A Travellerspoint blog

First Month Complete & Top 10 Revelations

This weekend wraps up the first month of my assignment. It has been difficult being away from my family & the usual summer activities (pool, beach, softball) that I look forward to. But I have settled into a routine at the clinic and my evening activity of figuring out where to eat dinner. Eldoret is not that big and I know now where to go and not to go. I can usually buy dinner for $10-$12. I do not have access to a kitchen so I am limited. I know now that I don’t like Ugali (African cake) that is so popular with the locals. It’s a bland rice-type blog that can be as big as a large muffin. The locals pull off pieces and use it like a wrapper to eat vegetables with their hands. The average men here weigh about 130 lbs. So I don’t understand how they can eat this stuff along with sugary drinks and be so thin. When I told someone that I didn’t want any sugar in my tea, they looked at me like I was crazy. My coworkers usually put in 3-4 spoonfuls.

This week I trained the staff from the reception, laboratory and nursing areas how to complete patient forms using a digital pen. One-by-One had begun working with the Microsoft spinoff company Capturx before I arrived to create a 10 page form for each patient. The digital pen is used just like a regular pen. It captures writing on specially coded forms. Each page is unique and the pen keeps track of the writing on each form (e.g. page 3 for patient X). At the end of each day each pen is connected to a computer. The “ink” is loaded into the computer and imported into an Excel spreadsheet. What was written can then be edited. It’s pretty amazing that it can decipher both printing and cursive writing. We are only capturing data for the Fistula repair patients to send the data back to One-by-One for reporting. Five women from remote villages arrived last week. We will start recording data on them and begin going back for data from discharged patients. If this was my only job, I could come home next month. Next week I'll focus on the Medical Records System (MRS) for the other patients.

Next week I will goto the town of Kisumo which is a 2 hour drive. Kisumu is larger than Eldoret and located near Lake Victoria. A coworker from Philadelphia arrives on Sunday to begin his Pulse assignment in Kisumu. I’ll pick up some stuff that I forgot and Nancy delivered to him, and look for a printer for the clinic. It will be great to have someone close by to do plan activities on the weekends.

Ten Revelations from First Month in Africa

1. Hakuna Matata is not just a song from the Lion King, it applies to everyday life. “That 10:30 meeting we were supposed to have? Hakuna Matata. We will meet this afternoon.”
2. Cool weather can be found on the equator and I should have brought a heavier jacket. It has not hit 80 degrees once.
3. Cholesterol check needed when I get home. I didn’t expect to eat everyday like I’m living on a farm. Skim milk, margarine, and Egg Beaters don’t exist here. But Coke Light can be found.
4. Drivers here are crazier than Europe. Traffic lights are installed but it looks like they have not been used in atleast 10 years ago. Motorcycles on the sidewalk (when there is a sidewalk) are a common way to get around the traffic jams.
5. Being a minority is a like walking under a spotlight. I feel like everyone is looking at me but they really aren’t. Eldoret is not a tourist destination and the only foreigners are either working with the hospitals & clinics.
6. No wild baboons or monkeys only farm animals walking down the road. The reason I got the optional rabies vaccine was because I heard about close encounters with monkeys coming down from the trees like squirrels. But the only things I have to worry about are the wild dogs coming after me when I’m carrying a pizza back to my room.
7. Breathing at 7,000 ft above sea level is very hard especially when exercising. It’s no wonder that the Kenyan Olympic runners from this area are the best in the world. For them running at sea level must feel like breathing pure oxygen.
8. Newsweek & Time magazine are your friends if you want any American news. Thanks to the only TV news channel available, English speaking Al Jazeera’s out of Qatar, I know the weather forecast for Australia, China & the Philippines.
9. Kenyans love their cell phones and the ability to use M-PESA service to pay bills using text messaging is an innovative service for businesses that do not take credit cards
10. It’s great to be an American and I appreciate all that we have even more!==

Posted by bjmccrudden 00:17 Archived in Kenya Comments (6)

Cold Drinks, Kenyan Business & European Visitors

The people I meet in Eldoret are very curious about Americans and I get some very strange questions. On Friday night my coworker Jared & I went out to happy hour to the bar at the Comfy Hotel. This is one of the more upscale hotels that caters to foreigners. When you order a beer in Kenya, the bartender asks if you want it cold or warm. If you don’t specify you get it room temperature. The same goes for sodas. The bartender asked me why all foreigners like their drinks cold. I said that’s just how it is served in the US. He said that there must be something in my white skin that allows me to have cold drinks. He said that he tried a cold drink one time and was sick for 3 days. I’m also becoming aware of the financial differences between Kenyans and even the poorest Americans. A coworker told me that no one at the clinic of 20 people owned a car except for the doctor & his wife. He wanted to know how much a car costs in the US and if poor people own cars. I told him that you could buy a used car for a few thousand dollars. The main transportation options are matutus (minivans) and tuk-tuks (3 wheeled motorized tricycles). There are hundreds of them lined up in the evening to take people home. Usually there are 10 or more people packed into each one with their luggage & bags loaded on top of the van. I was told this was the cheapest way to get to Nairobi. But I think that I would rather take a 45 minute flight rather than a 4-5 hour ride with my closest neighbors. Most people also rent their houses. We drove by the doctor’s house last week. It was very nice with high walls surrounding it and guards manning the gate. Just about every place has a guard out front. I was told the house cost around 16 million Kenyan shillings which is approximately $200,000.

The people of Eldoret are very industrious. If you have a dolly, wheelbarrow, or bicycle you have a business. I expected to be constantly approached by beggars. That’s not happening at all. The only ones who ask me for money are the barefoot kids about 10 years old. I read that there are many orphan kids living near the vegetable market. When I was on a 2nd floor balcony I noticed rows of shops all made out of metal roofs & walls. These are actually little shops that have signs for each individual business. Many are setup to accept M-PESA for payment. You pay cash to add value into your M-PESA account on your cell phone. Since most places don’t accept credit cards, you enter the amount you want to pay into the M-PESA option on your phone and it sends a text message that it’s been accepted. You then get a receipt text message back. Very nice option and means I don’t have to carry much cash. Another interesting sight is people walking down the street with pants, shirts, kitchen towels over their arms. Basically a walking department store. I did have to buy some clothes since I thought it would be warm. Every day I goto work looking like I’m ready for a round of golf or safari (I leave the hat in my room). People are much more dressed up here than the US with suites, ties, and all women wear dresses. All the school kids wear matching outfits with ties and shorts. There are lots of guys shining shoes on the street which is needed because you are guaranteed to be walking in mud every day. The best purchase I made for this trip is my raincoat & boots from LL Bean.

On Friday I met a young couple from Holland, Malou & Rob, who were spending 7 weeks travelling around Kenya & Uganda in a rented car. I give them credit after seeing how they drive over here and the conditions of the roads. We agreed to meet for dinner on Saturday night. I took them to a place out of the downtown area that sells Jama Chuma (roasted meat). Jared joined us too. Rob was a little reluctant at first to go pick out some fresh goat that they cut off the carcass right in front of you. I went with the steak this time as I’ve had my fill of goat meat for this trip. We discussed the politics of Holland and Kenya. Apparently a very controversial leader in Holland is trying to make his country a “no Muslim” state. I don’t think that would keep the terrorists out of the country. I was impressed as both Malou & Rob spoke perfect English as well as Dutch, German, French & Spanish. Jared & I described the work the clinic is doing for poor women in Kenya. They want to come to the clinic for a tour on Monday before heading west.

Posted by bjmccrudden 03:48 Archived in Kenya Comments (4)

Bad News From Home & One-by-One Board Members

Today is June 30th the end of my first month here in Kenya. It’s also my oldest daughter Kaitlyn’s 17th birthday. She just returned from a 8 day trip to Costa Rica with her Spanish class. She’s grown in to a mature young lady and I will miss celebrating her birthday in person today. I knew that I would miss both of my daughter’s birthdays and my 20th anniversary this year when I applied for Pulse back in January. But I wasn’t prepared for the shock I received this morning after breakfast. I’ve become accustomed to both the electricity & internet service being unavailable for short periods. I attempted to access my e-mail and get the messages from friends & family that I look forward to more than ever. I saw a missed call from Garret Dunn in Nairobi. He told me that one of my coworkers & friends from GSK Alden Hawes had passed away on Friday. Alden & I both worked as managers for Rocco Cima for atleast 7 years and sat next to each other. Alden had a heart condition that he took numerous medications to control. He had known about this for the past 5 years or more. He continued to play in an adult ice hockey league before work and told me that he felt better when he was exercising. Garret said that something happened while he was playing hockey. I’m extremely frustrated right now because I can’t get on-line. It makes me feel isolated since I can’t call anyone because it’s 1am in the US. Alden was a few years younger than me (45) and has kids about the same age as mine. My heart goes out to his wife, kids & family. I can’t imagine what they are going through. I’ll miss Alden & sorry that I cannot attend his services. I’ll be praying for Alden & his family. Rest in Peace my friend.

For the past 2 days twelve board members from the NBO One-By-One (http://www.fightfistula.org/) were in Eldoret staying at Gracemont on a 2 week tour of Kenya. For many this was their first trip to Kenya and a chance to see the result of their fund raising efforts back in the States. One member told me that she got involved after she read an article about child birth in Africa & the complications from not having adequate medical care. She had 4 c-sections herself and wanted to do something to help these women. They toured the Gynocare clinic and met with many of the women who were in the ward recovering. The change in their lives is incredible from when they first arrive for the surgery and when the leave cured. One-by-One has representatives in Kenya who goto the remote villages to seek out women who may have fistulas and make arrangements for them to get to Eldoret for an examination and possible surgery. As modern Nairobi & Eldoret are, these remote villages are not. In the far northwest polygamy & female genital mutilation are still very common. I honestly didn’t believe that could be happening in a country like Kenya which seems more modern than how I have seen other African countries on TV. Jared said that I will have the opportunity to go out to one of these remote villages where fistula candidates are identified during my assignment. It could be the most interesting & grounding sight I see in Africa.

Posted by bjmccrudden 01:49 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Western Kenya and 1st Weekend in Eldoret

rain 74 °F

One of the NGO’s that supports Gynocare One-by-One is having a board meeting next week with 12 people who have never been to Kenya attending. I have been asked to attend a dinner with them next week. Taylor from One-by-One arrived here on Wednesday to prepare. This is her fourth time in Kenya and she shared her experiences in the country and some Kaswhili phrases. She wanted to checkout a place in the western town of Mumias where she is taking the board and asked if I wanted to come along. I thought great, this may be an opportunity to see some wildlife. Driving in Kenya is like driving on the moon. There are huge potholes on almost every street that can swallow up a car if you are not looking. Add heavy rain to this and you can imagine the fun. We followed the Uganda Hwy that goes from the coast to, you guessed it, Uganda. I’ll have to check if they have an Adi Amin museum. There are hundreds of tanker trucks carrying gas & oil on this road. We passed through several small towns that all looked the same. The streets are filled with people walking, bikes & motorcycles even when it’s dark out. There are no street lights. It’s shocking to see the houses just off the road and imagine their lives.

After getting back at 10pm it was time for dinner. After some roasted chicken (no goat this time for me) and watching the European soccer championships, Jared wanted to go out for one more beer. He took me to a nightclub to show me how Kenyans’ have fun. Everyone in the club was in their 20’s and I didn’t see anyone like me. I started thinking about how my grandfather Joe McCrudden would have felt in this situation. I
recognized a few people from the clinic and felt as more comfortable than I expected.

I love staying out to the early morning as much as other people my age, but I told Jared that I would goto Mass with him on Sunday. There is an English Mass at 9 and one in Kaswhili at 10. We decided I should experience the Kaswhili Mass. Time is a relative thing in Kenya. When I arrived at 10, the 9:00 Mass was not finished. There were about 2000 people lining up to get in. It must have taken Jared 2 seconds to pick me out of the crowd and we went in and luckily got a seat. Catholics in the US complain when the Mass goes over an hour. This one last 3 ½ hours! The homily by the Bishop & collection were ½ hour each. I understood about 3 words out of the entire Mass but it was another thing I’m glad that I tried. Old St Pat’s never had this much clapping, dancing, & fire lighting.

I’ve been here a week now and finally feel settled in and know my way around. The people from One-by-One are bringing a pen that can be used for data entry when the clinic goes to remote villages to find fistula patients. I will need to combine this data with the data-entry application that I am working on for the clinic. Thanks again for the comments & feedback. You can always reach me at bjmccrudden@yahoo.com.

Posted by bjmccrudden 12:05 Archived in Kenya Tagged mumias Comments (4)

Gynocare in Eldoret, Kenya

It was a short 45 minute flight to Eldoret over the Kenyan country side. Jared, the office manager at Gynocare Center where I will be working picked me up and has been my tour guide/Kaswhili instructor the past few days. He took me through town the first day, introduced me to the office staff, reviewed the objectives of my assignment, and took me to a place that serves a nice roasted goat (yum). I can't say it tastes like chicken. I saw the cook saw off the meat from a hook before putting it in a roaster for 40 mins. If you like meat & starch, this is the place for you. No spinach salads on the menu anywhere. I now walk about 20 mins to work hugging the side of the road as there are hardly any sidewalks. Today I moved from the Gracemont Hotel to the Gracemont Cottage out back. I'll upload a few pictures.

Before getting involved with Pulse, I had no idea what a fistula was. This past week I have learned so much. The Gynocare Center where I work everyday is a place where woman who have suffered a fistula or other GYN related issue can come for help. C-sections are very rare in Kenya even though they only cost $200. Many births are at home with someone who probably has no medical training. Women still get married very young here. My daughters are 17 (June 30th for Kaitlyn) and 14. I was told that my 17 year old would most likely have 3 children by now, and a 14 year old would be married & pregnant. Being pregnant so young before their bodies have fully developed, and the woman eat last, cause these skinny, young girls to have full term sized babies that they cannot deliver. After many hours of labor and pushing on the woman’s stomach, the woman suffer a tear, and in most cases the baby dies. These woman are otrasized in their villages and divorced by their husband.
Dr Hillary Mabeya started Gynocare last year to focus on helping woman who have suffered a fistula. He addresses other GYN issues but he is one of the few surgeons in East Africa who can perform complex surgeries. Two non-profits, Direct Relief International and One-by-One have teamed up to help fund Gynocare. My job working with DRI is to setup a computerized patient database so they can track these women from the reception area to surgery to the ward where they recover. I walk through the reception area everyday filled with woman. I’m sure they are surprised to see me there. There are outreach programs in the villages where they locate woman who have suffered a fistula and get them to come to Eldoret or Kisumo for surgery. What I’ve learned is that the woman must rest upto a month for everything to fully heal. That is very difficult if they have other children and are expected to get back their back breaking chores. I have seen woman carrying heavy load on their heads as depicted in typical African scenes. One goal of my project is to help Gynocare expand so they can accommodate more patients and even help promote medical tourism. This would be a doctor on vacation in Kenya stopping into the clinic for a day to assist or consult.

I hope this gives everyone an understanding of what I’m doing here. I’m still learning and I think this experience has already opened my eyes to how good we have it in the US. Fistulas are very rare in the US & Europe because of the health care we receive and how common c-sections are.

Posted by bjmccrudden 22:50 Archived in Kenya Comments (5)

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