“Huh?” wondering if I’d heard her correctly, in fact I had.
“Do you love Kenya?”
“Uhh yes. I really like it here.”
And that was the entirety of our conversation. Awesome.
After skipping a week at the hospital I was dying to get back and check in on the kids, especially Udadisi, the little abandoned girl I’ve befriended. Unfortunately, I was met with some bad news when I arrived. Seven new malnourished children had been admitted on Friday while I was away. Seven children in a single day! I couldn’t believe it. It just added to the importance of my research project and increased my drive to learn more about the causes of malnourishment in the Meru area.
Mwanafunzi had forgotten his “dust jacket” and was hiding out in the admittance room, avoiding the superintendent. I sat with him as he recorded today’s weights of some of the children, again using the New Testament as a ruler. “It’s the best ruler ever” he said when I asked to borrow it.
I looked at his notes as he wrote and was excited to see that the very severely malnourished girl I’ve been keeping tabs on had gained about 5kgs since I’d last seen her. She is 5 years old and she weighs 15kgs now (33lbs), still skin and bones, but an improvement nonetheless, or so I thought. I commented on her weight gain and was informed that she was gaining weight from edema (swelling) and they’d switched her off of the formula to try and control it.
I’ve been finding that it can be difficult to get direct answers from people and I often have to slowly extract data from them by asking multiple questions. I talked to Mwanafunzi and one of the nutritionists about why they thought the children were malnourished.
“In Cube C that is because of drought” Mwanafunzi said and “100% come from the miraa region”.
“Negligence and ignorance” were the reasons stated by the nutritionist. She listed off the towns where the majority of the kids come from, scribbling their names on the green plastic tablecloth as she thought.
Udadisi ran by and poked her head in the door and I jumped up in excitement, cutting Mwanafunzi off mid-sentence, “Oh your friend is here!” he exclaimed. I chased her into one of the cubes where she backed away from me into one of the mothers who dragged her towards me. Udadisi sat down on the cement floor and cried. She clearly didn’t remember me; my week-long absence was too long. I was heartbroken.
I returned to the admittance room and continued to copy down data from hand-written admittance book. In the book are the names, addresses, ages, sexes, symptoms, and outcomes of every child which has been admitted into the PEM (Protein Energy Malnutrition) ward in the past year and a half. One of my plans is to make a map showing where all of the kids have come from, overlaying a map of the miraa regions. This should hopefully give a good indication of whether miraa farming is playing a role in malnutrition.
There were only two options for each child in the column marked “Outcome”: “Discharged” or “Died”. My preliminary calculations show that a little over 20% of all children admitted for PEM in the past 16 months have died. I felt such a disconnect writing down the information. It was hard to comprehend that each of the 257 lines of information I recorded corresponded with real people. It wasn’t until I was almost finished that I reached the entry for the child who had died the night before one of my first visits and whose mother I’d seen crying the morning after.
On our way out of the pediatric ward, Udadisi ran ahead gripping a yellow plastic cup and metal spoon dripping with porridge.
“She has soiled herself” Mwanafunzi said and sure enough, the entire back of her overalls had turned a darker shade of brown.
Walking back to the nutrition office we passed a young girl who appeared to have been severely burnt. She scratched at patches of gauze stuck to her blotchy bald head. I found out later that she was standing in front of the surgical and burn unit. “That’s the place to visit if you want to ruin your whole day” said Mwanafunzi when I asked about it.
Last weekend I spoke to the internet repairman, who has gotten to know me as my internet is always broken, about his work at the hospital. He has been installing a new system throughout the hospital. He told me that last week he’d been in the mortuary installing the equipment. “I didn’t sleep for two days” he told me. He said because the hospital is government-owned and less expensive than private hospitals, the mortuary was packed full of bodies. When the refrigerators filled up they started stacking more people on top. I don’t think I would have gotten much sleep either if I’d seen that.
Back at the office while making the salami, cheese, and mustard sandwich I eat everyday for lunch, I spotted something on the kitchen window. I completely forgot how hungry I was and ran to get my camera. I probably spent a good ten minutes taking pictures of my new friend:
"This is the best day of my life" she said, gleefully painting away.
"Because I am doing a special project."
The next day I brought home an art kit for her to play with.