Two days ago I drove for the first time to my village in the outskirts of Mombasa alone. I drove into the madness of rush hour, Matatu’s buzzing past like a scene from Nintendo Mario Brother (Matatu’s seem to be the ONLY ones that move fast in this country), past the markets teeming with men trying to make a dollar. I drove across the sorry excuses for roads. I drove on the only road out of the only major port in Eastern Africa. I drove into the eyesore of the chaos surrounding Mombasa into the palms trees of the village. And of course I was late for the first Jipe Moyo Woman’s Group Meeting. Dr. Keith had kept time up to this point and today I causally sat on my veranda and had another cup of coffee knowing that I was going to be late, but did it anyways. Ha! Maybe I am part African! Anyways…I was calmly confidant that the women would like my presentation. I translated words into Swahili, drew pictures and made food. All to stress the important issue: Prevention of disease. I charismatically solicited they should ‘prevent illness in your kids so that they have a better life than you, prevent illness so they can learn to read and write’ I preached with science and with emotion, pulling on all the heart wrenching be a good mother strings I knew of. During the last two months of clinics I have learned from Dr. Keith the pathology and treatment for the primary afflictions that their children suffer from; ringworm (tinea capitis) scabies and parasites. While discussing parasites I told them how Schistosomiasis enters the body, through a water source, the quarry, that they all use for free water. The prevention tactics up this point were doable; washing sheets, not sharing combs, keep finger nails clean, but Schistosomiasis has long term health implications and difficult to combat because it is endemic. It affects 20 million per year and 85% of the cases are in Africa. Kenya’s Prime Minister Odinga stated that those children with parasites are more likely to be illiterate.
After that translation there was a snicker among the crowd… I found out no families can pay the 5 shillings for 20 gallons of water. 5 shillings is less than 3 Canadian cents. How could I teach prevention of their biggest problem when the source of their problem comes from the only commodity that they receive “free”? I suddenly woke up. I am a white woman sitting in a small Kenyan Village among 40 women who live day to day with no resources. We are worlds apart, and I don’t understand their problems. I have never ever had to choose between eating and not eating on any given day. I realized that I can’t help them, they have to help themselves, they have to work together and collaborate as a community wanting to sacrifice the nothing that they have in exchange for the idea of something unknown that MIGHT be for the better. These women know very little other than surviving, having babies, and having more babies. I had take 20 steps back to get their perspective in our discussion. I asked why they couldn’t pay, who had jobs, if they wanted them, where and what they would do. Would they like to work in the village or out? Who has husbands that work? Who worries about food and who wants their children to live differently than them? Their silence and solemn nods told me everything. I let them discus among themselves and come up with ideas. They all looked at me for answers and asked me good questions. Could they kill the parasite in the water? I told them every parasite scientist in the world is wondering the same thing. I told them they have to think together, work together to come up with a joint solution because I don’t understand their problems, I told them I would support them but I wouldn’t do the work for them. I am teaching them how to think differently, not immediatly providing them with the answers. If they had income they could feed their children and pay for water. As much as they looked to me for answers, and as much as I wanted to answer them and tell them what to do I turned the questions on them and forced them to come up with the answers themselves. What would be your ideal situation? How are you going to make that happen? I am still scratching my head at the events as once again African’s ever changing stoic façade has caught me blindsided…and hopeful.