I stepped off the plane into the Nairobi night, expecting to be hit by a wall of heat, like I’d read in books. I was waiting for something akin to opening the door of a blast furnace and stepping inside, the cool, air-conditioned plane switched for a boiling inferno in spite of the late hour.
It was warm. Pleasantly so, but only warm.
I confess, I was the tiniest smidgen disappointed, but thought to myself that I would nonetheless make the best of things. I snuggled my jacket closer around me and descended the stairs, lugging my bag at the end of my tired arm. Walking across the tarmac, I breathed deeply – great lungfuls of warm air that smelled of heat and dust and fuel and…something almost spicy; an underlying, faint but very distinct difference to the air in England.
I grinned widely in spite of my tiredness. I could smell AFRICA!
At about that point, I noticed the crescent moon lying on its side in a bright, shining smile, and decided I was going to enjoy Kenya very, very much.
I travelled to Kenya thanks to my work, which allowed me to join in the tail-end of an existing project aimed at instigating and improving methods of infection control in four eye-care hospitals near Mombasa. Several nurses from Kenya had come to visit our hospital in May 2016, and I had made friends with Lillian, who was trying to set up a diabetic eye screening service in the district of Kwale, where she worked. We emailed back and forth from that visit onwards, and I was invited to come and see the setup she had got going. News of the project which had enabled their initial visit was sent to me, and I admit I did everything in my power to ingratiate, inveigle, and otherwise insert myself into the workings and hopefully a trip out there.
Ten days before we flew, I was given the official thumbs up. I was GOING!
There ensued a huge scramble to get ready, have the relevant injections, find suitable clothes, take insurance security quizzes and wonder what the likelihood really was of being kidnapped by pirates.
Somehow everything lined up, and on the day, I was set – ready to meet my colleagues and companions for the trip, and tasked with the job of data collection for the entire trip, as well as providing some evaluation of the current provision of diabetes care, particularly retinal screening (my field).
I had an AMAZING week – utterly incredible, mind-blowing, life-changing – indescribable.
Except I want to describe it. I want so very much to share some of the stories from that week, and explain some of the things I saw and the thoughts they inspired. I am so looking forward to it. But here’s the thing – I don’t want to do it for free. I want to ‘sell’ my stories in return for donations to the eye centre where Lillian works, because I want these stories to do more than just share my viewpoint and bring you a vicarious Kenya-flavoured thrill – I want them to achieve something. I want them to save lives.
Because in the region of Kenya where those hospitals are, there is a poverty level of about 70%. People live hand to mouth, and if they can’t work and there’s no-one to take care of them, they die.
If they’re blind, they can’t work, and in that region of Kenya, where blindness is a death sentence, roughly 80% of it is preventable.
And the cost of commuting that death sentence e.g. with cataract surgery to restore sight, is roughly 7750 Kenyan shillings – about £60, or $75.
For me, that’s about a day’s wages, give or take. For someone with no money at all, trapped in a system which keeps them dirt poor, it’s an impossible amount. For Kwale Eye Centre, it’s a pie-in-the-sky number which comes through donations or not at all, as they refuse to turn people away for lack of funds – they treat them anyway, sometimes in exchange for a goat or a chicken…sometimes just for a smile. But they are committed to combatting preventable blindness. They are saving lives.
And I want you to help me do that, too.
As a writer I’ve always believed that words are live-saving. I hope you’ll help me prove it.
Here’s the list for Kwale Eye Centre’s ‘Eye Give’ online shop, where you can donate a specific amount, with examples of the difference it can make.
The following stories were sold in return for donations to Kwale Eye Centre, and now I am going to post them here, and hope you might continue to support their wonderful work.
A Glorious Speech
The Colours of Kenya
An Evening Out (with an Alarming End)
Oh The Disparity
Thanks for tuning into this very first post in my exciting new series. I hope you like the stories to come.
*I *will* send it, promise, in as timely a manner as I can, especially if all my stories sell out at once!** It will be first come, first served, okay?
**Might as well be super-hopeful, right? It’s for a good cause, after all.