Wednesday, August 19, 2015

just kinda hanging out

hanging out before church with the girl who wanted my sunglasses

During our 12 days in Kenya, we held only four clinic days - two in Nairobi and two in the rural area of Kajiado, what I lovingly (though maybe somewhat ignorantly?) refer to as the bush. What were we doing during all the hours in between? That's a question I'm still thinking about. Here are a few of the things we were doing: packing, planning, preparing, traveling, meeting, painting, cleaning, and celebrating (i.e. launching a bricks and mortar clinic).

The rest of the time, were just kinda hanging out. There was that Sunday in the bush, right in the middle of our time there, when we lingered over breakfast and then drove a short distance to have church under a tree. Some sat on the few backless benches staked into the ground, with woven reeds that served as seats. The rest of us sat on old plastic chairs that the kids had run to their homes to find and bring for their guests. We were the first to arrive for the service, along with our young preacher. While we waited for the handful of other church goers to arrive, we sat and played with the kids. One particularly bold girl took my sunglasses, which fell lopsided on her small face.

Soon the service started. There was singing and dancing and clapping, then testimonies and a short sermon. Afterward, we all walked to a nearby boma (a homestead where an extended family lives among a few small huts). The bold girl - who still wore my sunglasses - and another who had brought me a chair earlier grabbed either one of my hands. Children gathered around most of my other teammates, too, eager to connect with us in some way. After we visited at the boma, a whole group of us sat just outside by a tree where a baby goat had just been born. Some sat on rocks; I sat on a large tin can someone brought for me. The baby goat practiced using her legs and finding her mother's milk. We waited for our van to come to take us back to where we were staying, which it did about thirty minutes later.

That afternoon, we ate lunch together, a few talked about a hike. I took a short nap on a patient exam table, then journaled. Later, our team played uno and ate pringles we'd brought from home while we waited for dinner.

I could tell you about other times when we hung out: that time I stood by Nathan, a teacher, while he taught me to make ugali (a much loved Kenyan dish); that time a few of us joined the students for a game of soccer; that time I sat by the breakfast fire drinking my coffee while Tonny told me about his grandfather's travels around Africa as a freedom fighter. Being with our friends and partners in the bush was easy and delightful. They hosted us generously and welcomed us completely and forgave our ignorance (probably more than I even know). They helped us to be ones who didn't just hand out medication to people in their community, but grew to know it, even if just a bit, in the short time we were there.

That is what sticks out to me now. When I think about the ratio of medical-to-other time we spent in Kenya this year, it can feel like maybe we were inefficient. But what I know now is that hanging out was likely the most efficient use of that time. Hanging out with people in a place helps you to put roots down. It builds an affection that requires slow time and shared experience, a knowing that a task-only mentality skims over. I would argue that this hanging out time was the foundation of everything else we did. It helped us to see our patients as our friends, it helped us to ask deeper questions, and it gave us the compassion and joy to serve when we grew tired or weary. It is also what makes us want to keep going back.

So what did we do the rest of the time? We laughed and befriended and asked and understood. We grew in love.

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