We came at night – it felt strange because we typically don’t go out after dark falls. As we walked to the door, I could see a beautiful set of smiling teeth and a pink dress suit. Our host greeted us warmly, and took us up the front stoop. As we were about to go in, she whispered that she was just finishing hosting a big celebration for a recent graduate of IT school. She apologized that they hadn’t quite left yet, but were about to leave shortly. We took off our shoes and she opened the door. There were about 30 people inside, all with their heads bowed – they were praying a blessing over the new graduate. We paused at the door to let the prayer finish.
As we entered, we shook the hands that came from every direction and were quickly shown a seat. All of a sudden cake appeared before us, and food started to multiply on the kitchen table. We chatted with some of the guests, then filled our plates to overflowing with mokimo (potatoes), githeri (bean stew), lamb, chapattis, fresh fruit, and rice. It was delicious.
Then our host was freed up enough to sit and have a chat with us. I was already in awe of this formidable women and her hospitality. There had been a little mix up. We were supposed to stay with her over the weekend, but somehow the dates got miscommunicated and she already had a houseful of guests from the graduation celebration. She insisted that we still show up for a meal – all without ever having met us before.
Jennifer Murgocho works in association with an organization that were are working with in Kenya called Farmers Helping Farmers. She is based in Meru – and we were visiting for the weekend. She told us about her involvement with Farmers Helping Farmers. She detailed the schools, women’s groups and communities that she has worked with, and the changes she has been a part of in the years past. As we sat and listened, I reminded myself what a privilege it is to listen to someone talk about their true passion. It’s even more of a privilege to see that passion turn into reality through the course of their life work. There are some people that I have sat with in my life that leave me deeply inspired and hopeful. Jennifer was one of those people, with one of those incredible stories.
I was reminded that a life well-lived goes far beyond a job. A life well-lived is passionate enough to host a graduation celebration with a large guest list. To invite complete strangers into your home for a meal. To make people feel welcome, cared for and understood. To be compassionate enough to see areas that need improvement, brave enough to act and committed enough to follow through. These are great life lessons for a veterinary student to learn and remember.
I can’t say I’ve ever had milk directly from a cow. It was boiled of course – to kill all the nasty pathogens that raw milk can harbour. I’ve never been able to directly attribute my milk products to a specific cow. It’s kind of an odd feeling to look at a cow while you are drinking the milk it made a few hours earlier. But when I think about it, and it’s really not all that odd at all. And it’s far more rewarding to see a product go (as we say in food safety courses) from ‘farm to fork.’
It was freezing on Monday, and the warm milk was a welcome gift. There were four of us on the farm that day and we each had a glass. I’d estimate that we drank roughly a litre of the farmer’s milk. In Kenya, farmers are paid 27 Kenyan Shillings per kilogram of milk produced. That’s just over 30 cents Canadian. For many farmers, the milk proceeds are a large proportion of income for the household. Most cows in Kenya are producing roughly 9 kg per day, compared to a typical Canadian cow which produces roughly 32 kg per day. It’s also important to keep in mind that most farms in Kenya have less than 3 actively milking cows at any given time.
So this hot milk on a cold Monday morning was not just a simple gift. The farmer’s name is Waruguru. She told us how two of her daughters passed away, so she is responsible for feeding and caring for the cow. She has one daughter left, who was there to help answer some of our questions and help with the farm. Her grandson was there as well. The teachers strike ended on Monday, with most students heading back to classes. His presence on the farm likely means that school fees are too expensive, and he is not able to attend classes. He was incredibly helpful – holding the calf, getting me soap, moving the cow into the milking pen, and holding supplies for me.
While Jennifer inspired me with her courage and commitment, Waruguru inspired me with her kindness and generosity. Her gift to us was of high personal cost and I’m deeply appreciative for it. Two stories from two strong Kenyan women who have big enough hearts to give – at times beyond their means.
And this is why I love veterinary medicine, and why it’s so much more than just a job to me. Students that want to become vets because they love animals and dislike people are misled. People are our job. A veterinarian gets unique insight into the lives of the people owning animals and the ability to make a real difference in both the lives of the animal and it’s human.
And once in a while, their humans make a real difference to us, too.