It seems a big jump to go from the Philippines to Kenya but after returning from four weeks in Asia In January/February 2007, I headed off to Europe and Africa. The ultimate destination for me was Nairobi where I am involved in a research project.
First, let me explain the background of how I got involved in research in Kenya. One of my former students (a mature student about 5 years younger than me) became a naturopath (Jim). His children and mine were in church groups together. His youngest son went to Kenya about 4 years ago as a summer mission and met a Pentecostal pastor there who put him in touch with a mission run by a Norwegian couple. They have a orphanage and a place where slum children gather daily to be prepared for school. The mission then pays for uniforms and books for the kids who prepare for school under their auspices (some of these are teens and others are six year old’s).
Wesley came home and told his Dad how much they needed help – malaria and other diseases were prevalent and the mission looked after health care for those children coming to the club house.
Jim took a number of naturopathic medicnes to the mission location and taught one of the workers (Julius) to administer the drugs as needed. Of course, Jim was quickly made aware of how significant HIV and AIDS was a problem mostly for the parents of the children so he came back and did a significant amount of reading on the subject. He found a trace mineral which has been used successfully in the treatment of AIDS and discovered that it is used in animal feed here in Canada. I hesitate to mention the mineral here as further study is necessary and part of my role will be to publish some articles on the results.
Jim took some of the trace mineral to Nairobi on one of his trips (he now goes four times a year and has opened three additional slum locations to deliver medications for diseases like TB, Malaria and also HIV.
Jim told me of his work when he started and told me if it went well, he would want me to do some study. Last November he told me that of the first 150 patients (90 percent of them women), 149 had become symptom-free. He asked me to visit Kenya on my own coin and interview, set up data gathering, etc.
Thus, the 28th of March saw me flying from Capetown South Africa to Nairobi. I stayed at the Methodist Guest House as the Mennonite Guest House was booked over the Easter weekend. Since I was brought up in The United Church of Canada and my parents had been Mehtodist when union came about, methodism is my roots. I met with Julius the next morning. He took me to Soweto (not the Soweto in South Africa but one of the slums in Nairobi). He stayed with me when we were in public and warned me about safety (even so I had my camera stolen that day out of a zipped underarm bag).
In the coming days I visited slums at Lunga Lunga, South B, and Kibera. The latter was the slum featured in the movie The Constant Gardner (and that movie depicts the slum very much as it is). In the two weeks I was there, I interviewed a number of AIDS patients who had been on the trace mineral for anywhere form two weeks to two months. Some of the patients are on anti-retrovirals while others refuse to take the drugs.
The Kenya government tests CD4 and so we get the data on those tests. All the patients have had improvements in CD4 counts. Those on the longest found they got over minor aches and illnesses quite quickly and were able to work an 8 hour day again. The stories were quite interesting and the patients quite thankful.
In the Methodist Guest House I had the feeling it was a safe haven and a prison. Once there in the afternoon and through the two security guarded gates, I could not leave. It was safe as there were security guards in halls within the complex and when I wanted to give Julius something, they made him wait while I went to my room to get the item. I had access on-site to internet (when electricity and internet connection permitted) and had access to CNN, Al Jazeera, and two Christian TV stations. I found some of the North American TV evangelists. I was particularly impressed with the objectivity of Al Jazeera but one night as I was watching, the screen switched to some Swahili singing – so even the TV was unreliable.
Reading was my pass-time. I had a book entitled Jacob’s Wound in which the author explores the homeroticism in the Old Testament. Focusing on the story of David and Jonathan with the temple boys, Saul and David etc. he makes a case for there being a simple accpetance of homosexuality in the old testament.
Jim is returning today from his second trip to Kenya since I was there. He will be bringin with him the 6 month data for me to start my analysis. The last time I met with Jim, he asked when I am going back. He wants to go at same time. I plan to go if I have to next June or July.
Jim views this as a mission. I view it the same way. My close childhood friend (the brother I never had) died of AIDS. I view my work as honouring God and honouring Ron. It is difficult for me to explain how close Ron and I were to each other between the gaes of 3 and University (to the exclusion of others) and yet neither of us realized our gayness.
I would like to close this post with something I wrote while in Nairobi …….
Yesterday I went to Lunga Lunga (another slum area) and sat inside All Nations Gospel Church (apparently African Pentecostal) while waiting to meet the pastor and meet with some of the people being treated with Selenium in that slum.
It was heart-rending to sit there with so little in the way of facilities. Such a contrast to the fancy useless buildings called Cathedrals in Europe . I just do not know how to describe the poverty here. I have been lonely most of my time here and feel threatened as a white man. The children in the slum all want to greet me â€“ it is as if they have never seen a white man before.
Last night at dinner, for the first time, I met some people to talk to. There were two men from Canada from the Canadian Bible Society (one Sask. and one Newfoundland ). There was also a Methodist Bishop from England (I did not catch his area except it is on the border of Wales ). He was touring Rwanda and visiting missionaries there and will be doing some of that here â€“ he was going north today to meet with some and will be back early next week. I had breakfast with him this morning as well.
I see such need here. First, the people running Jimâ€™s project here are not being paid expenses (Jim leaves Julius some money each time he comes) and I have been paying Julius for transport so he can meet me in safe places and accompany me to the slums. I talked briefly with him about whether his local church pays towards the other people working the other clinics and he said he didnâ€™t think so. Julius has a job with a missions teaching and they have been cooperative in giving him time for the project. Kim, whom I met yesterday has a job so has to take a day off to be available for the delivery of Selenium. Julius says his biggest expense is load for his phone (you buy load which pays for the time on the phone and when the time runs out, you buy more load). He says patients are always phoning him and he has to phone them back.
The pastor of the church drove us back downtown but I noted his car in bad need of repair. The brakes were not in shape at all. The church is tin strung together on tree limbs. They do have some light bulbs strung along the centre of the structure. It is sweltering inside this tin structure. There are some benches.
I am sure that a Canadian or US church which provided even $100 per month to such a church or to the operational expenses of Julius, Kim and the others working this project would be wonderfully helpful.
I am amazed at what people here do with so little.
BTW, Julius has invited me to go to his church which is the mother church of the one I was in yesterday for Easter services Sunday. I gladly accepted as I will meet his pastor who oversees several slum churches.
If you would ever like me to talk to a group at some point I would be willing to do so. Or if the local Lions, Kiwanis or Rotary are looking for a speaker, I would be willing to talk about Nairobi and the slums.
When I was in Sunday School, our Sunday School had a box where on your birthday you put the number of pennies of your age to help Dr. Strangway, a missionary in Africa . Once. Dr. Strangway came to speak. What an impression that made on me! I can not believe I am here now and I do feel this is a mission as much as it also involves my research. It only struck me yesterday though about how severe the need was and maybe I will give a talk somewhere about my experiences and about the needs here.
Kenya is stable (although not free of corruption). Kenya takes in refugees from the South of Sudan (where war is supposedly over). I talked with one of those refugees (a Christian) who had to wear a brace because of having been hacked by radical Islamists from the north of Sudan (the UN and Sudan have agreed to peace in that area of Sudan ). Somalia has been experiencing bombings from helicopters just north of the Kenya border (it dominates the news locally) and some of that bombing is in trying to destroy rebel strongholds and is done by a coalition of African nations at the request of the Somalia government. There are fewer refugees here from Uganda and Ethiopia . None come from Tanzania which is the only other country to border Kenya .
I believe that until we provide a means for these people to live â€“ food shelter of a basic nature and soul enrichment, there will be no peace. They see us as rich beyond what they can imagine. Contrast that with the happiness and singing and joy I see in the people despite the poverty. The Methodist Bishop and I talked about that last night â€“ it is a real conundrum to know why they show such joy despite the illness and danger they live in all the time.