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MJA Dr Eric Dark Creative Writing Prize – Esther

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Winner, Medical student category

I’ll never forget her smile as she waddled into the makeshift treatment room. Esther was considerably shorter than the rest of her classmates in Two Lion, so much so that most of the other students at the Abedare Ranges Primary School treated her like an invalid toddler. With a student on each hand helping her to walk, Esther’s slender, bowed legs betrayed a spot diagnosis.

“Rickets”, my supervisor whispered as he knelt to shake our new patient’s hand and commence the paediatric charm offensive. Esther coyly withdrew, blushed, and scrunched her donated uniform between her fingers, two sizes too big and certainly not African in origin. Dr James Robertson, a six-foot-one white man with a shaved head from an Aboriginal medical service in Sydney, was the epitome of an oddity in Kenya, and the children were understandably awed by his impressive presence.

Our mission was to screen all 300 children in the school, living in either the adjacent orphanage or the internally displaced people’s camp a few kilometres down the road. Known as “Pipeline”, the camp is home to 6000 Kenyans living in ramshackle tents donated by aid organisations after the 2007 national election riots. Families of ten or more live in dirt-floored spaces most accurately compared with a chicken coop. Even more heart-rending was the hard truth that the charity-run school…