#22 A Visit to the Dentist and other Such Events
Today was the big day! We had to leave Naivasha at 7 am to be sure we wouldn’t be late for the 9:15 appointment in Nairobi. Joyce, who had recommended this dentist, warned me that he keeps to his schedule and since we were his first appointment, our lateness would mess up his whole day. His office is in the heart of Nairobi, requiring negotiation of the morning jam in the Westlands area of Nairobi. I had asked Ben, our faithful driver, to take us, not only because he is very good and very safe, but also because he knows every twisty, turning, winding street in Nairobi and he promised we would be prompt.
Ben is so good, we arrived 20 minutes early to find the receptionist just unlocking the door. Jacqueline had never been to downtown Nairobi, so that in itself was a big deal. She had also never ridden in an elevator, so was a bit nervous (mom too, I think), but once they saw how it worked, thought it a great invention.
The office was as nice as any in the US, clean, well-appointed, with a modern dental chair, lights, the works. We met Dr. Tony Wabule, a very gentle person who after looking at Jacqueline’s mouth, sent us off for x-rays. Down the elevator (from floor 3), walk a couple of blocks, through the many people, cross a busy street (complete with crossing signals which are sometimes obeyed, but I never assume it) and into another building, with no lift. She’s a trooper, taking the 4 flights as fast as I could go. She 2-stepped them going up, but had to one-step going down, never missing a beat. X-rays in hand we walked back to the office and up the elevator, Jacqueline doing the button service quite handily and pleased with herself to be so modern. We had to wait for awhile, so we did the Sudoku in the office newspaper. She had never done Sudoku, but caught on immediately. Same with the X-word (small and easy). I encouraged her to do both from the school’s newspaper. The X-word will help her vocabulary.
After examining the x-rays Dr. Wabule explained everything to Jacqueline, handing her a mirror and pointing out the 4 cavities and 2 teeth requiring root canals.. I am so glad to know about this dentist (actually a dental surgeon) b/c I have often wondered what I would do if I needed emergency dental work here. Now I know. I’d go straight to Dr. Wabule.
The work will take 12 visits, but after that she’ll have a perfect mouth. He cautioned her about sugar, told her to brush after every meal. I was so taken with his advice to her I asked whether he would come talk to our students. As an aside, I was shocked at the SFG board meeting discussing expenses, that they had spent more on sugar than any other “food” item!!!!! And the second most costly was cooking fat. Clearly that’s another issue to be addressed! Dr. Wabule readily agreed to address our students. I think he was quite pleased to be asked, and we made a tentative date for January, when the new academic year begins. The last term is too fraught with preparing for the national exams, so the new year is the best time. He liked that too, as his schedule is light at that time. I’m even thinking of suggesting dental checks for the students. It would take several days, but might be important. I doubt Jacqueline is the only one never having visited a dentist.
Jacqueline is a bit nervous about it all. I didn’t sugar-coat it (no pun). I told her it wouldn’t be fun and suggested she bring her mom’s phone with earplugs to listen to music. I told her my method is to keep reminding myself that the unpleasantness will come to an end and I’ll be happier for having had the procedure. I suggested she had had some experience with pain. Yes, of course she had and she is very brave. She is apprehensive but also really looking forward to having beautiful teeth.
I’m particularly happy that he did not suggest pulling the molar with the huge cavity. That’s one of the root canals. I didn’t ask what material they use for the crown, but for the price quoted it can’t be gold. The other root canal will be the broken front tooth. In general, lesser dentists in Kenya just pull out decayed teeth, and don’t do any kind of replacement, so the mouth begins to collapse. She won’t have that problem-he’s doing it right.
I did ask whether he uses mercury fillings. No, he doesn’t. He explained that while they are not illegal in Kenya, the dental association discourages their use.
Because there is infection at 2 sites, she needs antibiotic treatment before he can begin the work, so the next appointment will be after I leave. I’ll arrange with either the matron from school or the social worker for Empower the World, to take her. Ben may be available to drive for some of the appointments, but scheduling may be hard. In any event, the machinery is working and by the time I come back next June she will have a beautiful smile. She’s already very pretty, so this will make it even better.
Finishing at the dentist we went to a café on the Nairobi University campus. This is another project of Joyce, who runs it. We had a lovely lunch, but didn’t see Joyce because she is finishing up medical school as well – and she’s a pharmacist! Where she gets the time and energy to do all this is beyond me!
Next stop was the shops where I have bought things to bring home. I had ordered paper bead necklaces and earrings from a woman who makes them herself, as well as things from James Njoroge, about whom I’ve written before. He wasn’t ready with my order, but Mirriam, the bead lady was glad to have me pick my package. Unfortunately I had neglected to bring enough shillings to pay her, but I promised to send it by mpesa. Because of Njoroge, she trusted me, which is the good part of dealing with someone long term.
I had noticed Jacqueline was having some discomfort with the prosthetic leg and suggested we stop for an adjustment at the agency that supplied it. It is right on the highway out of Nairobi, so an easy stop to make. The agency is the Association for Physically Handicapped of Kenya (APHK). It’s quite a place, serving all kinds of physically and mentally handicapped folks. The part dealing with prosthetics was funded by Rotary of Nairobi South some years ago. All services are free. In fact a sign on the wall said
No payments, no fees, no bribes, donations to Jaiper are welcome.
Because the adjustment involved re-gluing of some parts, it took some time, so I wandered around to see what was what. In the wheelchair shop I saw all kinds of machinery, just like I’d expect to see in such a shop in the US. The exception was no one was wearing a hardhat nor safety glasses and I was allowed to wander around at will—which I did. Outside I met a man who is a community worker in a Nairobi slum. His job is to help any handicapped folks avail themselves of the services of APHK. He invited me to meet his colleagues and that was just happening when Jacqueline called to say she was finished, so I left reluctantly. I wish I would have time to go there again before I leave, but I have just 2 weeks left (sigh!) and those will be filled with tutoring.
Back in Naivasha I caught up on emails while awaiting the arrival of my friend Agnes Mwamburi of Nakuru, whom I met in 2005. She reminds me a lot of Catherine, a true believer in helping others. Her focus is women and children and lately, peace. She came to spend the night with me, so we could catch up a bit on each other. You may recall I spent the night in her home in Nakuru before I went to East Pokot, but she had had to travel to Mombasa to see her 92-year old mother.
It was late when she arrived, so we hustled to make dinner. I served her an American hamburger, although not quite like ours, b/c the bun was too crusty, more like a kaiser role. She pronounced the dinner delicious and we talked through the evening until my early morning began to take its toll.
This morning we chatted again, much about the violence you have read about in the coastal province. The attacks are attributed to al shabab, but she tells me that is totally wrong, that they are part of a 50-year struggle over the lands in that area. When Britain left, giving Kenya independence, the leaders began grabbing land. I do know that part is true. It was true all over the country. Some of the biggest pieces of land belong to the family of Daniel Arap Moi, Jomo Kenyatta and more recently, Moi Kibaki. People who had inhabited those lands for untold generations were made squatters. They have never stopped trying to regain their traditional tribal lands. The attribution of violent attacks to a renegade Muslim group is particularly egregious in light of the anti-Muslim rhetoric so prevalent now. Agnes comes from the coastal area near Mombasa and is very aware of the history. I think she is right on.
I asked Agnes to be my baby-sitter while I went to the ATM. It is probably quite safe and I have gone alone, but as long as she was here, why not? Money in pocket, I dropped her at the matatu departure which is right by the pharmacy Joyce had told me to use for Jacqueline’s antibiotics. While the prescription was being filled, I went next door to the mpesa shop to put money in my account for Mirriam, the bead lady.
Next stop was Angelina at Empower the World who has taken Ann’s place for her 4-month maternity leave. Angelina is very professional and I feel very fortunate that they found such a competent replacement. She will be taking Jacqueline to subsequent appointments, as J.’s mother would not know how to find her way from the matatu station to the dental office. Also J.’s mother works, so it will be good that she doesn’t have to miss work, although I thought it important that she go the first time so she would meet the dentist and see for herself.
Finally I got to SFG to deliver the antibiotics and meet with Ruth. She has been hatching a plan to bring up the math and science scores before the KCSE. I have managed some of that, but in fact it is the teachers who should be doing it. Ruth spoke with determination about what they need to do to “go the extra mile”. I’m not sure how happy the teachers were, but they have each pledged to put in extra time and effort. It will be very interesting to see how they perform. I offered the opinion that there should be no E grades (our F). The 2 form 4 teachers promised they would do their very best. We won’t know until the scores come out in February whether they achieved that goal, but it will be monumental if they do. Many girls have such math phobia they have just given up. Some of them will be coming to stay for a week at Mji Wa Neema for my math tutoring sessions, but this children’s home can’t hold too many. I had to beg for permission to bring those who asked me. Others who live nearby will come for the sessions but not stay here. I’ve made more of an effort to encourage them to come. I’m also pretty sure boys from Ndingi will also come, so it will be fun for them all to study together. They do enjoy knowing each other and in the math class context it will be a friendly rivalry as the 2 schools often compete. Last year for the first time Ndingi beat SFG, so our girls are determined to better them this time. The boys have very good math teachers, so they do well. They had 8 A or A- in math last year, quite unprecedented, I believe.
I left the meeting to rush home to meet Stephanus, son of Lydia, the bottle cap earring lady and good friend in Nakuru. I’ve written about the Venter family and visited them severally this summer. Stephanus is home schooled and is studying for the GED exam. He came to my sessions last summer with sister, Joy, but scheduling prevents that this year. We worked for 2 hours this afternoon, then I left him to work on his own.
We’ll work again tonight. He’ll spend the night, work for awhile tomorrow and go back to Nakuru.
=Love to all