I’m a naturally quiet, reserved person.  For most of my life, you could even call me shy. I feel most comfortable when I have the ability to fade into the background.

As a student, I showed up on time, completed all of my assignments and prepared for all my tests, but I detested class participation. I would not raise my hand to answer a question even if I knew the answer.  If I had a question, I would patiently wait to approach the teacher after class. I had to temper my anxiety if I knew that my grade required that I speak during class.

Medical training has abated some of those fears and of course, I have now given my fair share of patient histories, public speeches, and presentations. But to be honest, I have no problem with the days when no one even knows I’m in the room.

Well in Mutomo, it’s difficult to fade into the background. Mutomo is located in Kitui county, 70 km from Kitui and 230 km from Nairobi. There are approximately 17,000 inhabitants. It is clear that I am not from here. One, because it’s such a small town and everyone knows everyone. Two, the hue of my skin stands out from most other people here. But perhaps the thing that makes it most clear that I am not from around here is my style of dress and my American accent.

“Give a Few Words”

When I first arrived to Mutomo, I was introduced and asked to stand up to share a few words about myself to the group.  It was pretty standard, I was expecting it…  A few weeks later, one of the other volunteers left.  He too was asked to stand up and say a few words about his experience.  As was his wife. Then other members of the staff were asked to stand up to “give a few words” to the volunteer before he left.

This sequence of events happens each time more than a few people are together.  And not just in the professional environment and not just in Mutomo. I attended a holiday/family event for one my CMMB co-workers in his home near Nyeri, Kenya.  After we ate, each person in attendance was asked to come up and greet the family. Each person!  It was not a small gathering.

Kenya Nyeri where Dr. Fleming went to celebrate with a friend

Recently, I attended another event to celebrate the life of one of the neighbors who had recently passed away.  She was a young woman, 44, pregnant, and died suddenly, unexpectedly, reminding us of the unfortunate reality of maternal mortality.

As each guest arrived, each person greeted each guest individually. At the close of the gathering, with about 10 of us left, one of the older couples led a small spontaneous prayer session.  At the end of which, we were asked to share a few words with the husband.

I commented, “I’ve been here for three months, but every time… I’m not ready.” I composed my thoughts and spoke of being present in the moment, offering my sympathy and condolences for something I cannot even imagine.

This Kenyan tradition has prompted me to recognize the value of acknowledging people around me.  Each day is a blessing and tomorrow is not promised. I’m sharing this tradition with you now to encourage you to remember to appreciate those around you every single day.

We often move quickly through our day, through our to-do list, through our meetings and extracurricular activities. Slow down to say hi to a stranger, help a neighbor, congratulate a co-worker, reply to a text or email from a friend, tell your family you love them.

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