Day one and two… (Sunday 8th and Monday 9th May)
I started with good intentions. I was going to write an update on my activities at the end of each day. Well at the end of Day One I was just too exhausted to write anything particularly legible. Having been travelling since 07:50 the day before I finally arrived at the hotel in Kisumu, East Africa at 11:30 the following day.
I was met by Elizabeth, my Country Director for Kenya who updated me on recent activities and challenges that the team were having. I finally arrived at the hotel at about 12:00 and after a shower and change of clothes, I was able to use the hotel Wi-Fi to link up with my church in Oxfordshire and join them for the Sunday morning service. I wasn’t the only member of the church linking up from Africa; Dr Jan White was also logged in. More about Jan later… about Day 8. It used to feel a little strange joining in with others by Zoom but we all seem to have gotten used to ‘video conferencing’ and Zoom is now a part of everyday life.
I then managed to get a couple of hours’ rest followed by a brief bite to eat and some time to review the week’s activities. I was still pretty tired at this point and sitting outside I realised that my old enemies, the midges and mosquitoes were watching and waiting for their moment. I have come to the conclusion that mosquitoes must have collective intelligence. They pass on the information that I am the tasty Mzungu* that appears from time to time. Then they attack! I hate them with a passion and if it wasn’t for the fact that I absolutely love my job; the people I meet, the places I visit and the work that our team here in Africa do, I would not set foot anywhere in the world that had these horrid little creatures. I could write about them all day… but I won’t! I finally went to bed at 20:00 and slept for ten hours straight.
Day Two was an early start because we had a four-hour journey with two stops before we reached our final destination. So at 07:00, I met the team for the trip out to Homa Bay.
The first part of the journey was on reasonable roads. This took us to one of the Sub County Hospitals where we were to meet the team of County Officers and staff who would be supporting us to carry out our work. As County Teams go, these guys are not bad at all. They work collaboratively with us and help our teams as much as they are able. In some areas, the County Officers can be less than cooperative, but here we seem to have been blessed.
Then it was back in the vehicle for a short trip of a few minutes to our Mildmay Office in Homa Bay. I got to meet all of the team for the first time. Although the work here had started many months earlier, we had only recently managed to get an office right in the middle of one of the communities that we worked in. The team are quite young and that is a good thing because the people they are working with are also young.
I could talk here about the average age of teenage pregnancies in these communities, but won’t. It is incredibly depressing and that is one of the things we are here to sort out.
After some refreshments, we were back on the road again for the remainder of the trip. This was another two and a bit hours to reach one of the most remote communities. The roads are not good and during the rainy season, you often have to re-route because roads are washed away. This is the rainy season but once again we were fortunate. When I say roads you will forgive me for fibbing slightly. We are now travelling on tracks.
Our usual 4 x 4 vehicle is currently in the workshop - again, and so a hire vehicle is a necessity for this week in the field. Finally, we arrived and soon began an awareness session for family planning and gender-based violence. This was an incredibly vibrant session and (as a father of five myself) I was astounded at the lack of understanding of many of the mothers in the room. They engaged incredibly well and were keen to absorb as much information as possible, often interrupting the speaker with questions.
For many of these mothers, this would be the first time that anyone had actually taken the time out to engage and be interested in them, their stories, and their situation. These peer support groups are so important and they provide a direct line to the health professionals who are going to have a relationship with these mothers and their children for the rest of their lives. I even got to share some of my own experiences which brought considerable laughter from the group. Whenever you give experiences from a first world country it is often met with incredulity but there are some stories and experiences that transcend worlds. For those of you who are wondering, no I am not going to share that experience here in this blog.
Then it was time to leave for home. Four and a half hours for the return journey.
It was not without incident, unfortunately. Anyone who has experienced roads and driving in Kenya will know just how dangerous it is. There are far too many traffic accidents where lives are lost.
As we drove through a small town we came upon an accident that had happened no more than a few minutes before.
A teenage boy had been hit and killed whilst trying to cross the busy road. This is a hard fact of life in a country where life is so precious but so many are killed unnecessarily.
I arrived back at the hotel at 20:35 and after washing up it was time to get a meal and off to bed. Tomorrow would be less busy and an opportunity to recharge the batteries.
*Mzungu is a Bantu word that means “wanderer”, originally pertaining to spirits. The term is currently used in predominantly Swahili speaking nations to refer to white people and dates back to the 18th century.