Related Posts by Tags
“Smiiile,” I urged, looking through my camera’s viewfinder. “Be happy…you’re having a baby!”
Her facial muscles twitched for a moment, then settled back into a somber stare.
I knew the day’s task was going to take a bit of work, since many Kenyans aren’t accustomed to showing emotion in photos, let alone a smile. But this mom-to-be proved to be a particularly tough sell.
I held the shutter button halfway down, at the ready with proper focus and exposure. All I needed was that split second when her shields dropped and a grin spread across her face…that decisive “moment” photographers are always blathering about.
I waited, and kept waiting until the awkwardness was felt by all, but that magic moment never came. So I tried to persuade her again, this time with a little more urgency and feigned enthusiasm.
“Come ooon, just a quick smile,” I said cheerfully, hoping my frustration wasn’t showing. “Think about your new baby!”
Once more, her face gave a gangly spasm, resembling a grimace more than anything. She quickly returned to her stoic demeanor. The only message I could glean from her expression was that she was having none of it and wished the whole experience over and done with.
Finally, Gideon, my Kenyan comrade who’s wise beyond his 18 years, spoke to her in Swahili. I assumed he was repeating my innocuous request.
She answered back in a hushed tone, but I detected a definite undercurrent of determination.
“She says she’s not in a frame of mind to smile,” Gideon translated back to me.
I took the odd statement to mean that I should take what photo I could get and let the young lady be on her way, so that’s what I did, though still a bit confused.
After all, this was the day we were starting Tumaini Clinic’s new “Adopt-A-Mama” campaign, and these photos just might help this mom-to-be! She could at least show some appreciation and reciprocate with a little effort of her own.
No sooner did she grab her things and head out the clinic door then Gideon turned to me and asked me to have a seat.
“There’s a reason she didn’t want to smile,” he explained. “During the interview, we had a very difficult time. When we asked her (the question) about her hopes for the baby, she started crying.”
Instantly, I felt like the fool I often am. How could I have been so thoughtless? So insensitive? And mere weeks into my time here, no less?!
Instinctively, I already knew the essence of the story he prepared to tell.
28-year-old Winnie Wanjera is desperately searching for hope in a hopeless situation. She’s single, pregnant with twins and struggling for mere survival.
She has no job, and relies solely on the generosity of relatives, who give her handouts when they’re able. For the past month or so, she’s been staying with a cousin in a single room house made of metal siding, with no electricity and no toilet. Rent is around eight dollars a month. Her cousin also has two children living with them, and they all call the dangerous slum of Korogocho their home.
The move to her cousin’s place was prompted by a falling out Winnie had with her boyfriend, the father-to-be who left her soon after they found out she’s carrying twins. She would have ended the pregnancy when she had the chance, but she couldn’t afford it.
The children in her womb represent nothing positive, and she’s dreading their arrival, unsure what the future will hold, for them or her.
“Smiiile! Be happy, you’re having babies!” A fool, indeed…
With little more than a solemn expression, Winnie gave me a healthy dose of reality, and to my surprise, I was long overdue.
Truth be told, I’ve gotten “used to” working at the clinic. I’ve gotten used to tiptoeing my way along a winding trail of nauseating waste every day to get to work (video of that daily delight coming soon). I’ve grown accustomed to the sights and smells that accompany a medical clinic in the slums of Nairobi. And I’ve learned the general composition of the people who live there.
One thing about international travel is that your mind tries to assimilate as soon as possible. Thus, the heightened stress levels of life outside the comfort zone can subside quickly, as you gain a certain sense of normalcy. That’s also why people often recommend writing down all first impressions and fascinating details as soon as you arrive in a new location. By mental necessity, most of the novelty wears off in a matter of days.
But as I sat on the bench listening to Gideon describe Winnie’s story, the magnitude of Tumaini Clinic’s mission came flooding back to me. She’s the very reason the clinic was started. She’s the very reason I’m here.
Tumaini is Swahili for “hope,” and that’s the heart of the clinic’s mission. Its motto is “Light Bringing Hope,” and that’s exactly what the clinic does.
The initial interview with Winnie ended with sobbing and tears, as she struggled to find footing amid a desperate situation. But the arms of a young clinic staffer were soon wrapped around her, and encouraging words followed.
A familiar face stopped by the clinic the next morning, along with her cousin. I recognized her, but it took a second to register. Winnie had a broad smile, and she hardly looked like the same person. She spoke to Gideon, who greeted her warmly at the front entrance. He told me to come over as well, and I did. Smiling politely, I shook her hand and returned to my work.
“Why are you giving me this attention?” she asked him. “Because I cried yesterday?”
“No,” he replied, “because we care about you and your babies.”
She told him how her visit the day before had transformed her, that when she walked out of that interview room, she felt a glimmer of hope for the first time.
Just another day at Tumaini Clinic…the Light Bringing Hope, despite the surrounding darkness.
(UPDATE: Three days later, a nurse called me into the ultrasound room to witness my first sonogram. She was excited to show me twins. Little did she know, they were Winnie’s twins, and I had the privilege to see them both. Winnie was still beaming, and now thanking God she’s been blessed with two. I suspect this may not be the last we see of her, or the babies.)
- How often do we project our own agendas and assumptions onto others, without giving their perspective a second thought? In reality, they may be struggling with far more than we can see on the surface, like deep wounds, hidden pains and heavy burdens. For Winnie, the breakthrough came when someone stopped and listened to her. So slow down, listen and learn this week!
- Begin thinking about Tumaini’s upcoming “Adopt-a-Mama” campaign, which I will be detailing down the road. The long of the short…for 60 bucks, you can provide an impoverished mama with all medical costs associated with the arrival of their baby, from prenatal visits to the birth to the early immunizations. It’s truly life changing.
- Keep the modest staff of Tumaini in your prayers. They operate the clinic 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Their work is vital and unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed, but they’re not superhuman. They need strength, resilience, determination and fortitude to do their jobs, just like anyone else. And prayerful support and encouragement always helps.
About the Author: Stephen Crane is a year-long fellow with World Next Door. He has a bachelor's degree in theology from Calvin College and a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University. He has a passion for overlooked places and people and would snowboard at all times if it were possible!