Zuri Watoto Wote

My thoughts go back to Kenya……..

Posted in AIDS Orphans, HIV in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 04/15/2012

I have had a lot of time to ponder since I returned from Kenya two months ago. In spite of the busyness of my life here, my thoughts frequently go back to my experiences there and the ongoing connections through email and phone calls and even in person with my fellow volunteers have kept it all very much alive. I also have received emails from Kenya including follow up from Lilian about her clients whom I saw in the Village. My attempt to present some of my experiences to my colleagues at the hospital reminded me that I always have volumes to share in too little time and that my exuberance and passion in sharing these experiences is something that everyone notices. I have tried to write a short article for a professional newsletter and struggled with how to put the experience into words with the right balance of facts and details for the reader with the powerful feelings that came with doing the work in Kenya. One comment that I often make is that the Kenyan people have a remarkable way of speaking authentically from their hearts, that they are not inhibited about doing that which contributes to making the experience so touching. It’s a way of connecting that I wish would happen more here because it seems we have lost some of our capacity to be that open in expressing ourselves eith the fast pace of life and its many demands and the turn to technology for communication. I feel however that there is an exception to that kind of heartfelt communication that I have grown to value in my interactions with the Kenyan people. This has to do with talking about grief and loss. I cannot identify this as a generalization of all Kenyan people since I have had far too little experience to make such an observation. However, it is an observation that has struck me in the course of my time spent with people there.  In Nyumbani Village all the residents have had very powerful personal experiences of loss. There are 900 children who have lost there parents to AIDs and many have lost other close relatives as well. There are almost 100 grandparents many of whom have lost their children to AIDs. However, there seems to be a powerfully strong culture of silence around grief and loss. No one seems to speak of it. In  the counseling center when interviewing clients I was often told tragic stories about losing loved ones, often a string of losses that was profoundly sad to hear, but was told in a hushed voice as if to say that there was something unspeakable about it.  The most striking example was an adolescent girl who told me of losing both parents when she was very young, then her grandmother, then her uncle, all of whom had parented her. However she also told me that talking about these losses was a “secret” and that she had never talked about them before. The idea that there is a silence about such painful losses has stuck with me and has made me wonder about those photos that I have captured of those soulful, almost sad looking children’s faces–maybe those are a fleeting glimpse of what is unspoken.

I have given this some thought and talked with Lilian and Lloydie about some possible ideas I have for how to address this. I think perhaps an annual ritual of remembrance honoring those lost could be a step towards helping this community to share the burden of each other’s grief in a healing way. This would need to be done thoughtfully, embracing the culture of the village and with the blessing of those who oversee its care. This could be powerful shared experience in which people come together without actually individually saying very much or anything at all yet still give a voice to some silenced feelings that could be acknowledged in the sharing through song and ritual. One of the wonderful aspects of knowing that I am committed to returning to Kenya each year is that it gives me an opportunity to think about not only what I can do in the time that I am there, but also what could be helpful over the longer term. This is a shift in my connection and commitment that I am delighted to embrace.

9 Responses

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  1. sharon tardiff said, on 04/16/2012 at 6:25 am

    So are all the pictures of smiling faces and the dancing and hugging really real ? Or a way of getting the hurt and sadness out…

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    • Patricia Arata said, on 04/16/2012 at 8:06 pm

      So beautifully written Lynn. Loss has such a profound impact on a person’s soul. Sadly, so many don’t take the time to value what is most important. Perhaps the Kenyan’s are secretive about their grief as a way to retain their dignity and strength…not in an egotistical way but in a way to survive with some sort of emotional resiliance. It reminds me of so many WWII vets, maybe in a different way…but so many were very private about their painful experiences. I always ultimately ask the question…why do so many have to suffer? It overwhelms me at times. On a lighter note…did you see a Kenyan won the Boston Marathon!

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      • Lloydie said, on 04/20/2012 at 4:56 pm

        I think the men’s and women’s winners were Kenyan… could that be true… imagine!

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      • Lynn Ouellette said, on 04/20/2012 at 5:42 pm

        The Kenyans won the first, second, AND third places, BOTH men’s and women’s! They are some gifted runners!

        Sent from my iPad

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    • Lynn Ouellette said, on 04/20/2012 at 5:36 pm

      They are absolutely real because people in the Village really know how to celebrate life in spite of its hardship. I think that their strong faith helps with that and their gratitude for what they do have. But it iOS possible to have these feelings simultaneously with grief and sorrow for what or whom has been lost. They are all real feelings.

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  2. Lloydie said, on 04/17/2012 at 5:33 am

    And we are thrilled with your commitment. The Nyumbani family will be better for your presence and YOU will just become more amazing with each visit! Let’s launch your idea of a Night of Remembrance when we return in January 2013. What profound effects this could produce, all because one person, YOU, tried to make a difference and did! You rock my world, Lynn! Keep up the great work!

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  3. Sharon said, on 04/22/2012 at 7:13 am

    On the news this morning there was a report on Africa water supply. If you google African water maps it should be there. Could be great news for water problems. Sharon

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