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Franziska July 2016

5 weeks in Likoni are a very short but impressive time. Impressive can be depressing, exciting, happy, and full of unique moments.

The first days were quite chaotic, as you arrive in a completely different culture. The usual European standard of living is rarely to be found. Also, the habits and everyday life of people are different. In LIKONI the clocks tick differently. Work and everyday life at the hospital are different. There is relatively little going on during the day. Some patients come for post-treatment infusions, injections and new bandages are applied, medicines are distributed. New patients also come for examination. On the streets, however, all hell breaks loose. People everywhere, mothers with their babies on their backs, school children with their school uniforms, men in groups together, Pickipickis (motorbikes) and Matatus (minibuses up to the edge crowded with people, goods, animals and all kinds of crazy stuff). People sell goods at the market to earn enough money for the family. Here you can find a colourful (sometimes smelly) mix of all kinds of fish, vegetables and fruits, pastries, and small stuff. There are also cheap second-hand clothes and thousands of shoes on the floor. With the right amount of feeling for the people, you can stroll through the streets with peace of mind. Almost everywhere I am addressed and people want to know everything about me. Some children are completely amazed by my white skin colour - others shake my hand and try their English skills. At night, the hospital is hardly recognizable. Already at 21:00h the waiting room and the corridor is full of people. From little "aches and pains" to widespread diseases and people who are terminally ill and suffering badly, everything is there. All are examined by the doctor and then treated by the nurse. Even small operations are performed - which can sometimes be quite frightening at night. The fan rotates above the lamp, which bathes the room in flickering light. In order to get enough light, a flashlight is used to help. Some nights are not as busy, and silence returns already before midnight as there are only some patients. During other nights there is a lot going on. In addition to the normal patients there are one or two emergencies. Two drunken men after a brawl with serious injuries, a young guy in acute hypoglycemia, a one-year-old child with a completely burned hand. All of them are treated as well as possible and some are kept in hospital overnight. Many families cannot afford the treatment themselves. Also, the money for medication often cannot be raised. Poor families from Timbwani are supported by the donations. Especially children get treatments for free. Others pay in instalments or must borrow the money. When you visit Timbwani - a village near LIKONI - you become aware of the life and environment of the patients. We walk along the stony and dusty paths to the families' huts. We visit a mother with eight children whose husband died a few months ago. She lives with all her children in two rooms, without electricity, without running water and without a secure livelihood. They all sleep together on the floor - there is no money for mattresses - the roof is leaking, and it is teeming with poisonous animals. When I go outside, I first hit my head on the cooking pots above the door. They cook outside under a rock ledge on the open fire. Simple meals without meat and only few vegetables. Mainly ugali which is a simple mix of corn, flour and water. Their daughter Rose has tuberculosis and can hardly walk. We promise the family a new mattress, which we could buy the next week. Thus, the family has at least a little comfort in the barren crooked hut.

We visit many families. All of them are proud to lead us into their modest homes and meet us with a friendliness and openness that is often not to be found in our world. They are happy about the simplest things. For example, a packet of beans or rice and tell you their very personal stories.

LIKONI is a wonderful place I could talk hours about. There I was able to gain a lot of experience and learn new things. LIKONI is a place full of misery and poverty but also a happy place full of joy of life and serenity.

Franziska Gerstmeier

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