There is a saying that a journey is not measured by the number of miles travelled but instead by the number of friends made.
Stepping off the plane after 29 hours of travel and onto Kenyan soil for the third time, I took a deep breath and drew in the familiar scent of diesel exhaust. I quickly navigated my way through the airport, rolling along two large suitcases packed at maximum capacity with vaginal specula and powder-free latex gloves until the zippers almost broke. My teammates were a few paces ahead of me, carrying seven additional suitcases, and reached our Kenyan colleagues first. Breaking through the chatter of introductions and polite welcomes, I stepped into the circle and made eye contact with Grace, whose name I yelped and whom I almost took down as I pounced atop the unsuspecting woman and embraced her. I had met Grace on my second trip with CCC. She works with International Medical Corps in Nairobi and is CCC’s main liaison in Kenya. We lived together for a week in October of last year and shared every meal in each other’s company. Seeing her again filled my exhausted body with such excitement that I sprung back to life like a jack-in-the-box and began gushing about the past year with a grin spread across my face from ear to ear.
Despite the warm reception which rejuvenated our spirits, the journey however was not over yet. The team and I still had another 6 hour drive west from Nairobi to Kisii. So we climbed into a van and made our way toward our final destination. Rainfall turned the roads into mud, and coupled with too many potholes to count, prolonged our drive by another hour. Along the way, we picked up Nurse Ephel, who swept me off the ground and spun me in the air when she saw me jump out of the van and run towards her. The rest of the week essentially played out like this scene. I ran into familiar faces every day–individuals whom I met on my past visits to Kenya and with whom I formed meaningful connections. We rejoiced in my return to this beautiful country but more importantly, that I came back with the CCC Team to bring this life-saving work to the women of this region.
Halfway through the work week, we had already screened approximately 700 women. While the team and I were thrilled at the turnout and convened at the end of Wednesday’s clinic to discuss the vast success of the program so far, Grace decided to interrupt and spring surprising news on us. “Kenyans are very last minute people, and we should expect about 400 people tomorrow,” Grace said in her softspoken, matter-of-fact way. We laughed and replied, “Right. But that would be awesome! We’d be breaking an old record of most women screened in one clinic in a day!” Sure enough, Thursday played out as Grace predicted. Unlike the previous days which were plagued by an intense downpour that resonated throughout the clinic and resulted in the placement of a metal bowl in the middle of the room to catch water leaking from the ceiling, Thursday’s skies were a clear blue backdrop against the lush green avocado and eucalyptus trees that sprung from the Kenyan soil at the hospital.
The women came in tsunami-like waves. Working at registration, my ability to manage the overwhelming surge of women that rushed to the small wooden table where I sat and my ability to act in the face of great stress were definitely put to the test. We screened woman after woman. The line, if I can even call it that, never seemed to shorten. By 5 o’clock, the hospital closed. However, our clinic did not. We continued to see the still-long line of women that had come from distances beyond imagination and waited for hours. When the last woman was seen and walked through the door, the team let out a collective sigh of satisfaction in what we were able to accomplish that day. I tallied up the total number of patients we screened and the number of individuals treated for precancerous lesions with cryotherapy, and just as Grace had said, we hit and even surpassed the 400 mark. Four hundred ten women walked through our clinic doors that day. The 46 who were diagnosed with pre-invasive cervical cancer received treatment immediately and were able to return home and care for their children with a sense of relief.
The CCC Team and I will remain in Kenya for a second week to train more local health care professionals and establish six additional “See and Treat” programs in Nairobi. Since our trip is long from over, I look forward to making new friends along the way so that I am able to greet them as old friends when I return.