Mike Post

Posted by on Nov 30, 2009 in Inspired by Dan

Under a Kenyan Sky – Mike Post

“Why in the world would you do that?” I let that question hang in the air for a moment and waited for the one that always came next: “Aren’t you afraid you’ll catch a disease or get kidnapped by guerillas?” I was asked these questions almost every day before I left for Kenya last summer in order to volunteer at a hospital with the non-profit organization Operation Crossroads Africa. In truth, I was afraid I would catch a disease or, worse, be kidnapped and drug out in the jungle never to be seen again. I had constant thoughts about how I might react to encountering disease, poverty, and starvation. I’ve grown up in a safe, suburban setting, and while I realize that there are extreme hardships in the world, I have not been exposed to them.


Stepping off the plane in Nairobi, I was happy to be on solid ground after a very turbulent flight from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The cold chicken that was served to us on the flight didn’t agree with my stomach, and I made the mistake of not checking to see if there was toilet paper in the bathroom first. My very first night in Kenya was a sleepless one. I was intently focused on every new sound. Just the creaking of the door to the room next to mine felt like an oncoming train. The soft annoying buzz of a mosquito trying to get underneath my mosquito net was the drum of a jet engine. I finally did sleep, though the 5 a.m. call to prayer from the nearby mosque and a single ray of sunlight piercing into my window stirred my restless sleep.

The three hour ride to the hospital where I would be working with other volunteers turned into a five hour ride as we made frequent stops along the way to let people off and pick up more. I was crammed into a three-person seat with two people on either side of me. Every time we hit a bump on the road, my head hit the ceiling. On our arrival, we were greeted by one of the nuns who run the hospital. She was a short, pudgy woman, wearing a black robe that had faded through years of service. There was a sense of strict religious authority about her. She led us to our house in the compound. My fear of living without at least some amenities was quickly put to rest: our house had running water, electricity, four solid walls, and a strong roof.

Later that afternoon as I walked through the town, all eyes were on me. Locals driving by would slow their cars to a crawl and stare. Shop merchants would pause in their doorways as I walked by. The feeling of being a minority was overwhelming. Street children ran up to me and felt my skin and touched my brown hair. They gazed into my blue eyes and I looked back into their brown ones.

This became a familiar experience. At one point during my two-month stay, my group and I were walking along the roadside passed a seemingly endless row of shacks. Each home appeared to shelter a number of children. As we passed, the children would run up to the roadside and cheer and wave at us. By the time we reached our destination, what seemed like hundreds of children had lined the roadside waving and cheering at us. I felt as if I was liberating them from something-what I don’t know.

On my first day of work, I went to a maternal and child health clinic in a small village. Our party consisted of me, three other volunteers from my group, four student nurses, and one nurse. Upon our arrival in the village, I noticed a small mud hut with a thatched room and a sign reading “General Hotel” on the doorway. I thought this to be kind of odd, thinking who would want to stay at this place. Our Land Rover came to a stop underneath a shade tree where we were greeted by an endless number of patients. Our task for the day was to immunize small babies against polio, BCG, and diphtheria. The nurses unloaded the vehicle and began to draw up the medications in syringes. The process worked like clockwork as the nurses quickly passed from one child to the next only pausing to discard the syringes and grab a new one. After this was completed, Jesse, our group leader was pulled into a half-constructed hut and told that he would see patients. Apparently the hospital staff was under the impression that we were all doctors, and they failed to send a physician with us. Being a fourth year medical student, Jesse assumed the task of seeing the other patients that day.

The next day, I started my first rotation in the pediatric ward of the hospital. The first patient I saw was a tiny child crying in a small crib. She was two or three years old, and the doctor told me she had hardly known a good day of health. Her skin was wrinkled around her body like an oversized suit, and her twig-like bones barely held her vertical. I watched the nurse try and search for a vein to draw blood. Finally, one of the nurses palpated a threadlike vessel on the child’s forehead. The child cried out for her mother as the nurse tightened a tourniquet around her head to raise the vein. Tears poured unnoticed from her mother’s eyes as she watched the needle go into her daughter’s temple. Each time the whimpering child raised her hand to brush away the pain, her mother gently lowered it. Drop by drop, the nurse managed to collect a small vial of blood.

In the medical ward I saw a sixteen-year old male convulse causing the frayed blanket he used to keep the flies away to fall to the floor. His skin was flushed, and his once youthful bright eyes seemed distant, piercing right through me. He had tuberculosis and AIDS. His seizure was due to a high fever. Tears welled up in his eyes as if he were acutely aware of what was happening but could do nothing to control the situation. Cases like these were a daily occurrence at Consolata Hospital.

Weeks later, while sitting on the beach in Mombassa, I remembered what one of the doctors had told me as I left the hospital: “On the surface, our hardships and struggles may be all that people see of us. But you have seen the simplicity and daily inspiration that we live with in spite of the political and economic strife. It is that simplicity and love for life that I want to you take back and share.” As I sat on the beach gazing up into the starry night and listening to the waves roll softly onto the beach, I remembered how prior to leaving for Kenya I had imagined that I would be the one teaching Kenyans “the right way of life.” I thought I was going around the globe to touch their lives, but it turned out they were the ones touching mine.

Mike Post is a 20-year old junior at The University of Iowa. He is majoring in pre-med, Global Studies with a certificate in Global Health Studies. For more information about the program Mike attended, Operation Crossroads Africa, visit their web site: http://oca.igc.org/web/