Images of Kenya persist even though it has been more than three months since my wife and I returned. The images sometimes turn bittersweet.
The latest came after an email from our Kenya host, Michael Agwanda. We spent three weeks in his home along with his wife Lolla and sons, Junior and Gabby. They were gracious hosts and taught us much about Kenya and the culture of its people.
During our first week in the city of Kisumu, Mary Lou and I went with social workers for Life for Children Ministry and met with some of those who are the guardians of children whose parents have died from the HIV/AIDS epidemic that has swept through Africa.
The first home that we visited was in the hills just outside the city. The four-wheel drive van we rode in was essential, we discovered. We had to leave the paved road that took us out of the city, and we began climbing a rough, rocky road. Our driver, Peter Agwanda, skillfully guided the van around and over rocks, many of which were the size of basketballs until we could see the house that was our destination.
Still, we had to walk about a few hundred yards to get from the rocky road, up the path, past a couple of goats staked to the side of the dirt walkway and finally to the front door of the mud house. Inside we met Christine, the grandmother of one of the orphans that LCM cares for. Christine was the caregiver for 12-year-old Carolly, but her health has been in decline for years.
When Carolly’s mother (Christine’s daughter) died from AIDS, Christine was distraught. She went into deep mourning and for three years went to the gravesite a few kilometers away two to three times a day to visit her daughter – crying with each trip.
As Christine’s health began to become an issue, she did everything she knew in order to find the cause and hopefully the cure. She went to medical doctors, she went to witch doctors, she went to those who prayed over her, those who claimed to help her by biting her. She spent the American equivalent of $3,000, which was virtually everything she had, and still no definitive answer.
Finally she went back to medical care where tests showed that she was reactive for HIV. In constant pain and barely able to walk, she spent most of her days in the house tended by her faithful husband Robert. He took care of the family’s needs – food and water – and helped take care of the two grandchildren left in their charge.
When we visited Christine and Robert, the 48-year-old woman looked 20 years older than that. She spoke in almost inaudible tones as she sat in the sparsely furnished house. When Robert joined us, he told us of a persistent sore on his ankle. It had started as a scratch, became a blister and had grown into an open wound that he could not control. The social workers for LCM feared that he, too, was HIV positive.
That was our meeting with Christine and Robert. We were in the home for perhaps 45 minutes, took several photos of the two of them, their home and the lovely view they had of the valley below.
First impressions are often indelible, and that is how it is with the images from that visit. It was our first to the home of a guardian for LCM, and it is as though every rock on that road, the smell of the goat, the sight of the house and the moments with our new friends were permanently etched into long-term memory.
The email from Michael that came this week described the situation with Robert, Christine and the grandchildren. Christine’s health had become such an issue that Carolly had to move to the nearby town of Eldoret to live with an aunt.
Earlier this month, Robert died unexpectedly. It was a blow to the family, especially Christine who depended so much on her husband for the care she was getting. The future for Christine is uncertain. The couple had sold the land they tended in order to pay for Christine’s treatments. And now? We just don’t know.
Such are the uncertainties of existence in a Third World country. In Kenya there are no governmental safety nets. Without help from family, friends or organizations like LCM people can easily lose everything – including life. Prayers for Christine are certainly in order as she begins a frightening phase of her life. It will be a life without the one who cared for her the most.
I was told before I left for Kenya that it might be a life changing event. As images of Robert and Christine go through my mind, I realize that it certainly was.
Jeff Wallace is the retired editor of the Aiken Standard. He and his wife went to Kenya on a mission trip this summer.