Kenya Exchange 2007 travel blog

Every morning in Mombasa you wake at 5:30am to the call to prayer ringing from the mosque next door. The lucky ones are able to go back to sleep. The really luck ones (myself) are typically able to sleep through it completely and continue to slumber until the roosters start up at about 6:15am.

Mombasa is phenomenal. If I didn't know better, I'd think I was in the Middle East or Morocco, rather then Kenya. The buildings are white with beautifully etched wooden doors, closure for Ramadan signs are not uncommon and my knee length skirt is pretty scandalous compared to the woman I pass wearing full burkas (only their eyes visible to the outside world.) Most importantly, this city has a different feel from Nairobi, a safer and more carefree feel. I've never felt in danger in the capital, but you wouldn't catch me walking around at night. In Mombasa, I go where I want went I want and clutch my handbag less tightly. I never want to leave.

This morning we all woke earlier then usual and met at the school for breakfast. After breakfast, we were loaded into a bus and began our hour and a half long journey to Kilifi and KEMRI (the Kenyan CDC.) The road was bumpy and in decay (not uncommon) and quickly put everyone to sleep. The campus of KEMRI is immaculately landscaped and the first air-conditioned building I can remember setting foot in since leaving Dubai. The research facilities are state of the art and focuses most prominently on Malaria. There had been a HIV/AIDS vaccine trial, but it has been suspended for reasons that were not conveyed to me. The lab tour was pretty uneventful. Afterwards, my small group was led to the connected hospital. By US standards this hospital would have been abysmal, however, for Africa it seemed clean and organized. Our first stop was the waiting room of the outpatient HIV/AIDS facility. What stood out first was the lack of men. I cannot remember a single male waiting for treatment. Seated on benches in the center of the stuffy room were 40 or so woman, many clutching babies wrapped in their traditional khangas.

Quickly the group started to form another observation. Here we were, 10 white Americans, standing in the middle of a hospital watching Africans receive HIV/AIDS treatment- this would never happen in the states. We are not doctors or even pre-med students. The more I thought about it the more I felt wrong about the situation. It was like a zoo, we were touring human suffering and offering no services or assistance. The rights to privacy for Africans are blurred when a mvungu walks into the room.

Our next ward was pediatric. The general concerns we had about our presents were confirmed when the head nurse asked us which sick children interested us most and which we'd prefer to see. When we all returned her questions with blank stares, she chose toddlers suffering from malnutrition, because it's "something you don't see in America." The experience as a whole was eye-opening; I was able to see public health in action, one of the main reasons for staying in this program. However, thinking of the social dynamic that has been created in Africa, and across the world, of black versus white, is disheartening to say the least.

I hope to write again when I return to Nairobi on Friday and become better at finding time (and a less crowded cyber cafe) to compose full and edited entries (most because David is kicking my butt where this is concerned.) Thank you to everyone who has sent messages of support for my family and I. I really appreciate it and I will keep you all up to date on my plans as soon as they are finalized. Thanks again.

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