My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.
Death is more palpable in this place. We make rounds in the large open wards of a District Hospital in western Kenya. Each bed often holds two people. The sheets are thin. The room is warm despite the open windows and the flies come and go. Mosquito nets hang in tight balls above each bed.
We are "wazungu" — white people — even though some of our team is African-American. The Kenyans often believe naively that we are somehow better able to cure their illnesses. I know essentially nothing about the medical management of untreated malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid, or HIV/AIDS and everyone here has one, two, or three of these diagnoses.
One man does not look up when we our group passes.
The man’s vacant eyes do not focus. He is gaunt yet his skin is taut — perhaps he is young. He is dead — no — wait — he breathes, but barely. The woman sitting next to him on his bed looks up at us but says nothing.
The nurses are friendly but they lack the most basic supplies. The patients here are relatively fortunate because they — or someone they know — can afford the dollar per day charge for the bed or the cost of IVs and antibiotics. Most Kenyans never come at all.
As our vehicle leaves the hospital compound, I scan the businesses that line the road. Young men sit next to huge piles of shoes and T-shirts. Battered shipping containers have been converted into small shops and restaurants — called “hotels” here — but they all appear forbidding.
A furniture store catches my eye. There are a few tables out front but, as I look more closely, I see that the tables are actually handmade coffins. These are ribbon-bedecked, freshly-constructed coffins that wait for the young man we just saw up the road. Small boxes wait for the child nearing death we met on the Pediatric Ward. As we travel, I notice other coffin stores and I believe they are clustered near the hospitals. The small cemeteries we see in the cities and rural zones are all well-tended.
I think back to our time on safari driving across the Maasai Mara — the vast expanse of grassland in Africa’s Rift Valley that supports the giant
migration of animals each year. Predator and prey, Life and Death – “The Circle of Life” of which we taught our children as they sat transfixed by The Lion King
. “Animals die and that is sad,”
we told them, “but in death, life is sustained.”
They nodded in apparent understanding.
The Maasai Mara often stretches to the horizon. I ask our guide, who is not Maasai, about the people who live there. They are nomadic, I recall, so what do they do with their dead?
His eyes narrow and he stares at me. “Did you see any cemeteries all the time we were out on safari? Did you?”
I try to recall. No, I don’t think so. The Maasai live exposed and difficult lives. They don’t survive long and 40 is “old” for the people of western Kenya. No, I saw no cemeteries. “The Maasai – they carry their dead outside of the compound at night and leave them in the bush for the scavengers.”
I catch my breath. “The ancestors of the Maasai,”
he tells me, “they are in the belly of the hyena.”
He lets that sink in. “The hyena,”
he repeats. Then he falls silent.
This is not the "Circle of Life" image I shared with my children when they were young. I spot another row of coffins back in town. They are beautiful despite their ultimate purpose.
We return to the place where we are staying. The sky glows bright orange. Back at the District Hospital, the lights are, no doubt, flickering as the power fails yet again. A man whispers “asante sana” — thank you — as a nurse tucks the mosquito net neatly beneath his mattress.Share on Facebook
Haunting. Thank you for finding the ironic and hidden beauty in this place of seeming deprivation.
|The following is feedback received for this blog:|
- Merry Sebelik
You are a gifted healer and author, how important it is to recognize that each circle of life is related to the other circles we are privileged to be a part of.
Asante sana Bruce,
- Aleta Chossek
Thanks so much. I feel fortunate to have had the exposure to the health care issues in Tanzania and Kenya. It put our "first-world problems" into perspective.