Burning Un-burning

As this month ends, I hold God in great awe yet again. He preserves lives – does what He wants to do.

The house I live in and the flats behind us, hold a special position in our neighborhood by being right next to the electrical transformer. In the last about six months we have had three occasions where something happened to the poles and transformer and a fire, akin that of Moses’ Burning Bush, explodes on the line that connects our house to the main one and hangs low over the balcony. Its a Moses Fire as it burns big and bright, ‘speaks’ like thunder and yet does not seem to burn anything. It always happens when there is no one on the balcony and for that I am grateful, but each time, leaves us traumatized with the ‘what ifs’.

Last night was different and yet the same. 7:30pm finds us in the family room with Gio; Shukri was on the stairs coming up and saying something, Leroy was busy doing something in his room. The first explosion was very loud and the fire burnt bright, switching off our lights and then dying out as the lights came back on. All these must have taken place in a minute or two but it seems like hours to us who were caught in it. Gio was immediately on my side. The second and third explosion find me reaching down for him and partway down the stairs calling out to Leroy and Shukri to follow us outside. My feet felt like lead and for a second I wondered if there was anything in the house that I could go back for, but my arms were holding all they could – Baby Giovanni.

At the bottom of the stairs I put him down and he reached up to me and said “I am scared.” I carried him and ran out of the house as the fourth explosion came, wondering why Leroy and Shukri were not right behind me. It felt as though the house was shaking – but Shukri told me later it wasn’t. Outside the house Gio repeats “Dani, I am scared, let us go back into the house.” I quickly explain as I run to the gate calling out for Leroy and Shukri, that the house was about to catch fire and we were safer outside. Leroy was apparently in the middle of sending out that all important text, Shukri had noticed that I was carrying her son out barefoot and had gone back upstairs to get his little shoes. Gio and I were outside the gate looking up and then down at the lines that had come undone and were now on the bush that fences the house. I found out then the entire immediate neighborhood had been drawn out of their houses by the noise and huge sparks…

After about 20 minutes of traumatizing one another with frightening discourse among the group of neighbors gathered in the road in front of our house, we all went back to our houses. Surprisingly, we still had electricity, though a line of neighbors did not. We had a ‘normal night’ except for the baby that was especially clingy as I prayed and asked God not to allow us to die in an electric fire, but if this was what was coming to this house – to move us again. This morning the technicians from KPLC were telling me as they worked that it could kill someone, because its a live fire that searches for something to attach itself to…that we needed to switch off the lights from the mains when that happens…but thinking about how far downstairs was last night…I don’t know…if it even possible to reach there on time without God…I hope we never have to find out… I am just grateful for today.

“…When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, and the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…”
Isaiah 43:2-3

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The Boda-Boda Saint Named Gordy

gordy-and-the-12-bodaboda-men-of-bunyala2The man arrives at the health center late into the night. He is helped by a community health volunteer, and between them, they support a wailing pregnant woman. All of them are wet, and bloody. A nurse takes the man’s place and supports the woman to the labor ward while the man gets someone to sign a little book and then leaves into the night. He is back two hours later, in different clothes, equally wet, equally bloody, this time he is holding a baby in one arm, while supporting a tired woman with his other. The nurses rush towards him and relieve him. They know him well. He is here almost every night. He is not staff, he is a perpetual good Samaritan.

gordy-with-baby-hildaWe traveled to Bumula sub-county, Bumula village to find out from the 34 year old married father of three Godwin Simiyu Wanyonyi (Gordy) just why he does what he does. Many men would probably rather walk through fire, than be with a woman, for any period of time, who was in labor, especially in the latter stages, even when it is their wife or close relative. But in Bungoma County we met, not just one, but 13 of 23 men with a different perspective. And just in case you are thinking that Bungoma County has hoarded Gynecologists, you are wrong. These are ordinary men, Boda-Boda riders with a calling that leads them to choose to be around pregnant women in labor, to support them by taking them, free of charge, to a health center for medically assisted deliveries.

“I don’t know why, but most women give birth at night,” begins this hero in Kiswahili. “Some nights I get as many as three urgent calls. I respond to all. Many of them are in advanced stages of labor and this for me means that we sit on blood and water all the way to the health center. Sometimes we make it. Sometimes the baby comes on the way to hospital, and I never shy away from the challenge of helping out. Most times the lady is accompanied by a Birth Companion, a Community Health worker, her mother in law or a female relative. Sometimes, like last week, it’s just the two of us.”

Even in the best of times, the rush to hospital when in labour is, to say the least, uncomfortable for most women with the ever present risk of losing the mother or child to the journey. This is even more challenging in the counties outside the capital. In some places, women are ferried on the back of Lorries transporting quarry stones in attempts to save their lives and those of their soon to be born babies. gordy-taking-a-woman-into-healthcareBernard Mare, a Transport Officer with the Ministry of Health Bungoma explains “Many places in the County are inaccessible to regular ambulances due to climatic and infrastructural challenges. Many homes are at least 5kms from the nearest health centers and can only be accessed through footpaths, sometimes mountainous like in the Mount Elgon areas. When it rains, and it is night, family and community members here either use makeshift stretchers with blankets to carry women either  to the centers or to a waiting Bodaboda at more level places. Some are brought in on wheelbarrows. Bodabodas, though considered dangerous by most, is the way most people get anywhere these parts of the country, so it makes sense to encourage their use, with caution of cause.”

“I have been a Boda-Boda man for 9 years, and whenever I see someone sick, I help  them – for free. I think this is what built my regard in this area, but I didn’t know just how much until the election. In June last year, the sub-chiefs angordwinnounced in the markets and in the villages around that they were looking for a Bodaboda man to help the villagers get to hospital, especially in the night. They, the Government, GlaxoSmithKline and Save the Children, had laid out about ten requirements that this man needed to have.  He was to be dependable, a man whose phone was never off, with a volunteer spirit, not a drunkard or criminal, someone who would best represent the community. I had a funeral on the day the election was to take place so I went” Says Gordy.

“The requirements were deliberately stringent. With the challenges in the area, including security, we needed mature men, with good reputations, with valid Riders’ licences, Insurance and a log book showing that they owned the bike they were riding.” Explains Felix Makasanda a Community Development Officer with the Boresha Programme that rose up to respond to Gordy’s initiative.

“When we were just about to bury, I got a call from one of the community health volunteers who knew me well. They told me to hurry back to the market and try my luck. There were about 60 riders who had responded to the call. Some had been campaigning and had come with their supporters. When I walked in, their morale dropped, and one or two asked me what I was doing there. The short of it, is that most of my competitors became my supporters. At the end of it, the community shortlisted five of us, and I got the most votes,” smiles Gordy. At least, Gordy could now fuel his bike on his mercy errands and have a something left to care for his family.

gordy-with-his-wife-janet2“It’s not easy,” his beautiful wife Janet Nafula contributes. “Many of the women get pregnant in the food season and give birth in the drought season. Sometimes these calls come in at night. As a human being of cause there are times I feel bad, but I have learnt to wake him up and release him, with a prayer. The night holds many issues. I am proud of what he does. Sometimes it rains, and in those nights, he could get as many as three calls. Which means I get to wash more clothes, but I do not mind it. I know he is out saving lives, and I trust him totally. He has never been one with a wandering eye, so that does not even worry me,” she says playfully. “He is a responsible father and husband. We have never slept hungry, he has bought and built on this plot, my children are all I school by God’s grace, the last being in a private school. He has helped set me up in a small hotel business where I have 4 employees, and where he comes in to help from time to time. We also farm goats, chicken, maize and beans, which is where we started off.”

How do they get to know his number? “My mobile number is like a hotline around here. The Chiefs announce it during funerals, in churches, at the hospital during clinics and at meetings. Former traditional birth attendants as well as community health volunteers have it.” Gordy explains. beneficiary-1-mildred-simiyu-with-baby-hildaOne of his beneficiaries Mildred Nanjala Simiyu, not a relative of his, who had her baby in March this year shares how on the day she went into labour, they had no way of getting to the hospital. The young mother of three, had walked to the health centers in the company of her loving mother in law for the first two births. This time though, it was raining, dark, and the path to her home in Bonambobi village in Bumula is full of twists and turns and narrows to barely passable footpaths closer to home. It is about two and a half kilometers from Gordy’s. She had challenges with pregnancy related hypertension. Her mother in law had heard about a BodaBoda Ambulance that transport’s people to hospital for free. “I was surprised by how fast he responded. He rode fast, it was just the two of us that night. My mother in law had to stay back to care for the other children. He saved my life and that of my baby Hilda. If it was not for him, I would have died in the process of trying to have the baby here. She kept presenting her chin first.”

beneficiary-2-jessica-wamalwa-with-baby-prosperJessica Wamalwa had a similar experience. She got Gordy’s number from a neighbor at around 11pm in the night. It was a rainy night. “I was overwhelmed. He was gentle and encouraging. He would ride at the pace that was comfortable for me, but would not stop when I asked him to. He said it was important to get me to hospital. Sometimes he would use one arm to hold me steady on my back. We rode also with my mother in law. By God’s grace I had baby Prosper at 3am.”

Gordy confesses that there have been some challenges. The weather, the roads especially on rainy nights, his susceptibility to frequent bouts to malaria and pneumonia. The lack of proper riding and safety gear is also a challenge for him. “I wish also that they would train us in basic first aid so that we could be more useful in cases where the babies come before we get to the health centers. I have so far, in the past years, had four women give birth when I was taking them to hospital.” gordys-colleague-pastor-wilfred-sifuna-otunga-1The other Riders agree with him on these challenges. Pastor Wilfred Otunga who has been doing this work for 20 years due to his love for children says “There is also said to be a ghost rider who terrorizes road users. Many who have seen it describe it as a jacket riding a bodaboda. I have never met it. I believe God has been with me. Many of us have also met with thugs and thankfully none of us has lost their bikes.” Lack of clarity on the role they are playing, by police on patrol was previously a challenge, but since their partners gave them branded reflector jackets with government and partner logos and branded as Ambulance.

Gordy’s twelve colleagues are grateful to him for his perseverance, and good example that impacted all of them to do the work they do. They also appreciate the assistance that has come as a result of their love for their communities. Like Gordy, many have bought land and built their simple homes on them. Some are educating children at all levels including at the University. They have also initiated businesses for their wives in which they work when they are not on the road. Most importantly, it has enamored them to the communities that chose them for this noble work and are committed to supporting them. They echo Gordy’s sentiments as he concludes our day, “I am convinced I was born to do this. I am grateful for the help I have received from the partners, but I did it before and I will do it long after they leave.”

vipslit@yahoo.ca

 

What They Said

Mildred – Gordy is the kind of person who reacts urgently to every call. If it was not for that, I would have died in labor. He is helping the women here, they will not have their children at home unless they do not have Gordy’s number. The number of deaths of mothers has also reduced significantly. I have his number and would recommend him to any woman in labor.

Jessica – Gordy’s work is meaningful. I don’t think my neighbor would have helped me without transport.  I had seen his number on display during clinic. But on that day, I got it from the community health volunteer who is my neighbour called Martin.

dr-brian-inima-moh-bunyala-subcounty-hospital

Dr. Brian Inima

Dr. Brian Inima – MOH Bumula Sub-County: The BodaBoda Ambulances have increased greatly the number of hospital deliveries.

transport-officer-moh-bungoma-county-bernard-mareBernard Mare –Transport Officer MOH Bungom: Gordy has a lot of passion for the work he does.  He has a big heart.

img_0031Dr. John Papaya – Coordinator of Community Health Services, Bungoma County: Gordy has a lot of humanity. No man would otherwise volunteer to do the work he is doing.

Photos and Stories by NaMeD Afrika Studios – (Nashon David Dwoya and Vip Ogola)

First Published on The Sunday Standard’s Sunday Magazine on September 4, 2016

http://sde.co.ke/article/2000214893/birth-by-boda-boda-bumula-riders-who-provide-free-emergency-transport-to-women-in-labour

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