Thursday, December 18, 2008

Peace at the Last

My mother died last night at Hartford Hospital, as I was en route to visit her. Caregivers were kind as she went from my sister's loving arms to God's. Mama knew you were all praying for her comfort, and that meant as much to her as it does to me. Asante sana.

I am writing from Heathrow and will be with family in New England for a couple of weeks, doing whatever I can to help. Meanwhile, please know that this Christmas, especially, I am grateful for your friendship and for all of God's blessings.

Krismas Njema.

"O, Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging and a holy rest, and peace at the last." (Book of Common Prayer)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Our Town

Five funerals and a wedding... and two pending births. In just two months, Maseno has become like Martha's Vineyard, or maybe even like Cheers, "where everyone knows your name" -- especially if you're the only mzungu living on the hospital grounds.

Shared losses, common anxieties and mutual delight bring us all closer in community. I mourn for them the deaths of Christopher's wife, Kenneth's father, Eunice's son, Margaret's sister-in-law, and Okinye's father. I feel honored to be invited to Peter's and Rosa's wedding. I worry about the price of medicine and maize. I celebrate Christine's and Maureen's pregnancies. I give thanks for the companionship of Gerry and Nan and Linet and Emmah. And they all pray for my mother in her current health crisis.

Our Town. Thornton Wilder and Eddie Coogan would have been at home here. So am I.

Yes, I miss the other "characters" in my life, too! I thank God and all of you every day for supporting and sharing this chapter with me. Thank you for inviting me to be your eyes and ears and hands and hearts as we walk together with the people of Maseno, Kenya. You are the reason I am here. You are also the reason many of the people in Our Town are even alive.

We read in I John 3:17, "How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?" You have not refused. You have given them (and me) help and hope in countless ways. Asante sana.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Senseless Violence

Five shots in the dark... Emmah and I heard them at 2:15 AM. We later learned that the local constabulary was shooting at five "thugs" who had robbed a nearby home -- on the other side of the hospital fence. One man was injured and caught; he is now in jail.

Violence seems to again be increasing in Kenya, although it's not an election year. Today riots broke out in Nairobi at President Kibaki's Independence Day speech. According to the local newspapers, people are unhappy about a new gag rule for the press, disproportional tax-free salaries for the parliament, and inflation run amok. The price of maize meal is out of control, this in a country where maize is a staple.

There are other kinds of violence, more personal and perhaps even more disturbing. Rogers, our pharmacist, was attacked last night on his way home from Maseno Stores. He's recovering from a head wound inflicted by a rock thrown by drunken revelers. And, sadly, we admitted two RTA (Road Traffic Accident) patients yesterday. One was a young pregnant pedestrian who had been hit by a piki-piki; the fetal skull was fractured in utero.The other patient was a two-year-old child who had fallen off the back of his own father's moving piki-piki. Little Michael has head wounds and facial lacerations but will recover.

Senseless violence, all.

"Almighty God, kindle, we pray, in every heart the true love of peace, and guide with your wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth..." (Prayer for Peace, The Book of Common Prayer)

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Asante sana, dear ones, for your love and prayers.

My mother has survived a heart attack and major abdominal surgery, which the doctors did not think would be possible, given her pre-existing conditions. It was also challenging for them to wean her from the post-op respirator because of her fragile heart.

Last night I was awakened by a phone call from Connecticut and expected the worst. Instead, my sister put my mother on the phone. "I love you," we cried, simultaneously -- she in delight, me in astonishment.

As my friends in Kenya say, "God is good. All the time." Mama still has significant pain and faces many unknowns ahead, but God IS good all the time. And I am grateful -- this time, especially.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Prayer Request

My mother has been admitted to Hartford (CT) Hospital for emergency surgery. She is 83 and blessed with four children, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren who love her. But I cannot get to her bedside in time from half a world away.

You have all been so generous in response to my prayer requests for the people of Maseno, Kenya. This one is for my mother. Please pray for Laura and for the people who are tirelessly and skillfully caring for her. Asante sana.

"Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to thy never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come, knowing that thou art doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." (For those we Love, The Book of Common Prayer)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Language Barrier?

Technically, there is none. Since English is the official language of Kenya, I do not need -- but I definitely want -- to learn to speak Kiswahili, which is the national (common) language.

It is a matter of honoring my hosts. It is also matter of personal and national embarrassment that most Americans speak only English. Even the the children who cannot go to secondary school here speak two languages -- and often one or two tribal languages, as well. I just hope I can learn half as much Kiswahili in Kenya in one year as my young friend Elizabeth learned in one month in Tanzania. (See her wonderful blog: "Here I Am -- in Tanzania!" at

But there are regional and cultural terms and idioms, even in the English language, that are fascinating to me. Some of those fall within the realm of medical jargon, and a few of you may be interested in them, as well. If not, just skip this blog entry! I will add to the list from time to time because I don't want to forget...

At the moment, however, I am confined to quarters by Montezuma's -- or is it Kenyatta's? -- Revenge, and I need to distract myself. (I am reminded of another wonderful blog. Fellow missioner Jeremy Lucas survived a similar experience. He and his wife Penny write at

So, just FYI, dear readers: in Kenya, a bar is called a "beer pot." (Perfect, hm? I only know because the SIGN says so; honest, Bishop Oketch!) When a piece of equipment is lost or misplaced, the equipment is simply labeled "spoilt"; little effort is expended in finding the missing part. The action by a crowd of witnesses who catch and unmercifully beat a cell phone thief is referred to as "mob justice." And the political clash that killed 1,500 people last January was known as "a fracas." (Is that some vestige of colonial British understatement, Father Copley?)

The medical acronyms are another story. In addition to learning how to read Centigrade thermometers, I have discovered:

PTO = Please Turn Over (a page! - vs. Parent Teacher Organization)
NB = No Blood (available for transfusion - vs. nota bene)
RTA = Road Traffic Accident (vs. MVA/Motor Vehicle Accident)
DIB = Difficulty in Breathing (vs. SOB/Shortness of Breath)
FHG = Full Hemogram (vs. CBC/Complete Blood Count)
HOB = Hotness of Body (vs. Head of Bed)
GBW = General Body Weakness
FGC = Fair General Condition
ORS = Oral Rehydration Solution (a poor person's Gatorade)
DOA = Date of Admission (an alarming cover note on every chart)

My own HOB, GBW and FGC are being successfully managed with ORS, tea, toast and proximity to the long drop. Dr. Hardison added Cipro. It's the same treatment in any language. (I'm avoiding DOA as long as possible.)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sophie's Choice -- and Ours

Today is the 20th commemoration of World AIDS Day. Yes, there are many health problems the world over (quite a number of them at Maseno Hospital, in fact), and "AIDS is just one of them." But 22 million of the 33 million people infected with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa, and they are my neighbors. Some of the remaining 11 million are yours. Perhaps most sadly, there are 11.5 million AIDS orphans in the world, and all of these numbers continue to climb. Every single one of them is much more than a statistic, however. This is Sophie's story...

Sophie is ten years old, and she is choosing to "live positively." The doctors and nurses at Maseno Hospital saved her life in July, and a CCC caseworker named Praxedes adopted and breathed love back into her. Sophie's parents had both died of AIDS-related illnesses, and she was suffering from a variety of HIV complications, herself. Sick and wasted, Sophie was brought to the hospital by a relative who didn't think she would live -- and who didn't want to take her home when she did.

Then a miracle happened. A remarkable community health worker at Maseno Hospital's Comprehensive Care Center invited Sophie into her home and family. Praxedes, 42, is a vibrant single mother with two children of her own. She is living with HIV and spends her life teaching others to live as positively as she does. In just a few short months, Sophie has blossomed into a happy child whose remaining immediate health concern is a problem with her vision. Praxedes works extra hard for extra income to help her family, and she dreams of opening an orphanage for children like Sophie someday. Her heart has room for every one of them.

This is the poem (translated from Kiswahili) that Sophie recited as she lit the "HOPE" candle on World AIDS Day 2008 at Maseno Mission Hospital:

AIDS is a killer disease.

It killed my mother.
It killed my father.
It killed my grandmother.
It killed my grandfather.

Why are we so ashamed?
We cannot hide in the forest.
We need to fight this killer disease.
We need to live with hope.

Once an orphan, Sophie is now the daughter of Praxedes; but she has always been a child of God. It is Sophie's choice to live fully and joyously. It is ours to continue to help her and Praxedes and others like them, as well as the hospital that serves them all.

Maseno Hospital is struggling. Your financial and prayer support are not just appreciated; they are vital. Mission hospitals provide 48% of the medical services in Kenya, and they depend upon our donations to survive. Please consider sharing your Christmas offering plate or contributing a holiday check. We need medicine, equipment and supplies. Please note "MASENO HOSPITAL" on the memo line of your check to St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, PO Box 1287, Edgartown, MA 02539. Asante sana!