As a first-time visitor to Kenya, I’ve experienced firsthand its beauty. In Nairobi, I watched in amazement as beggars and hawkers expertly threaded their way through the chaos of traffic, hopefully holding up roasted corn on a stick, bouquets of roses, clothing, DVDs and even puppies to bored drivers and passengers.
In the smaller towns, I enjoyed colourful signs on the stores, tiny donkeys pulling carts as motorcycles roared past them, and bright smiles and waves from uniformed schoolchildren at the side of the roads.
In the countryside, I marvelled at the sight of scarlet nandi flame trees in full flower, zebras calmly munching on yellow grass, and the endless vistas of red-gold land and bluest sky.
Kenya is a visual feast!
But if you are avoidably blind, this country of blazing sunshine might seem as dark as night, or as dim as a smoke-filled room. You might feel the sun’s rays but not be able to enjoy the way it illuminates the brilliant colours that abound in nature and culture.
As Operation Eyesight’s director of communications, I’ve been in Kenya for almost two weeks now, along with a talented photographer, Ric Rowan. Together we’ve been gathering stories and photos about the women, men and children whose lives are impacted by Operation Eyesight’s work. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be sharing them with you.
I was familiar with these projects; yet experiencing them first-hand has been a powerful experience unlike any I could have imagined.
- Gowned and capped at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, I watched my first-ever cataract surgery, marvelling at the surgeon’s microscopic stitches that would return vision to a blind eye.
- After regaining her sight in successful cataract eye surgery at Kitale District Hospital, a grateful patient invited us to her home, where I was honoured with a very special gift – a live chicken, its legs tied with pink ribbon.
- In the community of West Pokot, I watched trachoma patients, their eyes blinded by this terrible condition, lining up patiently to see the surgeons who might be able to help them see again… or might not, depending on how long their eyes had been damaged.
It’s true: I have seen unbelievable poverty and suffering over these two weeks here in Kenya, yet I have also seen immense joy. I have seen the smile lighting up an elderly woman’s face as she sees her grandchildren for the first time. I have had my hands wrung in gratitude by a father whose son can see again. And I have watched patients, young and old, walk out into Kenya’s blazing sunshine, open their eyes and SEE what is in front of them.
An amazing and humbling experience.
Please return next week to see Kenya and other African countries … through my eyes.