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Kenya Outreach- Day 1

June 20, 2012

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After months of planning, we have finally arrived in Kenya.  It’s been a year since I’ve last been here, and our group has grown in numbers and in scope.  We are a group of eight third-year students with aims to learn about the local community of Meru, gather survey data related to oral health access and need for care, as well as enhancing preventive measures through oral hygiene education to elementary school children.  Our interests do not stop there.  We also have plans to install water purification systems through simple ceramic filters, computer information and technology for educational purposes, social entreprenuership to promote new business, and build international and interprofessional relationships.

With all that in mind, traveling to a new country always brings about curiosity of what to expect.  What will the food be like? Will it be sweltering hot or will there be torrential rains?  Are the roads paved or should we expect long and bumpy, dirt roads with fallen trees as common road blocks?  Discovery Channel and National Geographic (and likely an overactive imagination) also give an impression that wild animals are around every corner, and insects or spiders are just waiting to launch an ambush attack.

We landed in Nairobi on Saturday evening, went through customs without any problems, and collected our luggage and equipment and stepped outside to find our drivers.  The drivers we have for the next two weeks are the same that we had last year and proven to be wonderful resources in regards to local politics, history, culture and even language instructors.  They load up the vans and we all pile in happy but tired from seventeen hours of flight travel plus a three-hour layover.  Leaving the airport puts us into the middle of heavy traffic with cars and buses jockeying for inches of space.  We finally break free of the traffic and now smoothly coasting down the roads.  Looking out the windows we spot six or seven zebras (yes, zebras!) standing alongside the side of the road casually grazing on grass in a manner similar to the deer in Ann Arbor along Huron Parkway.  If it didn’t hit us earlier, it definitely sunk in then.  We are a long way from home!

That first night we spent it at the Methodist Guest House in Nairobi.  A simple and comfortable place that is home to a couple of fat house cats and serves as a local community center for church service on Sundays.  Waking up the next morning we loaded ourselves back in the vans and left for Meru.  The questions we had coming in to this trip were largely answered that day.  We learned that the food is excellent and fresh and consists of  authentic, hearty stews, fragrant rice, and is surprisingly fresh.  The main roads and highways are paved. The weather is actually much cooler than anticipated and requires a light jacket.  And so far, only one causality has occurred involving one unfortunate mosquito that found its way into our room, and not in the mood to test the efficacy of my anti-malarial medication, this mosquito was quickly killed.  Sorry mosquito.

We are now in Meru and settled into the Kithoka Amani Community Center, an orphanage that is currently home to fourteen children ages 4 to 13 whose parents have passed due to AIDS, or have come from other unfortunate circumstances.  This center has grown and children seem to be thriving and happy here, and have proven themselves to be formidable soccer players against Dan, Doug and John,  and also hairstylists for Preeti and Alexandra.  I think we can all agree by this point that we are happy to call this place our “home away from home.”

Jami Ballantine is a D3 who has been fortunate enough to take some amazing trips while at UM School of Dentistry.

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