The last two weeks have felt to hang tenuously in the balance as we await the news of Jonah in the hospital. It is hard to describe the joy of finding out that he survived surgery. It was as if every one in the village was holding their collective breath, in prayers, in hopes that Jonah would make it. We have relied on the doctor’s wisdom and the Providence of God, and still every thought is turned to him, whispered prayers of mercy and what that may indeed mean as he recovers. Jonah’s parents came to see the latest pictures that Dr. Mara posted on his blog. It was a privilege to show them, and also a seemed a bit surreal as I sat between two nomads in the middle of nowhere waiting for google to load they can see a picture of their son.
The rain did hold off the previous Sunday and Jay was able to show the Jesus film at Mzee Abaya’s mynyatta. He was struck by one lady sitting near the front. He noticed that she was taken by grief, outwardly weeping over the death of Jesus, despairing at his burial. Yet, when Jesus rose again, she yelled aloud with rejoicing. It struck Jay the newness of the story for the people here. There felt to be something sacred about watching eyes open and hearts soften to the message of Jesus.
To the TB Clinic
On Tuesday I was able to travel with Mama Monica (mother to Jonah) along with her young 3 year old son, Nathan to the Government of Kenya dispensary. I had gone the week previous with a plea to please treat this little boy who (like his brother) also has tuberculosis. Jonah has TB of the spine, while his brother has TB of the glands. A large mass on the toddlers lymph glands is apparent with many scars from where the wound has opened and healed. In Jonah’s case the TB had progressed to the point where he had only weeks to live. Jonah had sought help, but had been turned away from hospitals without care. I couldn’t let this also happen to Monica’s other little boy! In Kenya, without a diagnosis of TB, treatment is very hard to come by. We had taken Nathan to a regional dispensary 2 hours away, only to be told he needs to go to the government hospital 6 hours away. So we helped sponsor the trip to the hospital, writing a referral letter in the child’s health record to PLEASE please please provide the child with the testing needed to get an official ‘diagnosis’ of TB. Monica returned a week later, with the child, the health record and a letter noting that no tests were done, but some antibiotics were given. So in my last ditch effort, I went to the clinic to request special permission to get medicines without any proof of diagnosis. Jay drives us there (about 40 min away) and we park out front. The older kids reading TinTin in the back I take Jesse in with me to meet with the medical officer. It was a busy day with mamas spread out with little babies in front of the front steps of the dispensary. I was not sure if I should join with the mamas under the tree or go up to the front? I wouldn’t want to jump queue, but also feared waiting countless hours in the hot sun. Every eye was turned on Jesse and I who clung tightly in my arms with a lollipop protruding from his lips. What was funny on retrospect was that it was the day for underweight children to be weighed. I can hardly imagine what the mamas thought when I arrive carrying a rather round and plump toddler to attend the feeding clinic! Ah well, – after some discussion with Michael the clinic officer I was given assurance that if the child was clinically showing signs of TB then he would qualify to receive medication. What an answer to prayer! Only 9kg at 3 year of age (BMI of 13) which interestingly was considered “good”, little Nathan was given his first week of medicine. We need to return for the second week’s supply, but are hoping after that the clinic will allow me to dispense and follow the treatment. A little relief and hope for Monica as she awaits news of Jonah.
Tuesday we had 6 visitors from UK, US and Australian AIM office come to tour Kurungu to look at possibilities for short term volunteers. It was fun hosting and getting to know these folks. We put in a definite plug for the need for homeschool help! So by Wednesday as we sent off our visitors, I felt the need to just do something fun for Mama’s meeting. In the last months, we have faced together some of the hard days of waiting, difficult news of Samburu losing animals due to raids and loss of life due to rival tribes, two babies who passed away, and just the continued challenges the people face to provide food and water for their family on a day to day basis. I did not want to succumb to sadness, so decided that what was needed was a little colour. We spent an hour soaking desert hardened nomadic feet in basins with soap and oil and then applying nail polish in various shades. We talked about how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news, and the reminder to share the news of Jesus in word and deed with those around us. I must admit there were a few looks of confusion and flashes of “she must be crazy” but once they got into it,- overall it went smoothly.
On Thursday we were to have visitors who were coming through to set up video surveillance at Lake Turkana for the solar eclipse taking place Nov 3. They were delayed and didn’t arrive until Friday, and rather unexpectedly so did another three guests coming from Korr (3 1/2 hours away). A fellow Canadian, working for Samaritans Purse was visiting up in North Kenya and started feeling quite unwell. In a place with very few medical options, it was decided the best option late in the day Friday was to travel overland from Korr to Kurungu so I could assess her symptoms. What was interesting is that Karen is from Toronto, we share the same mission doctor/tropical health doctor and we also determined that the symptoms that were worrisome were related to her recent diagnosis of brucellosis. An interesting collision of people, given my past history of brucellosis. With fears allayed, medicine, and a good night sleep things fared better in the morning.
The rains started on Friday night and have been off and on since. On Saturday we welcomed a dripping Namagie (father to Esther Emmaculate, the baby who recently had surgery to insert a shunt to help ]treat her hydrocephalus). He had walked 3 hours in the rain so to be able to make arrangements for a “harambee” (fundraiser) for his daughter’s remaining hospital bill. He presented me with a dripping bag of bracelets and necklaces made by the people of his village that we could hopefully use to raise money. What touched me was that although many people made special beaded items, many were only able to donate the bracelets and necklaces that they wore. I still picture last Sunday as little Sunday school children from Kurungu church dug into their pockets to hand me little bracelets and beaded necklaces which they had taken from around their necks, followed by the Mama’s who presented the gifts that they had made as their contribution to help Jonah and Dorena. It is touching and humbling to bear witness to community sacrificing with joy and pride for the benefit of others. These are not tokens or extras, in some cases these are the little that they have, given freely.
On Monday we said goodbye to our new friend Karen, and welcomed our visitors from AIM Canada, Murray and Diana Schmidt. There are no words for what it is like to see a familiar face in the months of the new and unfamiliar! My only real regret was that I didn’t think to ask them to bring some sour glazed timbits with them! We were thankful the rains let up for a bit. It was if the clouds parted for the departure of Karen and arrival of the Schmidts and then covered the sky once more. It was a bit of a change from South Sudan where the Schmidts had arrived from. The nature of Kurungu striking in contrast to Sudan where birds and animals fled during the time of civil war and are just now in the process of returning. There were more rains later in the day and the Schmidts became familiar with finding the basins needed to put under the rain in the house. We ended up using about 8 basins, one garbage can, and an empty tin of powdered milk to catch all the drips! The glory of thatched roofs replaced with watery hallways and the lingering smell reminiscent of a hamster cage.
Fording Flooded Rivers
Tuesday- We skipped homeschool today, in the event that we had to take Mama Monica to South Horr clinic for the next instalment of the TB medications for little Nathan. With Mama and boy in tow, our Canadian visitors Murray and Diana, Jay, Jesse and the boys (Lily stayed back with the Swanepoels) we ventured up the road. These days the road is an adventure itself. Given the last few days of heavy rain our freshly graded road had turned to pits and valleys of sand washed away by the rivulets of water coming down the mountain. The boys loved the splash of mud stained water as it flooded up over the car. The river beds were flooding and a few times we passed over just as we saw the water rushing towards us. We were able to make it most of the way with Jay driving, straining forward to see in the rains, and Murray wiping the foggy windscreen and the boys whooping when we dipped low into the road which was in a current state of erosion! We finally were close enough to the clinic to see it, but ahead was a river too wide and uncertain for the car to pass. If not for the pressing need that little Nathan needed his medications, Mama Monica tied him to her back and together, along with Diana, we hike up our skirts, remove our shoes and wade together across the rushing stream. I have visions of crabs and fish nibbling at my feet which is a bit ridiculous since there are no fish in the flash flood river beds. Jay reminds me that scorpions are not aquatic which allays my fears and we sink deep into the mud and sand walking fast as we see more storm clouds approaching. The clinic was rather anti-climatic. We wait in turn for the next weeks medicine, which is given without much inquiry. We venture back, by now the river has receded and Jay meets up with us.
There are some moments that you live with in which you know with great certainty that you will never forget. Memory creates a lasting picture etched and outlined upon the mind. And perhaps it is the dark moments that give contrast to the precariousness of beauty which by intuition you know surrounds but in certain moments cannot be found. I must have looked as if I was about to cry,- for the reassurance given, that “this is ok, it happens all the time”. I felt like I was 8 years old and bit my lip to keep it from quivering, to allow reason to mediate my response versus the emotion that was waiting for the moment of reckoning where tears would be allowed to spill. But they haven’t come. I am not sure if this disturbs me or not. It is perhaps a side effect of my profession or life lived deep within the context of suffering. She was a beautiful baby girl. A mass of curly soft hair, little eyes peeking behind dark lashes, tiny lips opening and yet she came to me on Wednesday morning wrapped up in a red cloth carried by her grandmother. I am not sure why, when babies are sick the grandmothers always come bringing the baby with the mothers following behind. The mama was still obviously recovering from the delivery only a week ago, walking slightly hunched over. The baby’s skin was so soft, that smooth kind of soft that is silky and sweet. I shared tea with the mama and grandmother and together we unwrapped the babe for examination. A swollen leg, little soft cries, cold feet, warm body. The leg was quite swollen and hard, and the little baby seemed too weak to feed. For a time we syringed breast milk and she busied herself to swallow it. I found a little baby shirt and a blanket and we wrapped her back up, her breathing now a bit laboured, her cry weak. As with many patients I am not exactly sure what is the diagnosis, just that it is not good. It seems given the leg swelling that she might have been bitten by a snake or scorpion, however there were no obvious marks to indicate. The mama noted she was fine last night, it seemed only this morning she started becoming ill. I fish through the back room to find some ceftriaxone injections. I do not have too many other medications that can be given to neonates. Feeling that the baby will need a few days of monitoring we suggest that we take her to the clinic in South Horr. Jay is due back from teaching in an hour and we could provide the ride. The mama agrees and we keep trying to feed the baby one or two ml at a time. Despite our efforts, the baby continues to do poorly. Her skin becomes cooler and paler, an ominous sign. We arrive at the clinic which is closed for lunch, and on the step outside on the green benches, this beautiful girl breathes her last. I am half holding her as her grandmother hands her to me for assessment. The mother is crying, moaning, covering her head with a cloth. The little baby still warm is empty of life now, her eyes are closed, her hands are still, a tiny form in a huge blanket as we sit waiting for the clinic to open. The assurances that this is part of life here, do not feel comforting. I feel numb, and yet also feel selfish that I am comforted by the weight in my own arms as I carry Jesse who is puttering around the clinic. The nurse who has arrived goes into the back room and empties some files and brings out a box in which to place the baby. This small box, sits on the assessment table. And I will never forget the sight of the box, torn edges, some advertisement for cookies or crackers on the sides and the beautiful babe wrapped in a green cloth lying so still. The mama does not come in to look at or hold her daughter, she sits outside on the bench wrestling within the agony of loss.
We head back to Kurungu with the mama and grandmother and the little girl,-Jesse and I walk home leaving Jay to help the family with the burial, an event complicated with having to find a man from the mynyatta, running out of gas and pouring rains. It was a long time before Jay returned. His heart not in quite the same state when he had left this morning. We learned that Samburu will bury a baby wherever they pass away. There is no funeral, no landmark. I had a lady come by the house later in the day, she had heard of the sad news and was trying to express to me that all mama’s feel this pain, as they have all lost babies from their bellies to the ground as she put it. This is a common suffering. And I struggle as always with the sad almost resigned reality of how life is lived here. The deep desire to bring to this place, to these people a redeeming Grace that combines with the dark shade of loss into a picture of beauty, of shadow and light, of loss and hope.
Somedays I resonate with Moses, who had the boldness or audacity to stand in front of God on Mount Sinai with the demand, “Show my your glory!” Out of frustration, weakness, discouragement, anger or just simply a longing to see God for who He is,- Moses voices the question,- “You have been telling me…, now show me! And in mercy and with compassion, instead of responding in kind with anger, God reveals Himself,- just a glimpse.
“I will cause all of my goodness to pass in front of you and I will proclaim my name, the Lord in your presence. I will have mercy on who I have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. “
He covers Moses within His hand, until the Glory of the Lord is revealed. And some days here, I long to see in tangible form, His Glory. As we face together with the Samburu the common and repeated theme of loss. I fear to demand the answer to questions that I have in the face of suffering. How can I understand the Mercy of God. Do I even recognize it when I see it? I live in the place between two mountains, inside a valley of beauty that can hardly be expressed, and yet such wonder only seems to provide contrast to the disparity between the two worlds I know. I think of the Samburu, a more colourful people one would be hard pressed to find. Strings of beads of red, blue and orange, intricate designs, morani’s with feathers and flowers and red ochre painted hair, girls with shy smiles, tree- climbing boys with their pangas. There is beauty here. What I protect myself from is that despairing belief that there is no room for change of how things are, that it is far easier to except suffering than to look for ways to redeem it.
And perhaps the only certainty I know is in who He is. On days like today I can only rest in His presence and trust that He is Good, His mercy endures forever.
Jay spent Thursday fixing the runway. We heard from AIM AIR that the plane to pick up the Schmidts would be delayed for a day and with the rains coming heavily the airstrip desparately needed some urgent patching. For the best part of the day Jay coordinated a team of boys and men to collect rocks and gravel to make the runway suitable for landing. A thankless job really but necessary here. Unfortunately although the airstrip was patched up, Jay’s back did not fare as well and by the end of the day he was hobbling like a hobbit bent over a stick. Diana and I spent much of the day organizing and tagging all the items that are going to be sent to Canada for a fundraiser. It is so wonderful to see the community in Kurungu, and in Canada and really around the world rally around to help Jonah and Dorena in hospital. We were called that Dorena had been discharged as had the guardian, Makolin who was, after a month and a half in hospital eager to return to his family. We arranged transport for their return, but also were concerned with leaving Jonah all alone in the hospital where he is not able to communicate with anyone in the language he understands. Jonah is improving, a coma scale of 12, he is opening his eyes and responding to pain, at this point not speaking or vocalizing. His legs continue to be still, although we hope with rest and recovery of his spine there may be some improvement in the next weeks. A last minute decision was made to send his mother, Mama Monica to Kijabe. She was willing to go, and was able to find another mama who can look after her other children and take Nathan to the clinic for his TB medicine. Again, one of the decisions that we feel that just needs to be made, while praying God provides. Jonah will recover much faster if he can communicate and be cared for by someone he knows and understands. We scrounge the house for enough shillings to be able to send her with money for a taxi from Nairobi to Kijabe, even asking our visitors to help make up the shortfall! (shameless!) Praying that this mama will arrive safe. We try and prepare her for the flight, pack her a sweater and a pair of socks, and pray that she can get over the shock of the city as she finds herself worlds away from all she has known.
After such a full and busy week, it seemed silly that the straw to break the camels back would come in the form of an email from home, detailing the eviction notice posted to our cat Sampson at Grandma’s (from her condo committee), for a violation of snooping in a flowerbed. And it seems that I can survive the themes of suffering and loss, knowing that they are paired with grace and mercy, intertwined with joy and beauty. I have a context for these things, but what I can not seem to find a place in my heart and mind is the smallness of people, the affluence of choice wasted One thing we are understanding is that a lot of one’s life is about choice. The choice to help or hurt, the choice to encourage or tear down, the choice to get involved or stand on the sidelines, the choice to come together as a community or to live within the lens of one’s own world. After reading the email a deep sadness settled on me, I have no energy to try and understand the utter lack of community, the unwillingness to embrace something so small as a grandmother wanting to spare her grandchildren of the loss of their cat amidst so many other ‘losses’ and transitions the children have faced in the last year. My brother aptly put it, “Really sad when an animal displays more humanity than the humans trying to get rid of it.” And along with sadness at this particular shade of apathy, there is also the realization that we are blessed to be here to learn, to watch, to experience, to be apart of community. The beauty that I have seen in the last weeks with sacrificial giving in the midst of poverty, one young widow, in tow with a small chilld, brings her beautiful Samburu beaded necklace, something here, worth a month’s wage; A father who is willing to walk hours in the rain to make a contribution on behalf of his little girl; a man whittling a stool to help pay for his son’s medicine. I was astounded by a statistic that noted that for many nomads in North Kenya one can multiply their annual income by 1000, which will not be enough to reach the poverty line. Today, I am fully convinced that even in the deepest of poverty, the people here live far richer lives than many others who have all they could ever want.
I am not good at waiting. In fact Jay still teases me that I was not even able to wait for him to finish proposing before I answered, “yes” (to which I respond with, in your effort to demonstrate your undying love by nearly dying in fording a raging river only then to climb a gorge I felt it necessary to help you out a bit). There is no action in waiting, it seems all so,- passive, so powerless. Right now we are waiting for rains to end, waiting for a much needed break, waiting for grants to be funded, waiting for patients to return home. And amidst the angst of waiting, and the blessings and burdens of living day to day, there is a sense,- that at whatever stage of life I live, I am always waiting. For what I am really looking for, hoping for, working towards is Redemption. Restoration of life, of joy, of hope, of spirit. I have a guarantee that one day it will come. Whether I see it in this life or not, I can never know. But it is an active process which I can be apart of. I can chose to passively ‘wait’ for redemption, or be involved in it and perhaps in some small way to reveal the Life that is available now, rich, free, full. That is our choice. Many I know will never quite understand why. But there it is.
PS– if anyone is interested in a rather (very) large bundle of fur, who likes to sleep and eat and can open a refrigerator, please let us know! Operation Sampson Re-location is officially underway!