My journey to Muhoroni...

Monday, December 14, 2009

What life is like for my children and their Mums

Finally I started to work. I have been thinking of domestic visits for a longer time but the social worker got sick and then he took a break. I decided to look at the most difficult cases that we have – children that haven´t put on weight for a long time.
Those were my first domestic visits. I first went to Biafra with Solo. Biafra is a part of Muhoroni that is about 10 minutes walking distance from us. There are small huts made of clay with straw roofs. I didn´t know the names of the parents, only the name of the boy. But if every woman has five children like that, it´s like looking for a needle in a haystack. This part is one of the poor ones. I dind´t see any trash between the little houses, the people were trying to help us with searching and the kids were so surprised that there was a Mzungu in their midst, that they didn´t even shout at me. Some of them even decided to hide away. 
Finally we found the mother of our boy. Their house was no different from other houses around. The kids were sitting in front of the house, inside I could see another baby. The Mum grabbed my hand and pulled me inside. When one comes from outside it is usually very dark. I couldn´t see anything at first. The windows were small, probably so that no one could get through them. The floor was made of pressed clay. It was about 2x3 metres. It was divided into two parts by a small parting. Various dishes and bowls for water and food were lying all around. In the even darker part there was a space for sleeping – no matress – and a small table cooker with a saucepan on it. There was coal or wood underneath. They were preparing some squash.
The second visit was in Mtwala – the journey was a bit longer. We went down a fieldpath, passing sugar cane, and Solo trying to scare me by talking about an enormous snake that they had killed over there. The snakes live in the sugar cane fields and that is why no one would dare go in the field unless it was burnt down.
Mtwala is another poor part of Muhoroni. It is behing the river whose colour looked quite normal (not too dirty at the first sight). We jumped over the river (the bridge was taken by a flood) and walked up the hill. Fortunately we knew the name of the family so our search didn´t last too long. When two children saw us they started to cry hysterically. I suppose I scared them. They looked quite old but their father had to comfort them. Then he took them away. Who knows, maybe they tell them that when they are bad, a white man will come and carry them away.
The house was a bit longer than the other one, there was a tin roof. The floor was again made of a pressed soil. Inside I could see all of the family treasures – different rags, bowls, bigger vessel for water that they were taking from a stream. In the corner there was a fireplace made of stones. Next to it there was space for sleeping – nothing but a mere ground and I hoped that they would at least put some rags on it so that they would not be sleeping on the groung alone. I don´t remember if there were any windows on the house. Only small peep-holes through which the smoke could get out when they were cooking.
The boy was sitting outside – only in his T-shirt. The grandmother was working in the field meanwhile. Other children were playing – one of the boys was playing in the dirt creating a highway and instead of a car he used a small boot. The girl was cooking something in the bottle lids.
The boy was half-orphan. His mother died, his father left for Mombasa in hope for a better life. He stayed with his grandma and aunt who already had enough of her own kids. It is hard to say why he is malnutritioned and her kids are not. Of course, we didn´t speak in English and the grandma couldn´t speak Swahili either so the whole discussion was interpreted by Solo. The aunt went to bring some wood so we had to communicate with the grandma. In a while the kids saw the Mum carrying a great piece of wood, about 2 metres long, on her head (the women are able to carry anything on their heads – even a drain pipe or big tubes). Information that I got from these two women separately were contradictory. Each of them claimed something different to be true and I wasn´t sure if it was due to the translation or if someone was lying. The boy gets a lot to eat. That was, of course, a positive answer. It was 12 o´clock and the boy ate last time at 8 o´clock. That was the less positive reality. They showed me how they were preparing a squash.
Supposedly he had a low appetite. He ate everything.
It was very difficult to recognize who and when was telling the truth. Sometimes they get tangled up in their own lies. Sometimes they do them wrong.  They come with various stories and it is important to have it confirmed from another side.
What I am concerned about with the boy is that he is very weak, without life. I am sure it is because of malnutrition. We forbade the grandma to give the boy drinks from a bitter herb when he cries. Solo tasted it himself and I took a sample to be tested in the hospital. They told me that there might be some medication inside. The herb might have been the reason for his sleepiness... Although at the beginning the boy was afraid of me, then I took him to my arms and at last he fell asleep. I told them a hundred times that they had to boil the water from the stream before they use it for drinking or cooking....
We had both boys tested in the hospital. If malnutritioned children do not put on weight for a long time, they can be HIV positive or have TBC. Fortunately, both of the boys are „OK“. Now they are in the hospital and being monitored.
Monitored...? The first day I found one of the boys in bed, peed all over, sitting in his bed completely abandoned. The Mum went to take care of her two-month baby and the two-year-old was left in the hospital and the staff didn´t really notice.
I noticed he had low appetite and refused to drink milk. I came fo see him at 6pm. The other Mum told me that he had his last food at 1pm. I understood that his Mum didn´t have a choice because she had another, smaller baby at home. But I couldn´t understand that there was another Mum sitting in the same room and she knew when he ate the last time and she didn´t give him anything, she didn´t tell anyone. I didn´t understand that there wasn´t a nurse that would pay some attention to the boy. Is it what it is like in Kenya? Or is it just an exception to the rule?
I think I came to understand one thing. The nurses in the hospital used to leave their own kids at home alone and so they probably wouldn´t be very concerned about another Mum leaving her child.
One woman told me that when her kids were small she would leave them home alone, go to work and come back only to breastfeed them. She worked nearby so she heard them crying. I can hardly find words to say anything in a situation that I can´t even imagine... Two months after the delivery the mothers return back to work (if they have any). The more privileged ones have their Mums or sisters, or and older daughter (7 years old or more) or another woman that takes care of the children. The less privileged ones don´t have jobs but then it might be better for the kids. I miss compassion and empathy here. I don´t know why I can barely find it here. Maybe because the suffering is so common that it became normal for people?

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