Sally Wambui N'dungu, Kenya

A Report of my Experience in Germany October December 2013

01.12.2013 Monday 9th December 2013 was the day just after my arrival back home from Germany; the place that had been home to me for about 7 weeks. As I walked hurriedly through our very busy streets in the city centre, trying to make it on time to meet a friend; I noticed that indeed I was different. Unlike before, it mattered to me so much to be on time. While the rest crossed the road regardless, I found myself stopping when the passenger lights went red!

I clearly recall my 1st day in Germany- 19th October 2013. I landed in Berlin at around 2pm, a very heavy suitcase in hand that I could barely carry for 2 minutes. I was very lucky to have been received by a very friendly lady, the IPPNW famulieren and engagieren (f & e) project coordinator Ulla Gorges.  It is this very project that had seen me travel many miles to Europe. I still owe her for helping me with my luggage and all in all giving me a very warm welcome. It was like a dream! It was like this time round I was not just watching a movie but taking part in it. It was strange! It was different! It was so beautiful! Too beautiful to be true! The air was so fresh. The streets in big and beautiful Berlin seemed so empty to me. The roads - oh my!! The trams and buses! I remember seeing many bicycles parked close together and wondering whether they were on sale! I later realized that it was a parking for bicycles! As we rode on the spacious bus, and I saw the beautiful trees in autumn and the river Spree right in the capital city, it began to dawn on me that indeed I was in Europe!

I spent my 1st 3 weeks in Leipzig, an old and beautiful city in the Eastern part of Germany. I arrived there on the evening of 19th October, where my contact person, a medical student at the University of Leipzig and IPPNW member showed me to my apartment. The housemate who received me was a French girl, who could hardly speak good English. I tried to strike a conversation with her and it was indeed so hard that I wondered how the two of us would survive together. Funny enough, she ended up being one of my best friends during my time in Leipzig. A few days down the line, I understood her English and had learnt what phrases I should use for us to communicate. I felt at home with the other housemates as well. I fondly recall my beautiful experiences with these lovely people. In a world where initially most things seemed strange, they had a way of making me feel like I belonged. Tears flooded my eyes 3 weeks later when I had to say goodbye. However, I held on to the dream of one day paying back their kindness when hopefully they visit my country Kenya.


Social Project
I must admit that my first days at the asylum in Leipzig were sickening. This is where I did my social program. It was indeed a very different side of this rich well-developed country. The inhabitants dressed, spoke and carried themselves differently. You could tell that they did not yet belong. I felt very inadequate with my proficient English, Kiswahili and Kikuyu. I was supposed to help counsel the asylum seekers, most of who spoke French, Arabic and a bit of German. The facilitators at the asylum shared my sentiments on the first day - they wondered aloud about what exactly I was supposed to do at that place.  Luckily, I was quick to realize that it was up to me to create a beautiful experience for myself, my colleagues at the asylum and the inhabitants during my brief working period. I made friends with the interns who showed me around, told me a lot about the asylum system in Leipzig and in the country as a whole. They patiently explained to me about the inhabitants who came to the office seeking for our help. After a while, I was fully conversant with how things worked and enjoyed it. Together with the interns, I worked closely with the children at the asylum, guiding them through songs and games. I learnt some German from them and I remember a few of them picking some English words from me.

Having successfully completed my 3 week social program, I was now ready to move to a new city - Dresden to have my medical elective in Pediatrics.  Time at the Dresden Neustadt Hospital went very fast. It was an educative, informative and eye-opening experience. I thought that there would be a great language barrier here as well but it ended up being way better than I expected, thanks to the common medical terms and the doctors and nurses who were willing to go out of their way to translate and explain things to me. I felt lucky to have had the opportunity to see some diseases that I could only recall reading or slightly being taught about.

I was greatly humbled to have been invited to join the Medical Peace Work core committee for a meeting in Nuremberg between 15th and 17th November.  Spending the weekend with this group of older and very successful IPPNW doctors greatly motivated me. I admire the humility and friendship I saw among the members of that team.  A few years to come or even sooner, I could picture myself sitting with such a team, friends I had worked with since my days in campus, debating on how to make the world a better place. I was challenged in many ways. I felt the urge to take up and complete the Medical Peace Work course, help expand the course to other students and to crown it all, I wanted to be as successful as I saw each of the doctors in that team.

I spent my last full weekend in Berlin together with other students who had participated in the 2013 IPPNW F and E program.  Hearing about their experiences in the various places where they did their programs, India and South America for example, made me really appreciate my home country. It made me realize that it is not only in Africa where poverty and other serious social problems exist. 

My last week in Germany was probably the best. I spent 2 days in Göttingen (a small and beautiful university town in Lower Saxony) and 2 days in Munich (the heart of Bavaria). I visited the palliative ward at the University of Göttingen Hospital. Here, on 3rd December 2013, I achieved one of my greatest dreams - seeing Music therapy in action! I had heard about music therapy about 7 years ago from my high school music teacher. I highly considered following that career path. However, I later thought it wise to pursue medicine first so that even if I pursue music therapy later, I would be in a better position to serve my people. As this is not something practiced in Kenya yet, I had never witnessed it, other than from the you tube videos I had watched. Therefore, spending the day with a music therapist and working with her was indeed a dream come true. The experience left me with greater reasons to keep chasing my musical dreams alongside my medical profession. It left me with deeper faith on the impact that a combination of music and medicine can have on the society.

University Hospital
In Göttingen too, I finally found a group of young prayerful people! It felt like light at the end of the tunnel. For the previous 6 weeks, I had not found such a kind! I joined them for one of their evening prayer meetings where we sang, prayed and meditated together! It felt like home! I wished I would have been there longer but I was more than glad to have finally experienced this.

Another interesting thing - maybe Kiswahili is an international language after all! I was amazed at how one German girl spoke to me in very proficient Kiswahili, what people at home would call Kiswahili sanifu! She had just worked in Tanzania for one year and there she was, challenging me with her wide range of vocabulary. She was not the only German I could converse with in Kiswahili. One guy I met in Munich on my last day was very excited to finally find someone to speak Kiswahili to. I did not deny him the joy he wanted. We communicated the whole time in my home language- Kiswahili!

7th December 2013 - it was time to go back home. 7 weeks down the line, I had almost adapted to the German culture. I could comfortable cycle alone on the streets of Germany, a map in hand to follow! I could comfortably munch a whole cheese sandwich or eat unpeeled boiled potatoes with salad that had cheese dressing. Somehow, I grew up hating cheese! I would not find it as weird as it was at first to see people carry unpeeled carrots or a tin of paprika for lunch. I was just beginning to be addicted to the tasty whole meal bread, the heavenly German cakes, the chocolates which I thought were very affordable, and the hot red wine at Christmas, the sweet German beer and the wide range of tea, especially raspberry and lemon tea. I was just beginning to enjoy the snow and the Christmas markets. The trams, buses, washing machines and dish washers had now become a part of me. I had learnt how to communicate with the people. Some German words and phrases that I enjoyed using had already stuck in my head. However, I was excited because deep down inside me, I was homesick. I had really missed my family and friends back at home and the noisy and busy streets.

However, I knew I would have loved to be back to this beautiful place. I had made friends that I felt I wanted to keep forever.  One of them, an intern I worked with at the Dresden Neustadt Hospital, had told me, “In Germany, we say you always meet twice in life” I hope this German saying comes true. “Do not look at it as the end but as the beginning”- Those were the encouraging words that Ulla Gorges the project coordinator told me as she saw me off.  These thoughts in mind, I could not help but smile as I took my flight back home. It was indeed just the beginning!