Health Care in Africa: Laurie Kenya Update #1

Jambo Bikram Yoga Vancouver! Habari gani? Gone for over a month and I have so much to tell you … it’s hard to know where to begin. Africa: vast and slow, the movement of time here loses all judgment of past and future. The history of this huge continent is as much recorded as it is unrecorded. The dichotomy of the soft, sublime beaches with extreme squalor provide enough fodder to ponder for a decade. As I watch the warm African sun creep over the Indian Ocean, I sense a place in my own body that’s never been touched before – yet it feels like home.

I’m living in Mombasa, in Kenya, along with nearly a million others. Though I describe Africa as warm and rich, the city is chaotic. The roads are a mess: potholes the size of Smart Cars, donkey carts pulled by men, the sides of the roads forever teeming with bobbing black heads walking to their daily pastimes. Mayhem marked by markets constructed from corrugated-iron scrap metal, wheeling shop owners and fire-red tomatoes. In Mombasa the wind blows and the sun burns; there isn’t a moment I don’t feel hot, dirty, sweaty. Hmm … sounds a bit like Bikram Yoga!

As chaotic as the city is, the village I work in more than makes up the balance in serenity. My primary focus is the Jipe Moyo Nursery in Kaliange’ombe Village – a place characterized by rolling hills of palm trees, grazing cows and women gliding along magical paths, discernable from a distance by the floating five-gallon buckets they balance so beautifully on their heads. Eighty kids aged three to eight attend the school here (aptly named “Gift of Hope”), which offers a curriculum equivalent to our Grade 1. Anke, the bubbly woman who took me on as part of her mission, built the two-room classroom and is now preparing to grow okra, tomatoes and beans on the surrounding land. Most of the kids eat only one meal a day; hopefully the crops will allow them some lunch before they depart for home. On my first visit I asked the head teachers at the school how I could best support them. They said that, above all, they want health for the students, continued education and community. Their hopes and dreams should sound familiar to us all …

So far we’ve treated all 80 of the children and are now focusing on other families in the village. Dr. Keith checks the kids and writes out each treatment while I sit with the families (and a translator) and explain the health issues and how the diseases spread. It’s very gratifying to give medical assistance to a family that wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it. The cost of transportation alone to the hospital is about $2 – too much for almost all of the people we’ve seen.

Many of the children pick up parasites from the soil because they don’t have shoes to protect them. Last week I went to buy 80 pairs of little shoes. Handing them out I felt like Ms. Claus. Even more satisfying: re-examining the kids we treated for ringworm and finding half are now showing no symptoms! Very cool. The other day 50 kids and I did copycat yoga. Curious, they stood shoulder to shoulder at my feet as I showed them Half Moon Posture with variations of jumping jacks and some balancing. They were laughing, sighing and giggling with delight; overwhelmed with emotion, I burst into tears. Meanwhile, Keith keeps wondering when his yoga teacher is going to get back to work and stretching out with him …

Another exciting development at the school: water! We’re piping in a supply that the kids can use, through which they’ll learn about hand washing and cleanliness. The water will also be used for the crops, to ensure protection against drought.

I hope you are all enjoying 2012. As I run along the beach the Kenyans encourage me by clapping and saying, “Good job, strong, only the strong survive.” So I pass this message on to you. Do yoga for the both of us.

Love, Laurie

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