Sunday, November 18, 2007

October 26, 2007

Today started slow and got...interesting. Said took Mama E and me to Nakumatt, where we bought our family T-shirts. Thinking my family would appreciate something a bit more authentic than a T-shirts (which, at least according to the tags, were made in Kenya. I’ve always found it funny buying souvenirs from Hawaii, Chicago or the French Quarter – all of which are made in China. I digress. And yes, punctuation police, I realize I’ve completely destroyed this sentence), I asked Said if there was a place where I could buy something that, unlike a T-shirt, could prove I had actually visited Kenya. He dropped me off at a market and told me to be out quickly. Here’s where things went awry. I walked in, saw nothing, and walked back out within two minutes, waiting for Said to pull up. And waited. And waited. And realized that we didn’t have a real plan. I figured he had to come back to where he dropped me off, but after 45 minutes or so, I happened to see a Whitesands matatu pull up at a bank. I hopped in and told the driver I was staying at Whitesands and asked him to bring me back. The driver, who obviously had friends at the hotel based on not only his inability to speak English but his barely grunting Swahili at the woman who actually hired him, finally relented when the woman insisted it was okay. (I offered to pay for the trip, she refused. I told her I’d tip the driver on her behalf even though he didn’t deserve it.) I got back to the room to find Jennifer on the phone with a hysterical Mama E. We all agreed not to split up again, then I headed to the YWCA for my AIDS presentation – a mere 2 hours late.

I knew I was supposed to be giving a talk on HIV/AIDS at the Y, but I didn’t know anything about who I would be speaking to. I learned it was the Enlightened Support Group – a support group for HIV positive mothers. I was a little disappointed that I was talking to a group that was HIV positive, since I was hoping that I could focus my talk on HIV prevention. Instead of giving a speech, I had a conversation with them, and here are a few things that I learned:

* Kenya requires all pregnant women get HIV tests
** Fortunately, one of the mothers was able to get a C–section because she found out her status during her pregnancy
** Another was not so fortunate, figuring out her status when her daughter became very sick.
* All HIV tests and drugs are free in Kenya
** Free ARVs don’t necessarily help everyone. Since many people are malnourished, they don’t take their medications because they need to be taken on a full stomach.
* Bottle feeding is acceptable
** I was curious because in some cultures bottle feeding is frowned upon
** The government does not supply free formula to mothers in Kenya. I bought formula at the Nakumatt afterward and it is very expensive.
* While domestic violence is illegal, men generally hold up the cases and they are very seldom prosecuted
* Desertion is common when wives reveal their HIV statuses to their husbands, but the village elders of one of the mothers forced him to take her back

I learned much more from the group than they taught me. Leah, their leader, is incredibly optimistic and driven, and determined to make the best world for herself and her sons. Her spirit is absolutely amazing. I was very inspired by all the mothers; the face that they were fearless about being open about their HIV positive status, and that they were not living as if they had been handed a death sentence. I gave them some seed money to open their own bank account so that they can do formal business. Since some of the women in the group are widows, they have dreams of starting businesses and finding other ways to support themselves.

After we left the Y we picked up BJ, who had spent the night at a convent down the road. We left just in time to miss the rain.

The night ended back at the hotel where it was soul food night. That’s right, American soul food. The banner above the buffet entrance read “Big Mama’s Kitchen.” Hilarity, once again, ensued.

* Eating Tex-Mex and soul food in Kenya is like eating Chinese food in America – inauthentic, but good nonetheless.
* One way that Leah is planning to become self sufficient is by getting her counseling certificate. There is a scholarship trust set up in her name at:
Kenya Association of Professional Counsellors, Branch-Nkrumah, A/C NO. 1249742, Bank-Barclays Bank. Swiftcode-BARCKENX.


The Enlightened support group 3

With the Enlightened Support Group

The Enlightened support group 2

Mama E with the Enlightened Support Group

The Enlightened support group 1

The Enlightened support group

With Leah, the group's leader

With Leah, the group’s leader

Mama E & The Enlightened support group

broken glass on the convent walls

Security outside the convent. Notice the broken glass on the top of the walls as added protection.

security at the convent

Said goes into the security gate

Sister Jennifer and BJ

Sister Jennifer and BJ

The convent

The convent

More of the view

The convent’s yard

outside of the convent

the view from the convent

The Indian Ocean

the convent courtyard

The courtyard. I’m not the best photographer.

BJ's bed

BJ’s room. About $20USD/night including meals

private sink

BJ's room

The inside of the convent

BJ and the sisters in the convent’s kitchen

I wish it were simpler to get a loan...

Amid the rundown buildings and beggars in downtown Mombasa, a billboard that reads, “I wish it was simpler to get a loan.” I found it ironic.

The unforgiving driveway grade

The ramp off the ferry dock. The grade so unforgiving I thought the undercarriage would rip out every time we got off the ferry.

The cargo dock at Likoni

The cargo dock

The Likoni Ferry Dock

The ferry

I couldn’t get this mosque photo to embed properly.

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