March 30, 2011
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After a one-hour flight to Kitale in the North Rift Valley, another one-hour drive to our office in Marich Pass, and a two-hour “hold-on-or-be-thrown-across-the-LandCruiser” trek over boulders and alongside cliffs, we arrived at our first site visit in Kenya. We were there to meet Cheptilak and her family.
Like many African women, Cheptilak has numerous children – seven, to be exact. But what is surprisingly different about Cheptilak is that, even though she was given in an arranged marriage as a young teenager, she didn’t bear her first child until she was 33 years old. Seems normal enough among my friends, but Cheptilak hadn’t been waiting to have children until she got her career underway. She was barren. That is, until she visited an herbalist and then prayed to God to help her become pregnant. And then 6 more babies followed in rapid succession. Made me think that herbalist could make a fortune in the States. Also made me realize I’m old enough to become a mother of seven too!
Cheptilak’s family is are poor and hungry and they have to walk 3 hours (each way!) to fetch water, which they carry home in jugs on their backs. Although it is a challenge for this drought- and poverty-stricken mother to keep her children nourished, she feels blessed to have them.
And she has to work hard to keep them alive.
A few years ago, her 3-year old daughter was dangerously anemic, and Cheptilak sought out treatment at a nearby health clinic. The clinic couldn’t help them, so Cheptilak set out on foot for the hospital, 5 hours away. She began the journey at 11pm, and walked through the night with her sick child on her back. Arriving at the hospital, they only had managed to pool together enough money to pay for a consultation, which indicated that the child needed a blood transfusion in order to survive. They couldn’t afford the blood, so Cheptilak’s husband donated his own, and his daughter lived.
I know that almost any mother would walk twice as far – ten times as far – if that’s what was needed to save her child. And almost any father would give his blood and body to do the same. But, the thing that struck me, was that I’ll probably never have to prove my devotion and love to Eliana the way that Cheptilak did for her daughter.