Rosie Leake / Adventurer  / 
Mind over Matter: Mbita Kenya - Hospital Ward

story / Guest Story / December 17, 2018

We hope that you have enjoyed Rosie’s adventures this year. We couldn’t be prouder of her for …well trying to actively make the world of some of the most unfortunate a better place! If I said that I hadn’t felt a little (very) guilty at not doing more whilst reading her stories this year, I’d be lying. 

So here lies the final excerpt of her trip to Kenya, which we haven’t filled you in on so far. Rosie construction managed a hospital ward in a very rural part of Kenya. I’ve put a little map below of where she was:

The build had similar sort of precarious safety standards as her work in India. Compounded by the complexities of building an actual building rather than a playground. But the impact on the community cannot be understated – projects like this are life changing for a whole region.

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Hello from the finish line! 

Since my last email we have been busily  working away to get the project done in time for my departure. The finishes trades have thrown no real curveballs, yet every day there is something to be in awe at. Plastering of the walls is by far the most intriguing and skilled process, something I have never been exposed to from my usual world of drywall. Power tools have only appeared once or twice with grinding the window frames or drilling for fixing. The majority of the works are ultimately man power and skill. Every trade is a lengthy process, such as carpentry, hand sawing and hand planing of timbers, while frustratingly slow are mesmerising to watch.

Outside the building, we have been digging for a placenta pit, unfortunately we hit solid rock. The MVP (80 year old, digging labourer) collected an old car tyre and lots of timbers, placed them all into the hole and set it on fire. The heat helped to break the solid rock up, who would of thought, pure African randomness and genius! 

In reflection, my time in Mbita on the ward project has presented a range of professional and personal challenges. The overwhelming factor being the patriarchal society, the bias, disregard and objectification which comes with it. Women in charge are rare (one person even asking if women can be engineers?!!) and adding that to the nature of an outside organisation coming in to aid another, the internal politics and hierarchy issues that creates, there were some challenging times. While I am used to dealing with men with ego issues in construction, this is where I really noticed the absence of fellow women in the workplace, it is no lie that strength comes in numbers if only for moral support.

The other major hurdle was with authority approvals, ridiculous processes and the resulting bribery. We had the ministry of health essentially reject the finished building design even though they had reviewed and stamped the concept design. This lead to arguments, redesign and the NGO being forced to spend additional funds (oh and the MOH official asking me out to dinner and drinks among the unpleasantness, no sir, no).

As I mentioned previously, safety concerns are hourly and I use the sentence ‘recipe for disaster’ so much the labourers now refer to me only as that as I stroll by. Thankfully, I have been incredibly lucky with the contractor we have on site. He is truly knowledgeable, professional and a genuine legend in his approach. Maybe it is due to him being the father of 4 women, or being of a younger generation but there was never any underlying uncomfortable gender (or other) issues in our working relationship. 

Living alone in rural Kenya (as you might have guessed) generates a certain level of isolation. I have lived in remote communities before and being an introvert it has never really bothered me, but the added level of language and cultural barrier was something I hadn’t expected. Even in crowds or over the lunch table, there is a loneliness which comes from not understanding the conversation (which here, is a combination of local dialect, Swahili and English). My housing compound has 4 homes, but I am the sole occupant (with the exception of the bloody monitor lizard which lives under my house).

The power goes out most days so I spend a lot of time ‘indoor camping’ aka sleeping when it goes dark and waking when the roosters start in the morning. It is particularly problematic when the power is out for multiple days; the absence of my phone, lights for reading or laptop and Netflix can get pretty boring. This probably also ties into the gender thing, because rarely do I feel safe walking alone in the evenings or going down to the local hotel for a drink.

Women here have very traditional roles, mostly spending time in their homes, doing domestic duties and raising huge families – the largest family I have come across is 32 siblings, 4 wives (polygamy is legal) with one wife having 14 children! When I am out alone in the day, men watch me like a hawk, constantly cat call and often ask for my number, relentless doesn’t even seem appropriate. Even the man at immigration wouldn’t stamp my new visa without getting my number. 

This all ties into how beautiful, friendly and lighthearted Kenyans are though. They couldn’t be more welcoming to their country, hoping to marry you off so that you will stay. In the community they have been particularly welcoming to me as the excitement for the hospital ward builds. Currently women walk quite the distance to deliver babies, this facility will be a game changer for health services and employment in the area. The workers are constantly laughing away at each other, while I don’t follow the conversation often, it is a trait w

hich reminds me of Australian banter. Knowing my fear of night runners, which are essentially a tribe who run around naked at night scaring people in their homes (WHAT EVEN), the workers are often making fun of my fears, having a laugh at my inability to successfully eat without cutlery and pushing my distaste for their favourite meal ugali. 

As my time on the project was coming to an end, I decided to leave another little stamp on the community, a playground! Due to the presence of the mortuary, you can purchase a coffin on your way into the clinic, which is incredibly morbid. With ambition to counteract this and the skills I learnt in India, I thought it could be fun to self-fund a little bit of joy in the grounds. ‘Rosie’s Rainbow’ has not only created some fun for the children visiting, but also reminded the adult staff that you are never too old to play. Now all the workers want to get some tyres and build one at home. Perfection! 

Saying goodbyes are never easy, especially when you have come to the end of an incredible, challenging, rewarding and humbling project. But with an awful hippo attack claiming two lives and a murder occurring in the village the week of my departure, it seemed like a fitting time to be moving onto the next adventure. I will miss the pure joy of the local children yelling ‘muzungu’ as I walk by, the friendly smiles of every stranger you pass, the incredible community at the clinic and network of friends I have created. When I set out on this year, endeavouring to leave a little positive stamp on this world, I could have only dreamed of this opportunity in this community and for this I am incredibly thankful.

Hope you are all well, miss your faces, stay legendary. 

Rosie xx

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