Submitted by Julie Ronecker
Today we had a chance to visit Kit Mikayi, a local rock within the village that stood for “Rock of the First Wife.” Our tour guide was very passionate and told us a wonderful narrative that introduced us to their culture.
The history behind the rock began during a very dry season without rain. In order to get rain, the people of the village were told to sacrifice 1 goat and 2 chickens. The male village leader would stab a goat onto the rock and blood would be shed on its face, and they would open both chickens and do the same. The goat and chickens would then be eaten as they prayed to their god for rain. The next day, the rain would come and the people of the village would have a plentiful harvest.
We also learned about traditional living arrangements in the village, consisting of one male house at the center. Distributed next to the house were his wives’ houses where the children would also stay. The culture was traditionally polygamous and this is true of several families to this day. Within each house was straw beds, water jugs, rock grinders to grind spices, plates and bowels, and medicinal equipment. One of the most interesting component of their culture was members of their village between the ages of 15-18 would have their bottom 6 teeth removed. The purpose of this was to assist in providing food and nutrients to villagers if they were sick and could not chew. The medicine was ground and dissolved into hot water and swallowed through a large spoon-like device that fit through the gap created from the six missing teeth. To us, this may seem aesthetically unappealing, painful, or unattractive, but the utility of this speaks volumes.
We then spent some time hiking in and around the rock formation. Under the rock was a small space that our tour guide informed us was a place to pray, relax, and offer promises. For the women in the community, they would walk underneath the rock, pray to the altar, dance, and touch the rock. They would promise to stay with their husbands through anything–starvation, sadness, childbirth, and arguments. The underground area was also home to dozens of small bats, and a lot of us were thinking about Histoplasmosis and Rabies because we just took our board exams.
When we climbed to the top, we were able to see a fantastic view of the village–complete with goats relaxing on rocks, villagers lounging below, and a landscape mixed with lakes and greenery. When we got back to the base, a traditional group of village women performed a dance for us and sent us on our way. The song and dance was representative of female empowerment, which a lot of us were happy to see in a male-dominated village.
Our next stop was to the equator line, where we stood at both the southern and northern hemispheres sequentially. We saw that the leaf spun counterclockwise and clockwise in each hemisphere respectively, and we were also able to balance an egg at the equator. If anyone happens to know the science behind this please do share–many of our group members are skeptical.
We have especially enjoyed this weekend and are now more informed medical providers. Part of being a good physician is learning about the area and being culturally-sensitive when providing medical care. For example, knowing that some members of the community believe in polygamy helps us test for multiple partners for sexually transmitted diseases instead of just one wife. Knowing that missing 6 bottom teeth in this village is culturally normal helps us not worry about vitamin C deficiency. Knowing that women carry large basins of water on their heads and babies on their backs gives insight into why joint pain, somatic spinal dysfunctions, and lumbar strains are common chief complaints. And, knowing that animals are sometimes sacrificed gives insight into potential exposure to blood-borne pathogens. On rotations in the United States we are familiar with the culture so the predominant goal of our clerkships is learning the medicine; however, when we come to Kenya, we must learn both the culture and the medicine as both are intrinsically linked in diagnosis, treatment, and management.