Wednesday, 08 May 2019 15:31

Cuban Doctors in Kenya: No Time to Cry

Written by István Ojeda Bello
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Cuban Doctors in Kenya: No Time to Cry Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee

"The brigade is firm, working and alert," said Dr. Alberto Felipe Rigñak Vaz from Kenya. He is widely known as El Checo (The Czech) in his beloved Jobabo; but now this doctor from Las Tunas has another nickname: Makori, which in the Swahili language means a man who walks the streets or born on the road.


Las Tunas, Cuba.- "It's a hard blow, an impact on our lives; we did not believe it would happen; if we rejected terrorism before, now that it touches us in our own flesh, a thousand times more," he commented exclusively to 26Digital referring to the kidnapping of his colleagues Assel Herrera Correa, also from Las Tunas, and Landy Rodríguez Hernández, from Villa Clara.

Alberto Felipe works as a specialist in Reconstructive, Aesthetic and Burn Plastic Surgery in the state hospital of Kisii, a city of more than three million inhabitants. It is an installation with good material conditions; but like many in Kenya, it suffers due to the absence of professionals.

Adapting to a different culture, he confesses, was not easy. "The Kenyan colleagues were a bit skeptical at first, especially because we are white. But then, with the day to day, we are already a family. We earned their respect," he says.

El Checo feels and suffers for his patients. He speaks of an 8-year-old boy who was treated for six burn injuries and who is today healthy and joined the school; or of a diabetic who, seeing one of his feet recovered that he already thought lost, does not stop blessing them.

His routine starts very early each day. He is always among the first to arrive at the hospital to visit inpatients, make specialized consultations and, depending on the existing cases, go to the operating room to perform scheduled surgeries or attend to emergencies. "There are many cases of reconstructive surgery due to sequels of burns and accidents. Children are the majority, unfortunately," he says.

But, how Cuban health collaborators in Kenya experience the sudden and violent absence of two of their colleagues?

"Not fear, but angst for their lives, for their integrity. I tell you with honesty, with impotence for the wait in front of this cowardly and vile act. Without neglect our duty. We have not had time to cry, but to demand that they be released immediately. Each one assumes this situation in a different way. There are those who write poems, make videos, create a page, send messages, reflect; and the most important, we continue working with our heads on high and the faith that they will return. "

How are the relations with local authorities, both government and the clans that may exist there? Is there any change after the events with Assel and Landy?

"Both the formal and informal authorities have had full support and, of course, repudiate the fact. They also claim for their return and feel very sad about this. "

Is it what happened common in Kenya?

"It's an unusual event. This is a quiet country. Only in that part of the border with Somalia there is a lot of instability because terrorist groups operate. I do not think that the kidnapping was directly motivated to harm Cuba. Rather it seems the fruit of the need of this armed group to have assistance, for the professionalism of our colleagues, which they have demonstrated with their work. Today the damage is also suffered by the poorest that had their services and affection."

However, there are those who say that Cuban doctors take risks and go to those distant or potentially violent places compelled only by economic necessity.

"There are always basses and traitors who speak for what they are. Cuban doctors do not go to places just for economic reasons. There is something more important. We go by conviction, by education, by principles, by a mixture of steel and honey, of love for the people. In this brigade there is nobody who wanted to return. The people are still up. I can't deny that sometimes you have to take a breath, but we go on."

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