Caught in Between

19 08 2011

By Joy Liu

My time in Muhuru Bay has come to an end. The last weeks were divided between work on the project, painting a mural, and visiting students and friends I treasure spending time with. The most pressing task in the last two weeks was writing a report of our program evaluation on childhood vaccination. The end result was a 35-page document that detailed our purpose, methodology, data, analysis, case studies, recommendations, and further areas of research, among others. To summarize, we discovered that the problem with low immunization rates in Muhuru centered around defaulting. Most mothers began immunizations for their children, but failed to follow up for subsequent immunizations. Only 9% of the mothers we surveyed reported having their children fully immunized. Barriers identified included distance, fee, stock-outs, and prevalence of traditional beliefs. We made both short-term and long-term recommendations to the clinic outlining steps we believe would increase immunization rates based on the data collected. In our final days at Muhuru Bay, we did a series of three presentations to the community (mostly composed of community health workers), the clinic, and the district public health office. In each, we outlined our findings and recommendations. Following this, we answered questions and listened to comments and suggestions from the attendees. It was important not only for communicating our findings, but also in establishing a solid relationship with the community.

As I begin processing and reflecting upon the entirety of my experience this summer, I think what stands out most to me is the community. When I walk into the local town during its busiest hour, I’m aware of just how many contrasts exist. It’s like a society caught between two worlds-the traditions and customs that have been present for decades and the effects of globalization. It’s marked in the small clustered storefronts that sell Cola-Cola and Sprite and Fanta. It’s the women walking to the lake in the morning to fetch water like their mothers and grandmothers before them, only with plastic buckets and metal cups decorated with generic flowers and patterns. It’s the darkness of the small huts made from earth, but filled with bright calendars and posters, sofas and chairs, and merchandise that range from Dora the Explorer to purses inscribed ornately with the word Paris. The people seem to move in between the two worlds seamlessly, but the clash (or blend, depending on which way you think about it) of the two worlds is present in views and opinions. One of the conversations that left the deepest impression on me occurred during my last night at Muhuru when I talked with an employee of WISER. He received a degree of education, followed the news almost religiously, was aware and opinionated on many issues, and stressed to me multiple times the importance of educating women. But he also believed that a woman had specific roles in the household and that the man possessed the decision-making power in the household. He defended the prevalence of polygamy and believed that the way a woman showed love to her husband was predominantly through cooking and housework. The fact that all these views can coexist in someone I considered rather liberal and idealistic really made me think. His physical surroundings and mindset both harbor elements from the old and the new. He moves in between the two.

And as for me? I’m caught somewhere in the middle as well. The community has welcomed the Duke students more quickly and openly than I ever anticipated. What stands out to me most about my experience this summer are the connections I made-the stories and memories I now think back to. I think of the time I met a young boy running an errand for his father and somehow we ended up huddled together reading a book in an empty classroom of his primary school. I think of the first time I met the student I was most reluctant to say goodbye to-an encounter entirely by chance. I wasn’t supposed to be there that day, but a spontaneous decision on my part led me to him. Before I left, he told me that I reminded him of his mother-the person he speaks about with the most love, the person whose long absence from his life has left the largest unfilled hole. I think of the time a WISER employee told me how he met his wife with a distant, soft gaze in his eyes. He’s a rather quiet man, but he confessed to me that he often thinks how amazing it was that he was there at the right place at the right time. Otherwise, his life might have turned out entirely different. His words now echo in my mind, because that’s my perception of my time in Muhuru. So many chance encounters, so many conversations and interactions that I can’t imagine not having now. I’m torn between that world and my life at Duke.

But maybe being caught in between a good thing. It’s a position I never expected to be in, perhaps because I’ve never become so attached to a place so quickly. I wish I could tell you why, how, everything I learned, and how I’ve changed from the experience. But I can’t. I can’t articulate much of it right now, except to say that it has impacted me in a way I would have dismissed as impossible two months ago. It has made me the person in the middle, moving between two worlds, comparing and contrasting, processing and reflecting. I’m caught in between.

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One response

12 09 2011
Sherryl Broverman

Joy. A truly wonderful entry. You capture so well the joy and poignancy of living and working in Muhuru Bay and becoming part of a new community.

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