In April 2019, I traveled from Dubai to volunteer at the Maasai Dental Clinic in Kenya. Although the purpose of the trip was to serve the incredible Maasai people, this opportunity also helped me reconnect with myself and my love of dentistry.
One of the first people you will meet is the clinic manager, William. William wears so many different hats at the clinic. He is a manager, a safari tour guide and, above all, a friend you can count on when you are halfway across the world into the African Savannah and may have A LOT of questions.
During our drive from Nairobi to the clinic, which takes about 4 hours, we stopped at a local market to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables. William mentioned how 2019 had been such a dry year and the drought affected the farmers and the animals. I told him about cloud seeding in Dubai, which is a man-made way of making it rain, and he was shocked, and with his big old smile he replied “Wow, in Dubai people compete with God?
Prior to 2019, I had practiced in 3 countries- India, U.A.E and the United States. The moment I entered the Maasai Dental clinic, I knew this place was magical. I checked into the apartment, which is on the second floor directly above the clinic, and I felt at home immediately. I feared that I may feel unsafe given the high crime rate in Nairobi, but the compound in Maasai Mara is probably the safest place out there. The compound in which the clinic sits is surrounded by an electric fence that prevents any wild animals, like elephants or lions, from getting anywhere close to you. The Maasai people are very friendly and caring, and I always felt protected around them.
This clinic is like most dental clinics in terms of the equipment and set up, with the exception that occasionally you might see deer and baboons through the window while treating your patients. It had all the instruments and materials I needed. I mean rubber dam endo in the Maasai Mara?! Who would have thought? Day 1 of clinic started with a bang; 14 extractions and 3 root canal treatments. I worked with a wonderful team of dental assistants in Younis, Agnis and Grace, who were excellent at their job, and in helping me get accustomed to the Maasai ways. We played music as we worked, and it slowly started becoming a well-oiled system. I asked Eunice why many patients carried weapons. She said it was to guard them from animals and also cut through trees, if they wanted to make toothbrushes for example. “Here the problem is animals she said, what about in your country?” “In my country, the problem is humans”, I said.
15 days flew by. We worked hard during the day and met such incredible patients. Language was a barrier but patients showed their gratitude through their body language. I felt so full in my heart and so much pride for being able to get them out of pain. We provided routine dental care as well in the form of exams, cleanings and fillings. Majority of the work was emergency based however, with a lot of extractions.
When we weren’t working, William introduced us to the local Maasai culture and took us for safari game drives. He was relentless and drove around till we saw so many different wild animals: dik-diks, giraffes, gazelles, deer, elephants, mongooses, topi, zebras, impalas, wild beasts, thomson gazelles, lions, secretary birds, ostriches, buffalos, leopards, hippos, hyenas, cheetahs. I was living the dream.
On my last day, I felt mixed emotions. I realized how fortunate I was to have had this experience so early on in my career but still saddened by the fact that I had to leave. As I got into the car to head back to Nairobi, I thought to myself “Goodbye Maasai Mara, the beautiful clear skies, incredible Maasai tribe and the animals. I hope I come back one day. “