November 2, 2011

What we think we're asking

We were bumping along in the back of some truck-like vehicle without side doors, driving through the woods in a forgotten area of northern Kenya to talk to some Samburu and Rendille people, and somewhere along the way my life shed its last semblance of familiarity.

Over the hills and through the woods.

Over the last three days, as we will continue to do over the next month, we've been traveling to remote communities to ask questions about their health needs and health-seeking behaviors. What do they do when they get sick? Why do the choose to do that? How have drought and famine impacted their quality of life, with particular regards to health-care access?

At least, that's what we think we're asking. The process undergoes at least one translation along the way, sometimes up to three. Today we were communicating English --> Kiswahili --> Kiborana --> Kiswahili --> English. Sometimes I cringe at the lack of standardization, but I think we're doing quite well given the circumstances.

Traditional Samburu or Rendille house.

I'm often curious about what the people think of us. It is certain that they find us amusing, given the sporatic bursts of group laughter; probable that they find us tiresome after the first hour. In all of the other non-Nairobi places I've traveled to in Kenya both children and adults have such infrequent enough exposure to foreigners that they point and holler, "Mzungu!" as you pass. (Basically: "Look, I spy a white person!"). Here, the communities are so remote and exposure to foreigners is so incredibly minimal that most children just stare mutely.

Samburu village

That the desert grass is as spring-green as the hills of Ireland make the experience all the more surreal.

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