It has been helpful for me to think of Friends United Meeting’s role with Kaimosi Hospital as a “receiver general” assuming the management of a company that has declared bankruptcy. In January 2006 when FUM stepped in, the hospital needed, for its survival, massive recapitalization, better management and better strategies to enhance community relationships.
With God’s help and the partnership of many thousands of Friends around the world, the hospital has come a long way! Currently it is well staffed and offers quality healthcare to the surrounding community. Yes, things could be better, and improvements could be made. However, when I look back on the progress this ministry has made, I must celebrate all of its accomplishments.
The prospects for the future of Kaimosi Hospital recently took an unexpected turn. Over the last few months, I have had several meetings, telephone conversations and countless emails regarding a new proposal for a partnership between Kaimosi Hospital and the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK). The NCCK has selected Kaimosi to be its first pilot site of a new project developing superior-quality ecumenical hospitals throughout Kenya. In a partnership involving NCCK, East Africa Yearly Meeting and Friends Church in Kenya, the hospital will be renamed Jumuia (pronounced joo-moo-EE-ah) meaning “community” or “council” in Swahili. The NCCK will bring extensive investment to facilities, equipment and staffing, allowing a quality of service heretofore unknown in rural western Kenya.
Over the last seven years, Kaimosi Hospital has been the single largest draw on my staff time and sometimes the largest source of emotional highs and lows. It has been heartbreaking to stand in the gap between the acute needs of the hospital and the limited resources of FUM. Yet, it has been exhilarating to work alongside my Kenyan colleagues as God blessed our efforts and provided miracles of abundance when resources seemed insufficient. Now that it appears that I will be wrapping up my involvement with Kaimosi Hospital, I must admit I am sad to be ending my relationship with members of the management team and deeply grateful to celebrate what we have accomplished together.
My job allows me to help other people experience Kenya and learn about themselves through that experience. Recently, a college student from Chicago who is in Kenya on a semester study abroad program happened to meet my husband at the kiosk where he usually buys his lunch. Attracted to his American accent and being a bit homesick, she introduced herself to him. My husband invited her to dinner at our house, and we really enjoyed getting to know her. We learned that she is a pre-med student doing an internship at a Kisumu city council health clinic, but she has been disappointed with the lack of patient contact.
I offered to take her with me to Kaimosi Hospital so she could see medicine practiced in a rural context. On the day we went to Kaimosi there was supposed to be an outreach event at a USFW conference, but the hospital wasn’t able to get any HIV test kits, so the outreach was cancelled. Consequently our guest spent the entire morning talking to Agatha, our HIV/AIDS program coordinator. In the afternoon, two emergencies arrived, and Dr. Ben pulled her into the operating room to observe. Dr. Ben is a tremendously gifted teacher and has a very “hand’s on” approach. Before long our visitor was learning how to examine the uterus to determine if the placenta had been retained. Afterwards she told me that she was terrified to touch the patient, but was able to overcome that fear and discover in herself a capacity that she didn’t know she had. She speaks of coming back to Kaimosi for a year before entering medical school to get that real-world experience that Dr. Ben is so good at providing. I couldn’t help but take a picture of her as she dove into her first real “patient contact”.
Finally, being in Kenya has allowed me to experience a great many miracles–some more unusual than others. For example, I was really blessed this month by four flat tires!
I’d been noticing a slow leak in one of my rear tires since September and knew that both rear tires were overdue for replacement. The day before I was leaving to go on a trip, the tire that was slowly leaking was pancake-flat. My husband and son put on the spare, and I took the flat tire to the shop to be repaired. However, there I found the tire was in such bad shape and I would have to buy a new one. I couldn’t wait to order the tire, as I needed to leave the next day. I drove away on the spare with the ruined tire bouncing around in the back.
I drove to Eldoret, left the vehicle at the airport, flew to Turkana, had a fabulous visit there, flew back to Eldoret, collected the truck and started to drive back to Kisumu. It was already dark when I left Eldoret, and I don’t normally like to drive after dark, but on that particular night I really wanted to get home to my family. There had been some violent protests in Kisumu that day (caused by the murder of a politician), and like a mama hen, I wanted to stretch my arms around my babies and pull them close.
I had driven about two hours when the other rear tire burst. It was dark and raining, but I was in a market center where I knew people and I didn’t feel the least bit scared. I called the manager of a guest house we frequently use to see if he could come assist me. He said he was just ahead of me on the road and joined me in seconds. Of course a crowd gathered (white lady with flat tire always attracts a crowd), so I had plenty of helpers. They pulled my second spare tire off the roof of the truck (where it had stayed unused for many years), struggled with the jack that didn’t seem to want to lift the truck, struggled with an elderly drunkard who wanted to “help” by standing between the flashlight and the real helpers, and finally got the spare on. They released the jack … and the spare hissed and crackled and lost about half its pressure, but then seemed to hold.
At that moment, who should drive by but my colleague John Muhanji together with Lloyd Stangeland (an Iowa Friend)! They were on their way to the very guest house whose manager I had called. It turned out Eloise Hockett (an Oregon Friend) was already there waiting for them. I had no idea they would be in this particular place that evening. Like angels, they appeared out of nowhere. We agreed that John would take my vehicle and look for a place to inflate the half-flat spare tire while I would take his vehicle and get Lloyd settled into the guest house. It made sense for me to also stay at the guest house, rather than try to make it home to Kisumu that night. I felt a real peace of mind about that, even though previously I had wanted so badly to be home with my family.
When John came back, he was driving on the rim. The spare tire had lost all its pressure, and he couldn’t find any service station open that late at night. We decided that nothing more could be done that evening, and I went to sleep, grateful for friends and community and the fact that I was never alone or afraid.
In the morning, we choose the tire that looked to be in the best condition and sent it off on the back of a motorcycle to be repaired. I got a call informing me that it couldn’t be repaired, but that they could put a tube in it as a temporary measure. I agreed to that plan, and soon the formerly-tubeless-now-tubed tire was on the car and I was ready to go. I expressed my great appreciation to the guest house staff, to John and Lloyd and Eloise, and set off. There were still reports of violence in Kisumu, so I determined to take a back route over the hills to enter Kisumu from a more peaceful direction.
I got about 10 miles down the road when the tube burst. I pulled over and called my mechanic in Kisumu to ask him for a suggestion of what I should do, seeing as I had no more spares. He immediately dispatched some men with a tire to put on my truck as a temporary measure. As I waited the 45 minutes it took them to reach me, who should I see but Raymond who was driving the USFW Kakamega van full of Friends from Maine from my own home Yearly Meeting! I had absolutely no idea these folks were in Kenya. We had a lovely long chat, and I assured them I was fine and didn’t need any help, and they went on their way. A few moments later, John Muhanji passed me on the road. Seeing me with yet another flat tire, he just burst out laughing! What a comedy of errors, yet everywhere I turned, my friends were popping out of the woodwork!! God could not possibly have given me a stronger message that I am never alone, never without the help I need. At no point during this whole debacle was I anxious.
The men from the mechanic arrived, put their tire on my truck, and we set off in convoy (in case I got yet another flat). As we approached Kisumu, we were turned back by the riots and had to take dirt roads around the city, but we made it safely to the mechanic’s shop. The only tires he could get on such short notice were a very high quality American brand, and I paid a shocking amount for them, but the most valuable part of this whole story was not the worth-their-weight-in-gold new tires, but the total peace and lack of fear I felt through every moment. I was indeed blessed by four flat tires!