Tuesday, July 19, 2005

At Least I'm Not Sniffing Glue in Nairobi

(Subject line courtesy of Rich's twin brother.)

Journal entry July 17, 2005, Sunday. 9:51pm.

Back in Kitui. Was nice to be in Nairobi as an independent traveller rather than a ward of the Peace Corps. It is different living in a country in the villages and communities rather than traveling through
and seeing all the attractions that the government wants foeigners to see and barely interacting with the realities of the people who actually live there. I think experiencing Kenya from both sides really makes me aware now of how much I didn't see as a traveller on holiday in Malaysia and China and especially Thailand. It makes me laugh everytime I read my Kenya Lonely Planet and compare how it's represented in the guidebook to how the real Kenya is that I've seen so far. Even the difference between hearing from our Kenyan trainers and actually talking to people in the communities - Erin's mama's womens group, my supervisor at my future site, the girls at the secondary school who have the AIDS club - or seeing the glue-sniffing kids and homeless people with gaping open wounds passed out in cenral Nairboi is really a step closer and more real and tragic.

I'm now beginning to understand how photojournalists in war zones or other places rife with death and destruction can just shoot pictures and seem not to do anything to help the people suffering before their eyes. The tragedy is overwhelming and I really fight against all urges not to try to do something and just walk away. I am realizing that it's not my role to save all these people, and the reality is that I can't. I could have given that street kid money today in Nairobi but five more would have run up to us, and giving just reinforces the idea that foreigners all have money and they are the answer to the kids' problems. Ugh. I feel like i'm just trying to justify my heartlessness now. I can't believe how desperate that girl's grip was today. When I tried to pry her hand away from Sean's, she just latched onto mine instead, with a death grip. I don't doubt she is suffering and desperate in ways most American will never know. Homeless people in the U.S. don't look at you with the terror and hopelessness that that girl had in her eyes. When we passed the guy with the giant open wound ("I'm guessing the white part is bone," Sean said.) I started imagining myself being the bleeding heart hero - kneeling down next to him, speaking in a comforting voice, dressing the wound - and then realized that even if I had my first aid kit handy and was willing to break all Peace Corps rules about using our med kit to treat others - really, would that one dressing healing a six-inch chunk of missing flesh? And then wouldn't the mob that would then descend upon me begging for meds for their own ailments end up trampling me deep into the cracks of the sidewalks of Nairobi? It's not my role to rescue random people here, but isn't there some good Samaritan philosophy that says that if I can then I should try?

I walk past so much everyday without batting an eye, most of the time barely feeling any guilt anymore, because I've resigned myself - maybe since the day I arrived - to the idea that I can't save the world. Ugh. Justifying my passivity and inaction again. I still think about the woman who stopped me on Mombasa Rd and asked for money to feed her kids. Saying no here is so different from saying no in America. It feels so much more heartless.

On a lighter note, during my future site visit last week I saw: flamingos, zebras, some type of antelope or gazelle, that iridescent blue bird, some crazy crested cranes, werid gray storks, snowy cranes, and black monkey, a bunch of baboons and a giant cow at the girls' school. At one point it looked at me and said, "Yum, that mzungu looks tasty. I want to eat her." That cow didn't get to be that big from eating just grass and maize. There were some mzungus in that belly and I heard them knocking to get out. "Hodi! Hodi!" they said. (Hodi="knock, knock")


Blogger Patrick said...

I love your stories Justina, keep them coming. When are we going to see some pictures of Kenya? -Pat

7:47 PM  

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