One of the great joys of working at Kijabe is the amazing series of visiting doctors and their families who come to spend time with us. These are families who uproot children from school, parents from jobs and routines, and the comfort and familiarity of their homes in the US, Canada, or England. They travel thousands of miles, endure jet lag and chaos, to come alongside the work we do here at Kijabe.
Some come for two weeks, some for three months. Some come alone, some with spouses and children. Some are super-specialists, here to teach their highly advanced corner of medicine, others are broad ranging workhorses, taking on any challenge thrown at them.
What they all have in common is a dedication to providing care for the most vulnerable and teaching the next generation of Kenyan doctors.
Think of this: climbing onto a flight, landing in the heat and chaos of a large city in the southern hemisphere. Their driver awaits, a hand printed sign with their name, takes them to a spartan guest house. The next morning, the driver picks them up, stops at a grocery store in Nairobi, where they pick up enough staples to last a week or two. They are then brought out to Kijabe.
The drive out to Kijabe starts in the center of Nairobi, a large, bustling, and sometimes chaotic African city. Traffic congestion forces stops on the large divided road, next to and usually behind large trucks belching diesel fumes. Hawkers and beggars press against the windows, heart-breaking glue-sniffing children ask for food. As the driver passes out of Nairobi, the countryside opens up to red-earthed hills, deep green fields, herds of goats, and shanties made of mud with tin roofs. Innumerable small shops line the roads, where everything from bananas to diesel fuel to sheep skins can be purchased.
As the drive progresses, traffic thins out, and they begin the climb up the Rift Valley escarpment. As they pass through 8,000 feet elevation, the road drops away to the left for 2,000 feet, as spectacular vistas of the African plains unfold below.
This serene journey takes a turn for the bumpy as they turn off Highway A104. The next three miles drop 1,200 feet down one of the worst roads in Kenya. There is no vehicle, no driver, no speed, no way to avoid the teeth jarring bumps of the infamous Kijabe Road. As they arrive in Kijabe village and are taken to their house, our friend Helen greets them and welcomes them. She is in charge of introducing them to the house, showing them how to filter water for drinking or cooking, where to shop at our small shop, and provides them with their first hot meal.
The community is always excited by new arrivals, and greetings and dinner invitations ensue. Fatigued and jet-lagged, the first order of business is usually food, water, a hot shower, and a change of clothes. We try to give people a little space to unwind and relax, but definitely don’t want people to feel alone or abandoned.
We never cease to be amazed at people’s flexibility, acceptance, and ability to adapt to very unusual circumstances. Within a day or so, people are often itching to get to work at the hospital.
It’s hard to over-emphasize what these visitors mean to us here. Of course, we appreciate the hard work and how it helps our tired doctors get a bit of a break. In orthopaedic surgery in particular, we are always understaffed and trying to catch up with the work load of helping injured patients. When an orthopaedic surgeon comes to work with us, our staffing increases by 25%. This really helps patient care, and we try to let one of our full time doctors
take a bit of time with family, away from Kijabe.
Having made this transition myself, I can remember adjusting to the unusual presentation of conditions at the hospital, as well as the different equipment and procedures. Never once have I heard any of our short term missionaries complain or report distress over the change in conditions. Each has just buckled down and gotten to work, immediately making a huge contribution to the work here.
So many have become close friends, couples and families we look forward to seeing again, either here in Kijabe or on visits to the US. Conversely, one of the hardest parts of this life is growing close to people in the intense and focused world of Kijabe, only to say sad goodbyes a few weeks or a couple of months later. But we feel bonded together in a virtual community of people who understand Kijabe, understand the need, understand us.
If you have had an interest in working overseas, in a kind and Christian atmosphere, please let me know and I will help answer questions and make connections. Working here has been an unforgettable, life-changing experience for many families.