It’s been four weeks. Four weeks of one incredible event after another I never thought I’d manage to experience and which have brought tears to my eyes and cheek-aching smiles to my face. Every morning I wake in a surprisingly comfortable queen-size bed and find myself to, surprisingly, still be in a fully-furnished two-story yellow house that, though it has some leaks, sits in what I know to be one of the most beautiful parts of the world. I have hot water, plenty of room both inside my home and out – enough to have a garden – to have miles and miles of trails, dirt roads, “paved” roads, mountains, and valleys. I can walk to work in about 13 seconds, which if I were doing anything other than what I’m doing now, might not be that great a thing. But as it turns out, my “job” just might be the greatest gift of all. Not only do I get to see some of the strongest and most brave children on a daily basis, but I get to learn about their lives, share that story, photograph them, and watch them go through a life-changing surgery that for many, will allow them to walk or use a part of their body they were before unable to use. This is CURE Hospital in Kijabe, Kenya, and this is the best decision I don’t even feel like I’ve made.
I don’t feel like I made this choice because, simply, it was made for me. All I did was apply for the gig and found myself lucky enough to be chosen. Don’t get me wrong, I tried real hard to get here, and more than once, but ultimately it wasn’t me that said, “yes”, it was the people at CURE.
So what in the world has happened since arriving. Day one was a blur, a rush of actions and photos, movements from ward to waiting bay to operating room. Honestly, it felt like two or three days rolled into one and before I knew it I’d just witnessed two surgeries. “What even happened?”, I said to myself. Luckily, I do remember the third as I’d be hard pressed now to forget a moment of it. The feeling of watching Stephen Ngugi’s legs transform from a state where his knees were naturally so knocked they touched one another, to straight, blew me away. I felt like my life had ended and I’d been reborn. Fascination, excitement, curiosity, and astonishment consumed me. As the surgeons chiseled away as Stephen’s bones as you would hammer in a nail, I knew that coming here had already changed my life in a way I never could have imagined and that staying here would bring immense growth into my life. I came wanted to feel like I was an actor helping to achieve a goal in a world of problems and now could not shake an overwhelmingly powerful sense of resolve, nor did I want to. Thankfully, this feeling hasn’t faded, and I hope it never does no matter if I move on from CURE after this year or not. Every surgery since Stephen’s has been new, whether it’s the same surgery or not, and has left me so mesmerized and so overcome with joy that “fortunate” doesn’t come close to describing how I feel to be here.
Did I mention I’ve seen three species of monkey (black and white colobus, baboon with the red butts, and some type of bearded monkey), at least 20 species of birds, many of which are so brightly colored their feathers look Highlight-ed, had a (very) short conversation in Swahili, have met many great friends both American and African, run miles and miles overlooking the Great Rift Valley, and can’t wait for everything in store?
And oh yeah, yesterday I scrubbed in on an ankle fusion surgery! I thought taking photos of the surgeries was cool, but the view you get with your hands on the tools and the patient is utterly mind-blowing. I felt bone inside and out, cartilage, muscle, and tendons. I think an astronaut could’ve hit my smile from space.
I’ll sign off with a disclaimer that while things here for me have been nothing short of phenomenal and dream-like, seeing people as poor and needy (in the literal sense) as I have is mind-blowing in an entirely different dimension. At least for now, I’ll leave some of my photography to help tell that story, but suffice to say that if I’ve ever thought I was mistreated or that life was tough, I had no idea what on Earth I was talking about. The living conditions of some people and families here makes me first bewildered and then ashamed. It makes me ask myself what more I can do. And I’m working on that.
Feeling blessed, fortunate, guided, and joyous,