Friday, June 24

Right Place, Right Time kinda Day

You cannot truly understand the healthcare system of a country until you have to use it.  (posted with permission).  Hi-C and I left placement a few hours early today since all of our clients and our supervisor had already checked out.  Getting home early I tiptoed past Auntie* since she was napping in her chair.  After 15 minutes, I was crouched in the bathroom scrubbing my gitch when we started hearing snoring.  The snoring soon became snorted moans coming from Auntie.  I tried to wake her: nothing.  Hi-C rubbed her sternum: nada.  Uh oh.

Long story short, she was unconscious but, thankfully, breathing.  That is when it hit me:  at home I would immediately call 911.  There is no 911 here.  You have to call an ambulance company, of which we knew none.  So we called her daughters who rushed home.  In between attempting to wake her, checking her blood sugar (she is diabetic), and shining a light in her eyes (pupils reactive! woot!) her daughter called an ambulance.  No answer.  That is right:  NO ANSWER!  She called her doctor who agreed to come.  Still no answer from the ambulance.  Eventually about a half hour has now passed since realizing she was unconscious and daughter N sends me in a taxi to the hospital down the road to find an ambulance.  I had to FIND AND AMBULANCE. 

I asked at the desk about some medical transport and was sent to another desk - where I was promptly told to wait my turn.  I was finally told that the hospital did not, in fact, have ambulances but they could give me a number to call one: just give them five minutes to call and find out the number.  I got fed up waiting and decided to approach the drivers of the ambulance I had seen sitting at the entrance.  Success!

Then there was the issue of payment.  No ride without 5500 shillings (about $60) - in cash.  Fine.  Not exorbitant but we are talking about 5500 shillings in a place where a significant portion of the population makes less than 10 000 shillings a month.  Thankfully this family could make it happen.  So off we went to the house.

I lost track of time but it was over 1.5 hours from time of discovery to hospital entrance and the hospital is a 15 minute walk away (ie. a 3-5 min drive sans sirens). 

Moral of the story: if you plan on having a heart attack, don't come to Kenya.

Auntie is home now and doing just fine. 

*The mom in the house we are staying who cooks the most awesomest Indian food.

Saturday, June 18


Percy the parasite has taken up residence in my small intestine.  At least that is my interpretation of my recent symptoms.  Between Hi-C and I, we have had every possible parasite-related symptom*.  Hi-C has had more of the unexpected and interesting ones.  At first we thought it was traveler's runs after drinking all kinds of fresh juices at hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Lamu.  Things we on the upswing after some hydration earlier this week.  But I still can't eat a meal without stomach cramps, food holds little appeal for me and I can only consume small amounts at a time (which I then often pay for for hours afterwards).  We are both now on a regimen on 6 wormwood anti-parasiticals per day that taste like dry hay.  Today has been named "operation parasite destruction day".  Off to the pharmacy we go because we still haven't replaced our phones and I can't go to the doctor without first calling my insurance company. 

All part of hanging out in a developing country and refusing to only eat with the tourists. 

And yes, we are still having a good time we are just doing it slowly and low key lately.

*According to one website.  I can't say for sure if we have had EVERY symptom but quite a vast array of interesting happenstances.

Update:  de-worming has commenced.  Apparently everyone here is supposed to "de-worm" every 3 months.  We figured, for 35 cents and one pill we can give it a shot.  Here's to feeling better!

Sunday, June 12

Want my Travel Groove Back

From Mombasa we rode the bus to Lamu, the town I mentioned in my last post as Zanzibar-before-the-tourists, but relaxing it has not turned out to be.  We fly back to Nairobi tonight and I just want a day to relax before placement after this "vacation". 

We have been staying at a lovely hostel with awesome breakfast included (go fresh passion fruit juice!).  The downside was robbery.  And the fun of everyone we meet remarking on how nice it is to come to Lamu because it is so safe.  Safe other than getting robbed on the beach.  Hi-C and I are camera and phone-less.  And he also got a nice pair of prescription glasses - thank goodness I brought an old pair.  Thankfully no one was hurt and we were not carrying passports or identification.  Partly it is our own fault because we ended up on a part of the beach with no one else nearby and tried to return to civilization but we just weren't quite quick enough.  We had been lulled by everyone telling us that Lamu is the safest place in Kenya.  Expensive lesson #1:  don't let your guard down anywhere in Africa. 

We have been seeing the city with an American girl who lost some cash in "the incident" but managed to keep her camera.  All the photos I have of this lovely town are hers;  80% of the photos are of animals. I think I have a portrait of every single stray cat in the town and a few of every donkey.  Last night after dinner with a local family (which, instead of being a local cooking lesson and cultural event we paid too much for fish and ate dinner with tourists....but enough complaining) I rode their donkey home (name: Number 10).  Not the smoothest ride but a friendly donkey.  I am fairly sad there is no photo to commemorate my journey on donkey-back as people were remarking that I looked like a princess riding my donkey through town with my posse walking behind.  Oh, what a glorious 20 minutes it was. 

On top of the loss of goods, Hi-C spent yesterday rehydrating after spewing her lunch over one of the town garbage heaps.  To be honest, this is the first time I have lost the travel bug and I hope I can get it back.  The urge to pack it all up and head home is tempting.  The time difference doesn't make it any easier since prime times I can access the phone and internet are times when people at home are often sleeping or at work.  Instead of going home it is back to placement tomorrow and on to planning a presentation for a staff meeting Friday. 

Happy donkey at the donkey hospital servicing the island's 6000 beasts of burden.

The lovely arabic corner.

Hi-C feeding a donkey.

Lamu shoreline.

One of the Swahili doors.

Thursday, June 9

Taking the Local Bus

Since arriving in Kenya everyone we have spoken to has told us "you have to see Lamu".  One person described it as Zanzibar before all the tourists.  Plus it was only a 7 hour bus ride from Mombasa.  We arose around 430am today to be at the bus stop by 530ish.  The bus was late - no surprise.  The baggage stow was filled with a few inches of water since it was raining (luckily they stuck our bags inside the bus by the driver).  We went for a bus instead of the matatu option this time since people warned that the road there wasn't "optimal".  If sub-optimal means brain-shaking bumps for the last 4 hours then that is the correct term.  At least we were protected by the two men with AK-47s in the front seat.

Locals are always more entertaining/interesting than a bus full of wazungu (the plural of mzungu or one white person).  The population here is largely Muslim so we witnessed men using tiny portable prayer speakers on the bus - and the awkwardness of the other men who had not been so pious.  The man behind me had no qualms with horking and spitting constantly out his window and I got some chicken dropped on my feet when the man in front of me threw the bones from his meal out the window.  Here, food scraps go out the window. 

Speaking of food scraps I was starting to doubt that Kenyans could keep up with Peruvians with the extent of their culinary selections to be had through the bus window.  That was until today.  Peruvians watch out!  Kenyan's are it.  Cheap and fresh.  For 10 bob you can get yourself a whole mango with the top sliced and peeled handily and spicy flavouring on top.  Not into spicy?  How about roasted corn for 20 shillings?  Water? Milk?  Goat blood?  We shoved 10ksh out the window and decided to try something brown and rhombus shaped.  That was smart.  Basically hard, dirty fudge - pure sugar.  Mmmm. 

In Lamu for a few hours so far the town is beautiful.  I have pet multiple baby donkeys and we ate fresh kingfish kebabs with veggies and tamarind sauce sitting with a view of the ocean.  Wandering the "main street" - busy but only about 1 meter wide in some places - we came across a lovely fabric store with a tailor that will make anything for you custom.  We're both off to for some inspiration!

We also found ourselves in a fairtrade crafts store.  I was standing next to the shopkeeper's daughter (about 5yrs) while browsing the wallets when I felt something warm and wet.  I looked down expecting to have been peed on - nope - vomit.  There was a new one.  Oh well, I just kept shopping, it wasn't that much vomit.  It looked like she had spaghettios for din-din.

Monday, June 6

How Africa Works

Everything is just a little (or a very lot) different here.  Sometimes you just have to laugh.  I swear, I'm not jaded yet....

1.  Time and timeliness

Time is kept by hours of daylight.  Since the sun comes up at a reliable 6 am that is hour 0.  If someone is meeting you at 6 that really means noon.  Which brings me to the other point:  being on time is subjective.  People are often late for appointments (and, since exchanging cell phone numbers is considered a must-do) you can then call and confirm if they are, in fact, coming.  The problem is that any time you ask "when" the answer is "10 minutes".  We are almost there!  10 minutes!  Just so you know - not 10 minutes.  Likely an hour.  Perhaps more.

2.  Language

If you're white they will speak to you in "tourist".  They use words that they wouldn't use with each other.  And you will be welcomed to Kenya all. the. time.  Even if, like The Boss, you have been here for 7 months and speak decent kiswahili.  They will greet you with "Jambo!" but to eachother will say "hujambo" (one is just the word "matters/problems" while the latter is a question "any problems?").  Sometimes they will throw out a "hujambo" as a test - if you answer "jambo" you're tourist bait - if you answer "si jambo/no problems" you're in.  Well, as "in" as you'll be as a tourist with minimal melanin.  They also say "hakuna matata" all.the.time. To us.  To each other it is "hakuna shida" which means "no problems".  Apparently matata=chaos and Timone and Puumba need to brush up on their kiswahili translation.

3. Food service

Restaurants often have very long menus.  If you order something they will do one of two things:  either tell you that they dont' have it while you continue to play a guessing game about which dish on the menu they actually will prepare for you (hint:  it is likely cabbage, fish and ugali) OR they will tell you that they have it only to return an hour later - after your stomach has eaten itself - to inform you that they have not prepared anything while your table mates are happily chowing down. 

Examples - we went to a fancy restaurant.  Our pizzas took about 1.5 hours to arrive.  Hi-C and I had both ordered the same pizza and I jokingly said "if only one comes - I get it!".  Woops.  Jinx.  Only one came.  After I sat for 15 minutes longingly watching others eat (somehow Hi-C got the one pizza) they informed me that - oops- the chef forgot my pizza.

-We stayed at a lovely eco lodge this weekend.  Hi-C and I decided to get lunch there because they offered "grilled chicken with banana sauce and coconut rice".  Woot!  There were only 3 items on the menu so I imagined that I was golden.  However, when he took our lunch order (at breakfast) he informed us there was fresh fish from the river.  No thanks, I'll still have the chicken.  And you could see the fear in his eyes.  Sure....the chicken....riiiight.  We got a phone call an hour or so later informing us that there was no chicken - fish then?  Fine.  Fish it is.

4. The Telephone.

Sometimes I question why I bought a cellphone here.  No one can understand my accent over the phone.  People who speak English very well and I could have very detailed an informative conversations with in person are hopeless at understanding me over the phone (and yes, I can usually understand their accent).  I have been trying to track down information about ABR testing* (and just any hearing testing in Mombasa) for a client.  My first few attempts were by telephone but not one person could understand "hearing test".

Hearing test!
Do you test hearing??
Ears - hearing - do you test it?
Hearing tests?  For babies?
Do you do them?

Nothing - Sorry maam, I'm just not getting you.

It is so bad that I have resorted to actually going to the hospital myself to inquire.  Which, of course, brings up a whole host of other issues.  But this post is getting long and ranty.  I should point out - I really do like it here!

Just to be a good sport:  an example of when something goes awesomely right.

We headed to a nearby beach where a few young Kenyan men have started a nature conservation area + snorkeling!  For 500 shillings (about $6) you get a knowledgeable tourguide (also very attractive) who knows many scientific names for things and snorkel gear.  While the tide was low we walked among the pools checking out the nifty creatures and then headed for the water as it got a bit deeper.  THIS was incredible snorkeling.  The water was low enough that we swam with the fish, had to swim between the corals and often brushed up against the seaweed. 

We saw:
giant puffer fish (2-3 feet long!)
clown fish (nemo)
a variety of sea cucumbers (including the long sticky purplish strands they spew if disturbed)
starfish (grey ones with bright red designs, brittle stars, cushion starfish, a 20-armed spiky monstrosity)
an electric ray
trigger fish
So many other lovely fish I can't name them

The only downside was my own fault - I applied sunscreen but 4 hours in the water washed it away and left me burnt from ankle to butt.  Ouch!

*Auditory brainstem response testing - it is a method of testing the function of the inner ear to determine amount of hearing loss in infants and toddlers primarily.