Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Little Penguin and the Poor Goats


I have a bit of free time, so I'll proceed to write about our first week in Kenya.  We spent the first few days traveling.  British Airways treated us with the typical British courtesy.  It was the best treatment I've ever received on an airplane.  They brought us tea.


Kristi, Pingu, and me on the airplane
This thing was on the back of the seat in
front of each passenger.  We could watch as
our plane passed Greenland, or crossed into
England.  Awesome.

Finally, we arrived in Kenya.  I definitely had to remind myself that this was not Houston, Texas.  We were in KENYA.

I kept thinking things along the lines of, "Whoa, we are in Kenya, guys. Like really really.  This is Kenya. See that tarmac? That is Kenyan tarmac..."

Our team was split into two groups.  My group (of about fifteen: two doctors, two nurses, four medical students, and various administrative people and translators) left Malindi and traveled to Galana Ranch.  Malindi is along the eastern coast, so it's lush and green.  But Galana Ranch is further west into the savannah, and that area was rather dry.  
We traveled in a mutatu, which is a safari van.  We were told it would be a two-hour drive, roughly.  I failed to anticipate that "two-hour drive" does not mean two hours of interstate highway.  It means two hours of this:

(Not our photo)

It was fun, nevertheless.  I kept looking around, as we left the city and passed into native villages with mud huts, and thinking that this was very nearly the "human wild-type".  Human beings are thought to have evolved in Africa.  It was really interesting to "get back to our roots", so to speak.  

Eventually, we arrived at our tent camp.  Galana Ranch is a government-owned game preserve, containing something like 1.6 million acres of land.  The administrative area has a dispensary for the park employees, which is where we would be working.  Several tribes live in the preserve, and we saw mostly people from those tribes.  
Every day, we drove about 40 minutes from our tent camp to the administrative center.  We rode in the back end of a Land Cruiser, which was bumpy but afforded us a great opportunity to talk and get to know each other.  

Wazungu in the back of the Land Cruiser

We also got to see plenty of wildlife.  We saw so many impalas, dik-diks, and similar creatures that we took to calling them DLA's: deer-like animals.

Two DLA's (deer-like animals)
We also got to see warthogs, monkeys, and lots of birds.

We ate all our meals in the house of a local official named Jerma.  He treated us like kings in every way, even bringing in a nationally-renowned chef to cook for us.   

The second day, the tribe we were treating was so grateful that they gave us two goats in thanks.

We ate goat stew with rice, chapatis, and cabbage for lunch and supper every day we were there.  With meals and in the afternoons, they brought us chai tea made with goat milk.  We were all very, very tired of goat stew (and of African food in general) after the third or fourth time, but still felt like honored guests.  The natives might only have meat once or twice per month.  In their kindness, these people provided our group with roasted, stewed goat twice a day for a week. 

Jerma's house was along the Galana River, and the views were breathtaking in every direction.

The first day we arrived, while waiting for lunch to finish cooking, they called us over to the river's edge.  The park guards went right down to the bank and began whistling and beating on the bank with a fresh goat skin.

A few feet offshore, something began moving in the river.  They pointed it out to us, and told us this was the mamma, the second-largest of the family.

She approached frighteningly fast, climbing up the bank.  They threw bits of goat skin to her, which she eyed carefully and snatched in a lightening-fast motion.

They even gave her whole legs, which she crushed with her jaws and swallowed.

They called her Mrs. Gibson, and she was an African crocodile.  Her legs, as you can see, are so powerful; she could propel herself up the bank in no time at all.  

Her mate and baby remained in the river for the most part, but this amazing "calling of the crocodile" was repeated almost every day.  We eventually saw all three crocodiles come up the bank at different times.

We waited safely on a rock outcropping during this display.  None of us got very close to the river.

The medical work was the most memorable part of the trip, however.  We had to work through translators, sometimes one who translated English to Swahili, then another who translated Swahili to the tribal languages.  Most of the complaints were very similar: muscle and joint aches from carrying heavy loads (and heavy babies) over long distances, parasites, infected wounds or bug bites, and sinus problems due to the smoke from indoor cooking fires.  We gave them what we had and arranged surgeries in Malindi where we could.
I spent most of my time taking vitals.  But I also got to float, working wherever people were piling up. This enabled me to see the pharmacy work, the blood tests, and the doctors' work.
Dad eventually took to calling me the "Rocephin Queen" because I gave so many injections of Rocephin, a powerful antibiotic.

Thanks to some dedicated mentors, I learned more medicine this trip than I ever have on a mission trip.   I got to listen to a fetal heartbeat and feel the baby's head.

Dad showed me a case of elephantiasis.  Elephantiasis is an incredibly rare parasitic disease in the United States, so much so that most physicians will never see a case of it in real life. Luckily, it's easily treated.
Elephantiasis in right leg

Probably a parasitic infection.  This
parasite may or may not have ever been
described by modern medicine.

These are people from the tribe waiting after being seen
to walk back to their village.
We treated a lion bite.  The man inadvertently herded his goats into the lion's territory.  His back had some deep scars where the lion attacked him.  The locals said that if the lion had wanted to hurt him, he'd be dead.  Apparently, the lion only wanted to give a warning.

Next time: giraffes, and what it means when we run out of medicine.

Thanks for reading!

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