"There are no monkeys. We do not go up there if there are no monkeys."
It is 9am, and we have stopped in our climb up a forested section of the Great Rift Valley escarpment. I am with John and Paul, two Kenyan plumbers from Kijabe. Our destination: Monkey Corner Spring. We are hoping to tap into this spring and build a new pump station and 8 km pipeline to transport the water to the hospital.
I query why the monkeys should have such a measurable impact on our journey.
"It is the green mamba. If there are no monkeys, it means the green mamba is around, hunting. Very bad snake. We come back later."
We postponed our journey until there were monkeys!
Karibuni (welcome) from Kenya!
Hamjambo (hello!) We've been in Kenya nearly 7 weeks, and last week's monkey-mamba experience is a good example of our new life here. Very similar to Adelaide 2 months ago...but completely different. Patients are still sick and require treatment, nurses and junior doctors still require training, water infrastructure is failing and requires upgrading, groceries still need to be bought, food needs to be cooked, the kids loved and enjoyed, and relationships maintained and nurtured.
And yet... vegetables and fruit need to be disinfected with bleach before we eat them (or we get gastro). Instead of seeing 1-2 patients die a year, Mardi sees 1-2 per week. Requests for information from suppliers and contractors go unanswered for weeks, if at all. If you ask 5 different plumbers how the water system works, you get 5 different (and delightfully creative!) answers. The lone ATM within 30 miles doesn't work, and we drive 1 hour for money to buy food. The internet is unpredictable, when it works. We lose electricity 1-2 times per day. We lost water for more than 24 hours last week when thieves stole 4 sections of pipe from one of the spring supply lines.
The same...but completely different. We noted some of our early impressions of this paradox on our website
a few weeks ago.
We are settling in well...we find the work to be profoundly satisfying, the relationships we are forming to be fulfilling, and that the new rhythm of life we are settling into to be challenging but wonderful. We are also finding that tears come easier lately!
In any given day, I need to be a neonatologist, a paediatric cardiologist or nephrologist, an intensive care physician and a well baby checker. I am just so grateful that in the midst of such a huge stretch, God has supplied exactly the resources I need to make this transition as smooth as possible.
Hospitalini (at the hospital)
Moving from an urban tertiary paediatric emergency department with subspecialty backup to a rural hospital where I AM the subspecialty backup has been the biggest challenge of my medical life so far.
Jennifer is my sister-in-arms, a paediatrician with a depth and breadth of experience in working in rural Africa, and a 3 month head start on me in Kijabe. With her assistance and encouragement I've started getting my head around the local protocols and dredging up long-distant recollections of how to manage a premature baby. My trainee doctors, Bob and Anne, gently teach me on ward rounds when I am unsure of what to do next, and then in the next breath I train them in intubation and ventilator management. I have seen in a month as many critically ill babies as I have seen in 3 years working at the Women's and Children's in Adelaide, some of whom I have been able to help, some of whom I have not.
The support of wonderful colleagues who are becoming friends makes all the difference here. Rather than being overwhelmed, I am humbled yet hopeful that I can make a difference. I am astounded that of the many places in the world that need help, God prepared a place like Kijabe where a pediatrician who wanted to share a job arrived just 3 months ahead of me and that together we are able to be a full-time resource so that we can also be the wives and mothers we want to be.
I have already been a part of some happy stories; of babies helped, lives saved. I have been a part of some sad stories, of babies who came to us too late, with our resources too few. I have had grateful mothers, I have had keening, wailing mothers at 4am. It is a rollercoaster of joy and grief, of frustration and reward, and I wouldn't have it any other way. There is much to be done here, and I am glad to be a part of the team. If you want to read more about some of the stories from the hospital, have a look at our blog for regular updates.
Kazi ni Andy (Andy's work)
The water supply situation for the hospital and surrounding community is really quite dire--routine losses of water pressure for a few hours, no water for a day or two. In addition, the water is contaminated with bacteria, and requires filtering at the tap--there is no water treatment or disinfection of any kind (yet!). Oh, and they had an E. coli outbreak last year. Additionally, the hospital has expansion plans over the next decade, and urgently needs water, power, and sanitation upgrades in order to provide a foundation for future expansion.
I walked around the hospital yesterday with one of the maintenance staff and was struck (again) by what an amazing place Kijabe is...it is a busy, noisy, smelly thrown-together group of structures teeming with the sick from rural Kenya
who have come with their last hopes for care and healing, wealthy Kenyans from Nairobi who have heard of the great care here, and S-m-l-'s who have come from the refugee camps along the northern border. And all of them are treated with dignity, love, and Christlike compassion.
It is unacceptable to me that such a place should have an unreliable and unhealthy water supply, and I have a fire in my belly to help these good people remedy that.
The scope of the water projects I am helping with include an entirely new water supply system from Monkey Corner Spring (new pump station, power supply, 8 km pipeline, storage tanks and controls), disinfection facilities (chlorine), and ad hoc upgrades to the existing water distribution system. Mungu akipenda (Lord willing), we will go a long way to delivering these in the next 2 years. I am working on a concept design and construction costings, and drawing on some friends at design firms and construction companies in Australia to assist with peer review and proof engineering (if you haven't heard from me yet...stand by!). One of our issues in the next few months will be funding--the hospital has next to no money for infrastructure upgrades, and we'll need to raise a few hundred thousand dollars for this significant water upgrade.
In the next few months I will also be teaching at the local Bible college
. I have been asked to teach a course in the Jul-Nov semester on spiritual formation for pastors and chaplains, and this commences soon. I have been in touch with Renovare
, and they have agreed to partner with us through assistance in curriculum development and supply of course materials, which is a major answer to prayer.
You may notice some funny sounding words in our emails and on our webpages...our kiswhaili lessons are going well! Kiswahili is a national language of Kenya, and spoken by most people around Kijabe with the exception of those from S-m-l--. We each have 4 x 1 hour lessons per week, and feel like our brains may explode at any minute.
Maisha ni watoto (our kids' life)
Riley and Liam are just loving life at Kijabe. We were able to bring only limited toys with us in our luggage, but have been able to purchase many pre-loved toys, books, and puzzles from missionaries returning home. There is a playground at the hospital about 100 metres away, and they go there nearly every day. Riley goes to a pre-school run by local mothers 1/2 day per week, and is counting down the days until she can attend Kindergarten at Rift Valley Academy next year. Both kids go to playgroup once a week (also run by local mothers) and are making friends.
We have been fortunate in engaging Susan, a local, to assist us in caring for the children and with housework. The kids love "Miss Susan", and she has become a part of lives here already. The kids are picking up kiswhaili quickly...Liam now says 'samahani' (excuse me) whenever he burps!
We have many of our Kenyan friends come to our door daily to say hello, including Steven (shown here) who sells flowers...Riley loves to pick out the flowers, which cost only around $2 per dozen.
Kijabe not a safe place. Neither is Grand Rapids, London, or Adelaide for that matter! Hence there are some location-specific precautions that we take here in order to be wise about our own security, and the security of those we work with.
If we spell out certain words, such as a particular country or the people groups who reside in that country, there is a real threat that some of our friends who are involved in work with these people may be targeted for violence. Internet search engines are used to target these volunteers and missionaries, and we have first hand accounts of people who work with these people groups receiving death threats.
As such, you may see us use words like S-m-l- for a country (or people from that country) to the northeast of Kenya, and M-sl-m for a people group from that area who are cared for here at the hospital.
No spam, please
We recognise that email is no longer the dominant or most efficient way to pass information (Facebook, anyone?)...and we do not want to spam you. So we'll only be sending these emailed updates roughly every few months.
We do, however, post updates on our website at least weekly at www.steeres.com
, and we post these blog updates to our Facebook accounts. So for up to date information, please visit our webpage!
Can we help?
Many of you have asked how you can help support us, the infrastructure projects and the patients at the hospital, and what you can send. We are humbled and grateful for the number of these requests we've received. For details on how you can partner with us to assist in supporting us while we're here, see our 'Get Involved' page
. At present, we have around $300/month in our monthly needs
which remain unfunded and which we need to raise.
If you are interested in helping to fund the medical expenses of patients who can't afford them, or help with the infrastructure projects, please hang tight for a few weeks! We'll have details on the best way to do this and will post it to our 'Get Involved' page shortly.
If you want to mail us something, please click here for some helpful tips in maximising the probability that it will get to us! Treats from home, toys for the kids, DVDs, and Amazon Kindle credit are little things that just make our day.
A few days ago, a friend of ours was driving back from Nairobi at the end of the day with his car packed full of family. They passed by a man lying on the side of the road, covered in blood--It was apparent he'd come off his motorcycle in an accident. Noticing that no one was stopping to help him, they stopped to offer assistance, and discovered the man had a severe head injury. Despite their packed car, they picked the unconscious, bleeding man up and put him in the car with them and drove him to Kijabe Hospital, where he received treatment.
This is why we're here. And this is why you're where you are. We are learning that no matter where you are and whatever you do, what we do and how we do it matters. Followers of Jesus believe that how we live our lives now reverberates in a way we don't really understand into eternity...like sound carrying across water. We don't care for the sick or the helpless just because they need help...we don't act with integrity just because it's the right thing to do...we don't treat others with kindness and compassion simply because we want to be treated the same in return. We do it because it is the kind of life we're created to live, and we come alive as we live this way. We are discovering that during our very short lives on earth, when we live as we were created to, we start to glimpse the eternal in the present moment.
A church father in the second century, St. Iranaeus, wrote 'The glory of God is a human being who is fully alive'.
We pray that wherever you are, in whatever you do, you do so with passion, hope, and joy...and are learning to live 'fully alive'.
Andy, Mardi, Riley, and Liam