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Finding Josephine

How to explain or describe an adventure that changes your view on things completely? I often find myself hitting against this wall when talking about my experience in Kenya. People ask me, “How was Kenya?” and my only response is, “It was an eye opener.”

Athi team and builders (Jamie is second left)

The problem is obviously, however many words you put on it, however many emotions you put into your words, it’ll never give the justice of what I gained and what I felt there. So please realize this as I tell you one of my experiences in Kenya.

And just for prior warning, I’ve decided to tell one of the nastier experiences, in the hope that maybe, my emotions and words (though dulled) will be powerful enough to hit you with emotions that will not only realize that poor conditions that the people of Kenya deal with, but hopefully give you a drive that will end up with you doing something completely insane like we did. Or maybe even realize, it doesn’t take much to make life for the people of Africa a better place.

My experience begins with a name, and me looking white as a sheet in fear.

The name? Josephine. The Fear? Sitting on the back of a dirt bike with a broken helmet on and begging to myself that I don’t do something to make me fall off.

Dixon (My blessed motorbike driver) had told me about Josephine before we jumped onto the bike. She was ten years old, paralyzed from the waist down. Exactly how she was paralyzed I was unsure, but Dixon made it clear that it was a medical condition that was avoidable, if the family were not so poor.

After a drive we eventually had to get off for it was too rough for the dirt bike. We started walking and after a while in the beating sun and dusty fields of Miraa trees, we finally reached Josephine’s home. There we found her wheelchair (with a broken front wheel), the family, but no Josephine.

Athi: Jamie_with schoolchildren

Dixon talked to the family for a long time, while I just pulled a confused smile as I had no idea what was happening. It was obvious to me that Josephine wasn’t there, but where she was, I don’t think Dixon was sure. I was also starting to think that the family was not even sure. Eventually though we were led by one of the young sons of the family back to the bike; he then jumped on the back of the bike and clung onto me as Dixon followed his directions.

He led us to a narrow grouping of houses back at a small town. Here we found Josephine. And this is where I found the haunting image of despair within Kenya.

This is why I said at the start that whatever I said would never explain what I experienced, but I will try my hardest to show what I saw, and what I felt.

We found Josephine in a dark room. Just a doorway to let light in. No windows. I stepped through the doorway, following Dixon, and had to instantly stop myself from stepping back out and choking. The smell was horrific to say the least. It was one of those strong smells that doesn’t leave, even after you left the place that smelt. The smell and the dark room made the atmosphere bad enough. Then I saw Josephine.

She was lying on a sort of sofa, facing towards the back of it; her bottom hanging over the edge. Blankets covered her bottom half. She engaged Dixon in a dulled conversation. Her voice was monotone. I was ignored. I think I accepted that thankfully.

Athi dining hall

I was sure I could hear Dixon trying hard to get Josephine to open up, guessing from his tones. Eventually he got her to lift the blankets. The smell suddenly grew stronger, and the atmosphere pressed on my shoulders as Josephine bared her bottom for me and Dixon to see. Two large, fleshy colored pressure sores were on her backside. Her blankets were stained with excrement, for she had been using the place she was eating and sleeping as a toilet. I shut my eyes to regain composure as I heard Dixon tut and sigh about the condition Josephine was in.

I had decided for the state of my mind I would look Josephine in the eyes, but what I saw there was probably even worse. Josephine wouldn’t meet my eyes. In the rare moments they did meet, I saw something even worse then the condition she was in. In her eyes I saw the despair of someone who had lost the will to do anything. I saw in those eyes a place where there was no confidence.

Josephine’s body could heal pretty quickly; maybe pressure sores aren’t too serious. The mental scars there though would take a lot longer.

Afterwards, Dixon promised and explained to me how he would fix the pressure sores. He also explained to me that Josephine’s family had decided it was due to witchcraft. I felt my attitude move from great sadness to a burning rage.

It took me a long time of sitting and thinking about the whole event, and replaying it in my mind, to work past my anger towards the family to realize that it’s not really their fault. It links back to the lack of help for the family.

Kenya was a great experience and an eye opener indeed. Good came with bad, hand in hand, and there is nothing that could ever explain what I felt or what I saw, but maybe this passage just hints at it.

You have to remember to take the bad experiences as well as the good, and make them drive you to higher heights. In fact, the bad experiences are an even better driving force for you to help people!

Thank you all the people I met. I hope with all my heart that Josephine finds herself again.

Jamie Hood

Note from Dan Wooding: The project that Jamie participated was organized by Hands Around The World (HATW) — www.hatw.org.uk. He was one of three volunteers who went there to help construct a wheelchair-friendly building to be used as dining facilities and kitchen for children with disabilities boarding at Athi Special School, near to Maua, Kenya. Most of the children have cerebral palsy and many are confined to wheelchairs. I had the privilege to going to Kenya back in 1976 with Jersey Overseas Aid to work at the local Methodist Missionary hospital at nearby Maua.


Jamie Hood

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