Sunday, April 3, 2011


I am currently in Nairobi with internet that allows me to update my blog! So what has been going on the past few weeks???

I am still officially on the children’s unit but go to medical 2 a couple times of week to help out and get some experience working there. The other day back I found all of the mothers lined up outside of the bathroom. What is going on? “Someone didn’t flush the toilet.” Oh… This has happened once before. You have to use a bucket of water to flush the toilet and if a mother doesn’t flush after she or her child goes then all of the mothers have to line up and one by one fill up the bucket and flush the toilet. Everyone! I just laugh cause it gets the point across and it is the sight to see.

There are a lot of new nurses being trained right now so work seems busier on a busy ward to begin with. It is a lot of fun to teach and also nice to get to know them. Our patients are doing well with diagnoses of malaria, pneumonias and malnutrition. We will likely start to get patients with burns when it starts to get colder and families use jikos (a mini itty bitty coal grill thing) and fires more.

Lake flies have been horrible. There are usually some around but I haven’t seen them this bad. During the day you can see a big black cloud of these flies over the lake and they slowly make their way to land. In the evening and night there are billions of lake flies everywhere. I feel like a windshield when walking as they hit my face, arms and legs. Yuck. Of course they are attracted to light so you have to very strategic about when you turn on and off lights and open and close windows. Even then the first things I do in the morning is sweep. They live for three days so by the time they get to the land and spend a night buzzing around they are dead in the morning.
We keep the windows open in the ward so it doesn’t become a hot box but the lake flies are everywhere when you have to work by light at night. The patients are tucked safely away in their bed net so the biggest issue is trying to start IV lines with the use of a light so close to the patient. Anyhow, this massive amount should only last a short time. 

Hope all is well! 

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Sparkle of Lake Victoria

Though originally cattle herding-herding people, the Luo’s herds suffered terribly from an infectious disease outbreak in the 1890s so they switched to fishing and agriculture. Fishing for tilapia and omena on Lake Victoria provides living for many people around the area and attracts men from great distances.            
            Omena are tiny fish that are prepared and eaten whole. (Not bad once you get over the little eyes looking up at you while you enjoy the dish...) After dark, lanterns are used to attract lake flies, which in turn attract omena that are caught in nets by the thousands. So every evening, with the exception of nights when a bright moon interferes, fishermen prepare to spend the whole night on the lake. Soon after the whole lake is illuminated with bright lights, looking like hundreds of bright stars in a clear night sky.
However, this beautiful sight comes with a few negative aspects. To stay awake all night on the old, rickety boat the fishermen drink and use illegal drugs. They also partake in sexual relationships with prostitutes. Many of the men are away from their families for a long time and it is also thought that you will catch more fish if you have sexual relations on the boat. This contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS in the community and the fishermen, which has one of the highest rates of a specific group.
Although fish could sustain families around the area, companies buy the fish and then export them at a much higher price, making the fish too expensive for locals to buy. The fishermen often use the money they receive to sustain their nightly habits so their families won’t see any of the profit.
So although the sparkle of the Lake Victoria at night is beautiful it is difficult not to think about how these fishermen’s living affects individuals, families and community. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

From Karunugu to Nakuru

Angela and I got a ride to Kissi (two hours of terrible roads) and then we took a matatu to Nakuru. Matatus are one form of Kenyan’s public transportation. They are 14 passenger vans that travel all over the place. Longer trips will only have 14 passengers but anything under an hour is an opportunity to play “see how many people you can fit in the matatu.” It was a good experience to share with someone else for the first time. As soon as the ticket sellers spotted us walking toward them they rushed to ask where we are headed. There are various matatu companies so it is a race to get our attention. Like everything else you buy or spend money on, it is important to find out the cost from a local to avoid being overcharged. Angela and I did just this but managed to be charged double what our fellow passengers paid. Although it is frustrating we had to remind ourselves that we are two mzungu girls and it was probably more important to not make anyone mad by asking a fair price.

Nakuru is the fourth largest city in Kenya. We spent some time in the bigger and cleaner market there before heading to our ultimate destination. Angela and I both laughed thinking about telling our mothers that this place was “clean.” Nakuru has a completely different climate than Karungu. It is hot during they day but chilly at night, reaching 50* F! It was nice to bundle up at night and sleep under some blankets.
We stayed at a boys and girls home right outside of the city, known as the Nakuru Boys and Girls Home… it is associated with a local congregation run by two Italian priests. The girls come from abusive situations and stay from two months to one year. The abuser is more likely than not an immediate family member, who will get a slap on the wrist for beating/raping their sister/daughter. The boys come from living on the streets and usually stay for one year before finding a more permanent situation with a relative or foster family. The youngest boys are brothers and arrived after two months on the streets when they were seven and nine years old. They have been there for a little over one year now. The organization was able to find their mother but she said that she was starting a new life that didn’t include her boys. So she just left them. ???

Another day Angela and I hopped on a matatu and made the “two-hour” trip to Nairobi. If you actually have to be somewhere at a specific time then matatus are not the way to travel, unless you give yourself a day leeway. Anyhow, we went to a shopping center and the Massai Market. Both were a little overwhelming at first for very different reasons. The shopping center had stores, cafes, and Christmas decorations and the market had eager locals fighting for your attention in anticipation of an overpriced sale.
It was a fun little trip and I was able to experience another area of Kenya’s traditional culture. After being gone I have realized Karungu is starting to feel a little bit more like home.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Many forms of greetings.

The neighborhood kids keep the area busy. They are always out playing with tires, sticks, or the garbage in the garbage pit- anything can become a toy. I am greeted with a handshake, hug, or scream across the field every time I pass, even if it was just minutes before. “Mzungu! "Ciao! Amanda! Kayla!” These are the most common greetings I receive from the kids as they run toward me. “Mzungu” meaning white person, “ciao” coming from the Italian influences over many years, and the names of previous American volunteers. “No, my name is Emeelee.” Emily is a difficult to say so I hear many variations but I am starting to hear less “Amanda’s” and “Kayla’s” belted in my direction. I have no doubt that the next volunteer will be called Emily for quite some time. After we go over my name I usually add, “not chow, I say hello and goodbye.” A few of the kids are consistently saying “bye-bye” when I see them, but it’s an improvement.
             Outside of the compound I hear a lot of “chow and mzungu!” I am usually just passing so I respond with “ciao” or “habari” and a friendly wave. Watching me run is very entertaining and it never fails that at some point I have a group of kids running with me. I find it very awkward to be followed so I have started to let the kids go first and I follow them. They think it’s hilarious and it allows me to avoid the uncomfortable feeling. Often they last longer than I would expect but eventually drop off one bye one and I am left to run by myself or until the next group comes along. 
            Not everyone enjoys seeing me though. Some of the younger kids are scared and run the opposite direction. I don’t blame them, I would probably be scared of me too if I rarely saw a white person. Most of these kids still don’t come near me but they have stopped crying at the sight of me. So, everyone in and out of the hospital is getting used to having me around, learning my name, “hello” and “goodbye” and even my weird habit of running! 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A bit of information on Kenya!

Kenya, named after Mount Kenya means “Mountain of Whiteness.” It is known as the “Cradle of Mankind” as it is the ethnic homeland of us all. Later Kenya became the home to more than seventy different groups of African migrants, each having its own identity. Today more than eighty “tribal” or “mother” languages are spoken with English the “official” language and Kiswahili the “national” language. Depending on where you are, one two or three of these languages may be spoken.
Of the many tribes in Kenya, the major tribes you would likely encounter include the Maasai, Kikuyu, and Luo.

 Kenya shares boarders with Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, & Tanzania with the Indian Ocean bounding part of the eastern side. It has great contrast in topography ranging from snowcapped peaks to hills & plateaus and from deserts to beaches. These diverse landscapes separate Kenya into eight different areas. Although the weather may differ from area to area, the climate remains relatively stable all year since Kenya is on the Equator.

Kenya’s population is estimated around 30 million. Twenty-five percent of people live in urban areas concentrated in a few large cities including Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret, Kisumu, and Nakuru. Sixty-seven percent of people live in rural areas concentrated in high lands and Western Kenya due to agricultural use of the land leaving the north and east of the country, which is nearly eighty percent of the land containing a small portion (10%) of the population.

Karungu is a village in Migori District, one of twelve districts in Nyanza Province, where the majority of the people are Lou. Nyanza is considered to be the poorest province in Kenya with the second highest HIV prevalence after Nairobi. Today more than 1.5 million Kenyans are infected with HIV.

 Although in Western Kenya, Karungu’s climate is modified due to the altitude (1.145 km or 3,000+ ft about sea level) and the effects of Lake Victoria. Lake Victoria, source of the Nile and 68,870 square kms in size, is the largest lake in Africa and the second largest freshwater lake in the world. The western shores of Lake Victoria, near the boarder of Tanzania houses St. Camillus Mission Hospital, Dala Kiye Center for Orphans, and B.L. Tezza School. … I’ll go into more detail about these later!

Friday, October 22, 2010


“How are you?” “What are you called?” “Are you married?” “How many kids do you have?” “How many wives do you have?” “Does your husband have another wife?” … All of these questions are typical upon meeting someone and getting to know them. It took me a little while not to feel like I was offending someone when asking them about their marital status as if it was similar to an affair but really it’s a part of life here. The only person not used to it in Karungu is myself. 

Currently we have a man in the "last ward" who was married to nearly 100 women! His nickname was "Danger" and I can understand why. Having this many wives is uncommon, most men have one or two and maybe three if they can afford it. Danger's family was able to open two schools and a church just for themselves- he kind of had a mini village. He divorced 30 of his wives at one point, which makes me wonder how he chose which women to divorce? 

Questions that I am asked include where I am from, what I am doing here, if I have kids, and if I am married. “What!  No kids? You’re not married?” Most people can’t believe I’m 22 years old with no kids, let alone not married. Father Julius often points this out and adds that I have a college education, am volunteering my time, and staying in Kenya for one full year. The first time I was wondering where he was going with this but then it made sense. Use me as an example. Fine by me: maybe I will start to see fewer girls under the age (way under the age) of 20 in the maternity ward.

There have been plenty of times that my answer to whether I am married has been “Yup, I’m happily married.” It’s easier than refusing a marriage proposal, explaining that where I come from everyone is married to just one person, and that my dad doesn’t need the cows, donkeys, and chickens that would be offered to him as a dowry. I’m not even quite sure how many cows, donkeys, and chickens I am worth. 


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Communication... what?

I just concluded my week of orientation on children’s health ward (CHW). Last week I was on medical 2, the adult ward and next week I am off to the surgical ward. After orientation I’ll decide where to work based on my preference and where I am most needed, a decision that I know will be difficult!

Each ward has its own personality and of course each has its unique challenges. However, one common challenge faced on a daily basis is communication, in and out of the hospital.

In Karungu people speak Luo, which is the tribe in this area. Then most people speak one of the two national languages, Kiswahili or English. Most of the staff speaks English but they think I have an accent and to me they have an accent. No worries, I am not na├»ve to the fact that I AM the one with the accent! We also have a lot of Italians here… they think Americans speak like we have potatoes in our cheeks.

One day I was doing rounds with the Dr. P who spoke Kiswahili to a patient, who then translated it to Luo for the patient we were actually assessing and it bounced back ending with Dr. P talking to me in English. It takes some getting used to but it works! Another challenge in the hospital is what things are called. Cannulas are known as brannulas, charts as case-notes, tape as strapping and many drugs are in European names. I am getting used to the names and will no doubt be using the new names back home. 

During meals we represent all languages including Italian, Luo, Kiswahili and English. Everyone tries to stick to English and although there are a lot of blank stares, and “what’s” or “hmmm?” we get everything across eventually!

I am working on my Luo and Kiswahili and although I think I mix them a lot everyone is supportive and are great teachers.

I apologize for the time lapse of my blogs but websites work best in this order: Facebook, Google and then my blog! Of course Facebook would work best! Take care,