Reporting from Ndathi, Kenya
With the assistance of VIGH staff and faculty, I was introduced to a VU School of Nursing alumna, Poppy Buchanan. Poppy among other pursuits and after extensive world travels established a 501(c) 3 called Burning Bush Inc. (BB). Since inception BB has supported local community efforts in the Kabaru area of central Kenya. The organization has supported establishment of a private maternity hospital in Ndathi and support of the WAKA Maternity Hospital and establishment of the WAKA Continuing Education Center in Nyeri. Additionally, BB has provided grants to establish micro-lending organization in the Kabaru location. Since my interest is rural family practice, the opportunities to work with BB grant recipients seemed to offer me a wonderful opportunity to begin to realize a long-held vision of working in Africa. More on Burning Bush later.
It is my understanding that Kenya’s government health care system requires that healthcare professionals retire at 55 years old. This undoubtedly leaves a pool of experienced professionals with a bit more mileage yet to be realized in the health care arena. Nearing that age, I must admit that it feels a bit too young to be told you are done. I suppose on the other hand, it does offer a way to be nudged into other occupational or advocational pursuits; or perhaps just a chance to enjoy the “fruits of your labors”. At any rate, some nurses establish private health clinics in their “twilight years”. It may often be the case that these clinics are the only healthcare facility accessible for a community that may cover several square miles. Unless it is an emergency, most clients walk to the clinic and receive any number of health services, depending on the clinic capacity. I will learn more about this system and community issues and will add information in future blog entries.
I have been talking, reading and writing about Kenya since April and I have finally arrived. Arriving late night October 22nd at Kenyatta airport in Nairobi I was met by Mina (Peter) Kumanya and promptly taken back to his home where I met my host and Minar’s mother, Rosemary, and Minar’s girlfriend Brenda. Despite my late arrival, Brenda had prepared supper and we all sat down and ate well and visited. Rosemary gave me a review of my schedule and we agreed to meet after her morning meetings to go to the Kenya Nursing Council to pick up my temporary nursing license.
Rosemary a nurse midwife is among other things provides training under the auspices of a JHPIEGO program run out of Nairobi. She and her late husband also established and run the WAKA Maternity Health clinic and Continuing Education Center in Nyeri. Rosemary splits her time in Nairobi, traveling for JHPIEGO around Africa and in Nyeri. Rosemary has been my primary point of contact and has graciously helped arrange my clinic site stays and generally my maneuvering around Kenya. A well-travelled and experienced midwife, I look forward to learning much about and from her, .More later.
Today I went to the Kenya Nursing Council with Rosemary. It is clear that Rosemary is well received by the staff and Registrar of the Council. After paying my temporary license fee Rosemary and I went to speak with the Standards Officer where we discussed my plans for the next three months. She was quite interested in the Frist Fellowship and the mission of service and collaboration to improve global healthcare. She was open in saying that my site visits were among the best in delivering care in Kenya. We also met with the KNC Registrar who also welcomed me to Kenya and was also interested in the purpose of my visit.
I might point out that the expedited way I received my temporary license, a process that I have heard take months, in days was quite impressive. I am told that during October the Council is busy processing the 3,000 + nursing licenses for the new batch of nurses, so the fact my application was processed so quickly reflects the organizational prowess of the KNC, or that of Rosemary’s willingness to shepherd my application through the process for me, or both. At any rate, I am the proud recipient of a Kenyan temporary nursing license.
Later that afternoon, Mina and I went to a safari walk in Nairobi, akin to the San Diego zoo. Few fences and lots of open spaces. Saw my first albino zebra. Then on to do some errands for me. I had to change some money and pick up a wireless thumb drive for connection to safaricom, Kenya’s largest wireless internet provider. For 3,000 Kenyan Shillings (KS) or about US$33, I have internet access and up to 4 GB of downloads which expires sometime in January. In Tennessee I paid US$60 per month for internet access at home only.
Before I left, my kind cousin Shirley Wayne gave me the phone she uses in Africa which included a SIM card for use in Kenya. Shirley and her husband Scott have a consulting business to help promote tourism in developing areas and are often in Africa. Anyway, through Airtel, a wireless mobile provider, I can prepay for my phone usage. Whenever I run low for minutes, I can “top off” at any number of authorized vendors, including the sundries shops in rural villages. I am told KS$1,000 (US$11) will keep me going for unlimited text and calls for over a month. Kenya is way ahead in ease of use of mobile telephones. No pesky two year contracts or limitations. Is that free market or protectionism? Unlike US control, SIM cards are not locked so phones can be used many more places with the use of a new SIM card for the local phone network. Although you may not have electricity, many have mobile phones which they use for banking transfers and bill paying.
After a stop at the grocery store for supplies in Nairobi, Minar and I headed up to Ndathi about a 3ish hour journey north of Nairobi. I am told that the road from Nairobi to Nyeri was recently built under the direction of the Chinese and meets the standards of the discerning traveler. Up until a few months ago it was a bumpy ride. At Nyeri the road to Ndathi becomes dirt and is under renovation; bit bumpy but an easy passage in comparison to the road to Samaria Maternity Hospital. It is a kilometer of mud holes and crevasses. It is the rainy season and were told to get to the clinic before 1PM lest we wanted to get stuck for the foreseeable future. Despite Mina’s stellar driving, we got stuck in a mud crevasse and had to enlist the assistance of neighbors and passerby to push us out. My host Rosemary Kaburu walked down to meet us and despite her dress shoes and lab coat assisted in the pushing. I can tell she is a can-do- kind of woman. By the way, dry brush under wheels can act as tire chains. When Mina picks me up he will use the 4 wheel drive.
Samaria is on the grounds of Susan’s family’s compound. We were greeted by Susan’s sister Nancy. After having dropped my bags in my room in Susan’s home, I was offered a bit of sustenance of chapatti (a wheat flour thick crepe) with cabbage and carrots. The fields are bursting with beautiful big cabbage and carrots that would make Whole Foods green with envy. Everything is delicious. No rest for the weary so we walk the 50 feet or so over to the clinic and began seeing patients.