Friday, March 9, 2007

And now....A word from our Sponsor

I am very impressed with the organization that I am working for. Its called The Association for the Physically Disable of Kenya (APDK) was created in 1958 and operates eight branches throughout Kenya. I work for the Coastal branch. They operate the Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Center (who Cindy works for), Likoni Quality Furniture (in the town of Likoni just south of Mombasa), The Mobility Workshop (here at Bombolulu) and the APDK Rehabilitation Clinic near the airport.

The clinic was originally established in 1964 to rehabilitate children with Polio and was taken over by APDK in ’71. As the incidence of Polio diminished, they now address other types of physical and neurological disabilities. Most of the people who work here at Bombolulu have been through the clinic.

It’s an amazing center with a mobile force that reaches far to the north, south and west. The clinic is free to all that come there. They are mostly children. The average stay is about 2 years. Many of the children require some sort of surgery to correct physical disabilities like bow legs, club feet, and a neurological problem called Hydrocephalus (it’s a swelling of the brain in children that they think is caused by Malaria). They will do as many surgeries as necessary to fix the problems. We were shown one 8 year old child who was in the process of having bowed legs fixed. They fix one leg at a time and make the patient stay in bed for 6 weeks while the bones heal. Honestly I don’t know how these kids do it. I can’t imagine an 8 year old sitting still all day every day for that long a time. After intensive Physiotherapy (another great department in the compound) they will walk as good as new. There is a also a great school on the grounds because they don’t want the children to get behind while they are recuperating.

They have an in-house fabrication department that makes orthopedic appliances (think of things like specialized crutches, or customized shoes for people with club feet or with one leg shorter than the other because of polio) and prosthetics. The shop can’t keep up with demand. They made all of the prosthetics and appliances that I see people wearing here in Bombolulu, all of the pieces for the patients at the clinic, and have a backlog of pieces to make for the mobile force. The mobile division sends in measurements or plaster casting from the field and a month later the units are ready. Amazingly it’s all done by about 4 people. I was in awe of the place.

(Writers aside: I just spotted another cricket that came in from under the door. It beelined to where my shoes are usually kept. I was smart tonight and put them up on a chair. I think the word has spread among the cricket population that the effervescence from my footwear is not to be missed and they are all coming inside to experience it first hand. I hope the ants attack and kill it tonight. I have made an uneasy truce with the ants. They can live here as long as they clean up only the food crumbs left of the floor and devour the occasional wayward cricket. We are still in negotiations about their excursions to the food in our cupboards.)

The Field workers also do a lot of training of the family’s of the handicapped person. The clinic feels that it is part of their job help the recipient have a better life wherever they live and that they should raise community awareness wherever they go. In Kenya, disabled persons can be treated like they are lepers. I heard a story from a VSO physical therapist about a patient of theirs who was kept in a shed out back by her parents.

Because the clinic is free, many parents leave their children there and expect to wash their hands of them. Sometimes a false address will be given and the clinic has to try to track the parents down once the child has recovered. Often the patients leave with no trace of the disability they had when they arrived. The patients are then returned to their frequently disbelieving families to hopefully lead a normal and productive life. If the parents cannot be found, the children stay on the compound until foster or adoptive parents can be found. When I asked about what happens to the children who don’t get adopted, I was just given the vague answer that they keep trying even though sometimes it can be difficult.

They do so much here with so little.

The Matatu Experience

Necessity is the mother invention, and Matatus are the result. Thousands upon thousands of panel vans, locally called "Matatu", race up and down the streets, roads, boulevards and highways of Kenya to fill the gap left by the lack of public transportation.

To take a Matatu, I walk down a rough dirt road, dodging goats and chickens, to the Mombasa-Milindi Highway. Highway is an overstatement. It is a very busy paved road with a rocky shoulder streaming with pedestrians. At the end of my dirt road a crowd of people will stand at the highway waiting to get picked up. Every fifth vehicle is an eighteen-wheeler. Every third car is a Matatu with a conductor shouting out the window: "Mtwapa, Mtwapa, Mtwapa" or "Ferry, ferry, ferry", or "Postoffice, Postoffice, Postoffice". During evening rush-hour, when I head out to the pool after work, it's a free for all. Most of the Matatus are full, so when one pulls over for passengers everyone launches for it. The crowd crushes against the van until 15 people squeeze and slither into the rickety seats.

Now the game is on. Looking through the front window is a first-person ride in the very best NASCAR xBox game. Drivers aggressively weave, bob, accelerate and break their way through cars, trucks, bicycles, pull carts, motorcycles and pedestrians. Going off-roading is always an option if that keeps the Matatu in motion. If traffic is stopped in one lane, the two lane highway will turn into a three, four, or even five lane road. Matatus scurring like ants around the congestion.

The Matatu will "alight you", as they say here, anywhere on their route; very convenient. Rap you knuckles on the nearest window or side-wall - or on the ceiling if you are stuck in the middle and can't reach a window or side-wall - and the driver pulls over. Then join your fellow passengers in a spontaneous game of Twister until you tumble out of the still-rolling van; spring loaded like a clown coming out of a car at the circus. It is absolutely impossible for me to accomplish this without sticking my patooty in someone’s face, just impossible. But, no need to apologize. People live through this everyday, and they assume that you wouldn't have bumped them, nudged them, stepped on their foot or even put your patooty in their face if it was at all avoidable.

I'm a bit strange, so I like taking Matatus. It's cramped. It's hot. It's certainly not for everyone, but for me it's a laugh and a rush.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

First Days in Mombasa

My day starts earlier than in Portland; around 6AM. I role out of bed and the day is already warm. I sit for breakfast now insteading of grabbing a granolar bar and milk as I run out the door. As I make my way across the field that is my front yard and the compound of workshops and big trees, I take the time to greet the people I see. Everyone radiates smiles, hellos and "how was your sleep?". We all arrive at the office punctually at 8AM. Being late is not an option. We settle into our work, and the office gets quiet. Being white sometimes grants me status here that I don't deserve. I have an office for example. A big one with four breezy windows. My Kenyan counterparts jam two or three desks into one room.

Lunch is another strole back across the compound. This time it's much hotter. I don't notice the moments when I am sweating any more, just the moments when I am not. Geoff and I prepare a small meal. The heat has reduced our appetites. We are usually full after a crisp, cold cucumber sandwich. A siesta usually follows for the next 20 minutes, then it's another walk down the path and through the trees to the office.

We take lunch at 1PM, so the afternoons seem very short. When we come home we are always greeted by the 6 chickens and 3 chicks that are Bombolulu residents. Our yard is the last stop of their day. Later, around 5PM, we hear the cheers and laughter of the boys playing soccer in the field, and the call to prayer from the minarets.

Dinner is cooked entirely from scratch every night. We have each lost 10lbs already from eating less and better food. Dirty dishes are an invitation for the streams of ants we've conquered by putting all our food in sealed plastic containers, so after each meal we chat and do the dishes. Then its time to sweep and wash away the days dust blown in through our ever open windows. Many evenings we do a little laundry. It must be done by hand, and leaving it all for one day is back-breaking, so there is almost always laudry drying on the lines in the yard by our banana trees.

The rest of the evening is spent reading, learning Swahili, playing games or journalling. At 10PM it's time to go to bed. There is very little leasure time to my day, just the last hour or so, but I'm never rushed. I never want to "detox", and I'm happy to be getting up in the morning. I know my days here are simpler, I have so many fewer options for my time, but I'm left feeling full instead of overflowing.