Tuesday, December 18, 2007

CCC, Church and State

Vigina Parish, near Vihiga, is the CCC's largest and most distant satellite clinic. We traveled through familiar savannahs with acacia trees, past Luanda and into more rolling countryside, thick with banana trees and rock outcroppings.

There we once again met with clients, filled prescriptions, assisted with HIV counseling and testing, and distributed supplemental food to clients who qualified, based on body weight. It was a full day: 89 clients were seen, and 38 others were anonymously tested for HIV antibodies. Only two were reactive/ positive, TG, in a province where 9.7% of the entire population is infected. More statistics: 15% of the men and 20% of the women aged 15-35 are HIV-positive. But countless have died. Knowing the names makes the numbers even more distressing.

At midday, we were served large portions of chai and a hot mash of bananas and sweet potatoes, a dish that Emmah told us is sometimes served on banana leaves. (She softly explained that everything is served on banana leaves when people do not own dishes.) It was disconcerting to see several white cars with orange placards and loudspeakers come roaring into the church-and-school yard after lunch. The ODM party proceeded to hold an impromptu rally outside as we treated patients inside. Separation of church and state is specified in Kenya's constitution, but laws and lines seem to blur at election time. Church service announcements -- except at St. Philip's! -- have frequently included long speeches by PNU or ODM party members after descriptions of their respective "gifts" for the church: choir robes, electricity or even a new roof.

It was also disconcerting for me to be approached at the CCC clinic by James, the evangelist, who had accompanied us to Vigina: "I brought my grand-niece to meet you, " he said. "She needs help. Her mother died in November, and her father died last year. She is in Form 2 and is a good student. She has no one to look after her." My heart sank as I extended a hand in greeting. "Habari, Elizabeth?" "Nzuri, sana," she replied. But she was clearly not well, and her eyes reflected great sadness. I was dismayed to realize that the evangelist was asking me to help support her -- and even more dismayed to have to gently explain that I could not. There is no orphan feeding program or clinic in Elizabeth's parish. (Only 15 of the 41 parishes in the diocese have orphan feeding programs thus far, and only 5 of those parishes have medical clinics.) All I could do was make certain she was registered with the CCC, encourage her in her studies and pray for her.

Two Kenyan nurses gave up their seats in the CCC van and walked to the main road's matatu stop, to enable two sick mamas and their babies to ride home with us in the heat of the day. We returned to Maseno in time for afternoon rounds at the hospital and very good news: Ruth has graduated to crutches and may be able to go home soon!

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