Monthly Archives: August 2012


Short Story Bios Part II:  Jocelyn*

I, Whitney, met Helen, a hospital chaplain, at 11:00AM to round and pray for patients in the surgical ward, but before we could go, we first we had to “take chai.” Taking chai is a requirement. If you like chai, it is a luxurious requirement. We took our chai with the other hospital chaplains who proved to be a very warm and welcoming bunch. Once our bellies were filled with the sweet, milky tea, Helen and I set off to the women’s surgical ward.

The wards at Tenwek, and throughout Kenya, are big, open rectangular rooms with a row of beds lining each of the two longest walls. (For a patient to have a semi-private room they must either have tuberculosis or extra money.) We made our way into the ward and stopped at a bed one-third of the way down on the left side. The thin and delicate-looking woman in the bed had been mangled.  Both arms were wrapped in bandages from her fingers up past her elbows. The tip of her left, middle finger was missing. Because her gown was too big on her, you could see through the armhole that her torso was also wrapped in bandages. Her face was swollen, with fresh scars across her forehead that circled down and around her closed, puffy right eye. On her left cheek was a smaller slash.

Helen pulled the woman’s right eye open with her thumb. The woman’s right eye remained motionless, unseeing, and did not move with her left eye as she talked with Helen in Kipsigis. When Helen had finished talking with her about her eye and how she was doing that day, Helen rested her hand gently on the woman’s shoulder and turned to me. “This, is Jocelyn. She has been here for three weeks. She is a Christian.” She then turned to Jocelyn and told her in Kipsigis who I was and why I was there. I smiled at Jocelyn, who smiled sweetly back at me and tried out my name saying,


“Yes, Whitney. Chamage?”

“Mising.” She said with another smile, pleased that I knew a word or two of her language.

Helen asked Jocelyn if she could share her story with me.

“Aay,” said Jocelyn with a nod at me.

Helen fixed her eyes on me and became serious as she began to tell me Jocelyn story.

“Jocelyn and her husband had been having “difficulties” so she had gone to stay with her parents. She had occasionally done this before at times when he had beaten her badly.  Her husband was also a drunk.  She had been at her parents’ for a few days when he came to her parents’ home at a time when she was there alone. Perhaps he had been waiting and watching to see when she was alone. He came into the house and attacked her with a panga (a double-edged short, flat, sword). He attacked her so violently that he was surely meaning to kill her.”

“Oh,” I said taking it in as my eyes examined the evidence of his attack.

“Her eye?” I asked. “Will she be able to see with it again?”


My eyes rested on the missing end of her left middle finger. Helen turned, exchanged a few words with Jocelyn, and turned back to me.
“She tells me her finger was cut off when she grabbed onto the sword tightly to stop him from cutting and stabbing her.”

A bold visual of a woman hunched in a corner with her hand protectively reaching out and grabbing the swinging sword as both the man and the woman cry out sweeps through my brain.

“Does she have nightmares of this?” I ask Helen who translates.

“Yes, she says every night.”

“Oh,” I manage with a nod and Helen continues the story.

“Some villagers had heard of the attack and came and attacked her husband, beating him. Jocelyn was taken to Tenwek. When she woke up in the ICU, she learned that her husband had been badly beaten by the villagers and that he was taken to another hospital. Then she learned that after three days in the hospital, he had died. Her husband is dead.”

“Oh,” I said again, unsure whether to be happy or sad that her husband had died.

“Maybe,” began Helen, “if he had come to Tenwek, we could have told him about the Lord,” said Helen leaning forward raising her eyebrows. “But, he was not brought here,” she said as she leaned back again, “and he is dead,” she concluded with a nod.

I nodded with her processing this information. Her husband was dead. Did God have him die as a blessing to Jocelyn? I was glad, in a way, that she was rid of such a husband. But did she somehow love him? Was she sad? Happy? Her husband being dead could also be a financial burden if he had earned money for the family. If she had kids, how would she care for them and find enough money to feed and clothe them and pay for their school fees?

I asked Helen if she had children who confirmed with Jocelyn, who didn’t look over 30, that she had five boys and no girls. In Kenyan culture, children and especially boys are a prized thing. People would say that she had done well for her husband. But now, how would she raise five boys on her own?

While I was thinking through this, and what Jocelyn future might look like, Helen had been conversing with Jocelyn and now stopped to tell me that Jocelyn children were at her parents-in-law and they had never come to see her the whole three weeks she’d been in the hospital. This was not a good sign. Why had they not come to visit? Why had they not let her children visit?

“Do her parents-in-law blame her for her husband’s death?” I asked Helen.

Jocelyn told Helen that in the years past her parents-in-law never tried to correct their son and tell him not to beat her. To them, it was best to pretend the beatings did not exist. She was not sure what they thought now, but hoped she would be able to get her children back without any problems.

Helen then asked me to pray for Jocelyn, telling me that Jocelyn was able to understand some English.  Jocelyn, Jocelyn’s younger sister, Helen, and myself all bowed our heads and we prayed to God together as I spoke aloud.  Helen and I then moved on to another patient’s  bed and prayed for her and the baby she lost, and then we moved onto another patient, and another, but it was Jocelyn that I could not get out of my mind.

Would you please pray for Jocelyn too? Please pray for:
• Physical healing. That her wounds would not inhibit any work she might do to earn money
• Emotional healing:

  •  Pray that God can be near to her, heal any angry feelings she might have towards Him.
  •  After years of being beaten and now with a scared face, her self-esteem might be pretty low. Pray that she defines her value on God’s scale. That she know she is a Princess having been forever adopted as the King of Glory’s child. Let Jesus be the lover that she never had. Let her feel the love and strength in his steadfast, tender and healing embrace.
  •  Pray that her nightmares stop in the name of Jesus

• Provision

  •  She must now provide for her family of five boys
  •  She was discharged from the hospital last week, but her bill for her surgeries, drugs, and 3-plus week stay was Sh200,000 or $2439.00.  This cost is actually much, much lower compared to all other hospitals in Kenya (and obviously the U.S.), but Jocelyn really has little to no money.  When I last saw her, her family had managed to pay Sh9,000 ($110.00) of the bill.

• Whatever the Holy Spirit leads you to pray for

Thank you!  I know she’ll feel your prayers.


*Name has been changed

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A Confession

School has been out for two and a half weeks now and I (Whitney) have been doing a variety of different things, coming into contact with many different people.  I would like to share some of their stories here in a series of “short story bio” blog posts.  I plan to share the stories of Timothy, Joselyn, Tabita, Evette, Edna, and Mercy.  Some of their stories are inspiring, and others sad, even cruel, but unfinished.  I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I have.

Part I: Timothy

School had been out for four days and Scott and I had just returned from an amazing trip to the Masai Mara.  While we were unpacking and settling back in, our land-line telephone rang.  I answered the phone and identified myself.  The voice on the other end of the crackling line was an unfamiliar one and clearly Kenyan.  I was able to make out that the person said her name was “Helen.”

“Helen the guesthouse cook?” I asked puzzled.

“No, I am Helen Tongus, chaplain at Tenwek Hospital.”

This statement piqued my already heightened curiosity even more as I had not met any of the hospital chaplains yet, and I had no idea why one would know me or call me at home.  I asked how I could help her, hoping to figure out the reason of this mysterious call, but first she had some questions for me,

“Are you the one who has been teaching at Dr. Steury Memorial School?”


“Were you teaching students who were around 11 years old?”

“Yes” I answered again, becoming slightly nervous at this interrogation.

“Why?”  I asked, happy to ask a question of my own and hoping to understand what was going on.

“There is a boy, one of your students, he told me that something you did made him very uncomfortable.”

Gulp. My sympathetic nervous system kicked into full gear and silence ensued as my brain processed this information zipping along at lighting speed alternately running through any potential scenarios in the last few weeks that could have possibly made someone uncomfortable and at the same time shouting jumbled exclamations in my head of

“No!  I’m innocent!  Ahhh!  What did I do?!  I’m doomed!  How did I get myself into this?!  Stupid!  No!  I’ve been framed I tell you!  Please no!  All I wanted was to help and now I’m RUINED!  But wait!  Wait!  I don’t even know what I did!

During my silence Helen decided to continue her interrogation.  “Did you give your students a test or homework or something?”

“Yes, homework,” I responded.

They asked for homework!  It wasn’t my idea!

“And I think you told them, like many other teachers do, not to copy from each other?” “Yes.”

What’s so wrong about that?   It’s right, other teacher’s do it too, you even said so! However, I did do something other teachers don’t do, I made frosted banana cookies and gave them to the kids who got the extra credit problem right.  Do you know about the cookies Helen???  You see, I’m not a real teacher, so I could not give them extra points, but I wanted to reward them in some way.  Is that wrong?  It probably is.  Maybe that’s what made him uncomfortable?  It is probably a terrible violation of some Kenyan cultural tradition that I didn’t know about.

“And when you marked their papers, did you ask them if they copied?”

Alright Whitney, you’re going to have to start talking sometime, just be smooth, nonchalant.  Innocent until proven guilty, right?  Act innocent!

“Ahem. Yes, I wanted to make sure that they did not cheat so I checked their papers very carefully looking for work that would indicate that they had done it themselves.  If I didn’t see enough work to support the answer of the math problem, then I called them to me in the teacher’s office, where I was correcting their work, and had them explain how they arrived at their answer.  One boy admitted that he had copied so I told him I couldn’t give him credit for that problem, but everyone else was able to explain, to a reasonable degree, how they found the answer to the problem.”

Helen continued, “Ok, so this boy is, I think, one of your students.  Last week his parents noticed that he was not acting like himself.  He was quiet . . . He was not active . . .  They were worried that he was sick, so they took him to Tenwek.  The doctor in Casualty [Tenwek’s Emergency Room] evaluated him and said that there was nothing wrong with him and told the parents he was not sick.  I thought to myself that maybe the boy had something else wrong with him, something emotionally disturbing him.  So I asked his parents if I could take the boy aside and talk with him.  He was able to confess to me that he had been picking on his neighbor kids and he had also copied his homework from his friend and then lied to his teacher when she asked if he had done it on his own.   He felt very badly about this, so much so that he felt physically sick.  He had been told that God sees and knows everything you ever do, and he knew that God had seen him cheat and lie.”

“Oh.” I said, wondering at this turn of events, this boy’s story and curious as ever what Helen’s agenda was in calling me.

“I then prayed with him and we asked for God’s forgiveness because he knew that he had sinned against God.”

“Like David.” I managed dumfounded, thinking of Psalm 51:4.

Helen:  “Yes, and then I explained to him that all was forgiven because he had confessed and asked God for forgiveness with all of his heart.  That Jesus had already paid for that sin on the cross for his sake.  So that he could become the righteousness of God, clean and perfect before Him.  I told the boy he had nothing more to be worried about, he could now feel comfortable having confessed to the Lord.  Still, he told me that he wanted to see you and confess to you, his teacher, and ask for your forgiveness too.  I tried to find you that Friday afternoon, but I was told you were in the Mara.  So, I called the boy on Saturday, after he had confessed to his parents, and I prayed with him and encouraged him then.  He still wanted to meet with you and confess to you, so I am very happy to have reached you tonight and I would like to prepare a time to meet with me and the boy, Timothy.”

“Yes, yes please.  Anytime is good for me.” I stammered.

Aye!  Wow. Oh Lord, this boy and his pure, sweet, uncontaminated spirit humble me.  I am honored to be a part of this.  May he never become jaded to sin and accept the world’s tolerance level.  May he always desire to be clean, and therefore near you, as he does now.  Thank you for the indwelling of your Holy Spirit convicting him.  Thank you that he heeded your Holy Spirit and did not find ways to justify himself, even though his peers may also cheat and lie.  May I also be this sensitive to my sin, I don’t want to deceive myself, may I be weary when I find myself reasoning and justifying.  Thank you for this boy’s example.

I met with Helen, Timothy, Timothy’s mother and younger brother three days later on Wednesday.  Helen led the conversation and Timothy told me what had happened and asked for my forgiveness, saying that if I forgive others, our heavenly father will also forgive me.   I thought this was so sweet, that his reason and plea for me to forgive him, was so that I too could be forgiven by God, a quote of Matthew 6:14.   I assured him that I forgave him, praised him for listening to the Holy Spirit’s convicting and humbling himself, leaving his pride, which enabled him to admit that what he had done was wrong.  That is hard to do!  I encouraged him that all had been forgiven by me, Helen, his parents, and God, and that now he could grow in his faith and walk closely and joyously with God.  When we have sin, it’s like a wall that separates us from God and we can’t feel close to him, but when we confess it, that wall is removed, gone forever, and we can be in communion with our loving Father again.

On a scrap of paper, I had written down some thoughts and favorite verses that I go to when I have sinned and wonder at God’s forgiveness.  I gave this to Timothy and encouraged him to read through it.  I also included Psalm 32:1-6, which reminded me exactly of him and his story.

Helen asked me to close in prayer, I prayed, Timothy and his family left, happy, and Helen and I rejoiced at Timothy, his character, and how his mistake had caused us to meet.  We planned for me to round with her on the surgical ward the following week.  This arrangement caused me to meet Josephine and Evelyn, two women with unique stories that I will share here in the following days.

For now, peace and blessings to you!


“Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” Psalm 119:165

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Lake Naivasha

We went on a surprisingly awesome trip to Lake Naivasha, not this past weekend, but the weekend before.  Sorry this post is a bit late!  Our internet was out all weekend so were not able to get this post published sooner.  I say “surprisingly” awesome because Lake Naivasha is not necessarily a tourist hotspot like the Mara or Lake Nakuru, and people did not get excited when we told them we were going there.  Additionally, our last-minute replacement driver was a stranger (sort of a friend of a friend), so we kept our expectations low–but it was great, jam-packed, adventuresome weekend and we again experienced the beauty of Kenya!

On Friday afternoon, our driver, Antony, arrived early to pick us and our friend Steve (a fellow Duke resident) up and immediately we clicked with Antony and fast became friends.  We exchanged stats about our lives and shocked each other with cultural facts from our respective countries and lives with a lot of joking in between.

We hoped to see some animals over weekend, but again, kept our expectations low, so when a pack of baboons crossed the road on our way to Naivasha we were excited.  It proved to be a great foreshadowing of what was to come!

We heard that all of the flamingos had left Lake Nakuru (the place that we had initially planned going where literally millions of flamingoes flock) and some had headed to Lake Oloiden, which is a small lake next to Lake Naivasha so we headed there first before the sun could set on our first night there. We were delighted to see the beautiful pink, tall birds before it got dark!

Flamingos at Lake Oloiden

After viewing the flamingos we drove to our lodging passing zebra, giraffe, and gazelle on the way, had dinner, and made our way to our lodging for the weekend.

We stayed at Fisherman’s Camp in a “banda” that slept the four of us. On the top left you can clearly see that Scott is way too tall to fit on the bed, as the wall-to-wall distance for sleeping was only 5’9″, and he is 6’4″. In fact, only our driver, Antony, was short enough to sleep comfortably. The first night, it was so muggy in our banda with no air circulation, and Scott felt so trapped in his little bed that he had a minor panic attack (which he never has before) at about 1:00AM and suddenly made a big racket unbolting the door so he could sprint outside to be free and get some fresh air. On the right side you can see our lovely private bathroom consisting of a cement floor with a hole in the ground. On the bottom left is the outside view of our banda. Needless to say, it’s no Ngerende, but the price was right at sh1000 (about $12) per person per night and surprisingly they did have hot showers!

We woke up early the next morning and this sunrise over Lake Naivasha greeted us as we drove the short distance to Mt. Longonot.

Whitney’s preferred sunrise pic.

Scott’s preferred sunrise pic.

Mount Longonot is a dormant volcano that has a huge, deep crater on top of it with a smaller satellite crater one off the side.  Both craters are remnants of the volcano’s eruption.

Mount Longonot as seen from Hell’s Gate. The more flat slope is on the left side is the rim of the crater. The peak on the right side of the mountain is the highest point on the crater’s rim and the summit of the mountain.

Even on our hike up, the mountain and surrounding landscape were already so beautiful!

The huge and deep crater that met our eyes at the top was stunning!  The forest inside the crater is untouched and seemed mysterious and exciting to us, almost like you expect some unknown, or even extinct, creature to live down there.  L to R: Steve, Scott, Whitney

Crater stats. Love the cloud shadows in these pictures.

The view to the left. The group of men there were from all over the world and were in Nairobi for a United Nations safety and threat course. One of the men is a Risk Analyst for the UN and his job is to analyze threats, decide whether or not certain countries are safe for foreigners to be. He also “eliminates threats” . . . I think you can read between the lines there, right? The funnest member of the group though was their leader (at least the leader of the hike), a hilarious, energetic, crazy Dutch man that had more Dutch pride than all of Pella, IA combined. (Maybe that’s an exaggeration?) It was a pleasure meeting all of these men, hearing their stories, and observing how they joked and bickered with one another about their respective countries’ past entanglements.

Leaving the UN group behind we started on our 7.2Km trek around the crater. Left side: the path ahead. Right side: the steep crater wall–don’t want to fall off the path!

Looks like we might be in the clouds when we reach the summit!

We passed by the small satellite crater on our right.

Getting higher and closer to the peak, but we still have a long ways to go! The red line shows the path to the peak.

Left: Scott taking in the crater. Top right: A lava tube formed from the outside cooling faster than the lava flowing inside. Bottom right: The narrow, and steep path up.

One last look before we’re in the clouds!

The summit! Sadly, the top of the mountain was in the clouds while we were up there and we couldn’t see anything but white.

In typical Whitney fashion, every flower was pointed out and whenever she could get the rest of the group to stop for a second, she would snap a picture.  The water on this flower is from the moisture of the cloud condensing.

Outside vs. Inside.  We disagreed on what views we liked looking at best.  Whitney loved looking to her right, at the ever changing landscape outside of the crater.  The picture on the top left shows the many rippling ridges beyond the mountain that reminded us of Kauai, HI.  The picture on the bottom left shows the many different colors of vegetation growing which prompted Whitney to exclaim more than once, “It looks like a Monet painting!”  Scott, on the other hand, was all about the massive crater inside the mountain.  The top right picture gives some sense just how deep the crater was.  The bottom right picture shows how wide the crater is (over a mile wide) with the summit directly across from us.  The shadows in the forest were made by some very tall trees stretching up and out over others.

After climbing Mount Longonot, we headed directly over to Crescent Island on Lake Naivasha that afternoon.  Crescent Island is actually a peninsula where many grazing animals live happily without any real predators.  Since there are no predators, you are allowed to walk around the island and get as close as you dare to the animals.

Upon entering Crescent Island through a forest of Yellow Fever Acacia trees, we were greeted by giraffes! In this picture you can see Maasai giraffe (front and back) and a Rothschild’s giraffe (middle).

This giraffe was holding still for our picture, but when we heard it move we both turned to look to see where it was going and our driver snapped this picture.  It’s an accidental favorite.

Do the eyelashes make him/her seem feminine to you?


Lilac-Breasted Rollers–Whit’s favorite

Just some wildebeest and zebra chilling beneath the acacia trees.

Lots of birds!  The top left is called the Superb Starling and our Kenya travel guidebook doesn’t tell us the other birds’ names. 😦  There are over 500 bird species at Lake Naivasha

Scott had Whitney slowly walk backwards smiling the whole time while this picture was taken.  Needless to say, Whitney did not like approaching the zebras without being able to see if they were getting irritated with her nearness!

Great White Pelicans in flight on the left and a coy looking stork on the right.

“Whatchu lookin’ at?” –Waterbuck

Scott and waterbuck

Male impala on the horizon.

After a big supper at the Fisherman’s Camp restaurant, we went to bed early and slept slightly better due to our tired and worn out muscles.  The next morning we woke up early again and headed to Hell’s Gate National Park.  We rented bikes to bike through Hell’s Gate and convinced our driver to join us (he deferred on Mt. Longonot).  Hell’s gate has mostly herbivores with a few leopards, cheetah and hyena so it is relatively safe to bike through.

Acacia tree with zebra.

We love giraffes!

Scott with giraffe and zebra

Ok, so, there are two zebra at the bottom of this cliff, but it’s the colors and texture of the cliff that we love!

Crazy zebra stripes!  Look at all the stripes on their legs too!

When we reached the other end of Hell’s gate we left our bikes and went with a Maasai guide through the gorge.

A section of the gorge

Inside the gorge.

This water was super-duper hot!  Hell’s Gate, next to dormant Mt. Longonot, is a site of geothermal activity.

Here we’re using an Emergency Exit to climb out of the canyon to go see Central Tower up above.

There are emergency exits along the canyon because there can be flash flooding of the canyon and in the narrow parts this means death for the person in it.  A half hour later, we were back in the canyon making our way to the Devil’s Bedroom when we were told that seven school children from Nairobi died here in April. There had been a flash flood and some children had not heeded the guide’s pleas to get to an emergency exit upon hearing the sound of distant water rushing.  We had just been told this when we heard the sound of water in the distance.  We saw the Devil’s Bedroom with its waterfall for all of a second before our guide started sprinting and yelling, “Quick!  Quick!  Move now!”  Muddy water began flowing beneath our feet and we all sprinted through it, soaking our shoes and our socks, adrenaline pumping, acrobatically jumping from one rock to another trying to keep up with our agile Maasai guide, and wondering if we might see a flash flood or if we might get out in time.  We reached this emergency exit and clambered up it as fast as we could.  Luckily, it was a false alarm and it was suspected that a water pipe from the nearby geothermal energy plant had burst.

Towards the end of our hike with the Maasai guide he dug up some ochre (what the Maasai traditionally use for face paint for ceremonies) from the ground, mixed it with water, and, upon Whitney’s request, painted our faces according to the traditional male and female patterns. Here’s our best attempt to look tough with imaginary bow and arrows and spears.  I’m not sure we live up to the face paint.

We then biked back!  Our poor driver is in the background walking with his bike.  He told us he felt “lighter” on our drive home.  😉

After Hell’s Gate we started the drive back home to Tenwek.  On the way we passed through Narok, where our driver lives, and there we bought the beef and goat you saw in our last post and also went to our driver’s home where his wife served us a late lunch with mango juice and chai to drink

Scott and I with our driver, Antony, and his sweet family.

We then returned to Tenwek quite tired, but happy with all we got to experience.

~Whitney and

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Update from Scott

Hello. As I am sitting down to write this, I am just finishing a plate of leftover goat rib curry stew.  Yes, goat ribs.  We had our first experience at a Kenyan butcher shop this past weekend.  In Kenya, almost all meat is purchased at local butcher shops.  The butchers typically slaughter a cow or goat, hang it in the window of their little shops (unrefrigerated) and will then cut pieces for customers as they visit.  The cow/goat typically will hang in the window for 1-3 days until all of the meat is gone.  Whitney had been apprehensive about buying meat that wasn’t refrigerated, and I think was also grossed out a bit seeing an animal just hanging in a window.  Nonetheless, our friend and driver, Antony, who is a Kenyan native, took us to his favorite two butchers who he assured us were very reliable, and their meat is always fresh.  We proceeded to buy a kg of steak from the cow butcher (we ate this a few days ago in delicious steak enchiladas with homemade enchilada sauce) and a kg of goat ribs from the goat butcher.  Here are a few pics from the butcher:

The first butcher cutting off “steak”. In Kenya, there doesn’t really seem to be a concept of particular cuts of meet, such as T-bone, ribeye, etc. Rather, you just ask for “steak” and they cut the tender and best cuts of the meat. We got one kg (2.2 lbs) for around 200 shillings (about $2.50).

Picture of our goat ribs being butchered!

On the wards

Things have been especially busy at the hospital the last few weeks, which is likely in part why I have had such a long delay since my last post.  When I arrived to Tenwek, I recall being amazed at how sick and acute patients seemed to be when presenting, often coming to the hospital with advanced disease and near death.  Well, over the past two weeks, the overall sickness of patients is actually even worse than it was in July.  In one 7 day span last week, on the medical service alone we had 17 patients pass away from a variety of illnesses.  That week was emotionally, physically, and spiritually challenging.  As a physician, death is something that certainly we experience and learn to cope with, but it is never easy.

Last night, I was on call, and it was a very busy, and emotionally taxing call night.  In the morning we had a fairly young patient (40s) pass away.  She had advanced HIV, tuberculosis, and had developed bone marrow failure, presumably related to her TB or HIV.  This was her third admission of the summer, and she had been slowly declining.  On this admission, she was very anemic, with a hemoglobin of 4 (normal is ~12-15).  We had been trying to transfuse her for the last few days, but there was no blood left in the blood bank (this is a very common problem as Kenyan law forbids hospitals to conduct blood drives) and she had no family around to donate.  Eventually, she just stopped breathing.  Later on in the evening, I had just arrived home from dinner when I received the dreaded “999” page, which signifies a code blue on one of my patients.  I sprinted back up the hill to the hospital, where one of our interns was doing chest compressions in attempts to resuscitate the patient.  Eventually, after intubation, several rounds of CPR, and some medications we use in codes, we were able to get a pulse back.  He was not breathing on his own, so he needed to be placed on a ventilator.  Of course, our four ventilators in the hospital were all taken, and there were no ICU beds available.  I ran up to the ICU while our intern was bagging the patient (bagging is a way to manually ventilate someone prior to placing them on a breathing machine).  In the ICU, I attempted a T-piece trial on one of our patients, which is a quick way to see if they are able to come off of the vent.  My hope was that we would be able to remove that patient from the vent, and use that vent for the patient who had just coded on the medical ward.  He unfortunately failed the test, so again we were stuck in a situation with the patient who had just coded whose only way to survive was with a breathing machine, but no available machines.  One solution would be to have the family bag the patient throughout the night until a vent came available, but that is a terrible situation, and not at all ideal.  When I returned to the patient, he had lost his pulse again, but again with CPR we were able to get a pulse back.  His labs arrived, and he was profoundly anemic (from a GI bleed) and desperately needed blood.  We found blood that matched in the blood bank, but he is a Jehovah’s Witness and he had previously refused blood products, until finally agreeing just a few hours prior to coding.  In the process of all of this, he coded a few more times, and eventually passed away while we were still trying to figure out a reasonable plan.  He was only 33.  It was very sad to see someone so young and previously healthy pass away.

In total yesterday, we had five patients die, which is the most I have ever had in one day.  We had two men in their 90s pass away from pneumonia.  These deaths had been expected as they were both very sick.  They were both Christians and now can leave their suffering behind.  Our final patient that died last night was a 40 year old who had been healthy, but apparently drank some local brewed alcohol and was found later in the day unconscious.  When he arrived he was cold, and not breathing with no pulse.  We attempted resuscitation but were unsuccessful, as he likely had died hours before being brought in.  I learned today that these cheap, off market local brews are becoming a big problem.  Apparently, they use formalin, and sometimes even add antiretrovirals (meds use to treat HIV) to the brew.  The drinks are very strong and toxic, and likely why this patient passed away, although we will never know for sure.

As always, we had several other interesting admissions yesterday.  One patient had a tumor the size of a grapefruit in her  right lung.  She was very hypoxic and in respiratory distress when she came in.  She still is having trouble breathing, and I had a long discussion regarding the current status, likely diagnosis, and prognosis with the patients family today…which was approximately 40-50 family members.  We otherwise admitted a woman with cryptococcal meningitis, another with diabetic ketoacidosis, a woman with a stomach ulcer causing her to throw up blood, a man with acute liver failure, a woman with heart failure, a young pregnant woman with pulmonary tuberculosis, and finally a man with severe abdominal pain (still don’t know why).  All of these patients seem to have made some improvement today, so hopefully they will get better!

Fortunately, despite our limitations, we still can do a lot here at Tenwek, many of our patients do get better and are able to hear about Jesus.  We continue to treat many patients that appear hours from dying, but through aggressive treatment and monitoring, we are able to get them stabilized, and eventually well enough to walk out of the hospital!  Also, we have had two female patients give their life to Christ this week.  I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to treat sick, vulnerable, and dying patients and to serve as an ambassador for Christ.  Certainly, especially at Tenwek, the challenges are ever present with extremely sick patients, and often limited diagnostic or therapeutic resources, however, the rewards of treating and ministering to these patients are indescribable.  The Lord reminds me daily why He has called me to medicine.  This time at Tenwek has been one of the most rewarding in my life, and my faith continues to grow as God reveals his glory sometimes through miraculous healings, sometimes through taking in the breathtaking creation He has made, sometimes through quiet times with Him, and even through the peace and comfort He provides to patients and their families when they leave this world to enter eternity with God.  As my faith grows, and I see the word of God becomes more alive, my desire to share this treasure with others grows.  These past few days, I have been reading the book of Jeremiah.  In chapter 20, Jeremiah is growing weary due to being ridiculed, mocked, and insulted for preaching the word of God (which are things that have always hindered me from sharing my faith with others).  Yet, despite this despair, Jeremiah says this in verse 9:

  “But if I say,

“I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,”

his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones.

I am weary of holding it in; indeed I cannot.

I pray that as the Lord continues to engrave his word on my heart, that I too will be unable to hold it in!  Thanks reading some of my random thoughts from the past few days.  I hope to blog again soon, so hopefully will not have such a long time period between my next entry.  I am on call this weekend, so please pray for wisdom and compassion as I treat our patients.  Thanks!


Starting with me then moving clockwise: Me, Dennis (Intern), Mugalla (Fam. Med 3rd year resident), Matilda (medicine consultant-long term staff), James (med. student), Jane (intern), Meshack (Intern), Kibet (Fam. Med. first year resident), Darlene (critical care fellow visiting from Mayo), Isaiah (intern). I love this team!

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Our Masai Mara Safari

Wow.  So Scott and I just had one of the best weekend of our lives, just below the weekend we got married of course!  This is going to be so hard to put into words, so instead we’re just going to bombard you with pictures.  So, grab a cup a chai, sit back, and enjoy!

Last Friday morning we left Tenwek for the Masai Mara.  The Masai Mara, in southwest Kenya, is Kenya’s (and possibly all of Africa) most famous game reserve and safari destination.  After a two-hour and fifteen minute drive (most of which was on a rocky dirt road) we arrived at our lodge, Ngerende Island Lodge which is almost completely surrounded by the Mara River with many hippos and crocodiles living in the river.  Ngerende is a luxurious safari lodge that normally we would not be able to afford, however, they graciously provide Tenwek missionaries with an incredible discount.  Before our car had even come to a stop, we were greeted by these guys.

Some Masai Warriors encircled our car and greeted us as our luggage was quickly whisked away to our room by butlers.

One of the Masai warriors promptly took our camera and clicked away snapping many photos and even doing a few short films as they led us to the lodge.

Upon reaching the lodge entrance they did their traditional Masai dance which involves jumping as high as one possibly can.  You can watch this video to see them jump and here their chanting song.

Then they had us give it a try!

Scott jumping high like the Masai

Giving it a go. Unfortunately, I’ve never been known for my astounding vertical leap.

After this traditional dance, the Masai all shook our hands goodbye and when we turned towards the lodge we were greeted with cool washcloths scented with eucalyptus oil to wipe the dust from our hands and faces, and given a glass with freshly made mango-pineapple juice with a sprig of mint.  Once finished with our juice, our own personal private butler, Evans, showed us to our tent.  Well, maybe I should say “tent” as it is really more of a luxury suite!

The view of our tent that meets you at the door.  We hadn’t been in our room more than 10 seconds and Scott was already checking out the river.

Scott heard a noise while out on our back porch and looked down and saw this little guy waiting to greet us.

The view from the opposite side of the room looking towards the entry door.

The view from our porch. The bathroom with the soaking tub and a shower with the fancy “rain-like” shower head are to the immediate left. There is only one robe hanging here because Scott had already eagerly tried on the other one when I took this picture. 😉

On the left: Scott enjoying the view of the river in his Egyptian cotton bath robe. Top right: Another view from our room. The bathroom entrance is through the swinging doors. Bottom right: I am lounging in a super comfortable lounge chair while watching the hippos below.

After getting settled in our room, Evans (our butler) met us at the lodge to lead us to our lunch destination.  He arranged for us to have our first lunch at Ngerende under a beautiful thatched roof hut overlooking the Mara River with dozens of hippos lazily basking in the sun or soaking in the river. We had a wonderful lunch with a Mediterranean feta salad, a grilled duck stir fry, and strawberry mouse for dessert!

Enjoying the view, the food, and the company!

A few of the hippos we saw. The little one is less than one week old!

Another shot of the hippos! This one is showing off his grill!

Sitting by the pool overlooking the Mara River and hippos as we wait for Evans to bring our dessert course.

A Nile Crocidile nearby the group of hippos

Here is a video of the hippos, please note that Scott and I crack up and laugh every time we watch this video because we think we sound so flaky!  It is at a great cost to my personal pride to post this here, but I am doing so at Scott’s request so you can see the hippos.

After our tasty and refreshing private lunch, we were ready to get back in a car and bounce along rocky terrain, only this time we would be on a game drive discovering animals in the wild! We met Matthew, our guide and game driver, and he took us on our first ever safari!  We saw thousands of animals and took so many pictures, but we will just share a few to give a general idea of the drive.

The first animal we came across on our afternoon game drive. Little did we know that over the next two days, we would literally see thousands and thousands of zebra. Their stripe pattern really is a thing of beauty.

A couple of Masai giraffes.  Giraffes are my favorite!

Two giraffes reaching up to have some dinner!

I love giraffes. Have I mentioned I love giraffes?  I could post so many picture of giraffes, but I will try to move on!

A female ostrich running through the plains.

A male ostrich chasing the female shown above!

A female ostrich protecting her nest.  We learned that these eggs were laid by different female partners of the male and then the male choses his “best” female to sit on the nest for him during the day, and then during the night he sits on the nest.

In the Mara there are many groups of Impala. A group of Impala contains one dominant male and a few dozen females (without antlers) who the male breeds with. Here, the two male Impalas battled for dominance to determine who gets to control the group of females. The one on the right was the victor!

A Grant’s Gazelle with its long antlers. Many Acacia trees can be seen in the background.

Thomson’s gazelles. These are extremely numerous in the Mara and one can spot groups of these basically at any time. The baby seen here, was not more than 1 day old!

This is a Topi. You can often spot them standing on top of a termite mound looking for predators.  They have a shiny coat with bluish coloration along the upper legs. Our guide refers to the colors as the topi’s blue jeans.

We next encountered a group of 30+ African Buffalo. Apparently these are some of the meanest and most dangerous animals in Africa.

We then went to a rhino reserve where we got out of the car and walked with a park ranger to see the rhinos. . .who were not in a fence!

The White Rhinoceros. These animals are among the most endangered animals in Africa. This particular one weighs over 7,000 pounds!

This picture was taken about 10 feet from the rhino behind us. Of course, on multiple occasions I (and also the park ranger once) had to holler at Scott to back up as he more than once got too close for comfort!

Pumba! We saw many, many warthogs on our various game drives. Each sighting prompted our van to sing…”If I was a young warthooooog!” (from the Lion King movie)

Our first lion! We saw this one toward the end of our first game drive.

A close up!

As the sun was setting, we found these four giraffes on the horizon with gazelles and wildebeests in the foreground!

On the way back from the first game drive, we had the opportunity to witness a gorgeous African sunset

Another picture of the sun setting over the savannah.

Sunset, with an acacia tree and zebra of course!

At the end of our game drive we were taken back to the lodge and our “tent” where Evans had filled our bath with steaming hot water, bubbles, and amazing smelling Eucalyptus oils.  He also started a crackling fire in our fireplace so our suite was warm and cozy when we got back.  The bath felt like I was at a spa.  The heat of the bath did wonders to loosen up tense muscles from a day of driving on dirt “roads,” the smell of the bath oils were calming, and the occasional grunts, snorts, and bellows from the hippos in the river below were an amusing reminder that I was on safari in Africa.  By the time I reluctantly left that soaking tub of bliss, I only had time to sit in front of the fire in a leather, wing-backed chair for a full five seconds before Scott, hungry and ever puntual, pulled me up and out the door to enjoy an amazing five course dinner in the lodge served to us by Evans.

The next morning, Saturday morning, we woke up early, had our three course breakfast at 6:30AM and left for the Maasai Mara on an all-day game drive where we hoped to see a wildebeest crossing. Again, here is a tiny sampling of a few of the things we saw:

This is a jackal.  Now you know what a jackal is.

These hippos we found out of the water. They typically come out at night to graze on the grass, and return to the water in the morning where they remain for the rest of the day to keep cool and sleep on the shore.   Apparently, they eat something like 170 pounds of grass each night!

These are wildebeests, the most abundant animal in the Mara.  Our driver joked that they were made with “left-overs.” They have the long face and tail of a horse, the horns of a buffalo, and the body of an antelope.  What do you think?

Everywhere we looked there were thousands of wildebeests. In total, we likely saw more than one million of these animals.

We came across this mama lioness nursing her adorable little cubs

Another image of the cubs

In this video you can see the lion cubs squirming and working hard to get their fill of milk.

Next, we found a group of vultures scavenging a dead animal. This bird (not sure the name of it, it’s different than the normal vultures) came away with what looks to be a piece of small intestine or maybe the trachea. Sorry, it’s kind of gross!

Wildebeests on the move, with vultures in the tree taking notice!

We came across a group of wildebeests standing on our path and soon we had the whole heard on the move running away from our car.  It felt like we were herding cattle.  Below is a video.

Another female lion resting in the shade during the mid-day heat.  No male lions seen yet!

The Great Wildebeest/Zebra Migration

The great migration is deemed one of the seven natural wonders of the world!  Each year, 2-3 million wildebeests (and hundreds of thousands of zebra) migrate from the Sarengeti in Tanzania, into the Masai Mara in search of vegetation and water.  As they arrive in the Mara, they have to cross the treacherous Mara River. In the river lurks many massive Nile Crocodiles, ready to devour these animals.  The migration occurs annually, typically in August-September.  During these months, the Mara savannah is literally carpeted with zebra and wildebeests.  When groups of animals reach the river, they often will stand at the banks for days before proceeding to cross. Therefore, it makes witnessing this spectacle very hit or miss, as nobody knows which days they will cross.  Well, we arrived at the river and there were thousands of wildebeests and zebra.  We parked our vehicle, and waited hopefully (yet trying not to get our hopes up too much) that we could be one of the lucky ones to witness this.  Sure enough, after about 45 minutes of waiting, one brave zebra decided to go for it and took the plunge, thereby opening the floodgates.  We watched in awe as thousands of zebra and wildebeests braved the water to cross to the other side.  In the process, we watched as two wildebeests were taken by crocodiles, and another broke his right hind leg and was unable to make it past the shore of the river.  After watching the crossing for about 45 minutes, a woman in our safari van actually had to hold back a few tears as this was a one of her dreams to see the crossing, and here she was experiencing it.  It really was an amazing thrill.  Here are a few pics and a short video clip:

Zebra and wildebeests jumping into the river.

This guy leapt out of the water.  Note the crocodile on the shore on the left side of the picture.

Zebra and Wildebeests moving to the river to cross

More animals joining in on the fun!

We saw several crocodiles on the bank and in the water.  Here, this zebra narrowly escaped becoming this crocodile’s lunch.  In the background, you can see hippos, and more crocs.

It is kind of hard to see, but here, on the left part of the picture, you can make out a crocodile’s jaw and teeth as he is taking down a wildebeest.

Here’s a video of the crossing to give you a better idea.

An example of the thousands of animals on display at all times.

More zebras!  The one on the left is younger as its stripes have a brown color and its coat is more shaggy.

After viewing the various animals and the river crossing all morning, we had worked up quite an appetite.  We were told that we would be having lunch in the Mara, which we figured would include a picnic/sack lunch type of deal.  To our surprise we were brought to a beautiful spot under the shade tree with views of the river, as well as views of the many animals roaming the plains.  Even Evans was there to greet us and serve us an octopus/seaweed delicious salad, a chicken and Sobe noodle main dish, and finished with an amazing grilled pineapple dessert.

Our picnic lunch in the middle of the savannah

Evans, our butler, explaining the menu.  We loved Evans!!  He was so sweet, nice, friendly, warm, hospitable, and ready to do anything to make our experience just that much better. We enjoyed getting to known him, and of course, appreciated all of his help!

After lunch, we resumed our safari and continued to be wowed by all that we saw.  Here are a few more pics:

Close up shot of another African buffalo.  Their horns remind me of a hairdo with a center-part and maybe Pippy Longstocking pig-tails.

We were taken to a more wooded area and came across 13 elephants.  Beautiful, enormous animals!  Here is an adult and a child.

Elephant strolling along.

The bird here is a Lilac-Breasted Roller.  When it flies, its neon blue color is absolutely radiant!  Another elephant is just behind the bird.

I like this picture for its layers. In the right foreground is the Lilac Breasted Roller, then a young elephant, then three zebra, and in the very back is wildebeest and zebra herds.

Our first male lion!  The king of the jungle!  I was just itching to see a male lion after seeing three females before we found this guy with his girl. He even stood up to greet us and smiled!  Or maybe he was barring his teeth and warning us to stay back.

Settling back in, he began groom himself so he would look nice for his lady friend when she woke up.

On our way back from the game drive, we had yet to see a Cheetah, Scott’s favorite animal.  They can be hard to see in the tall grass.  We were searching intently, and sure enough, in the distance we spotted something, and as we approached, we found this cheetah, feasting on a freshly killed young Eland (similar to antelope).

Just look at those eyes! Love it! Not to mention the blood splatters on his nose and the piece of flesh hanging off of his lower canine tooth.

Staring down and standing over the kill like the haughty cat he is!  (Truthfully I think he got up to look at a jackal nearby and make sure the jackal did not intend to cut in on his meal.)

So, perhaps I should put a warning before this video that it may not be suitable for all audiences.  This is a video of the cheetah ripping flesh out of the young eland.

After an amazing day on safari, we eventually made it back to the lodge, and again, Evans had a hot bath prepared.  We got cleaned up and made our way to dinner where we had stuffed peppers with a delicious filling involving mushrooms (Scott’s favorite), smooth potato leak soup with our names written in the soup, frozen grapes in a wine granita, roasted turkey, and finished with a lemon panna cotta.  Yum!!

A few pics from dinner!

We woke up early the next morning, Evans gave us hot cups of chai, and we headed out for our final game drive.  We were treated to a beautiful sunrise, and of course, countless animals.  Here are just a few more pics:

An Afican sunrise.  Just like the sunset from the first night, there’s an acacia tree and zebras!

The sun just peaking over the mountains.

A giraffe frolicking in the distance among acacia trees.

We observed a group of Topi (shown previously) all staring, motionless at something.  We drove closer to investigate, and sure enough, found another Cheetah.  We watched it for quite sometime as it prowled through the plains.

A little closer up

Staring contest!  Sorry to interfere with your hunt!

We again loved seeing all of the beautiful surroundings and animals.  We were brought back to the lodge, where Evans surprised us by having a private table set for us at another beautiful setting right on top of the Mara river.  We were treated to multiple fresh, tropical fruit smoothies (all grown on site), eggs, sausage, bacon, beans, pancakes, toast, tea, fresh fruit, and a yogurt parfait.  After we could eat no more, we finally had to pack up, and head home.  We were so sad to leave and joked many times that day that we needed to devise a way to stay forever.  It was an amazing weekend getaway, and something that neither of us will ever forget!  Thanks for viewing some of our pictures.



Final breakfast.

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Walk in My Shoes for a Day

Ha! Hi world!  I feel like it’s been so long since I (Whitney) have posted!  For the past three weeks or so I have been working at a local, private primary school here, mostly teaching six-grade math, and I have absolutely loved the experience!  Since it has been so long since I’ve written, and because I’ve never yet written about my typical day here, I figured it is time I do so!  I’ve provided lots of detail so you can hopefully get a good picture in your head and put yourself “in my shoes.”

Every morning I wake up at 6:32AM and once awake, there’s no going back to sleep because the excited and insistent chatter of the birds is too loud at this time in the morning to allow for such indulgences.  Don’t get me wrong, the birds sound beautiful actually, their songs are just not always welcome when I am really tired and only want to sleep more.  Throwing back the mosquito net behind our bed’s headboard, I greet Scott, who is usually just getting on the computer with breakfast in hand, clicking through ESPN’s website, the Hawkeye fan website, and responding to any new email fellowship interview invitations.  I plod over to the bathroom, wash my face with tap water, brush my teeth with triple-filtered water, and choke down my dreaded doxycycline pill for malaria on either the first or second try.  I then hurry to get dressed and get some food into my stomach before the doxycycline has a chance to make me nauseous.

With food in hand, I impatiently throw open the curtains covering our four big windows eager for the sunlight to light our dim studio apartment.  Unfortunately for Scott, this usually means he has to be extra careful when he comes out of the shower in order not to expose himself to the people passing by on the dirt road below.  Settling down at our desk, I do my devotions and check my email.

At 7:45 AM I pack my bag with a notebook, a red pen I bought for marking student’s papers, an umbrella in anticipation of afternoon rains, and my wallet with a couple hundred shillings (1 dollar = ~82 shillings) to buy some produce in the afternoon from my favorite duka vendors.

Produce dukas lining the road in front of the hospital entrance. Boda bodas can be seen on the far right.

As I walk up the road past the hospital, various boda boda (motorbike taxis) and taxi drivers call out to me asking me where I’m going and if I need a ride to the town of Bomet.   I shake my head, smile and thank them as I continue my quick pace past the crouched mamas lighting their jikos, which are small clay pots for lighting charcoal and grilling/cooking food (often ears of corn).   Reaching the gate of the school, I take a moment to take in the view of the valley below the school and the hills beyond.  Praise God!

The view from the school’s gate in the morning.

I carefully make my way down the muddy path to the school, wave a greeting to the kitchen staff as I pass buy the “cafeteria,” say “hi” to the curious children poking their heads out of their classrooms observing everything about me on that particular day, and continue down to the staff room.

The school “cafeteria” and kitchen. One of the cooks is under the awning to the right. They usually prep and chop the vegetables there.

When I enter the staff room, I make the rounds and shake the hand of everyone present there greeting them in English, Kiswahili, or Kipsigis.  To not shake the hand of everyone present would be rude.  Some teachers ask me “Amu ne gaa?” (I’m just writing that how it sounds, not sure about the spelling!) to see if I remember the Kipsigis they taught me the week before.  “Mising” I reply, knowing they have asked how my home is.  If I hear “Amu ne” followed by “boiyot” I know they are asking how my husband is.  Luckily for me, the correct response to any of these inquiries is always “Mising” which is the equivalent of “good” or “well”!  Upon hearing this correct response, or any bit of Kipsigis or Swahili that they have taught me, their faces break into huge smiles and they say, “Look at her!  Look at her!  She knows Kipsigis!”  Which, really, is a gross overstatement as I only know a few phrases, but it makes me happy to see them so proud.

The empty staff room. I sit at the end of the second table on the left where you can see my grey Iowa Tennis water bottle.

After greeting all the teachers, I sit down next to Madam Sarah, the Standard Two teacher (second grade). If I forget to take a coffee cup before sitting down, one of the teachers is up, out of his or her chair, bringing me a cup and pouring me a hot, sweet cup of chai from a thermos.  It is a must to drink chai.  I settle in, wrapping my hands around the warm cup of chai and listen to the general Kipsigis babble until I ear a word of English, or a conversation becomes so funny or a topic so hotly debated that they stop and explain to me what they were talking about so I can either join in on the laughter or give my opinion on the debated matter.

At 8:10AM the bell rings, I ask five different teachers for a piece of chalk, we finally find one, and I’m off to teach Standard Six maths (they put an “s” on the end of “math” here when they spell it and they pronounce it too when they say “maths.”)  When I walk into the class there is still a general exclamation of excitement when they see that it is I, the visitor, who is going to teach them that day, even though I have been teaching them for 3-4 weeks now.  This excitement is soon hushed, as they remember they are supposed stand up and be quiet until greeted when a teacher enters the room.  “Good morning class!” I say, and in unison they respond “Good morning Mrs. Whitney.”  “How are you?” I ask.  “We are fine, thank you and how are you today?” they all respond in rhythm.  I answer thoughtfully with a reason and look around the room to gauge their reaction to my non-mechanical response.  I start to explain what we are going to do that day in class and invariably, I find myself wondering why they are still standing, and it is only then that I remember that I must ask them to sit before they will take their seats.  I ask them to sit, “Thank you Teacher” they all respond to the sound of wooden chairs scraping the cement floor as they sit down.

Setting a folder on my “desk,” I look down to unclasp it and take out copies of the test they took the week before.  Within seconds brown hands, palm-up, are laid across my desk belonging to eager students who want to help pass out the tests for me.  I split the pile in half and chose two students to pass them out.  Once everyone has a test, I ask if anyone would like to review a problem in questions one through five, questions five through ten, and so on.  Usually my most vocal students in class (about six students) will shout out a number and in between their requests I’ll hear a small, staccato request to do another number.  When I look in that student’s direction to confirm his or her request, they almost always bashfully turn away and look down at their desk pretending that they never made such a “ridiculous” request.  “Hold on, hold on!” I say as I raise my hands to quiet the other students petitioning for question number nine.  “I heard a ‘seven’ so let’s do that one first.”  Question seven is comparatively easy and it will not take long to explain. Besides, if that student was brave enough to ask, I reason I should reward their bravery by working through their requested problem number. I write the equation on the chalkboard asking the students prompting questions as I solve the problem at times pausing to ask “Can I do this?” when I see a potential place that the student might go awry and make a mistake while solving the problem.  Sometimes these questions stump them and other times I hear a resounding “No” or “Yes.”

For harder problems, like this number nine, I take time before solving the problem to explain the logic behind why one should go about solving the problem a certain way.  When I ask the students for my first step of what I should do, my smartest, most vocal ones may raise their hands high in the air, sure of their answer, and when called on, will stand up before speaking and then give me the correct answer.  When I ask the follow-up question of “Why did you decide to do that?” there is usually a pause where the students exchange glances with each other and I repeat, “Can anyone tell me why you do this?  Why would you set up to solve the problem in this way?”  Eventually, a hand will timidly rise up only halfway and when I call on them with an encouraging smile, they stand up, lean over their desk towards me, and whisper their answer to me.  Often I don’t understand what they are saying on the first try because their whisper is too soft and their African-English accent too thick.  I walk to within a few feet of their desk and ask them to repeat themselves. When they finish telling me their answer, and I pause evaluating whether or not their answer makes sense and if I can build off of it, their eyes fill with hope and the question “So, am I right?” flashes across their expression.  Now, I am not necessarily one to always coo over children or melt at their “puppy-dog” expressions, but this questioning expression, with their big, hopeful eyes, is so beautiful and precious I just want to bottle it up and take it home with me!

Once the problem is set up with the correct numbers in place, we move our way through simplifying fractions, performing multiplication and long division. The classroom comes alive while we work through this and is abuzz with instructions and steps for me on what to do next and what number to write where as the children race to tell me the next step.  As the class ends, the children thank me and ask me to come again.

My six grade class this past Wednesday, the day of their Closing Ceremonies (the last day of their second term). The boy in black and white plaid is not in my class, he is the older brother of the boy, Brian, standing next to him, who tied for first place in the class standings along with the other Brian in my class.

I told my students to do a “funny picture” and this is what they did! Can you pick out the boys and girls in either of these pictures? It is a school rule that the girls must keep their hair very short and cannot wear any type of jewelry.

Back in the staff room I mark tests and homework for other teachers and chat with them.  At 10:40AM to 11:30AM is morning break and the teachers are served chai again while the students are served “porridge” (which is like a super-sweet, runny, Malt-O-Meal that you drink from a cup).  Before taking chai, one of the teachers prays and blesses the chai.  At lunch time, 1:00PM, teachers will take turns voluntarily serving each other and someone will always pray before lunch too.  I love that they always stop to pray and thank God for what he has provided them.  They do not take it for granted.

Lunch is brought into the teacher’s staff room by kitchen staff in two big, insulated, crockpot-looking containers with either ugali (a solid mass of cooked cornmeal) or rice in the biggest container, and in the other container will be a salty broth with either cabbage, cabbage and beans, beans and carrots, or kale with a few small bits of beef and tomato.  Metal plates, spoons, and glasses are brought to the staff room in a yellow, plastic, five-gallon bucket.  Water is poured from a giant, metal teapot.

One of the school’s cooks in the kitchen part of the cafeteria stirring a giant pot of ugali with and equally giant stick. Behind him you can see the kale (sukuma wiki) piled up and ready to be cooked.

After serving myself lunch (I often do this now because if I don’t I’m usually served a massive slice of ugali that is impossible for any non-Kenyan to finish), I settle into my chair next to Madam Sarah ready for stimulating conversation. Often the conversation at lunchtime results in some sort of debate over a cultural, political, or biblical issue.  These debates are all in fun and always result in a lot of laughter.  The Deputy Head Teacher, (and my favorite teacher) Mr. Koech, is usually behind them as he is wise, but also loves to joke, laugh, and spur people on just to get a rise out of them and start a debate with them.  Mr. Koech will battle and battle for his opinion and stance he has taken on the issue and will eventually appeal to me and cry, “Wheetney!  Cahn you believe dem?!  Leesten, Leeeeesten what dey are say-ing-to-me!” with the last four syllables of the sentence punctuated with rhythmic staccato.  He will then tell me his side of the debate, always with interjections and protests from the other side, and I will be left to give my opinion like I am somebody wise whose opinion is highly sought.  Personally, I love it, but I do have to be careful not grow proud and think that I am actually wise!  Mostly, they are just interested to hear a Westerner’s opinion about bridal prices, women serving men in certain instances, whether a church should pay for a potential pastor’s education, why Kenya doesn’t have sprinters like Jamaica or the USA, what is the best way to cure a cold  (they use a lot of herbal medicine here), how many kids a family should have (in general they think one should have a lot more kids than we do on average in the US!), what factors should determine the goal number of children, whether to hold to the tradition that husbands should not be present at birth and should not see their wives and their new child until two weeks after the birth because traditionally that is a thing for the “women” (the mother-in-law, the mother, the sisters, etc.), how to determine how much one should tithe to the church, and, most recently, whose fault it is that the standardized tests the district’s students took had so many errors and questions without correct answers and who is responsible to fix it.  I absolutely soak up these conversations as I often end up learning much about the culture and current state of things in Kenya that I would not otherwise understand.

Mr. Koech, up to his usual antics, teasing Miss. Janeth Bii because she wouldn’t do “cheers” with him with her coke bottle and celebrate with him on the last day of the term. So, Mr. Koech took her bottle and did “cheers” with himself over and over again to show Madam Janeth “how it was done.”  Madam Janeth is looking down, laughing and just slightly embarrassed.

In the afternoon, I am scheduled to teach PE, Creative Arts, and Social Studies for a teacher who is away for a few weeks.  Before the students took their district tests, PE and Creative Arts were replaced with Maths since these two subjects are not tested on the standardized tests.  Now, since their tests are done, I have been able to take my grade six students outside for PE.  When I announced on the first day after tests that we would go outside for PE the classroom erupted in cheers, followed by “Please, will you get the long rope for us?  “No!”, they say, “Will you get the ball for us?  The ball!  The ball!”  In the last week I have attempted (to the great delight of the kids) to play in their jump-rope games to which they sing funny, rhyming songs to while they jump, and cheer for the goals and break-up the skirmishes during their competitive football (soccer) games.  I have also been impressed at what the girls are able to do even thought they wear such long, athletic-movement-inhibiting dresses for their school uniforms.

Some younger children playing football (soccer) during their morning break.

Children playing

For Creative Arts, I attempted to teach them how to indicate shadows by shading on a drawing, but I think maybe that was a little advanced for them.  Finally, for Social Studies, after reviewing their district test and I realized that the only question that I 100% knew the answer to was “Which cultural practice should we NOT protect and continue?” (The answer was “A. Female circumcision.”) Furthermore, since I had no idea what the best growing conditions for sisal were, I did not know what country Ol Donyo is located, nor did I know which African trading leagues Kenya is a part of, I decided to “expand” their social studies beyond Africa, namely to the United States, by letting the students ask me questions about US history, culture, government, and geography.  By the end of the class I had a map of the US drawn on the board labeled with every major mountain range and river (they loved the spelling of “Mississippi”) labeled on the map along with where certain cash crops grew and, of course, the state of South Dakota was drawn in when I was asked about snow.  George Washington was expounded upon, the national anthem sung to the background sound of little giggles (I sung it as best as I could anyway! They returned the favor and all proudly stood up and sang me the Kenyan national anthem in English and then in Kiswahili—I loved this), and then I finished my social studies presentation by shocking them all by declaring that myself, nor any of my friends in my 2000-student high school owned any cows.  They responded by telling me, each and everyone, how many cows their family owns.

Me with my students. I gave one of my students, Ezra, our brand new, one-day-old camera (yeah, the camera we brought to Kenya is officially kaput) to take this picture and told him to be very careful. He had about five guys all huddled around him as they tried to help him compose the picture and then successfully take the picture by pushing the button at the top halfway to focus and then all the way down to take the picture. I’d say they did a pretty good job for their first time taking a picture!

At the end of the day, I have one last cup of chai with the teachers before heading home around 4:40PM.  I am tired from the day and as I walk home, I usually find myself daydreaming about what cookie or cake I will indulge in when I get home before starting supper.  “Ah, cilantro, I need to buy cilantro if I’m going to make a version of Vietnamese Banh Mi in order to get rid or our plethora of carrots,” I think to myself when James calls out to me from his duka.  I walk up to him and greet him with a handshake.  He hands me a two-liter orange Fanta bottle filled with fresh cow milk (milked just this morning) and Scott’s dress shoe that I gave him to take to be repaired. I pay him 120 shillings in exchange, 80 (about $1) for the milk and 40 for the shoe repair, which looks great.  He and I joke and small chat for a while and when I turn to leave he instructs me to greet Scott and pass his well wishes onto him.

James’ duka. It is the white one on the left of the orange duka

I continue down the road, wave hi to Betty and her 9-month old son, Victor, telling her I wore the skirt she made for me just the day before and told everyone who complimented me that she had made it.

Betty, sewing my skirt with an old-fashioned, self-powered (with a rocking foot pedal) sewing machine.

Further down I wave to Viola who owns a duka that sells ready-made clothes, then I pass by Nick, whom I can always recognize thanks to his missing front tooth, and he calls out a greeting from inside his general store-like duka, so I stop in and chat with him and his young, twenty-something friends about my day and the fact that I’m carrying milk in a Fanta bottle.

My “milk” bottle, filled with fresh cows milk, ready to be strained and boiled twice.

Leaving there, I make my last stop, before heading home into the Tenwek Hospital compound, at Mercy’s produce duka.

Scott with Mercy at her stall. Here he is buying the biggest avocado we have ever eaten.

“Hello my friend,” she says warmly as she greets me with a handshake.  I return the greeting and offer one to her two and a half-year-old son Caleb who is strapped onto her back with a kanga.  I inform Mercy I’m in need of cilantro.  The bunch of cilantro is only ten shillings so she tempts me into buying a pineapple as well for 60 shillings total.  She then produces a worn school notebook from underneath her stall and shows me her handwritten recipe for Mandazi (fried doughnut-like things).  I’m impressed yet again at her memory, thoughtfulness, and promptness in getting me the things I mention I would like.  She has already sourced eggs from grass-fed hens for me, as well as passion fruit when I have not seen it anywhere else.  I take her notebook to copy the recipe promising to return it tomorrow.  I bid Mercy a good evening and pray to God to protect and provide for Mercy and her son Caleb, thanking him for the amazing person that Mercy is proving to be and for the great faith that she has.

Finally, around 5:30PM I reach home, have a frosted banana cookie while checking my email, and then begin grating carrots.

Some more school pictures:

The top three students from class six receiving an award during the Closing Ceremonies

The students congratulating those who were in the top of class six. They said a little phrase with actions that goes like this: “From our hearts, we measure and measure and clap and give to you.” For the actions they touch their hearts (you can see some students doing this) and then they hold their hands wide to “measure and measure” and then they clap their hands together and extend their clasped hands towards those they are honoring.

The teachers at the Closing Ceremonies. From L to R: Mr. Mutai (Science), Mr. Kirui (Math), Mrs. Mosonik (English and Kiswhili), Mr. Ngeno (Social Studies), Mr. Ngetich (Head Teacher), Miss. Bii (Kiswahili and Science), Mrs. Kanduyuwah (3rd grade).

Some of my sixth grade boys during the Closing Ceremonies. I thought they looked like models so I snuck some pictures of them. Note the sweater tied around the neck of the boy on the left, the crossed legs of the two boys toward the right, the socks pulled knee high on the front boy with his top two buttons unbuttoned and his arm slung casually over the back of the chair.

The boys again. This time with three boys with their legs crossed (I think this is so cute) and a handsome frown from the center one.

As always, thanks for reading!


P.S. Since you’ve made it this far I wanted to let you know that  Scott and I just got back today after a weekend in the Masai Mara on safari and it was WHOAH.   More on that later with pictures galore!

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Miracle at Tenwek!

Hello all!  Scott again.  I wanted to share a story from the medical ward. 

The patient I want to share about is a patient whom I will call Harrison.  Harrison is a delightful young man in his early 30s who came to us with considerable shortness of breath and hypoxia (low blood oxygen saturations).  After taking a history, performing a physical exam, reviewing his chest xray, and having his sputum evaluated in the lab, we diagnosed him with tuberculosis and started treating him for this.  Incidentally, his labwork revealed severe kidney failure.  The kidney has many jobs, including getting rid of potassium and maintaining an optimal pH (acid-base status) in the body.  Since his kidneys were failing, he had a profound elevation in his potassium, and was severely acidotic.  The cause of his kidney failure was quite unclear, and our investigation did not reveal a cause.  Unfortunately, despite our initial treatment approach, his kidney function had worsened the next day, and his potassium level and pH had reached dangerous levels.  At this point, seemingly the only available option was dialysis.  However, in Kenya, dialysis is only offered in two cities, and is extremely expensive, with few able to afford it.  I explained to him that without dialysis, I was worried his heart would develop an arrhythmia and he would likely not survive (this is what commonly occurs when potassium reaches his level), and his ECG was already showing abnormalities from his potassium. 

We next had a family meeting with his wife, brothers, sisters, and parents.  He and his family are primarily farmers, and were already in hard times financially as much of their maize (corn) crop had been wiped out by a fungus.  They determined that if they sold a few of their cows, they would be able to raise enough money for at least three dialysis sessions with hope for eventual improvement in his kidney function.  I hated to put his family in financial hardship, but he was so young, and I was really hopeful that dialysis would possibly be merely temporary if his kidney function improved.  I called the referral hospital in Eldoret, a city a few hours away to arrange the transfer, but they said it would be several hours before they would be able to accept him.

Next, I updated the family on the situation and told them it would be a few hours before he would be able to be transferred.  By this time, I had developed a nice rapport with the patient and his family and we discussed various other life issues, which was made easier by their excellent proficiency in English.  He and his family were people of tremendous faith in the Lord, and they were trusting God for a miraculous healing, and trusted that his will would be done.  Before I left, they asked me if I would be willing to pray for him.  Here at Tenwek, we commonly pray with our patients, but it struck me that despite knowing he was very ill, I had not taken the time to pray for this patient.  I proceeded to pray, and I must say, while praying something came over me.  It was as if words were coming out with such ease, and with more confidence than I had ever prayed.  I knew from a medical standpoint, based on everything I have ever learned and experienced, that urgent dialysis was needed.  Yet, for some reason, I thought God was revealing his glory through this patient.  After praying, I left and prayed again by myself for God to intervene for this patient.  I sensed he was moving, so I grabbed a needle, and lab tube, and went back into the patients room to re-draw blood to recheck his kidney function (even though we had just checked four hours earlier).  I brought the tube to the lab, and just waited in the lab for the results to return.  In my head I knew it was silly to expect his kidney function to suddenly improve without any intervention, but yet I held onto that glimmer of faith, that maybe, somehow, God was actually really going to intervene.

Anyways, 30 minutes later, the technician had finished running the sample.  He handed me the printout of his labs.  My eyes went right to his creatinine, which the lab we used to measure kidney function…the higher the creatinine, the worse the kidney function.   His creatinine had dropped by more than half, meaning his kidney function had more than doubled!  Additionally, his potassium levels had considerably dropped,and his acidosis was much better!!   I honestly could not believe what I was seeing with my eyes!  This sort of thing does not just happen.  With essentially little to no treatment, over those past four hours, his kidney function suddenly and rapidly improved.  There was no medical explanation for what I was witnessing, and only God could be behind what was happening.  I was so excited to tell the patient the results, however, on the way back to his room, I honestly was overcome with emotion.  I will admit that I found a bathroom, locked the door, and just broke down after experience the glory of God revealed in this way!  Finally, I gained my composure, and delivered some of the best news I have ever been able to share with a patient.  There was so much joy in that room, and we all gave thanks to God for what he had done. We cancelled the transfer to Eldoret as he no longer required dialysis.   I eventually left the room, did several fist pumps and was able to proceed with the rest of the day.  I will never ever forget those moments, and my faith continues to expand in new ways.  The Tenwek motto indeed was true…We treat, but Jesus heals!  I am happy to say that over the next 48 hours, his kidney function completely normalized, his potassium levels are normal, as is his pH.  Also, he was weaned off oxygen and is completing his TB treatment.  He returned yesterday for his 10 day followup from discharge, and continues to do amazingly well with absolutely no symptoms.  Praise God!!

As I left the hospital that day, a motorcycle taxi (called a boda boda) crossed the road right in front of me.  Many of the boda bodas will have a message of some sort on the rear of the bike.  This particular bike had on its bumper, “Jeremiah 33:3.”  When I got home, I read this verse which reads, “Call to me and I will answer you and show you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”  This was such a fitting verse to end the day, and I am sure it was God’s way of reminding me to continue to call out to Him, and he will continue to reveal himself to me in new ways!

Thanks again for reading and sharing with me in celebrating another Miracle at Tenwek!  I have another incredible story from just today of a really amazing recovery in one of our patients, but I will save it for another time. God Bless!




Myself and Dennis, a Kenyan intern, rounding on the medical ward.




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