Journey to Ziwa   3 comments

Friday, May 1, 2009
Tuyambe Village, Ziwa, Kenya

During my time in the NICU, the team was lead by Dr. Melly, a young doctor recently graduated from medical school.  Dr. Melly is a pleasant and engaging physician who, more than many of his older colleagues, values the contributions of his foreign guests on the wards.  He has a warm sense of humor and is passionate about the practice of medicine.  May 1st was a holiday in Kenya (labor day) and those people who turned up for rounds did so in casual clothes ready to enjoy a long weekend.  When rounds were completed, Dr. Melly asked Justa (a medical student from Brown University) and me if we would like to join him for dinner at his grandmother’s home.  Neither of us could turn down the offer.  We were joined by Anita and Kalpana who worked closely with Dr. Melly on the OB ward as well as our hired driver Francis.

Ziwa is a town populated by the Nandi people.  It is a lush green region bordered by the Nandi Hills 50 kilometers from Eldoret.  The closer we came to Ziwa, the more the roads deteriorated.  Pavement became bumpy and pitted with pot holes then finally the road became red clay with stones mixed in.  Often, we drove in what appeared to be creek beds.  We stopped by the home of Dr. Melly’s parents to pick up his brother and nephew who also wished to visit their grandmother and descended into the valley where she lived.

Dr. Melly is one of 70 or so grandchildren that can be claimed by his 84 year old grandmother who comes from the village of Tuyambe.  She lives in a mud house with a corrugated steel roof built for her by her sons.  The house sits on a flat clearing half way up the side of the valley.  Cows and sheep graze in the fields nearby.  Chickens and cats wander in and out of the open windows and doors of the small house.  Other houses and mud huts surround the central house and are the homes of family members and neighbors.  As we approached the home, people began to emerge from the fields, faces looked out of windows, and grandmother emerged on her porch to greet her visitors.  We were ushered into the small house where water was poured over our hands and we were served a meal of chicken, rice, chepati, broth, and tea.  Fresh milk sweetened with charcoal was served.  Grandmother stayed in the kitchen and did not eat with us as is their tradition.


When the meal was over, we emerged from the house to find that many more people from the village had come to meet us.  It is customary for the Nandi to share their visitors with their neighbors.  We photographed the families and children, and the villagers laughed with excitement to see their pictures on the digital screens of our cameras.  Dr. Melly asked us to join him at the front yard where a small hole had been dug in the earth by the front gate.  “Our family has a tradition of planting a tree to remember those who visit us.”  As we gathered around the hole, a small blue gum sapling was brought to us.  We each helped lower the tree into place and used our hands to fill the hole with red earth.  Water was again brought and poured over our hands onto the tree.  As we stood, the villagers began to sing a cheerful song of welcome.  A series of decorated gourds were brought and grandmother gave one to each of us in turn.  Next, a large potted plant was given to the group so that we could take something growing back to Eldoret from Ziwa.  We brought from the car gifts that we had purchased in town; a bolt of cloth, flour, sugar, soap, rice.  We wrapped grandmother in the cloth as is the tradition here.  As the singing came to a close, it marked the end of our visit.


Before leaving the house, we climbed up to the ridge of the valley to see the whole of the village.  As we walked, children from all over the village rushed to join us.  They were shy, but loved to have their pictures taken and play with their foreign visitors.  As dusk approached, we loaded back in the car to go visit Dr. Melly’s parents.  As in the valley, we were warmly received.  Here, a series of five holes had been dug for each of us (including Francis) to plant trees.  Mine was a guava tree.  We entered the house and were offered chepati and tea.  Dr. Melly’s sisters and several neighbors joined us.



As the light faded, lanterns were lit.  A gentle rain beat on the steel roof.  Father and mother sat at a table by the kitchen and welcomed us with blessings spoken in Swahili several times during the visit.  All of us were enveloped in the warmth and serenity of the evening.



A calm announcement quickly changed the mood of the room.  Word came that a child from the valley was sick and was being rushed to see the visiting doctors.  Dr. Melly is the first doctor from his village and news of his arrival had spread quickly.  It was now a dark moonless night and while the rain had subsided, the roads now more closely resembled creek beds.  We heard the whine of an engine in the distance.  With flashlights in hand, we walked to the road to find three adults and one infant crowded onto a motorcycle.  We ushered the mother into the house.  The baby was one year old and had started crying in pain several hours ago.  The mother took her baby to a local medicine man who told her her boy’s testicles had reentered his body and he was very sick.  After taking a thorough history, we took the mother and child into the entranceway of the house with a lantern and examined the sleeping infant.  Not only were the testicles both normally descended, there were no signs of illness at all.  Our diagnosis; a first time mother with a perfectly healthy child scared by a local medicine man.  We took the relieved mother back inside where she was given tea and chepati in preparation for the journey home.  Our group insisted on driving her back to the valley unwilling to let her get back on the motorcycle with her infant.  We said goodbye to our hosts and headed into the night with our patient to return him home.

Waving goodbye to the family, we drove out of the valley towards the road to Eldoret.  All of us agreed that we had seen the heart of Kenya that evening.  We have all experienced the poverty of the cities, the sorrows of the wards, and the struggles of this country.  Our evening in Ziwa is the Kenya we all want to remember.


Posted May 4, 2009 by chrislux in Travel

3 responses to “Journey to Ziwa

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  1. What a great story, Lux! I feel like I was there…

  2. Love to hear you are doing well. Nice work there!

  3. Hi Chris! I love your blog. Great stories and photos!

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