One afternoon last week I tagged along with the Tenwek Hospital Hospice department on a trip to the community for house visits. Rael is a nurse at Tenwek who spends all day Monday through Friday making visits to sick people receiving either palliative or hospice care throughout Bomet county and the surrounding area.
In some ways, living in East Africa reminds me of living in Eastern North Carolina: limited bureaucracy and maximum inclusion. What rules? Everyone is invited!! Trailing behind Rael and Eliah Bii, the hospital chaplain (who also doubles as the local church pastor – see, I told you it’s just like small town America) into these mud huts, none of the Kenyans seemed confused or fazed when a random white girl sat down on their tiny couch in their tiny home. Quite the contrary, each family was thrilled for me to be there; stared, smiled, touched my hair, laughed at my broken Kipsigis, asked for my name (JANE). All the kids thought it was absolutely hilarious and delightful to meet a white person (the stares: what in the world is a mzungu doing in my yard?!). The scenario is familiar when I enter any Kenyan home. And this is one way I want to be more like Kenyans (and Eastern North Carolinians) – eager and excited for visitors, with no agenda or rush to move them along. I don’t usually excitedly offer chai and call for all the neighbors when unannounced visitors show up. I’m better at pretending like I’m not home (re: weird neighbors on Duval). I recognize Western culture operates totally different from African culture, but there are still such nuggets of goodness to learn in the way Kenyans host like Jesus did. I’ve learned Kenyans treat visitors like guests of honor even if there is no specific reason to do so – they are just glad for the company. I’ve learned Kenyans are okay with silence – they can enjoy someone’s companionship to simply pass the time together. I’ve learned Kenyans are okay without a calendar or clock – they are in no rush, with no expectations. I’ve learned Kenyans don’t have much but what they do have they share generously and without hesitation – undivided time, easy conversation, firm handshakes, a wooden bench to rest dusty feet, cups of hot chai.
We drove for about an hour on mostly rocky roads and our first stop was visiting a precious 8 year old girl with right sided heart failure and pulmonary kyphoscoliosis (re: google). Rael would ask medical questions (all in Kipsigis) some directed at the patient, some at the caregivers. While these 45 ish minute conversations took place, I entertained myself by waving at the crowds of children hoarding the door frame, causing erupted laughter in return.
When I go on adventures like this one, I think: my life is so random. Then I let go of knowing the plan, feeling comfortable, expecting to “help,” or understanding what is going on at all. Don’t cha love that feeling!!! At one point we pulled to the side of the road in a seemingly random spot (see photo below). Everyone was getting out, so I followed suit. I quickly realized we had stopped at a restaurant for lunch – no menu, prices or English. So Rael ordered chai and mandazis for me. It was 50 shillings, aka .50 cents. Extremely nutritious meal 😉 It felt like the Kenyan version of a homestyle cooking restaurant in Edgecombe County – only regulars, no need for menus, exclusively deep-fried or starch food. The conversation between Rael, Elijah and our driver Thomas was in a language I don’t know so while I ate my lunch I tried to figure out the cryptic restaurant ordering system and avoid locking eyes with the intense stares around the room peering my direction.
We visited a few more patients and the flow was similar each time – Rael did a medical check, Rev. Elijah prayed, I smiled and nodded. Another Eastern NC moment: on the way home, Thomas detoured off the main tarmac down a dirt path. After asking where we were going, he told me his daughter is in nursing school and doing a clinical rotation at a rural dispensary, so he wanted to stop (not clear on the exact reason). He couldn’t find her in the nursing student hostels so we drove to the town market to look for her in the hoards of people afternoon shopping. He hopped out to greet his daughter and I thought about how you just don’t do this kind of thing in a big city. It reminded me of Tarboro ❤ I’m thankful for days that encourage me out of my comfort zone and into the worlds of Kenyan people.