Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Leaving Again - part one

Hi folks. I want to say that I really appreciate when you e-mail me telling me to hurry up and write another installment. I must admit I wondered whether people actually read my blog, but since they do I will make a better effort from now on. I promise. And if I slack off, just keep on asking.

I have so much to say. The last two (three?) weeks have been crazy. And with my friends and my work at WOFAK it's been like two different lives, both of them jam packed. I'll start with When my last entry left off. I was going to Nairobi for a show with my friend Boboshanty. It was a reggae show with an artist called Turbulence (I'm sure some of you know him). It was really fun. I went with Bobo and his friend Jose who is a press photographer and a few of their other friends from Nairobi. Jose sent us a CD of pictures he took the day before the show, so I'll have to try and post those. The next day, we went with Jose and the two announcers from Metro FM, a big radio station in Kenya, to Turbulence's hotel to interview him and his band. The band was pretty special. They're called C Sharp, they have very heavy Jamaican accents and are very good at interviewing. They even sang a couple bits of songs for jingles on the radio. They even agreed to pay Jose for some of the photos of the show cause he's freelance and won't get paid any other way. Turbulence was not as friendly. He brushed Jose off several times, then finally came down from his room for a photo. When Jose offered him the DVD he had made of the show for $140, he got really angry and demanded that he should get one for free because it was his show. Jose explained that he had not been paid for the days of work since Turbulence had arrived in Nairobi, he wouldn't listen and went on about how he would go back to Jamaica and tell them that Kenya didn't love him. Then his people came in and he told them what had happened. They pushed Jose around and stole the DVD. The whole episode was pretty upsetting, and I felt badly for Jose, cause I knew he would not have asked for the money if he didn't need it.

I also lost my camera and phone that weekend. The camera Bobo had gotten back from the thugs at considerable personal risk early that week. He was holding on to both for me at the show cause we both assumed he was less likely to be robbed. No such luck. He said he's never been robbed before, so I figure it was because he was with me. He felt really awful about about it and appologized for several days after that even though I assured him I did not blame him.

The busride home on Sunday night was hair raising, cause the driver went really fast and all the bumps threw us into the air. I was very tired for work the next day.

I spent that week working in a clinic called Port Reitz Health Centre outside Mombasa about 45 minutes on teh way to Jomo Kinyatta Airport. It is the district hospital, so it was significantly better equipped than Likoni, where I spent my second week. Still not quite equipped enough however. I was not giving vaccinations here, but I still felt my lack of medical experience. WOFAK was responsible for the Antenatal Clinic and I helped out there taking information from new patients (mothers) who were being tested for HIV and counseled on preventing mother to child transmission. They also have a Comprehensive Care Clinic (CCC) where people who have HIV are taken, a file is opened for them and they are given appointments for checkups. I helped there weighing and recording and such things, nothing too involving. One of the major differences I noticed from Likoni was that Port Reitz has the capacity to give prescriptions for food and water to to mothers with undernourished babies. The food and water is supplied by USAID, and is pretty amazing, considering malnutrition is one of the most common problems in children with HIV positive mothers (mothers risk transmitting the virus if they breastfeed).

One of the most intense experiences at the hospital was actually the Palliative Ward, which is where they admit people who need serious medical attention, most often because they unknowingly have AIDS and have gotten an opportunistic infection. That is, they have progressed to the late stages of AIDS and have little or no immune system to speak of. Then, a disease like TB, pneumonia, etc, will attack their bodies and hey have no immune system left to fight it off. Before they can start ART (Antiretroviral Therapy) for the AIDS, they have to take treatment for the infection, which can wreak even more havoc on their bodies. The worst part is that the hospital does not have enough trained doctors and some patients can go for days without even being diagnosed. I met a woman there who had gotten TB and came in so emaciated that she couldn't even walk. Another woman was lying in bed trying to breathe with great difficulty. No one knew what was wrong with her. There was a man there who I never saw awake, but his friends would come and visit him and hold his hand. We (the other WOFAK employees and, as much as I could in Swahili, I) talked to them for a while one time about HIV and prevention and ART and they thanked us profusely. It was hard because I wanted to help these people more and I knew they needed it, but all I could do was give my condolences and leave. And when people thanked me, I felt so guilty, because they thought I was there to really do something, really help, when the truth was, I hardly know the first thing about medicine.

The next week, I was supposed to be working with the OVC (Orphans and Vulnerable Children) program, but because of a misunderstanding, I ended up having the week free. I went with my friend Katherine to the village where her parents are living for a couple of days. That was really incredible.

I'm still not even close to caught up, but I have to go. I still want to share with you all about Katherine's village, about my last weekend in Mombasa and my trip to Southern Uganda, where I am now. This will have to be part on, with part two to come in the next few days. I am living outside of town and can't always get to the internet. Plus if I wrote it tomorrow, you wouldn't have time to read this past first. I promise I will write it as soon as I can, though. Thanks again for your interest. You're all awesome!


Friday, May 2, 2008

Hey everyone!

The internet seems to be working marginally well today, so I'm going to attempt a post. Sometimes, I write a whole big thing and then it doesn't send, so I hope it works out today.

I have a lot to report, cause I know it's been awhile, so I'll start with after my "run in" in Chuda. The next day, as I mentioned, I noticed that my camera had disappeared. Moses, who had brought me to a hotel when I was scared and lost the day before, had left me his phone number, I called him to see if he knew anything about the camera. I had deduced that I original thief had not had the time or wherewithall to stash my camera, so it must have been one of the soccer players that rescued my bag who had slipped the camera out inbetween. Hypocritical, but like Moses says sometimes, "People here in Africa, they do whatever they want."
He told me that he had heard a rumor that someone had it, and he would look into it. In the meantime, he took me back to Chuda, where I got to meet some of his friends. You might think I'm crazy for going back there, and I thought so too for a bit, but if you met him, you would know I was safe. He's a good guy. Anyway, his friends are a gang of 20-something guys that call themselves Ruff Houz. Because that's graffitied on the concrete wall at the place where they hang out all the time. They each have a nickname like rappers in the States, and crazy handshakes and slang sayings like What's up, but in Swahili. Hapo vipi? Hapo poa! Nicofresh lakini? Nicofresh. Moses is called Bobo Shanti, because of his dreads. His roommate is J, then there's Prince, Pudus (which means well dressed), Bonge (which means fatty), etc etc. A lot of them have girlfriends and wives who I've also gotten to know. They all go to the clubs on the weekends and try to teach me how to dance (imagine me dancing in a club full of Africans), and sometimes they go down to the water in the slums here in Chuda and drink palm wine. It's good stuff, but it will wreak havoc with your digestive system if you've never had it before. Just a heads up.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Bobo (Moses) found the guys that had my camera, and tried to get it back, but they wouldn't give it to him (surprise!). He was going to go to the police, but I talked with his friends who told me that he would be in danger if he went to the police, because the thugs would know who tipped them off. And they would not be happy with getting arrested. I didn't want anyone getting killed over it, so I told Bobo not to go to the police. He didn't like it, cause he didn't want to protect them. I didn't like it either cause I didn't want them to get away with it. PLus that's my second camera! But lives are more important than cameras.

So, after a week of staying dowtown and getting to know the gang in Chuda, I recieved word from an organization called WOFAK (Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya) that they wanted me for a one-month internship. They are a really awesome organization, that does work all over the country for people with AIDS, orphans, pregnant mothers who are infected, etc. They do counselling and provide vocational training and funds for a lot of great things. I am super happy to be working with them. I only with I had more than a month, but I've committed to being in Uganda the end of May. I spent the first week of my internship here in Mombasa working at a clinic helping with their program of preventing Mother to Child Transmission (MTCT) of HIV. I was giving shots, filling out charts, helping give out test results, etc etc in teh AnteNatal Clinic. It was nerveracking to have so much responsability when I had no actual medical experience, but I learned quickly and I feel pretty good about that now. The trick is to take your own initiative. If you're worried about hygene cause you have no latex gloves, wash your hands with an alcohol swab, rather than sitting there fretting about it and wondering why someone doesn't tell you what to do. If you've never given a shot before, just think about how they do it on Grey's Anamoy. Or Scrubs. I like that show. But don't worry, there were other nurses there and they helped me out. They were pretty amazing actually. This week, I was helping out with a training seminar for people with HIV to learn how to counsel those who are going for or coming from testing. It's a good group to teach those skills to because they have teh added insight of having been there themselves. Plus it's a good way for them to find work. They were really great people. I'll send a picture if I can sometime.

After my first week of staying downtown, I moved in with J and Bobo. They offered, and it is much cheaper than renting somewhere and having to find furniture and everything. Or staying in a hotel. I've actually quite enjoyed living here so far. There's no running water, so I have to shower out of a bucket, and the toilet is outside. I do all my laundry by hand and cook on a one-burner kerosene stove, which by the way does not simmer. Its a great experience though. The real Mombasa, not what you get in the hotels and tourist hangouts. I stick out there because I'm white, but mostly its good attention. Plus most people know I'm friends with the Ruff Houz gang now so they don't bother me.

Tonight I'm going to Nairobi to spend the weekend. Next week, I start at a hospital in town similar to the one in Likoni I was at two weeks ago. Likoni is an area, like Kerisdale or the North Shore. So is Chuda. Chuda is like East Van.
I'll write again next week, cause I have a lot more I'd like to say about WOFAK and the amazing people I've met in the last two weeks, but there's only so much you can include in one post and this one's pretty packed already.

Talk to you all soon. Have a great start of summer!