Monday, June 6, 2011

World Environment Day and Knowing My Status

The parade to the event, the sign reads: The environment is our responsibility. 
 Sunday was World Environment Day and CFK had a big event to celebrate the day, although I had never heard of this particular holiday. Lindsey and I went to the CFK office early, around 8, to meet up with the participants from CFK. The first portion of the day was a clean-up in Kibera. One of CFK’s main programs is entitled Taka ni Pato, or War on Trash. This group regularly does cleanups of Kibera and works to inform the community on what to do with their trash. They have an agreement with the city of Nairobi to come and haul away their load of garbage after each regular clean-up. They also have a recycling center where they try to pick out the trash that they can sell as refuse or recycling.

Admittedly, I was hesitant to participate in whatever they meant by “clean-up of Kibera”, after spending just one week in the community. I approached the task as a trial by fire and new it would not be a pretty sight. When we met at the office, there were about 30 shovels and spades at the ready and a truck to haul the goods down to the site, about a mile away, to where the clean-up would take place. When the truck was leaving CFK, we jumped in the back and rode with about 15 other people and the tools over the bumpy path. One of the people we were with laughed and said we were being carried like cabbages. It was a funny phrase, and I was curious about where it came from. I have yet to see any cabbages in Kenya.

The truck inevitably didn’t make it all the way to where the event was being held. We reached a point where men were doing construction on the road, meaning they had a pile of rocks they were spreading around. Because this was still a pile, we were not able to go past. We jumped out and I walked with one of the participants, a PYE (peer youth educators) who had taken me on a tour of Kibera the week before. We finally reached Ndogo fields, an area that is an open area for events just like this one. After hanging around for a bit waiting for those who were following, we realized that we had missed the clean up entirely. Oops. What I managed to learn was that they dig out the trenches and put the sludge into plastic bags that get hauled away. Maybe next time…
Two guys from Taka ni Pato, their jumpsuits say "trash is cash", look out over the Nairobi Dam
At the event, and at most major events like this, CFK sets up an outreach VCT center. A VCT center (voluntary counseling and testing) is a well-known in this part of the world as the place to get tested for HIV.  CFK employs one full-time counselor and there is a collection of other people who volunteer at the VCT center, both at the permanent one at the main office or for these sorts of events. I helped them set up the room for the VCT, an empty cement room with a table and two chairs in each corner. Nothing glamorous but good enough to get the job done. The four stations were set up to receive people all day and they had a target of testing 80 people at the event. 

When the VCT staff and the PYEs who were there to mobilize people to come and get tested found out that I had never been tested for HIV, they were shocked and it was apparent that they were not impressed. I tried to explain how in America many people don’t go to get tested for HIV on a regular basis. They asked me if it was because there was no access or because there were no VCT centers around. I responded that in America those in “high-risk groups” were often targeted with testing efforts, or that people may get tested as a part of a STD screening, but other than that I doubted if many of my friends had been tested. I also explained that most Americans don’t think they are at risk for HIV. The PYEs were still not convinced this was reason enough for everyone in America to not get tested. I mentioned that I was married and that was my primary reason for not getting tested. This also did little to convince them.

How do you know your husband is not a Casanova? How do you know he has no side dish?

I laughed thinking about the side dishes that Marty did have at home – a collection of frozen food I had purchased from Trader Joe’s the day before I left.

But instead of going into all of that, I decided to get tested.

This was an interesting experience because the counselors ran me through the whole program of what she normally says, as she should have. Having read academically about VCTs for so long, it was really interesting to go through the all the paces – to talk to the counselor about how I was at risk, how I could prevent changing my negative status or passing on HIV to a partner, and then finally getting my finger pricked and the test completed. I gave my first name, my marital status, my job and my age. This information, along with my status, is collected both by CFK and sent to the national government. They use three different tests here in Kenya, and it is likely to be the same elsewhere. Once the first test is completed, if there is a positive result a second test is used to confirm. If this reads negative, a third is done as a tie-breaker. The test took about 15 minutes and I was told to read the results myself. The counselor told me that she always had the person being tested read their own results for fear that they would think she was lying to them. If it read positive, they were referred to the Tabitha Clinic for follow-up. All and all, it was an important moment and I think it was good for me to practice what I was preaching.

Watching the football match
The event continued with entertainment from the community. Songs and poems were read by some school kids about different health topics, soccer was played as usual, and there were performances from other local artists. The jump rope team from CFK performed and that was really impressive. The event was highlighted for me by an effort of CFK to plant some trees. The area that we were at is on the edge of Kibera that is adjacent to an area of land called the Nairobi Dam. At one point an actual dam, this area is where all of the run-off from Kibera ends up, resulting in a swampy area full of plants, weeds, and other greenery that feed off of the supply of fertilizer coming from Kibera.cTo plant the trees, we went to a plot of grass behind the dusty field the event was held at. Men with shovels dug holes into the ground, bringing up the earth but with it a collection of plastic bags, shoe soles, plastic toys, and other garbage buried under the ground. I thought about my geologist friends taking core samples of earth to learn the history of a place and I imagined the core samples from Kibera and what story each piece of trash 6 inches, 12 inches, 24 inches under the ground would tell.

We placed each of our trees into the holes and watered them with a single watering can. The fresh green life was a juxtaposition from the dusty and garbage filled land that surrounded them. Although my thoughts wandered into symbolic thoughts about how these trees representing hope springing from the ground, I figured that it was more symbolic in that the trees will work as hard as they can, get a little help from a stray watering can when they are able, and perhaps make it. Maybe. This reminded me of the people I had met thus far in Kibera, who I respected greatly, working hard for a chance to make it but at the end of the day rooted in a ground that was unstable and imperfect.  

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the article it a true reflection of an organization that partners with the community to reach its peak of supporting the community with both information and service.