Mabel, Margaret, the state of HIV in Kenya

Sunday 21st July

Mabel, Margaret, the state of HIV in Kenya, and the Extravagant Jumble Sale

Mabel and Margaret are two of those redoubtable, unstoppable women who can be found everywhere on the African continent. They know their own minds, they have presence, plans and the steely determination to see those plans through. Women like them were the inspirational driving force behind the Home Based Care Schemes, set up in the early days of the HIV epidemic when many people were dying fast of AIDS related illness.

These two particular women seem delighted to see each other when we meet in the lobby of the hotel I am staying in – perhaps because it is a while since they have seen each other. Mabel formerly provided technical oversight for all of Mildmay’s programmes. Margaret was part of the Mildmay Kenya finance team. Both women are now working in a consulting capacity for Mildmay.

The meeting was one of the most inspiring meetings I have had in a long time.

They explained Mildmay’s programmes to me with great knowledge, insight and enthusiasm. One key thing that kept coming through is the fact that Mildmay is seen as a leader in many areas in the countries where we work. Our expertise in Home Based Care and subsequently Cell Based Care for people living with HIV in prisons are particularly well known. This is why we are keen to take the seed of the work that has been done in the prisons and to turn it into something bigger. This was a central part of our discussions today – more about this in later diary entries.

The last time I visited Africa it was South Africa in 2007, when the Home Based Care workers were still faced with critically ill people in huge numbers.

But as the women talked today, a new picture began to emerge of HIV on the African continent. Not a picture of death, devastation and fear; but one of fewer deaths, a brighter outlook and increased knowledge- especially amongst the youth. But the picture also had its dark side as the women talked of the illness entering a new, as yet undocumented stage –people on antiretrovirals growing older and developing new problems, including HIV Associated Neurocognitive Disorders (HAND). It is a picture where TB and HIV develop hand in hand, in a way that makes it almost impossible to treat one without treating the other. Equally it is a picture where poverty continuous to create enormous discrepancies in the fate of people living with HIV – allowing some people to live long happy lives, while others die.

Anyway, it was a great meeting and the parting comment from them both was that Mildmay is always uppermost in their minds and thoughts – and they will focus on Mildmay above any other projects and plans they might be working on, even though they are now both working part time for the organisation. That is surely an accolade for the work in itself.

My one regret is that I didn’t ask for a photo of Margaret and Mabel together, as they were both decked out in their Sunday best – matching skirts and tops tailored for them in hand picked African fabrics – Margaret’s blue and white, Mabel’s yellow and mahogany. Perhaps I will have to ask them to take one and send it over??

Besides meeting with these Mildmay stalwarts, today was the day I actually arrived in Nairobi – although touchdown at Jomo Kenyatta airport at 6 this morning already feels a lifetime ago. After getting a lift to the hotel with John the Baptist taxi company (disclaimer: he is actually a Catholic – it is just a nickname), I had a quick shower, a really good breakfast  of all sorts of exotic fruit, banana stew and breads and headed out to check out the church down the road.

This was a massive Pentecostal affair, with around three thousand people present, a fantastic gospel choir who gave a performance I would have paid to see, and a suitably fervent preacher. I was also intrigued to see that they were advertising an ‘Extravagant Jumble Sale’ to raise church funds, at which members of the congregation were being exhorted to bring high worth things to sell such as “Land, houses, vehicles, computers, furniture, livestock, farm equipment, clothes etc.” (Land?! Houses?! Farming Equipment?!)

Anyway, it was quite an experience – and guess what the Pastor preached on? Yep, prisons. He even told a story about when he was accidentally sent to Kitera prison – a case of mistaken identity.

Other impressions of today – it is decidedly chilly and overcast. Much more like a UK summer than the summer we have currently. Oh and I also managed to fit in lunch at the Thorn Tree Café where Ernest Hemingway used to eat, a trip to a wildlife park to see orphaned baby elephants being fed (ridiculously cute), and finally I hand fed a giraffe – the long blue-black tongue curling around to sweep a pellet of food off the palm of your hand is a curious sensation. Well, it is Sunday after all!

Tomorrow, the office and then Kisumu for project visits. Can’t wait.

 

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