After a wonderful time of learning, and then relaxing and enjoying each other as a family in Greece, we returned to Kenya on Monday rested and rejuvenated. I felt renewed in my passion for my work at the hospital, and reminded of the privilege of being a part of an ongoing international conspiracy of restoration.
As we returned, the realities of life-on-the-edge did not hesitate to greet us. It has been quite a full-on week.
On a local scale, petty crime in Kijabe has been continuing, as is inevitable in a community in poverty. Opportunities taken if security doors are not secured while occupants are away, or smash-and-grab-through-a-window theft if valuables are left within reach. Then in the last 2-3 months there has been a spate of laptops stolen from the hospital, culminating with my & my assistant Miriam’s laptops disappearing Thursday night, Agatha Christie style, from two still-locked-the-next-day rooms – elevating the suspicion of inside jobs. The loss of a laptop is frustrating, expensive and inconvenient – an entire day lost at the police station, dusting for prints, finding serial numbers; figuring out how to keep working while trying to get a replacement here. The thought that one of our colleagues has been watching our offices, waiting with a master key for an opportunity to strike, filled me with sadness and a disappointment – that amidst so many people dedicated to others, there are some whose self-interest trumps all.
As we returned to Kijabe, it was also in the wake of a fresh spate of violence in Kenya – small scale, but increasing in frequency. Grenades thrown at buses in Mombasa on May 3rd, IEDs on a highway in Nairobi killing three and injuring scores on May 4th. Back-to-back explosions in an open air market in downtown Nairobi on May 16th, a grenade thrown at a police vehicle in Mombasa on the 22nd. Persistent angry rhetoric from nearby fundamentalists this week, indicating that these attacks are not going to end any time soon.
One of the lectures I attended in Greece was entitled “Living and Working in Regions of Conflict”. This was the thought process in my mind as I sat down to listen: Well, I live in Kenya, so I probably don’t need to go to this because we are not in the middle of a civil war or anything. But sometimes I may be a part of a team going to neighbouring countries that aren’t so stable, so I may learn something for the future. It wasn’t until I was half way through the session that I realised – oh. I have become used, over the last 3 years, to a certain baseline of potential threats that I no longer keep at the forefront of my mind. I guess I do work in a region of conflict.
We learn to adjust to a baseline of elevated awareness and alertness. And then, when new threats arise, the adrenaline levels rise again and we human animals tend to respond in one of two ways – fight in self-defense, or flight to avoid the danger. And so it has been this week – the questions from friends and family of (1) are you all okay? and (2) is it safe to stay there?
Do we choose fight or flight?
First, please know that all of us here are taking these events seriously and are monitoring the situation closely to make wise decisions. We have this week appointed a new head of security at the hospital, who is meeting with all divisions to accurately assess our baseline security situation, and to make quick essential changes to improve how we ensure the safekeeping of our patients and staff. We are submitting grant applications for improved security measures to take practical steps to continue this vital ministry in a safe way (please let me know if you have any contacts who may resonate with this project).
Know that we are closely in contact with the US and Australian embassies, listening closely to their recommendations, and following them. In the last couple of weeks, we have had three or four doctors who were planning to come and help us in times of short staffing reluctantly cancel their visits. Most of these have been trainees in US residency programs, whose bosses and families have said – the risks outweigh the benefits of this experience for you. But there haven’t been any government recommendations for evacuation of nonessential personnel from either of our home countries. We are on Twitter, making sure to avoid areas within Nairobi where there is unrest or a sense of increased threat. Each of us cares passionately about what we are doing here, but we care passionately about our families and children too and will make sure to not keep them in a place that is unsafe for them. So for now – no flight.
For now, we fight.
We fight poverty with generosity. We fight fear with faith. We fight unseen battles with prayer. We fight despair with love. We will continue to keep our ear to the ground as we live and work and to update you. In the meantime, thank you for fighting with us.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. – Ephesians 6:10-13