• ashirk@gmail.com
  • Kijabe, Kenya
On What Remains

On What Remains

I think about legacy



The thought plays 

Like a background soundtrack as I walk

The dusty lanes of our small village

As I pass through the loud, crowded

Corridors of the beloved hospital. 

We build it, but 

What remains when we are gone?

Patients wait outside of Theodora Hospital, circa 1930

My first project when I arrived in Kijabe was to create a history of the hospital, finding pictures, stories, archives and whatever else was available from the first hundred years. The Kenyan President was to visit, along with other guests, and we wanted to celebrate in proper fashion. 

There were some great stories, like a founding doctor who was delayed almost a decade after his transport to Africa, a ship called the ZamZam, was sunk off the coast of South America by a Nazi captain on the eve of World War II. 

Theodore Roosevelt once visited Kijabe, laying the cornerstone of the main building at RVA. I have photographs of him standing in old Kijabe town near the old railroad station, Kijabe stop on the Lunatic Express. Much of the best information came from letters saved by the grandchildren of early doctors. They wrote to their children who had grown up and gone to university in America about all manner of things, work, the mundane, the time a leopard jumped through the living room window. 

Teddy Roosevelt near the train station in Old Kijabe Town.

One former doctor came back to visit for the centennial, Dr. Bill Barnett, 98 years-old. Dr. Bill and his older brother Arthur Barnett had built the hospital in its current location between the 1960’s and 1980’s, and of course he was glad to be home. Beforehand I was curious about his motivation for the trip, as I was told his hearing and eyesight were fading. What would he gain from it if he couldn’t see or hear?Immediately, as I met him, my curiosity was satisfied. He loved to tell stories. Beautiful, long stories. He was thrilled to be in Kijabe!

During the ceremony, Dr. Bill was handed an award by Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta. Afterwards he grabbed the president’s hand and started speaking. . .and speaking and speaking. President Kenyatta waved the security officers away and listened, nodding and smiling, as Dr. Barnett recounted a story about how on the eve of his father Jomo Kenyatta’s election as the first president of Kenya, Mzee Kenyatta spoke with Dr. Barnett’s older brother Eric about the benefit of missionaries and mission hospitals in educating and caring for physical needs of the people of Kenya. Dr. Bill said to President Kenyatta, “Your father promised to my brother that he would do all in his power to support mission hospitals. Today, I am holding you to that promise.” 

The ceremony ended, but the memory was burned in my mind — of a faithful doctor who gained the ear of a president, and made the most of his opportunity. At age 98!

What also struck me, powerfully, is that even if I were to remain in Kenya for my working life, eventually Arianna and I, like Dr. Bill, could have 30, 35 more years of “retirement” after that.

We are in our beautiful African home for a season. 

We are on this earth for a season. 

It will all end, it will all pass. 

What then, will remain? 

“Things, expensive Things, jewels, toys, utensils, broken trinkets (how much fell into them!) and they darken as a river’s bottom darkens.”

Rilke is right, these Things will not linger.

But the people we love, they will go on. 

They will carry our hearts in their hearts. 

They will carry our love in their love. 

Just as a fifth generation of doctors now follows in the footsteps of the first, so may ten more generations follow these, healing with grace and compassion, with the love of our loving Father.

4 nurses, 4 mothers, 4 babies

Our task, in the season in which we serve, is to do all within our power to move us step by step closer to a Kijabe focused on honoring God, providing world-class medical healthcare and offering the best medical education available in East Africa.  

It is beautiful work.

An honor to carry the baton, this time around the course, while our legs are young and arms have strength.

For this season.

Images from AIM archives, shared by Shel Arensen, creator of Old Africa magazine and author of multiple books available on Amazon.

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