This month, I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Africa to work in a hospital. I’m in the middle of my stay in Mombasa, Kenya and what I’ve done and seen here has already changed my life. Kenya is a beautiful country, but to the Western eye it appears to be stuck in the past. A closer evaluation of life and the availability of resources here reveals the bigger picture.
Life in Kenya is beautiful; the people are the best thing about it. The food is amazing too—as the fruit lover that I am, I’ve been eating as much mango and passionfruit as possible! The people are so incredibly nice and welcoming. There isn’t a time where you walk past someone and they don’t say “jambo” (hello) or “karibu” (welcome). There are so many babies as well, because Kenya still has one of the highest population growth rates in the world. Mombasa is a coastal town, and it is mostly Muslim. The main language is Swahili although luckily almost everyone speaks English! The language barrier can still be a problem, and I find that even if we’re both speaking English, pronunciations can be so different that it’s impossible to understand each other. This is just one of the challenges that I appreciate having to adjust to in a foreign country.
I spend most of my time at the county hospital with the 20 or so interns from the US that are doing the program with me. So far I’ve seen many things that shocked me. Last week I worked in the Gender Based Violence Recovery Center, where survivors of sexual assault or other kinds of violence come to be medically examined and tell their story. This was shocking because of the prevalence of rape, and the attitude towards it. Culturally, Americans and Kenyans deal with things very differently. Not only does time move in a much slower, circular fashion here, but issues such as rape are sometimes not treated with the gravity that I feel they would be in America. We have heard some horrible stories, and it’s heartbreaking to know that the police will probably never be able to do anything about many cases.
This week, I’m working in the surgery wards. I would say that the most shocking thing is the amount of flies and the lack of basic resources. The hospital is open-air, and in general there are constantly flies plaguing every piece of food and thing you do. It’s scarring to see horrible open wounds covered in flies. We noticed that only some beds had mosquito nets to protect from malaria, and we learned that this was because very few patients could afford to pay for the mosquito net service. The doctors do not have enough gloves, towels, or anything that is needed in any hospital in the Western world. Every single thing is written on paper—there is NO computer database whatsoever, so each patient has a paper booklet that they bring with them, full of various doctors notes and a full medical history. Even in the offices or wards that have computers, they are rarely used because of the frequency of power outages. Yesterday I was watching an open heart surgery, and the power went out TWICE in the 45 minutes I was there. Luckily the operating rooms are much nicer than the rest of the hospital, so they had a backup generator that worked well. Still, I can’t imagine how bad that could have been and how bad it could be in any other ward.
This dramatic lack of resources, which I’ve barely scratched the surfaces of, obviously makes receiving good health care at the county hospital much more difficult. However, it also results in the doctors being more versatile, adapted, and strong than I could have ever expected. The creativity and resilience they show each day inspires me to want to be a doctor even more than I did already.