Reflections on Complexity: Kibera as it is

Travis Wieland, medical student

One of the biggest challenges for many medical students is becoming comfortable with complexity.

July 20, 2018

“I got power, poison, pain, and joy inside my DNA.
I got hustle, though, ambition, flow, inside my DNA.”
- Kendrick Lamar 

One of the biggest challenges for many medical students is becoming comfortable with complexity. Medical school can trick us into believing that there are simple answers to every question: infections get antibiotics, broken legs get casts, a cold gets rest and fluids. Students are submerged in this culture for so long that it can be easy to develop the mentality that every problem—even one outside of medicine—has a singular, unambiguous answer. 

Fortunately, reality is bigger than the small bubble that is medical school, and the wider world is frustratingly and beautifully complex. Kibera offers a perfect example of this complexity; challenges and inspirations and problems and solutions all exist side by side. Children are laughing and playing in the street, and inadequate shelters are made of wood and scrap corrugated metal. Many residents lack opportunities to realize their potential, and complete strangers smile and greet you as you walk down the street. People talk about strong community and mutual reliance, and inter-ethnic conflict stymies progress.

This complexity is Kibera as it is. Outsiders, at a loss of how to process their visit, often reach for reductionism to explain this reality and resolve the dissonance that they feel, either hopelessly romanticizing or hopelessly catastrophizing the way life is in Kibera. It is in reflection that the real value of a visit to Kibera lies, however. 

True reflection forces you to see things as they are, forces you to recognize the tension between the good and the bad, the way things are and they way things ought to be, the way you see things as an observer and the way you are seen as the observed, and it is out of this reflection that emerges the potential for collaboration. 

Travis is a 4th year medical student at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, who visited CFK while on a global health elective at Kenyatta National Hospital, through the Dept of Emergency Medicine at UNC. He matched into the Emergency Medicine residency at UNC Chapel Hill for 2018-2019.

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