How I fell in love with Africa

As we get ready to leave for Kenya, I keep remembering how this all started for me. While I was in Mombasa as a medical students, I fell in love with Africa. I think it was a lot of little things and a lot of different people I met that all formed the memory I took home with me.

It was the best mangos I’d ever eaten.

It was sitting with a community elder in a cardboard- and tin-shack village, talking about what he thought really mattered for his people, with chickens running around and people bringing their children to meet me and sit on my lap, to be welcoming.

It was the Kenyan staff at the airport, graciously complimenting my half dozen Kiswahili words that I’m pretty sure I mispronounced.

It was the patients. In the middle of so many extra barriers to people being able to get treatments, pain relief, diagnoses and basic medical help, I met so many people who showed extra patience in suffering, courage, gratitude and care for sick family members.

I remember one woman I met there – I never did know her name. She was young, in her twenties, and had had a miscarriage that led to an infection. In the States, she would have been taken to an operating room and had a procedure to clean out the infected tissue done under anesthesia. In Mombasa, she had a threadbare curtain pulled around the bed, and a couple medical students huddle around her to do the same procedure with no pain medication. She was so brave. She was very quiet, but tears ran down her face as she tried not to flinch. I felt helpless and nauseous just watching, so I squatted by the bed and held her hand, and said one of my few Kiswahili words – ‘Sorry’. She squeezed my hand and we got through it together. She thanked everyone after the procedure, and went home that day. I remember how strong she was, how gracious, and how sad I felt for her.

I came away wanting to be a part of taking care of these people, who were so friendly, bright, strong, brave, hospitable. I came away wanting to be part of Africa. I’m excited to be going back, and hopefully ready to do more than say ‘sorry’. Hopefully it’s time to try to help.

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