Daily Archives: February 17, 2015

Top 10 reasons I am thankful to live in Canada: dispatch from Kenya


Why did the chicken cross the road?

To get away from the mazungus driving!  That is the Kenyan answer to the old joke.  While visiting the coast, Tabby, who has an international driver’s license, has been driving us around to visit places. Every time she is driving there seems to be chickens, cows, goats, sheep, monkeys and whatever other animals crossing or walking along the roads, blocking the way.

Remember the game chicken, where two drivers drive towards each other and see who will chicken out and move first?  We have played that every day here with actual chickens.

Speaking of chickens – or poultry, this weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving. This is the day Canadians get together and have a turkey dinner, and tell everyone what they are thankful for. This is the first Thanksgiving holiday that I will not be in Canada for, or eating a turkey dinner. Instead I will be in the coastal area of Kenya, eating a traditional Kenyan dish such as skumawiki (boiled kale) or ugali.  I will be thankful for that, as it is more than some of the neighbours here eat.

Some thoughts for Thanksgiving weekend, and things for which I am thankful:

  1. I am thankful that Canada has a world-class healthcare system

We complain a lot about our health care system, but it is really one of the best in the world.  The health care system here in Kenya is very poor. I can walk into any hospital in Ontario and get looked at, tested, given medication, maybe even have to stay for a day or so without having to pay for anything.  Here, you have to drive for miles (no ambulance will come for you especially in remote areas). Once you get to the hospital, you pay first for the doctor to see you. Then he may ask for tests to be done, you go back to the cashier and pay for the tests, then you have the tests done. If you need medication, you go pay for it, then you get either your prescription (for which you then have to pay the pharmacist), or whatever medication the doctor will give you directly.

If you have no money, you get no help.  There is no OHIP or any other system in place to provide any kind of free treatment.  Some people just go without help and get sicker and die or end up disfigured or sick for the rest of their lives. One brother in Nakuru has to have surgery on his leg and since he cannot pay, has been walking in pain for the past 9 years.

  1. I am thankful that the Canadian government has programs in place to help the unemployed and those that are disabled or unable to work, and the elderly. These programs are not perfect, but nothing in life is perfect.

In Kenya, unemployment is rampant and there is no agency that is there to help. There are no employment centers to help you look for a job, there is no unemployment money to live on. If you don’t work, you have no money.  There is no old age pension, so if you are too old to work, you have no money. Widows are left destitute as there is no life insurance for when their husbands die, so they have nothing. Even worse, the family members then come and take away everything the widow has, leaving them even more destitute.

Canada also has Children’s Aid societies that look after orphan children or children with poor family lives and either has them adopted or fostered to families that will care for them. This system is not perfect and sometimes there are families that do abuse the children, but again it is much better than in Kenya. There is no agency to help the children. If they are abused, no one notices or cares, or if they do care, there is nothing they can do. If a child is living on the street, unless someone takes them in, there is nothing that will be done for them. As most people have several children of their own, they would not consider taking someone else’s child. Most orphans taken in by relatives are treated very poorly, or the relatives have no money to properly care for the child and they end up making them leave. The lucky ones are able to get sponsorships so they can continue school and board there.

  1. I am thankful for clean, drinkable water.

Water is scarce in Kenya, especially drinkable water. In some areas it does not rain much, so there is no water. You have to walk for miles with heavy buckets to the nearest watering hole or river full of dirty water, then boil the water until it is drinkable. In Canada we have an abundance of fresh water, and it freely pours out of our taps.

  1. I am thankful that our educational system is one of the best in the world.

Canadian schools have consistently been ranked as one of the best systems in the world.  Any child can go to public school for free in Canada. In Kenya, all schools have a fee, plus a uniform that has to be paid for. Most parents cannot afford it, so they either need to get their children sponsored by outside organizations or the children cannot go to school.

Those lucky enough to go to school are not taught to think for themselves, but are taught by rote and memorization. They are not taught to think outside the box. There are no guidance counsellors to help them figure out what they want to do with their lives and see if their goals can be achieved. They are taught 9 basic subjects in school then after high school left to their own devices to figure out what to do from there. Most give up and drop out and become part of the unemployment problem because they have no clue what to do.

  1. I am thankful for Canada’s climate.

Yes it snows and is cold for most of the year, however we have a very temperate climate. It is not overly hot in summers, we get enough rain for crops and plants to grow. The temperature changes throughout the year.

In Kenya, in most places it does not rain for months on end. The land is dry, crops will not grow and it is hot and humid. Some places it does rain every day and is cool, but it is a very small part of the country.

  1. I am thankful for having a great family life.

I might sometimes complain about some of my family members, however family life here is harsh. It is very rare to have a family with both parents that love and cherish their children and put their family first. A lot of men are drunkards, or sleep with prostitutes and bring HIV home to their families and infect them. A lot of mothers cannot cope and just walk away from their families.

Rachel is a lady that works here on Sammy’s property as the cook and looking after the children here. She left school to marry young. Her husband ended up leaving her and their young child. She had no job and nowhere to go. Sammy stepped in and gave her a job and place to live. Her child has ended up living with her mother, which is also what happens here a lot. The single parent ends up having to live away from the child in order to get work.

Stepmothers might beat their step children because they don’t like them. The chef at the Kamukuywa school, George, is an example. He used to get up at 4 am every morning to leave the house before his stepmother woke up as she would beat him every day. I read in the paper here that a young man stoned his grandmother to death recently for no reason, just because he felt like it.

  1. I am grateful that for the most part, discrimination of any kind is not tolerated in Canada

People here are discriminated or scorned for anything. Widows are scorned because they have no husband and no income. Orphans are scorned and ignored. People with diseases, especially HIV are scorned here.

Cynthia is a young 17 year old that has been HIV positive since birth. Her mother died of HIV and she has been living with relatives. Her uncle’s wife did not like her and kept her separated from the rest of the family. Cynthia is a sponsored child and is able to go to school, but at school they scorn her for her HIV status. She gave up and went off her meds because she wanted to die because of this. She is on the road to recovery and we are all praying that God gives her the strength to get well.

  1. I am thankful I was born in Canada and have access to all of the resources the country has to offer to citizens and have the money to pay for anything that I need.

Here in Kenya, people don’t have a lot if any money. They cannot afford to go to a grocery store here like I can and buy fresh fruits and vegetables to eat. They cannot buy new clothes or the latest electronic gadget like I can. In Canada things are expensive, yet I am able to buy the necessities I need in life, most people here cannot.

  1. I am thankful that there are organizations like Agape in Action that is working here to try to improve the way of life for people.

They are working to get children sponsored so they can continue their education and move on to University to specialize in a career path that will hopefully end the cycle of unemployment here. They are also working to help widows overcome their poverty by giving them clothes, seeds, beds, etc. whatever they need to get back on their feet again.

  1. I am especially and more importantly thankful to God for giving me this opportunity to come to Kenya to experience life here and learn what it is like to live here.

This has made me realize how good it is living in Canada and I will never again take anything for granted.

Have a great Thanksgiving weekend to everyone back home in Canada, and remember to count your blessings this holiday.

–Jennifer Bell

Posted from Kenya in October, 2014