The Good Nurses of Busia County
Monday, July 22, 2013
When Aditi and I arrived in Busia, dust-splayed and weather-beaten on the shared backseat of a boda boda, we did not look like your average tourists.
The midday sun was at its height, and as we throttled down miles of dusty country roads, the wind kicked up streaks of earth that colored my clothes red and coursed through my hair. Sitting on the very back of the motorbike, with Aditi sandwiched in-between me and the driver, I grasped for the metal bar behind me with one hand, and with the other, waved at an ever-evolving panorama of fruit sellers, truck drivers and playing children. The looks I got in return were bewildered at best — no one was quite sure how to place me.
Up to that point, I had been living in Kenya’s foreigner-saturated capital city of Nairobi for three weeks and had gotten used to a certain indifference at my presence. Few, if any, passerby on the street stopped to take a second look, and there was hardly any uproar at my belabored crawling into a crowded matatu with a cabin-full of locals. But out in Western Kenya — a stone’s throw from the Ugandan border — in a place that sees a negligible share of foreign visitors, Aditi and I were the only other mzungu that we saw during our two days in Busia.
The four women that we had traveled over 300 miles to visit in the border town were all registered community nurses who own and operate their own clinics. All of them were recipients of Kiva Zip loans, small loans of $125 lent by individuals from around the world that the nurses used to grow their businesses. But the reason that Aditi and I were in Busia was not to disperse the loans, nor was it to collect repayments. We weren’t educating on Kiva policies or training new borrowers on the Zip model. In fact, it was quite the opposite; we were the ones taking notes.
“When the government hospitals run out of malaria drugs, we are the only place people can go,” Fosca, a mother of seven and a widow of twenty years. I was sitting in the reception area of her clinic in the small rural town of Funyula, filling out a borrower verification form and talking fast so as not to take too much time away from her patients. Fosca was soft-spoken and amazingly resilient; she runs two businesses in addition to her clinic, a farm where she sells beans and corn and a brickmaking kiln. More impressive still, she singlehandedly put all seven of her kids through college. (“My last one is in university now,” she corrected me, “so don’t congratulate me just yet.”).