In which the heat gets to me, we meet some widows and wonder what the hell we’re doing…
I’m the kind of person who crosses the road to walk on the sunny side of the street. But the heat here is formidable and slows the pace of life.
We should have known we’d have a hard day as we set off for church, godless heathens putting in an appearance, just this once, in a land where everyone professes to worship God, sometimes in very strange ways.
We scrub up and wear Sunday best with scarves draped respectfully around our shoulders. The half mile walk is far enough for us to become dishevelled, scarves screwed up in sweaty hands.
All eyes swivel on to us, men and boys on one side, women and girls on the other. To our dismay, Pastor Jim (head nightwatchman at the health centre), asks George the Carpenter/Coffin Builder to translate the entire service for us. That’s two solid hours of readings from Jeremiah and warnings that we’ll die, no question, if we don’t come to The Lord.
People drift in and out, children sleep on the floor.
Top billing was Dr Ann singing “The Lord Is My Shepherd”, followed by thanks from the congregation that God led us here. Wrong. It was KLM and Kenyan Airways.
David, the Health Centre manager, makes a late entrance. “Women from England aren’t made for the heat,” he says. “They’re struggling, and that’s why they’re dressed that way.”
Our sartorial effort was wasted. So am I. Totally wasted.
Later, Nicholas leads us through the bush to give the first three beneficiaries their NHIF health insurance cards. We’ve forgotten to bring any water and within minutes, we’re parched.
Inside Caroline’s square, mud hut, she and her 7 children sit quietly. They have nothing except chairs with antimacassars on the backs, a small table and a dusty old Arsenal poster. (Well, we all make mistakes.) No toilet, no running water, no beds, an earth floor and corrugated iron roof.
Her shamba, a little plot of land around the hut, is dry to cultivate anything.
I’ve seen absolute poverty before but somehow this is overwhelming. Where do we begin and what difference will our efforts make? I’m incredibly thirsty, hot and grimy, but Caroline endures it every single day.
I’m making a film about Luo Care on my iPad and capture Nicholas handing over the insurance card and Caroline smiles and thanks us, but the children are undemonstrative. Outside, I produce bubble mixture and they spring into life, trying to catch bubbles and giggling – all except the eldest boy Humphrey who is seriously fed up.
I boss Ann around – stand here, stop talking, hold this, do that, trying to film but it’s too shady, too windy, too hot, all too much for me.
Eventually Humphrey asks if Ann will pay for his education and she says no. We can’t help everyone. We have limited funds and we’re concentrating on the widows. But it’s as plausible to the depressed teenager as Bill Gates saying, “Sorry, I’m not really all that much of a millionaire.”
Humphrey leads us across red soil and eroded gullies to the next widow.
Widow No 2 is Emily, a polio victim who walks on knees padded with rubber patches and earns a pittance stripping flesh from leaves to expose strands that are twisted into rope. She has a rudimentary invalid carriage that won’t work on the rugged ground. She owns even less than Caroline – no seats, just some plastic containers for water.
I feel like a poverty voyeur filming her. But we press on to meet widow No 3, Eunice and her two children. She smiles happily when she’s given her NHIF card.
I’m relieved to arrive home, seriously wondering what we’re doing because the widows’ existence is impossibly hard.
Ann questions how valuable education is, if the result is better educated people who are aware of their plight but cannot to lift themselves up. English is supposed to be the unifying language in Kenya but lots cannot speak it or write it. I wonder how many never go to school at all.
We both feel useless and discuss whether we’re wasting our time. But if just one person’s life improves… etc etc.
To top it all, when Ann phones Mark he helpfully warns us that 4-7 days after a cockroach dies, thousands of her eggs hatch, and they’ll all be in my bed. I’m not bothered. They’ll drown in a sea of sweat.
Click here to see Caroline and Emily on our short film (This film was made ages ago and the cost of the insurance premiums has gone up from £15 a year to £45. We still have to correct the film.)