Tuesday, November 18, 2008

All I Really Need to Know I'm Learning in Kenya

(with apologies and thanks to Robert Fulghum)

(1) Share everything. Some people may take advantage of you, but others may not starve tonight if you simply share your last bananas. (This applies to people. The monkeys are doing fine.)

(2) Play fair. Although "African time" is often two hours later than "American time," continue to show up for your appointments as scheduled. You'll meet some fascinating folks while you wait.

(3) Don't hit people. Their pangas are likely to be bigger than yours.

(4) Put things back where you found them. Especially the slug you found crawling out of the sink drain. He needs water, too, and you don't want to find him in your drinking glass.

(5) Clean up your own mess. Scraps go to the kukus, and absolutely everything else gets recycled.

(6) Speaking of kukus, jog cautiously. It is easy to trample a baby chick -- or trip over a rut, for that matter -- by dawn's early light.

(7) Don't take things that are not yours. Someone else probably will, and you won't want to be blamed for it. (Remember the pangas.)

(8) Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody, even if it's a patient whose limb you really had to manipulate to determine mobility. And especially if you asked a foolish question like, "Are you the patient's mama?" and were told, "No. I'm the co-wife."

(9) Wash your hands before you eat -- and afterward, too. There are often no utensils. It is also polite to pour the water and hold the bowl for the next person.

(10) Flush only when necessary. Water is precious. Flushing does not apply, however, in the "long drop." (Remember recycling.)

(11) Piki-pikis kill. Since no one wears a helmet here, piki-piki and panga victims are vying for beds in the hospital and morgue. Perhaps someone could send me some "Ban Mopeds" bumper stickers from the Vineyard...

(12) A little goes a long way, and it's remarkable what we can do without. A latex glove makes a perfectly good tourniquet, stones in plastic bags make reasonable ankle weights, a dried up Bic pen makes an excellent thermometer case, and empty toilet paper rolls make perfect drapery tiebacks.

(13) You don't need to speak Kiswahili to understand the universal language of love. Just watch a mama nursing her child.

(14) Warm cookies and milk are good for you. But Emmah's homemade maandazis are even better.

(15) Don't hog space. There's room for all of us. Even mosquitoes and termites and cockroaches have their places in the world. Preferably outside.

(16) Live a balanced life. Learn and think and work and play and sing and dance at least a little every day. Especially if you can sing with a Kenyan caller and dance to a Luhya drumbeat.

(17) Take an afternoon nap on your mat (OK, I'm still struggling with this one), preferably not in the equatorial sun.

(18) Watch out for matatus, boda-bodas and piki-pikis. They all hurtle along carrying 3-4 more times their authorized number of passengers -- and usually a few chickens and goats, besides.

(19) Hold hands (just with the same sex, please, in East Africa), and stick together. We can get along without electricity, but we can't get along without one another.

(20) A highway is not necessarily paved. Nor is it even two marked lanes. Nor would anyone notice if it were. So remember #19: hold hands and stick together -- and cross quickly.

(21) Don't believe everything you hear. Especially patient histories. The reasons are perfectly innocent and perfectly clear: (a) patients want to please medical professionals, and (b) the concept of time is not the same where different where people don't know their birth dates, where 9 AM means noon (at best), and where pain is tolerated until it's intolerable... i.e., "How long have you had chest pain?" Two weeks. "How long have you had vomiting?" Two weeks. "How long have you had fever?" Ayup: two weeks.

(22) Peepers and geese and antimalarial drugs can keep you awake all night. So can one pesky mosquito... Nets are good. Doom is better.

(23) Be aware of wonder. Wherever we are in God's world, from South Beach to Lake Victoria, there is great beauty to behold -- particularly in the eyes of children.

(24) Goldfish and hamsters and gerbils and white mice all die. So do we. But we die a whole lot faster if we are poor and hungry and unable to get medical care.

(25) God loves me and Y-E-W! (Thank you, Archbishop Tutu!)

1 comment:

kate said...

Hi Mom —
I enjoyed your list and agree with everything that you have learned in Kenya except for the fact that mosquitoes have their place in the world... I mean, wouldn't all creatures be better off without them? Surely those that eat them could find a different tasty morsel! Anyway, I guess it's time for bed n RI — I just wanted to give your blog a little kiss. It is a wonderful thing. Nighty-night!
Love, Kate