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Monday, April 22, 2013



I, for one, feel relieved that Tsarnaev the younger is being tried as a US citizen, a civilian.  Because if being photographed near disaster, and being born overseas, are enough to deem due process unnecessary for a citizen, I fear for my own children.  If found guilty, he will not be the only young American man this week that killed people, their neighbors and girlfriends.  They and Tsarnaev should be investigated, and if guilty, they should receive their consequences.  But if we skip the due process and ignore Tsarnaev's citizenship, what have we become?  Where do we draw the "alien" line?  Peculiar that he actually is caucasian, in the original sense of the word.

This past week I flew to Mombasa for meetings of the Kenya Paediatric Association, which I joined this year.  It was the biggest annual scientific meeting for doctors who care for children in East Africa, attracting hundreds of delegates from this country and her neighbors.  We debated surprising data calling into question long-held protocols on fluid administration, recommended policy changes on the treatment of sickle cell disease, called for action on unacceptably high neonatal death. We listened to lectures and case presentations, considered studies, reviewed immunization progress.  It was intellectual and stimulating and inspiring.

And it was lonely.

I delayed making hotel reservations hoping to stay with two young doctor friends, who are moms with young kids and had suggested a cheaper place, better on missionary and Kenyan budgets.  Only after I booked there, they both decided to spring for the elitely fancy and expensive official venue.  And they booked plane tickets on an alternate airline, leaving a couple hours earlier.  So I found myself alone, wandering into the swanky lobby buzzing with consultants and professors and residents, and pondering the possibility that every doctor there (except the residents) made more money than I did. Which I didn't mind, except for the barrier it put up in choosing such an expensive location to meet.  At the end of the day I walked down the beach to my better-budget hotel, and ate dinner alone.

Amongst the hundreds of Kenyans, Ugandans, Tanzanians, Sudanese . . .  there were a few white faces, but all were presenters, leaders, lecturers  important people. No ordinary learners like me. I took every opportunity to introduce myself to those Kenyan paediatricians I sat by in each session, or to try and shake hands with people in the halls.  Once I sat near my hero Dr. Ruth Nduati, who did the most important study of the last decade showing that in spite of what makes sense, breast feeding by HIV positive moms is safer than bottle feeding.  I even spoke to her.

But in three days, NOT ONE PERSON initiated speaking to me.

OK, my two friends from Kijabe were friendly as always when we bumped into each other.  But I don't think I've ever been immersed in a sea of Africans who so pointedly made me feel my alien status.  It may be because of the way the US treated Kenya leading up to elections.  It may be the nature of those meetings.  It may be the different colonial baggage of Kenya versus Uganda (once I approached a vaccine rep at her display table, and as I picked up a brochure she turned to greet me, at which point the Kenyan doctor she had been talking to bitterly accused the rep of ignoring him because he was only African.  Ouch).  It may be that I haven't lived here long enough.  Or that I'm spoiled by the camaraderie of Kijabe.

Or it may have been a good reminder from God that we are aliens and strangers, walking a path of humility and willing to be ignored.  But trying to cross the divide, establish community, live by love.

Alienation and home; a life-long paradox. Two opposite things that are true at the same time, and very tiring as humans to grasp in the right proportions.

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