Post #3

It's been a month into my trip here in Kenya, and it's into our 3rd week at the medical student hostels. Our stay has been marked by a power outage, 3 water outages (I'm sure there's a technical phrase for this), countless cold showers, seatless and flushless (again, making up words) toilets, and a general lingering scent of certain 'facilities' throughout the floors. While Grant and I still wish each other luck each time we venture out to the bathrooms, living in the hostels has given me a much deeper appreciation for how privileged I am.

Before we moved to the student hostels, we lived at IU House. This community is a little Western bubble amongst the Kenyan society that surrounds it. Hot water, internet connection, laundry services, amazing kitchen staff, clean drinking water, and backup generators ensured that we never had to live outside our comfort zones. Lunch was served every day at 1PM, and dinner at 6:30PM. We had meals from chicken noodle soup, to fries (called 'chips' here), to grilled cheese sandwiches. We never had to do dishes (except when we wielded our vastly superior cooking skills to make pancakes or pasta on the weekends), our rooms were cleaned for us upon request, and it really was no different than living in a hotel. However, we knew this wouldn't last since we were scheduled to move into the medical student hostels for a true 'medical student experience'. 

Li8

The day we moved to the hostels, I had told myself, "if the Kenyan medical students can do this, I can too". Dunia (essentially our mom here) took me around for a tour of the building (aka: we wandered around together until we ran into something), and when she left us to settle into our new home, I could see the pity in her eyes as she drove away. That night, I gritted my teeth, threw on my crocs, and went to brave my first shower. This essentially meant I wandered around the various floors for 15 minutes and harassed poor, unsuspecting guys I ran into about whether the unmarked restrooms on each floor were for males or females. Once in what I prayed was a female restroom, I wandered around the various shower stalls looking for the single working shower head (4th floor, furthest one in by the way). I then took the shortest, coldest shower of my life while attempting to keep my eyes on the bug whose home I was apparently infringing upon in my efforts to maintain hygiene.

I know. I'm not making things sound very good. But as the weeks went by, I resolved to resist the temptations of returning to IU House for hot showers because, as I reasoned when I first got here, if the Kenyan medical students can do it, I can too. I learned to appreciate the little things, like the lack of bugs in the stall, fewer strange puddles on the floor than usual, and the feeling of warmth after stepping out of an ice cold shower. More importantly, I learned to appreciate the bathroom conversations I had with the students (more like me desperately attacking them with overly cheerful hellos), waving to our floormates when on the wards, and the kind souls who reach out to a 'muzungu' (foreigner) in need. In fact one time, a girl saw me brushing my teeth when there was no water running, and without me ever asking her, went to her room, and came back to offer me a pitcher of water.

I think that to the Kenyan medical students, I will always be a 'muzungu'. I'm sure they still wonder why I'm here, wandering their halls, but I hope that with time, they will grow accustomed to my presence. After all, in the grand scheme of things, we are all in this journey together. The students here deal with all the challenges we face as students in the States, in addition to nurses'/doctors' strikes, severe lack in resources, patient cases beyond belief, and (the horror!) cold showers.

Yet they prevail; yet they return to the wards each day to care, learn, and heal; yet they do all they can to help their community. I have so much respect for them and so much to learn from them, so I start small by living with them. And at the end of the day, even for Westerner like me, you'd be surprised how much you can grow to appreciate a tiny stream of cold water. 

Posted at 04:00

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