“You are lost my friend, you are lost.”
“What? No, my office is right around the corner.”
“You have been lost.”
Smile, handshake, hug.
Are we both speaking English? Over the course of my time in Kisumu I was always half lost. Navigating a new city, figuring out how to hail a motorcycle safely, how to eat every meal with my hands, trying desperately not to burn my tongue on fresh fried chapati.
But this day I wasn’t actually lost. I was walking into the Lumumba Health Clinic and had finally established a steady work rhythm. Beatrice, who worked at the reception, had become a good friend – but we didn’t always speak the same language. The Kenyan phrase “you are lost” meant “I haven’t seen you in a while.” Unfortunately it took me a few weeks to realize this – as with most other things.
I was in Kisumu working for a UCSF physician to coordinate qualitative interviews of HIV discordant partnerships. My approval took weeks longer than anticipated, I hired a staff that went on strike, and I never quite mastered mosquito repellant, but it was one of the most incredible summers I have ever experienced.
My goals for the summer were two-fold: get a break from medical school by adventuring into the unknown and work with topnotch UCSF and Kenyan physicians to understand health outside of my usual perspective.
The former was accomplished by living with classmates and exploring. We made weekend trips out of Kisumu and had many long lunches swapping stories of mishaps and successes. One of my favorite weekend trips was to Rusinga Island – a small island in the middle of Lake Victoria where we went boating, swimming, star gazing and devoured all you can eat Tilapia and Nile Perch. Although we were thousands of miles from the Inner Sunset of San Francisco, I still felt at home with classmates and new friends.
The latter goal was accomplished through my research project. I worked directly with Kenyan clinical officers, researchers and even learned to hire and train a team to work with me on the study. In speaking to friends and colleagues, personal insights and cultural understandings of HIV were unfolded and I was fascinated by the differences between our views and theirs. My project is still ongoing and I am working with my PI to coordinate from the US. We look forward to analyzing more concrete data, but I already feel very humbled to have worked with HIV patients, heard their stories and learned from the doctors on the ground about treating patients and their families.