Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Kenya Diaries: Salgaa

"Hear their stories."Not a great pic, but this is from inside our van as we were getting ready to drive by Salgaa.

Driving up to the town is a picture I won't soon forget. One thing we were told about Salgaa is that it's a popular truck stop, nothing too odd about that, except for the reason why truckers stop. Salgaa is well known for commercial sex work or as we would call it, prostitution. Many truckers will stop in Salgaa for that very reason, so as you can imagine, seeing three ROWS of trucks lining the street as we pulled up was nothing short of heartbreaking.

As we turned off the main road, we began to see small shacks lining the path, which were little more than tin roofs over rundown buildings. A few kids were outside playing and waving at us as we drove by, but the atmosphere was so different than anywhere else we'd gone.

Before ever heading to Salgaa, we met with a local pastor who had begun doing ministry in this area. He gave us a "heads up" on some of what was going on. Many of the women here are caught up in prostitution. In Kenya, they're called "commercial sex workers" and many are also HIV positive and have kids they've passed it on to. There's a medicine called ARV (antiretroviral) pills that are a real necessity for anyone who is HIV positive. This little blue pill is able to help extend the life of those suffering from HIV, without the pill, it's only a matter of time until your body can no longer fight off infection and something as common as the cold. Having access to these ARV's is not the problem for most women. They are available to many of them for free! The problem is, the pill must be taken with food and many of these women don't have money for food, so they can't take the ARV's. It's hard to think about a medicine being available to them that they can't even take because they don't have something as basic as food. Without the ARV's, these women don't have a lot of hope. It's a horrible cycle to be caught up in- to be left with little to no hope at all.

Our purpose for heading into Salgaa was to meet with a women's support group at the local church. Many, though not all, of the women who come are dedicated to changing their life. This was going to be an opportunity for us to simply come in, hear their stories, and pray for and encourage them. Yet what happened in that place was so far beyond my expectations.

After celebrating together in song and greeting one another, we were divided up into groups. The plan was for us to go together in these groups to various women's homes. The intent was to hear their story, encourage, and pray.

These are the stories of the women I met...

We headed off to our first house belonging to a woman named Jesmael. She had a very small three room house. She rented one of the rooms out in order to make extra income. As she began to tell us her story, I found myself sitting with tear-filled eyes.

Jesmael is the first wife of her husband. It's not uncommon for men to have more than one wife. Her husband's second wife also lives in Salgaa, not far from Jesmael's. Her husband has no job, so she is trying to support him and their two children. Her oldest son is also without a job. He received poor marks in school and on his final exam, which meant he couldn't go on for further schooling. Because he didn't pass he doesn't have much of a chance at finding a decent job. Education is EVERYTHING here. After becoming ill, Jesmael sent her kids off to live with a relative in another town. The look on her face as she shared with us said it all, Jesmael feels trapped in a seemingly hopeless situation.

Winnie's home is the next place we visited. This one was even smaller. As we all crowded around, she began to tell us bits of her story. Winnie is trying hard to leave the lifestyle of a commercial sex worker, but it's hard for her to find other work. As she shared with us her story of how she grew up and came to be here at Salgaa, I couldn't help but notice a look of deep shame on her face. Winnie is not proud of the life she's lived, she's not proud to have been a commercial sex worker, and she's not proud of feeling desperate and helpless in her quest to "get by."

It was hard sitting there listening to the stories of Jesmael and Winnie. Why do they have to come face to face with such hard circumstances? These are two beautiful women who have been trapped in a life they never hoped to live. Yet here they are. And what do I have to offer them? Our words of encouragement and prayers that day seemed so insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

It wasn't until we reached our third and final house that I realized just how important those words and prayers really were...and how God could use them to transform a life.

...More to come...

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