children shyly peeking through the fence. In Swahili I invited them to join me, and two of the bravest crawled under the fence. One by one others began to sneak in and join us, and soon I was surrounded by a dozen laughing children. These kids receive daily reminders of what they can and cannot do as a result of their condition. I'm sure if they would have asked, someone would have told them they would never be able to play soccer. With no one there to tell them they couldn't, they decided to see if they could. They hopped, crawled, and limped around swinging their legs at the ball, hitting it with their crutches, or kicking it with their good leg, overjoyed by the chance to be kids. After six months in Embu I was informed that I was transferred to Mombasa. I wrote letters to family and friends asking if they had any soccer equipment they were able to donate to my friends. In the end they decided to donate money instead to avoid the logistics of shipping equipment 8,000 miles. On the day I left I presented the kids with 10 soccer balls and two pumps. I could hardly get them to stand still for two minutes so I could take a picture to send home to the donors. Now I live in Mombasa, a city of 500,000 people and I hardly ever get to kick the ball around anymore. Though I enjoy living on the coast and working with the handicapped, I often think of the friends I left behind in Embu. If I listen carefully, I can still hear their laughter.
by David Frommell, Bagoo, Rift Valley Province, Kenya
Late on a rainy Thursday night during May, I lay in bed with violent stomach pains and fever. Another Volunteer passing through town was staying with me, and was concerned enough to suggest we seek medical attention.
Near midnight, the neighbors I had known for only several weeks sprung into action, notifying the doctors and arranging for a vehicle to get me to the hospital, which was nearly two hours away. At 12:30 a.m. I waved good-bye to my new, sleep-deprived neighbors as my cab left the gas station.
When I arrived at the hospital at 2 a.m., the doctor diagnosed me with appendicitis. Six hours later I was flown to Nairobi, Kenya's capital city, for emergency surgery. That same day, my neighbors organized for a trip to the first hospital I had gone to that rainy night. They had no idea they would not find me there. Yet they spent hundreds of Kenyan shillings and a day of their time to show support to the young American man who had become their neighbor six weeks earlier.
I had not expected such sacrifice from the people of Kenya, who have little time or money to spare. Yet after living in Kericho for seven months, I have learned that such good deeds are common among my neighbors. I feel blessed to live in a community that values friendship so highly.
by Glenna Snider, Osorongai, Kenya
On January 1, I assisted a young woman with the birth of her baby, who was about one month premature. Here is an excerpt from a letter I mailed to my mother describing the event:
Sunday, Jan. 3, 1999
The past couple of days have been very eventful. I am taking advantage of the quiet, as everyone, or most everyone, is preparing to go to church. On Friday afternoon, Alex, and then Caroline, came to tell me that a young woman had come to the dispensary and that she was very sick. Raphael had gone to a wedding, so there was no one to see her. Alex and Caroline seemed unusually concerned, so I decided to find out where this woman was and if there was anything I could do to help.
She was kneeling in the grass, complaining of chest pains, and coughing. She was also pregnant, but not full term. I didn't really know what to do. After a few minutes, she said she needed to go to the latrine. As we stood up, she appeared to be having a contraction, and there was evidence that her water had broken.
Caroline ran to send someone to bring Raphael, and someone else to go for the midwife. I started walking with Helen toward the latrine. After a few steps, she suddenly cried out, lifted her skirt, and pulled at her underwear. I squatted down facing her, holding her hands, and told her to push. The placenta was already coming out; within about three minutes, a very small, motionless form slipped out onto the grass. I picked the baby up (a baby girl, although I did not know that until later ... no time to look). She was like a slippery rag doll. No sign of life; she was completely motionless. I turned her over onto her stomach, face to the ground, and gently whacked her backside—nothing. I flopped her around, pushed on her stomach and chest, trying get her to breathe. She remained totally lifeless. I called to Caroline that I needed help, that I needed to get the baby to breathe.
Helen was still squatting, watching, silent. I was hardly aware of her. The realization hit me at the same time that this baby might be stillborn, and that I wasn't going to get any help. In a kind of desperation, I opened her mouth and stuck my finger in, trying to clear a path, and trying to remember how to do mouth to mouth on someone that tiny. As I pulled my finger out, her mouth moved, in what looked like a reflex gag kind of movement. I started talking to her then—"Come on! I know you are alive, Breathe! Come on..." I put her over on her stomach, patted her back—nothing. I whacked her a little harder, as Caroline had returned, and was calling to me "Alex says to hit it hard on the back." People had started to gather, but were staying at a distance. I was vaguely aware of a couple of children very close, watching. I stuck my finger down her throat again, because it was the only thing that worked. She sucked in a small breath. I turned her over, patted her back, and then opened her mouth again with my fingers. She started breathing, very small, soft breaths. She did not cry.
I looked at Helen; we were still squatting in the grass, facing each other. I told her, "Your baby is alive." I called to Caroline that the baby was alive, and to bring a blanket. She ran to the house where Alex had put on a pot of water to boil and praying. Caroline told her to continue praying.
Rhoda, Helen, Magdalene, and a couple other village women came forward with cords and a razor blade. One old woman insisted that the mother had to dig a hole and bury the placenta. Caroline grabbed the jembe and started digging. I took Helen by the arm, lifted her up, and said, "She is coming with me." Rhoda had the baby. We brought them to my place and cleaned up the baby (who was still not crying, but was at least breathing). Helen bathed, and put on some clean clothes that Caroline brought over. We fixed a bed for Helen and the baby, on the floor in my room. The baby never cried until about 5 the next morning, and still had not nursed. I heated some water so Helen could wash her face, and cleaned the baby, who was wet. I gave Helen some ugi (porridge), then had her sit up in a chair to nurse. The baby finally started sucking; it was after 7 a.m., more than 12 hours since she had been born.
After it was all over, Alex told me that he had come out when the baby (later named Sharon Jepchumba) started breathing, and moved a group of children back. His daughter, Alison, had apparently been right at my side, and had seen the whole thing. He said, "She was really amazed. She just kept saying 'Mtoto, Mtoto,' over and over..."
Helen and Sharon Jepchumba came to visit me two weeks ago. Sharon is now 10 months old. She is wide-eyed and chubby; a beautiful toddler. Her birth will always remain a highlight of my experience in Kenya.