T is for Tenwek
I read a book in my church library called Come Walk With Me written by a missionary doctor working in Kenya, at a hospital called Tenwek. It was a great book, one that really touched me. So when I decided to go to Kenya, I looked up the hospital on the Internet. I wrote them several times to request permission to visit the hospital. At last, I heard back. I was invited to visit them!
I couldn’t wait to visit the very same hospital that I read about. The famous Masai tribe were said to live in that area.
Through a friend of a friend, I’d arranged for a taxi driver to pick me up at my hotel room and take me to Tenwek, which was located in the Great Rift Valley, several hours away.
However, when I was actually in-country and getting ready for the visit, I had terrible stomach problems and wasn’t sure how everything would pan out. I needed to be near a bathroom so hours on the road didn’t seem very appealing. But all the plans were made so I decided to go ahead with the trip.
Though Kenya is a beautiful country, I had eyes for little except where there would be a tree large enough to hide me. Kenyans walk everywhere so there was little to no privacy and no fancy rest stops or bathrooms along the way. The roads took us through the countryside and were quite rudimentary, which didn’t help my stomach.
The stops to the trees (real trees, no euphemisms here) slowed us down. A four-hour ride stretched to five, then six – and then darkness set in. How the driver could see the road without any streetlights was beyond me. His car also did not have any headlights! How could he navigate around all those Kenyans walking around us? The only thing that darkness did for me was to shield my tree stops from curious eyes. Otherwise, it was all a bit frightening as we rode up hills and down slopes.
Finally, the driver said, “What is the name of the place we’re headed for again?” He looked at me apologetically, and then I knew – we were lost!
Later, it seemed we finally arrived – only to discover that we had found a much smaller mission hospital in the highlands of Kenya. After some discussion, we learned the direction to the real Tenwek.
But when we arrived at Tenwek, the guards refused to allow us to enter. My names apparently wasn’t on a list and no one knew anything about me. I was determined to stay after such a long journey.
I grasped at the one name I knew – Carol, the visitor coordinator, who had never emailed me back personally because she was on furlough. I kept saying “Carol,” a lot, in as many ways as possible, like she was my personal instead of a name I found on the world-wide web.
I didn’t have the other name from the email who actually wrote me back.
Finally, another woman, also named Amy and also from Pennsylvania, came to the gate and took responsibility for me. “So what part of the hospital will you be working in?” she asked, very perplexed.
“Um, no, I’m a visitor. “
“Visitors? We don’t receive many visitors at this hospital,” she said, sounding even more perplexed. “I was going to put you to work unpacking boxes.”
“Well, Carol–I dunno who really answered me but I understood that–” I was going to say I’d be happy to unpack boxes if there were a restroom nearby. But I never had the chance to say anything.
“Come along,” she said, resigned. “It’s quite late and we need to sleep.”
She placed me in a dorm room with another woman whose had come to furnish sunglasses to the patients in order to cut down on blindness caused by the the bright sunlight. I was, of course, so intrigued dealing with my own sight issues.
I was still not feeling well and asked the woman if there were a restroom nearby. Thank goodness, there was!
The next morning, Amy collected me for a tour of the hospital.
On the tour, Amy pointed out that the patients and their families seated in the courtyard nearly always walked for days from their villages to reach Tenwek.
While the patients journeyed far to reach the hospital, at least the hospital seemed to be well-supported by missionaries in the United States.
Interestingly enough on my tour, I met an intern who had just arrived that day from San Antonio, Texas and who had studied at a hospital next where I used to live. He even attended the same church I did in San Antonio. Tenwek was a missionary hospital but not sponsored by my church so I was a little surprised at how he had come to do his internship at Tenwek. What a wonderful coincidence that our paths had crossed halfway around the world!
Amy, herself, had arrived only four months earlier with her three children and husband. She was married to the newest medical missionary on board and worked in the pediatric wing.
She appears here in the photo with another staff member in her wing.
She explained that the big steel container behind her was used to warm and treat premature babies. It was a kind of very simple incubator. I thought, at least there is something in place for premature babies.
Since I’d lost twins in the United Arab Emirates eight years earlier, I had a tender heart for all babies, and especially those born early.
I learned over lunch when I met Amy’s husband, a young, eager doctor, that he spent every morning in language study learning Swahili. According to him, everything was wonderful at the hospital and in Kenya. His enthusiasm made me smile. Obviously, he was still in the honeymoon stage of adapting to life.
When he found out how sick I was, he immediately wrote me out a prescription for some medicine. “Get it filled in Nairobi. It’ll take you hours if you try to get it filled here…so much red tape,” he said, shaking his head. Strangely enough, he wrote the prescription on his child’s drawing.
Just before I left, some of the staff shared a key philosophy to the undertakings of the hospital .
“Before any doctor performs an operation or surgery, the medical team prays.”
“Wow, that’s just incredible how these doctors submit their needs so humbly to God,” I said, myself humbled. The words on the sign upon entry read, “We treat. Jesus heals.”
I left Tenwek with a bout of optimism vying with the bout of Montezuma’s revenge.
The thought of my hotel room with a clean bathroom seemed a whole lot better than a bunch of trees on a crowded countryside street.
When have you visited a place that you’ve read about? How did it match up to your expectations? Have you ever been treated in a hospital outside your own country?
You have read, “T is for Tenwek,” by Amy L. Bovaird. Copyright, April 28, 2015.You can see who else is participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge HERE