Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sinkiraine, Part 1: The Hardest Part

I spent my last week in Sinkiraine, another Maasai village where ICROSS has set up a clinic. I stayed with the clinic's two nurses, Rose and William, who are married. I was only with them for four days, but I wish I could have stayed there longer. They were both really lovely people, and I loved being around Rose because she actually spoke and told stories! The other two Maasai women I stayed with were pretty quiet and kept to their "duties" of cooking, washing clothes, watching the children, etc. But Rose was different, and that's probably because she's not Maasai herself. She still has those same responsibilities, but she (not her husband) is the head nurse at the clinic. I felt there was a more equal relationship between William and Rose, which was refreshing to see.

Yet despite the "fresh air" that was Rose and William, my time in Sinkiraine was probably the hardest part of my time in Kenya. There's a drought all over Kenya (the past couple of rainy seasons haven't been rainy enough, thanks to global warming), but it's probably the worst in Sinkiraine. It's so unbelievably dry and hot there. It's so hot that everyone stays indoors and rests during the early afternoon. Grass and plants don't grow, which means that the Maasai people's livestock are starving (I've never seen skinnier cows) and even dying. If the cattle are bone-thin or dead, there goes the Maasai's source of income. And to make matters worse, there's no water in Sinkiraine. They either have to walk 30 km one way to a borehole, or they take the train 55 km to Magadi to fill up 10 or 15 20-L jugs with water. It's awful. The animals are dying, which means that there's no money for food, which is exacerbated by the fact that food prices are really high right now. When that happens, people starve.

I saw a lot of kids with rickets, a condition where children's leg bones are so weak that they bow out due to a deficiency of vitamin D and calcium. It doesn't cause any pain, which is good and bad. It's good in that the children aren't hurting, but it's bad in that it might not be noticed, and if it is, it's just chalked up to the child being born that way. Luckily, ICROSS has given the clinic nutritional supplements for the children, but there are some kids whose rickets are so bad that they need braces and even surgery to correct the problem. But without healthy livestock (i.e., money), how will the family pay for that?

The most heartbreaking patient I encountered was David. David is almost 4-years-old, and he only weighs 8 kg. A healthy 4-year-old weighs 16 kg. David weighs as much as Rose's 5-month-old baby girl, and he's almost four! David's parents live in Tanzania, so he's raised by his grandmother, but she doesn't have any money for food thanks to the drought, so she and her grandson are starving.

David had nothing. He was wearing only a dirty t-shirt that said "C'est tout moi" ("That's all me" in French). Literally, you could see all of him. He was so unbelievably thin that his bones and ribs were clearly visible. But the most devastating thing about David was that he had no affect. He wasn't happy for sure, but he wasn't sad either. He wasn't anything. His eyes looked like the life had been drained out of him. He looked tired from being so incredibly hungry. The children with rickets were suffering, too, but they still had energy and smiles on their faces. Not David.

Rose gave him some supplements to take, but what he really needed was food. I gave his grandmother 50 Kenyan shillings (about 63 cents), which is all I had, for beans. But that won't last very long. ICROSS will be bringing enriched porridge (the best stuff for malnourished children) next week, but how long will that last if this drought keeps going? And it doesn't look like this upcoming rainy season is going to be enough.

So what do you do with something like this? Do you pray? Or do you blame God for letting this happen? Or maybe both. But the only two true responses to seeing someone like David is to do something or to do nothing. Blaming God won't change anything. As hard as it was, my few minutes with David were really important for me. I now know that I will never be satisfied or content working in a hospital in the States, where everyone can get food or health care, whether that's provided by one's salary or by government assistance. But like most developing countries, there is no welfare system in Kenya. If you don't have any income, you don't have food. If you don't have food, you starve and die. No matter what career path I take, I have to be doing something that serves the world's poorest. How can I ever feel fulfilled or comfortable with my work and life if there are Davids out there slowly starving to death? It just wouldn't be right. More on this later...

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