This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book “Poor Millionaires: The Village Boy who walked to the Western World and the American Boy who followed him Home” By Nathan Roberts and Michael Kimpur. When Michael Kimpur was a small boy his village was raided by the neighboring tribe. He fled through the desert with a group of boys and they were found by a team of World Vision missionaries John and Sarah. Michael then became a World Vision Sponsor Child in the small village school of Kiwawa Kenya. This story is about Michael’s first experience with western medicine at Kiwawa Elementary School.
The third year of Michael’s schooling at Kiwawa was a particularly wet rainy season. After the first few days the puddles began sprouting legs and after a few weeks the desert was an interconnected network of ponds, a temporary marshland thick with ravenous mosquitos. And between the itching and swatting, the boys could hardly sleep. Before long, several boys had come down with the hotness.
“Pokot don’t have a word for germs. If you tell them there are tiny animals living in their blood, they won’t believe you. Believe me, I’ve tried to convince them,” Michael said emphatically. “They just keep asking over and over how an animal could fit in their body. Maybe I should bring a microscope or something,” he trailed off. “Anyways, so when somebody gets malaria they just say they have the hotness. They don’t have medicine, so they pray and sacrifice a goat to Tororot before asking the werkoyon to make a mixture of healing plants for them to drink.”
For weeks, the mosquitos swarmed like locus. Eventually so many boys were sick that classes were cancelled. The sound of pumped water splashing on the concrete was paired with boys moaning from their huts. When the eleventh boy fell sick, John loaded the truck with two days’ worth of food and braved the flooded valley.
He returned a few days later with a thorn-shaped object he called “med-i-cine.” As John so often did, he introduced this new idea in the form of a one-act play. Sarah held up the syringe with an exaggerated smile across her face. John lay down on the ground, fanning his face, rubbing imaginary sweat from his brow. Then Sarah leaned down and rolled up John’s sleeve as she lifted the syringe high in the air for the boys to see. She pretended to stab John’s arm, and after a few moments John stood up smiling. The boys nodded along understanding that “medicine” was something that helped sick people recover from the hotness.
“Good?” John asked the council, pointing at the needle and leaning over a sweating boy.
“Good,” the boys agreed.
Then he leaned over the first boy who had taken sick. After a week of the hotness the boy was barely able to move, sweating faster than he could drink. John pushed the syringe deep into his arm and the boy screamed in pain, trying to shake free. But Sarah immediately sat on the boy’s chest, holding him down until the syringe was empty.
The other boys froze, unable to comprehend what they were seeing. Baba and Kama Kiwawa were torturing a sick boy. “The Pokot are a trusting people by necessity,” Michael laughed. “If someone says there is a river over that hill, then you believe them. If a scout says Turkana are coming, then you run. We don’t have CNN or BBC to confirm or deny or argue the facts of the day, so we have to trust that the messenger is telling the truth. And if we find that he is lying, he knows he will get a beating of a lifetime, which is something that a few Western news people have coming, by the way.” He smiled. “We are not as skeptical as people in the West. So if someone tells you medicine will help, than you believe them. That’s why we were so shocked that John had hurt the sick boy.”
“Good.” John stood up. “Next.” John pointed at Kimpur, who looked at him with confused fear.
“I was so terrified. But before I could run away, John took hold of me by the arm and Sarah sat on me. I shouted, ‘No medicine, no medicine.’ I tried to tell them in Pokot that I wasn’t even sick. But they stabbed me anyways. But now I know it was my first introduction to what Americans call preventative care.” The rest of the boys ran and were lost in the bushes before John and Sarah finished with Kimpur.
That night the older boys built a small fire deep in the valley. And as the fire crackled, they could hear a swollen river sloshing along the sandy banks a stone’s throw away. “I have heard of healing plants tasting bitter,” one of the elders said angrily, “but never someone being stabbed!”
“Baba said med-i-cine would help them get better from the hotness,” one of the younger boys added.
“Then why did they stab Kimpur? He wasn’t sick.”
“Perhaps we should wait here until Keu comes back” The elders rubbed their hairy chins as they heard the various explanations. Then they retreated into the shadows to talk in hushed tones as the fire dyed down to embers. The oldest boy returned leaning on his staff. “Baba and Kama Kiwawa have always treated us well and given us good things,” he said, swatting a mosquito on his forearm.
All the boys nodded, “Oee.” The Pokot tribes version of Amen.
“So we are curious to see what will become of those who have been stabbed by this medicine. We cannot wait for Keu to return. So we will stay here tonight and send a scout to see how the other boys are in the morning. If they are better, then we will all be stabbed. If they are sick, then each is free to choose to be stabbed or not.” And the boys all agreed this was a fair judgment.
The next morning, the scouts returned and explained that two sick boys said they were feeling a little better but the others were still sick.
“What about Kimpur?”
“He said his arm is sore,” the scout said.
So they waited another day and another. And on the third day, three more boys said they were feeling better. And the oldest boy, who was eager to start sleeping under a roof, decided that five boys was enough evidence and ordered all the boys to be stabbed.