03 September 2008

The return

So I'm home now. Now that I have had some sleep, of that much I am certain. I’m still not sure of anything else, really. Everything feels different, though just how I remember it, nothing ever changes, everything predictable, reliable, as expected. This country can be so boring once you get used to the initial novelty of being here again.

Thanks to the lack of sleep over the last two days, the journey and arrival home seems rather like a dream, looking back. I got up early on the day of departure in order to bid my fellow volunteers goodbye. Everyone quickly disappeared off to their various placements; leaving me to go back to the cottage and finish packing my things, shower, chat to Peter and Vincent while they made lunch for everyone when they got back. Another newbie arrived about an hour before I left. Steph, an English nurse, terrified she was going to be the eldest volunteer, she was very cool and I spoke to her for a while about what to expect from her time in Kenya. I think we’d have got on like that dead millionaire’s house on fire, had she come a month earlier.

Katharine came back from her placement and we were off to the airport, taking care to say farewell to Rebecca, Peter, Vincent and Bryony as we bundled our luggage into the back of Bernard’s Corolla, leaving by the same means as we had arrived. Bernard was a lot more talkative than he was way back on our first arrival, and almost mowed down a pedestrian on his mobile on the way there.

I had tried to dress specifically so that I wouldn’t have to take much off to go through the metal detectors this time, Katharine too was happy that the check in guy didn’t make her pay the fifty-odd quid that she was supposed to for the truly epic weight of her souvenir laden bags.

She tried to sleep through most of the flight to Doha and I just tried to avoid watching the in flight movie ‘Speedracer’ by reading my book until we got to the middle-east. This time, I was prepared for the intense heat of Qatar, wearing a single layer of lightweight clothing and watching people ahead of me, who obviously weren’t prepared, step off of the plane wearing jackets and the like, melt and flow down the stairs and onto the, thankfully air conditioned terminal bus. It was dark and extremely hot and once again I was thankful that I didn’t have to experience how much hotter it would be at midday.

Qatar is a Muslim country and, as such, is doing the whole Ramadan thing right now, which also made me thankful it was dark. I was starving and it would be illegal to eat during daylight hours. The fast food counter cheerfully accepted pounds sterling, only they gave change in Qatari Riyals, which I worked out must have a value of around fifteen pence each.

We eventually decided to try and get some sleep in the airport’s quiet room as I had a five hour gap and Katharine had something like a twelve hour gap. The quiet room, we discovered was very poorly named. There was a guy snoring comically loudly and I could hardly believe it was a real snore it sounded so put on; a old woman with dementia or something, who started making some pretty odd and loud noises when her family tried to wake her up to leave; the public announcements continued every ten seconds to give final boarding warnings and as always there was a mother with a baby that seemed to forget that if you’re somewhere that requires you to be quiet and your baby starts crying, you should pick it up and PISS OFF SOMEWHERE ELSE YOU STUPID FUCK!!!!

My time was up and before I knew it, I was leaving Katharine behind to get to my plane. Even at 1 am it’s hotter outside here than Britain has ever been. The plane was another one of those huge ones with lots of complimentary stuff and a TV in the back of every seat. I spent most of my time watching ’10,000 BC’ (not amazing) and ‘Street Kings’ (bloody good) with the remainder of my time trying unsuccessfully to sleep for a while, eating god awful in flight meals and a very short time hitting on a hot hippy looking chick, trying to impress her with the volunteering work I’ve been doing only to find out that she’s been volunteering around the world non-stop for four years… “Okay, you win.”

Due to tiredness, I could no-longer perceive time at all, but if asked, I would estimate that I was waiting at the carousel for my bag for roughly seventeen years. I picked it up, realised there were no more available trolleys and made for the ‘nothing to declare’ exit.

“Hypothetically” I asked, “were I to have a hypothetical very large souvenir knife hypothetically in my bag right now, would I need to declare it?”

“Hypothetically… Yes sir.”

The grumpy, unwelcoming security guard at the ‘Declare your shit here’ desk greeted me with a look of ‘make me have to do any work and you’ll never be found’

“What have you got?” The taint of contempt was astonishing.

“I have a Masai hunting knife in my bag.”

He looked briefly at the bag, “Any fruit or veg?”

“Er… No.” I replied.
He said nothing further and gestured me through with his thumb, looking back at his paper. I quietly laughed, which drew one last stern look from the man before I hurried through the exit, praying that my Mother was here to pick me up and she hadn’t accidentally gone to Heathrow instead.

I was greeted back in Portsmouth by all of my housemates, torn between their happiness to see me again and their contempt for anyone who wakes them up before midday. I gave gifts, relaxed for several hours, told stories of Africa, and then got dragged to a rock gig my brother was playing. It went really well, we all had Subway (oh man, I’ve missed meatball marinara) before I fell into bed.

I’m missing Kenya already and all of those I was there with. Experience of a lifetime.

31 August 2008

31st – Last days

I intended to take my last full day in Kenya easy. Rock climbing in the afternoon was probably the worst way to implement that plan. I scraped my ribs, pulled a muscle in my shoulder, my fingers ache like hell and I incurred Christine’s wrath because I couldn’t make a jump from one finger hold to another five feet further up the wall.

We all lazed about for a few hours in the afternoon, though. I wanted to have one last walk through the tea fields, but we’ll have to do that tomorrow, we sat and watched ‘Perfume’ instead, such a weird, though very good film.

At 18:00 we all went to the Brack café for our last meal there, and to see off Hannah, who left tonight in a flood of emotion, but she has told me to get in touch if I’m ever in her area. I’ll really miss her until then. We only just got her off in time as both of usordered our food at about 18:05 and it wasn’t in front of us until 19:30. “Jesus!” I thought, “How long does it take to cook chicken nuggets and an omelet? These better be the best I’ve ever tasted!” Meh, they were okay, I guess.

Laylah and Yank Jenny leave for home at some point in the dead of night. I’ll really miss them too. I’m toying with the idea of getting up to see them off, but I could probably use the sleep. Long day tomorrow. It’ll last about thirty six hours.

COMING HOME TOMORROW! Be there the day after.

30th – Weekend binge

As it’s the last weekend for most of us, we had a rich full day planned. We got up at a reasonable hour to go to an elephant orphanage, followed by a giraffe sanctuary. Baby elephants rock. They were so funny and a little clumsy, competing for the attention of one of the rangers. At one point, a few of them ganged up on one elephant that was just lying down, minding it’s own business, when they all came and shoved the poor thing into the nearby pond. We got to pet them and a rhino that had been penned nearby to receive medical attention for some wounds.

The giraffe sanctuary was even more hands on. We spent the whole time feeding them food pellets. They’ve got such huge slobbery tongues…ewww. Some of the girls fed them by putting the pellets in their own mouths to get wet, sloppy kisses from the elongated horses…eewwwwww.

We had lunch next, presumably so that the girls could get rid of the taste, at a decent café in the city center. I had a burger (mmm… genuine African food).

In the evening, we got rather hammered (shhh, alcohol is forbidden at Brackenhurst) playing a game called ring of fire. One of the drinks we had was a bottle of 70% not unlike absinthe, but unlike absinthe, all you can taste is the alcohol. One of my forfeits was to do a ‘seductive dance’. As I can’t dance, I just took off my clothes instead in the most embarrassing way I could think of at the time. They got it on film, of course, so look out for me on Youtube soon. I don’t think the drinking went unnoticed. Apparently there were some complaints about the noise, or should I say, Kerrianne’s noise, a very loud drunk.

30 August 2008

29th - Push!

Hannah and me did our usual trick at the hospital today of showing up to the wards to follow Dr. Godwin on a ward round and then asking nicely if he can introduce us to the staff in a more interesting department. Today, maternity! On Monday, I witnessed a C-section; today I got to observe a natural birth…gross…yet strangely awesome. It was even hilarious when seconds after the final push; the woman was on her mobile. She said a total of five stern words before hanging up, which were: “Come and see your son”. The rest of the time, we followed Jane (the young clinical officer I met a whole shed-load of posts ago, remember?) and a load of female interns around on a ward round. I got talking to Hannah during a break and discovered that she thinks all English people are arrogant… Racist.

Most of the girls stayed behind at Brack t get their hair braided in the afternoon, while the rest of us went to the LCC. I carried on painting the fence while Christine, Brit Jenny and Yank Jenny slacked off painting a storeroom and demolishing a telegraph pole. Tsk tsk tsk… just lazy.

In the evening I just sat and played ‘Phase Ten’ with Hannah, Laylah and American Jenny, thrashing the lot of them finally. Woohootles. Today was my last working day in Kenya, not long now before I jet off home. I leave at 15:00 local time on Monday and arrive back in Gatwick (so glad it’s not Heathrow this time) at about 07:00 the following day.

28 August 2008

28th – Chapattis

Another Thursday in the slums, which I spent at the pharmacy helping Evans, this time with Hannah, too. As usual, we had almost no patients at all. So Hannah and me wasted time practicing taking blood pressure on each other. We got very bored very quickly and so I went along with the rest of the volunteers in the afternoon to learn how to make and cook chapattis at the slum home of a woman that works in the clinic. Essentially, it’s like a fried bread pancake thing. She was nice enough to cook us all a full meal, which we couldn’t all eat as we had already had lunch.

It’s a short post today and I really haven’t done much else to write about. I’m going out for a walk now in order to avoid having to watch ‘Wedding Date’. It’s unfortunate that the gene that allows people to realise how shit chick-flicks are only comes with Y-chromosomes.

27th – Limuru feeding program

I missed the fortnightly feeding program earlier in the month, but heard nothing but good things about it from the other volunteers so I insisted on going this time around. We met Pat, a white Kenyan woman who inexplicably has a perfect English accent. She runs the show. She gets donations from churches around the world to keep the program going, which costs about US$3000 per month, benefiting about fifty families. Our job was to hand out the goods, while Pat handles crowd control, mostly to keep out people who haven’t signed up to the project that try to take advantage of the whole thing. Each person with a ticket receives small bags of beans, flower, butter, bread, salt, rice, matches, paper, lantern fuel and twenty shillings (about sixteen pence).

We began painting our LCC fence in the afternoon, but didn’t get as far as we’d hoped. We left early so that most of the girls could go and play bowls with Pat at 16:30. I declined the offer to go, on the grounds that I still have my real teeth, no arthritis or senility, nor am I receiving a pension or have any female friends going through the menopause. So I sat at Brack with KA watching ‘Clerks’ instead.

I’ve been feeling a little depressed again today and have been preoccupied with thoughts of home and money worries. Still, less than a week until I’m back.

26 August 2008

26th – What taste in films?

Spent the day at the pharmacy with Evans, mostly talking about England again. We had one patient in the form of an elderly lady who needed some gel rubbed into her knees. Massaging a virtual corpse’s legs wasn’t really what I’d imagined I would be doing with my day. Later, Evans and his assistant began talking religion, forcing me to admit that I don’t believe in God and am not a Christian. Shocked is the word. Then, of course, they tried to convince me that he does exist along with creationism and everything else from the bible. I just insisted that, though I accept that they believe it all and they are not necessarily wrong, I fervently believe otherwise.

This evening I decided on the film, as I brought sixty DVDs with me and the girls just keep watching the same few over and over again. ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ has been watched four times since I’ve been here. I chose ‘Sunshine’ as KA wanted to see it and it rocks, but Kerrianne left right as it started to check her emails and was replaced by Katharine, who has the worst taste in everything (she’s the only person in all of history that has ever described a Steve Vai guitar solo as ‘slit-your-wrists music’). After she’d poisoned everyone against it and drowned out the storyline by picking out flaws in the plot, most of which didn’t exist, there really was no saving the movie.

25 August 2008

25th – Adorable babies and treacherous children

At the hospital, Hannah, Sarah and I were in surgery. I felt uncomfortable a few times, but I didn’t nearly pass out like last time. One of the procedures was a caesarian section, which got a bit complicated, spilling blood all over the floor, but the newborn baby was an adorable little girl.

We had lunch at Brackenhurst and checked up on Kerrianne who stayed home sick today, she’s fine, but drifting in and out of sleep while watching an entire series of ‘Friends’.

We didn’t go to LCC in the afternoon because the fence had been finished ahead of schedule so myself, Hannah and Christine stopped off at Ngecha IDP camp for a few hours. School wasn’t on today for some reason, so we had an awful lot more kids to keep amuse. Christine had brought some activities with her for the kids to do, which they immediately started snatching from us and each other, pushing each other to try and get theirs first. We stopped handing them out when their lack of discipline got a bit extreme, so the wretched little shits began to try and wrestle us to the ground to get their way. We got annoyed and left them all to wallow in their boredom while we took refuge in the pastor’s house. Jane kept us company until we were picked back up. Her baby is just learning to walk, she’s a lot more tolerable than the sodlets outside.

24th – Almost nothing

A Sunday with absolutely no obligations, so I slept in even longer today. I got up, chopped some wood with a horribly blunt axe and made a fire, then sat and read for most of the day. It’s an interesting work of fiction, not unlike the bible. It even has the rapture in it.

In the evening I went rock climbing with Christine and now my fingers are sore. She’s so much fitter than I am and made my attempts to get up the walls look pathetic. Then I marathoned Red Dwarf season one with English Jenny, KA and Sarah.

23rd – Nairobi Masai market

Lay in! Woo!

Aww, all of the girls have been planning this trip to the market in town to pick up even more souvenirs. I didn’t want to go because I knew I would be pestered for the whole day and be suckered into buying some cheap crap for more than it’s worth. I went because I didn’t want to be left alone.

I bought a few bits and bobs, most of which I felt immediate remorse over. Fortunately, I didn’t bring much money, so I couldn’t spend the extortionate amount of money that the others did. We had lunch at a fairly decent place and, as such, I couldn’t afford any of the food. I made do with the garlic bread I ordered and the chips I relieved from Laylah, Hannah and American Jenny, and the ice cream KA shared with me. Best meal ever.

Back at base, we sat and watched episode after episode of ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ until about 20:00 when we went to see the Irish girls at the café to wish them farewell as they leave tomorrow.

22nd – “Yawn” followed by: “Ow, my arm aches”

Not much to say about today. It all started quite miserably cloudy and cold. At the hospital with Katharine spending our first few hours trying to decipher the quiet, incoherent mumbling of the doctors we were shadowing, which we found too tedious for words, so we disappeared off to observe a clinical officer consult HIV patients for a while.

Following lunch (mm, pancakes), we were back at the LCC building another fence. I just sawed wood to length with American Jenny for a couple of hours while Christine nailed the pieces to the fence.

This evening I passed the time with American Jenny, Laylah and Hannah playing a very long American card game called ‘Phase Ten’ which lasted for two hours, but it was fun… Except for the part where I lost.

21st – Volunteer coordinators live in mansions!?

We usually use the Makuru slum clinic as our meeting place whenever we head to the slums of Nairobi, but this was my first placement there. There wasn’t much to do. I sorted vast quantities of drugs and threw away expired ones, observed a few consultations for patients and the sat on my backside chatting to Barbara and Kate, two of the girls that work there, for a couple of hours. They mentioned that they were nearing marrying age and wanted to marry a white guy. I think I’m in there.

Later, in the evening, I went with everyone to visit Dan and Bri (our project coordinators, married for ten years, in their early thirties, Australian) at their place. How humble. It only has five bloody bedrooms, each with a huge four-poster bed and on suite bathroom; huge dining room, kitchen and living room complete with ping-pong table; gigantic grounds patrolled by two guards and guard dogs (which are actually just cute, fuzzy little puppies, but Dan assures me they will be killing machines soon enough).

We had a great time while we were there, playing Frisbee (Man, American Jenny is vicious at Frisbee), ping-pong and a game called signs that I won’t explain here, all while drinking booze.

The drink must have had an effect, because Christine and me left the key to our cottage at their house. Gail (another coordinator) thankfully dropped it off for us so that we could get in and go to bed.

21 August 2008

20th – Ngecha IDP camp

I did a placement at the hospital again this morning following Dr. Jani around with Hannah. Continued our lesson on renal failure and headed over to surgery to watch an endoscopy. Unfortunately, the endoscopy was delayed to make way for an emergency stabbing/shooting and I doubted we would be welcome to watch.

After lunch I visited an IDP camp in Ngecha, which was a lot more heavily populated than the Word of Faith camp. I helped Christine with a plan of hers to teach children about sharing and acts of kindness by having them make a card decorated with stickers and drawings and then giving their creation to someone else in the class. We were then invited into the house of the pastor (that had set up the camp) by his wife, Jane; he was away for the week. Jane was incredibly generous with the tea she kept us plied with, so much so that we were busting to pee by the time we’d left. We had to wait until we returned to Brackenhurst as neither of us wanted to go near the hole in the ground at Ngecha. The ride back was interesting, as every bump in the road (of which there are tons in Kenya) hurt our bladders and our driver wanted to see how close we could get to Brackenhurst without starting the engine. It’s mostly downhill all the way until about five hundred metres from the front gate. We’ll try and beat our ecord next time.

Right now I’m watching House. Damnit! Why did I only bring the first disc of season one?

19th – Carlie leaves us :(

Off to the slums again today to teach some children English and maths. I felt I was doing all of the work as the teacher sat back and did sweet F A while I wrote exercises on the blackboard and marked the children’s answers. I was at the school with English Sarah (A twenty-one year old pharmacy graduate from Kent) and she taught the class next door. The classes were quite small (only twenty kids in the school today having extra tuition), I’m told that during term time they fit two-hundred-and-ten pupils in a school that would be uncomfortably small for more than about sixty kids.

We all stopped off at the shopping mall on the way home to pick up supplies. Katharine went to the post office to find out how much it would cost to post her ridiculous amount of souvenirs back to England. A lot, I’m guessing.

Caroline finished her packing when we got home. I’m not sure how Sarah’s trip to the U.S. embassy to get an emergency passport went. I helped Carlie with her luggage to the car and all of us saw the two of them off. Christine went with them to the airport and hasn’t come back yet. The flight was an hour ago at the time of writing and I’m a housemate down as it is without Christine disappearing too.

18th – The long road home

We set off fairly early. One massive stroke of luck was that half of the dusty roads we had been on two days prior had been nicely resurfaced with tarmac in the short time we were at the mara. The ride back was a lot smoother.

When we finally arrived back at Brackenhurst hours later, we basically chilled for the rest of the day.

American Sarah and Carlie are leaving tomorrow, so we had planned to go out to eat as a going away do. Sarah, however, had lost her passport which we suspect was stolen from her room by a local through her open window, she stayed behind to tear Brackenhurst apart looking for it, without prevail.

20 August 2008

17th – Safari, muthatruckers!

Was awoken at sunrise by a loud, scouse exclamation from Layla in the tent next door. We got quickly ready, had breakfast and were off into the mara by about 07:30.

At first, there was hardly a trace of wildlife to view, but we were just happy stand, peering out of the top of the cruiser, feeling like we were on a roller coaster. Every now and then, George would get a radio call and step on it, refusing to tell us what he’d heard because of the high chance of our hopes being dashed, and they were. He apparently kept hearing about a leopard and cubs and then hearing that they’d retreated into an inaccessible area.

Throughout the day we saw millions of wildebeest and zebras migrating as far as the eye could see. We saw elephants and elephant babies, giraffe, hippos, vultures, quite a few lionesses and playful cubs (but no males :( ) and after quite a long time of tracking her, a cheetah. We were the second vehicle there, so we got lots of great photos of her before the army of tour vans began to respond to the radio report, we could see them all headed our way from miles around in every direction.

We had lunch at one point in the worst possible place. It was a parking area near the hippo territory of the river, so the whole place smelt of death from where the hippos had killed everything dumb enough to go near them, leaving rotting corpses for the vultures to feast on, flies everywhere, spawning forth from the maggots infesting said animal remains and also thieving bastard little simians in the trees surrounding the park up.

On the way back to the camp, we stopped at a traditional Masai tribal village. The chief’s son gave us a full tour and told us about their culture, but not before involving us in a celebratory dance at the village entrance. The girls got some horribly embarrassing footage of me doing the males side of the dance and having to jump as high as I could. That should end up on Youtube soon. Brilliant. After the tour of the grounds and houses came the pestering attempts to get us to buy stuff, which I have grown sick of during my time in Kenya. Although I pride myself on haggling ability, I don’t like having to do it all the time. Besides, the lion claws and teeth and ivory jewelry they had on sale were fake, judging by the cost. If they were real I probably wouldn’t want to buy them for that reason.

After dinner, back at our camp, the masai warriors that run the place put on a campfire dance for us, one of them being the wedding dance which they performed with the girls, discussing how many cows in dowry they were worth before we went to pack for the morning and went to sleep.

16th – The long drive and the great reward

Our gigantic land cruiser was due to pick us up at 06:00 this morning, so I got up at 05:00 (just about managed) to have breakfast and what I suspected would be my last shower until Monday.

It was still dark outside as the eight of us awaited collection. The eight of us being myself, English Sarah, Katharine, Layla, Hannah, KA, English Jenny and American Jenny. All of us yawning from the lack of sleep.

We got into the cruiser, driven by a guy called George, and were on our way to Masai Mara. The views were stunning for most of the five-hour trip and George gave us a short commentary on every town and place of interest we drove by. The view of the Great Rift Valley was the best. In the Kenyan middle-of-nowhere, the poorly surfaced roads disappear; dusty, over-used tracks in their stead, and the driver kept opening his window and letting the dust in for reasons unbeknownst to me. I had to tie a cloth over my face to stop me from having to eat dirt for the entire trip.

We arrived at the camp just before they served lunch. I got a tent to myself (not really a tent as it had a thatched roof over the top and a stone bathroom built onto the back of it), the only one with a double bed. Swish. The camp’s quite small so we share it with only one other tour group who keep themselves to themselves.

Shortly after lunch, we went on a three-hour game drive into the park, stopping to look at and photograph the ten-a-penny mara fodder such as antelope. I was extremely happy with myself for spotting the two lionesses lying at the side of the road, obscured by long grass and overlooked by everyone else. Within fifteen minutes there were a whole crowd of tour vans parking to see my find. We also saw a lot of giraffe and English Jenny spotted some elephants, which took us ages to get close enough to. She also spotted a huge tortoise that we photographed for about ten minutes before any of us realized it was merely a large piece of wood.

We saw a couple more lionesses with some difficult-to-spot cubs, which at least sounded adorable, before we headed back to camp. We drove through a small town on the way back, as we were looking for a shop to stock up on supplies. The shop was closed, but I did spot a building sporting a sign “Mara Hotel and Butchery” which I found hilarious and a great idea for a horror film. If only I’d thought to get a photo of the place.

Back at camp we had dinner and chatted for a while. There really isn’t much to do here, so I began to write this post that I am only just finishing on Monday. (They only had the electric generator running between 19:30 and 21:30 everyday, so no light to write by later in the evening.)

Can’t wait for tomorrow, when we’ll see the pandas, kangaroos and penguins. I've given up on posting photos. It takes far too much grief and hassle here.

15 August 2008

15th - Squeemish

Gratful for the warmth of the shower this morning after the power failure yesterday. My first placement today was Kikuyu hospital. There were quite a number of us there, but we split into groups of two and I went around with Hannah. We started with a ward round, which was suprisingly quick as tthey harly had any patients (I expected the Kenyan healthcare system to be rushed off it's feet). We asked the doctor we were shadowing (Ithink his name was Dr. Goodwin) to introduce us to the staff at the surgical wing of the hospital to get the ball rolling for us to stand in on a procedure.

I introduced myself the way I usually do in a hospital to prevent the usual assumption: "Hi, I'm not a doctor, pleased to meet you." We scrubbed up (damn mask irritates my nose) and went to watch a skin graft from a man's thight to his opposite shin. Everything was going fine. Then, the intern asks us to come through to another theatre to see a vasectomy. Sure, we agreed and even that was only mildly uncomfortable at first. The surgeon made an incision in the sack, it seemed quite tough, soo it took a little while, then he clamped each side of the small incision with some forcepts and tore the sack the rest of the way open. "Hey, Hannah, I'm just off to check if anything's going on outside, I'll be back in... never." She followed me out to make sure I found a seat rather than the floor and stood, comforting me throughone of the sissiest moments of my life. But when the whiteness cleared and I could see again and had enough strength to get up again it was odd. I had a huge blind spot at the top of my visual field, which switched to the lower left of my viual field after a while and didn't clear for about an hour, leaving a cracking headache. This is new, I think I've just had my first migrane.

We had a break in the cafeteria before going to find Dr. Godmin, or whatever his name was, again. Hannah and I got talking. She's such a sweet girl, with such a sad and recent story, I just want to hug her. She's so strong just for coming to Kenya after what just happened in her life. I really admire her for that.

In the afternoon, Hannah, Layla and I went to the Nest to organise and effect a miniature olympics for the children that would last about an hour and a half (which was good, as we only had ten minutes to plan it). It went well and we all had fun.

I'm going on safari finally tomorrow! I can't wait and I've been waiting for so long. I'll probably be out of contact until Monday or Tuesday again.

Sorry about the lack of pictures.

14 August 2008

14th - Knackered

I don't know why, I'm just exhausted a lot recently. I also woke up today to a powercut across all of Limru, which I'm told is very common and it's a miracle I haven't seen it happen before during my week and a half stay.

Pharmacy again today. Evans and I were a lot busier this time, I even got the chance to give an injection. The only needles we had were huge, nasty ones that would hurt like hell and probably leave a scar, so Evans wanted me to get a canular into the woman and inject through that. I thought canulars were expensive. As I was pushing, all I could think was how gutted I would be if she dropped dead right now. Practice makes perfect, though.

By the end of the placement day, I hopped into Bernard's minibus eager to eat the sandwich Peter, Brackenhurst's African Impact cook chef guy, had made me earlier. Dissapointment washed quickly over me as the crappy, sweet Kenyan bread fell instantly apart when I pulled it out of the bag, spilling the sandwich contents over my lap. Fine!

Bin, shop, doughnut, mmmmmm.

Back at Brackenhurst, I went for a very long walk through the tea fields nearby. I've been meaning to do so since I first arrived here over a week ago, but everyone else did it earlier without telling me, so I went on my own. It really is beautiful. I took a few pictures, but felt it was an insult to the vistas, recording them with the crappy camera I borrowed from my mother (it really does suck, mum, but I do appreciate you lending it to me).

13 August 2008

13th - Renal failure and fence building

A winning combination!

Back at Kikuyu hospital with the beautiful Hannah again today. Followed a female Indian doctor called Dr Jani with experience coming out of her ears. She comes in once a week from a different hospital to take the interns on the rounds. She's a great teacher and well humoured, but very strict. It's funny watching the interns interact with her, because she terrifies them so much.

After rounds, we all sat having a coffee break. The interns didn't even get some peace here, as she sat quizzing them all about renal failure. I learned quite a bit.

Following lunch, ALL of the volunteers got together at the LCC orphanage to redecorate the place. There was fence building and fascia painting to be done. I helped with the fence, which involved tearing down a fence that they didn't need and cutting it to fit it's new location and shape. We had to dig post holes to drive the fence posts into, then we realised we were a post short, so I had to find a new one from a stack of firewood and shave of the bark with a machete. We didn't finish the fence or the painting, but we'll come back another day.

I'm relieved this evening. The girls going on safari with me this weekend have agreed to do the cheaper of the two options (which I can barely afford as it is) instead of staying in the luxury accommodation that I couldn't afford to do. Woo!

If I'd have know the real price of my coastal trip before it was booked and too late to back out, I wouldn't have gone. I was told a figure, which I assumed was in dollars like everything else, but it turned out to be in sterling. It cost twice as much as I thought it would and has jeopardised my chance to go on safari, the one thing I wanted to do out here.

Sorry about the mess. It's really hard to position pics where you want them on blogspot.

12th - Pharmacy

I had more sleep than usual last night, so why am I so shattered? First time doing the pharmacy placement today. I was the only volunteer there, because the facility is so small. A front counter, a drug store room and a treatment room out the back.

I was helping Evans, a great clinical officer with aspirations of going to uni in England to study nursing, coming back to Kenya and starting a local humanitarian organisation.

Regulations are lax in Kenyan medicine, as a result, Evans offered me the chance to inject a patient. I declined, at least until I've seen him do a few more, as they are directly into the vein with a turnicut and everything.

We didn't have many patients today, so we did a lot of talking, mostly about the UK, our culture, our political systems. He was very curious and I guess he wanted to be prepared for when he goes there.

Afterwards, I met up with the other volunteers in the Makuru slums for lunch in a diner that hadn't paid their electricity bill. Not sure it's a good idea to eat the food there, but I was hungry.

I still feel awkward here with all the girls. I'm not really fitting in as well as I'd like, feeling a little excluded most of the time. I'm trying my best to bond with the two girls I share a cottage with, Carly and Christine, but I don't really feel accepted by anyone. I'm having difficulty coming out of my shell as they don't seem as welcoming as I would like. I'm starting to miss all the familiar faces.

11 August 2008

9th - 11th The Coast

As I write this I am sitting on a plane on my way back home. Well, to Brackenhurst. It's been an amazing weekend excursion, sparked into action following one person's suggestion: "Hey, let's catch a plane to the beach!" As usual, this meant having to practically strip at customs. "Okay, take off your heavy boots, your watch, your sunglasses, your hat, your belt, your dignity, give me your wallet and everything else in your pockets and try to walk back through the metal detector without your trousers falling down please."

After the short drive to the massive resort Sean (one of the administrative African Impact staff) had booked us into, the multiple cavity searches seemed almost worth it. Sean, I LOVE YOU MAN!

Huge rooms, a shower (A HOT SHOWER!), beautiful palm tree dotted ocean views from the balcony, free buffet meals three times a day, free snack bar for all other times of the day, free water sports (non-motorised) and most importantly, twenty-four hour free drinks, alcoholic or otherwise, limited only by your ability to raise your arm to gesture a waiter to get you another!

There was, however, a single downer to the resort. Along the whole beach were an awful lot of touts that pester you every time you venture down the steps from the upper resort (which, fortunately, they were forbidden to step foot on). Most of them were extremely pushy, they didn't stay by their wares displays, waiting for you to go to them, they come to try and take you to look at their stuff, and most of them sold the same items as the rest. They even tried to flog me merchandise while I was in the middle of a camel ride along the beach.
Not all of them were bad. There were two whom enjoyed repeated business from all the girls I came with. One did henna tattoos (all but one of the girls got one) and braided hair (four girls did), the other sold saris which were bought by all of the girls. They all look great.

So, with me are Carly, English Jenny, Katharine, English Sarah, American Sarah, Layla (A newly qualified theatre nurse from Liverpool who looks outstanding in a sari) and Kerrianne/KA (A well humoured, extremely sarcastic Sussex girl that never shuts up). We all did a lot together, but the two Americans seemed to be excluded a few times. I think our Englishness got to them at times, they also had their own room at the opposite side of the resort, whereas our two rooms were right next door.

On Saturday, we didn't have time for the water sports, but we had a slap up Australian feast (the restaurant changes country theme every day) and... Dude! Carly just pointed out we're flying past a HUGE mountain right now, which I can only assume is Kilimanjaro, man that's high!... then we went swimming for a while (I know you shouldn't after eating, but who could stop us, we were so excited) and then we went for a walk along the beach without realising at the time what a pain in the arse it would be. I haggled for a keyring and bought a painting with the two free double scotches I just happened to be holding at the time, seemed like a bloody good idea.

Before we knew it, we'd drunk away the evening and someone suggested we go out clubbing. The club Tembo in Mombasa has shockingly good security, with car boot searches of the taxi on the way into the car park and personal searches with wands by one of the many bouncers. The venue was brilliant, the music was not. Mostly just awful nineties pop music and RnB, but we had a good time (though we started to miss the free drinks back at the resort). There was a dance off type of affair near the end, where bouncers cleared the dance floor and two teams of three male dancers professionally danced to a song one after the other.

On the Sunday, we did as many water sports as we could fit in. Swimming, peddle boating, snorkeling and kayaking; where Jenny and Carly couldn't figure out how to paddle properly, couldn't leave the shoreline and then had their kayak confiscated, and Katharine and KA capsized twice, lost their kayak to the current, couldn't swim against the current to shore and had to be rescued, laughing all the way. I really wanted to go scuba diving in one of the three swimming pools, but I missed it. :(

It's amazing how quickly you get tired of alcoholic drinks when there's a limitless supply of them, but we had a few, acted like idiots for a while chasing the hundreds of crabs that appear on the beach at night, and went back to the room. Jenny ordered three items of room service with three separate phone calls over three minutes. I get the feeling it pissed them off... Damn, have to get off the plane... because it took forever for it to arrive (who knows what they did to it?). Katharine invited herself to spend the night in our room (Jenny's, KA's and mine), kicking Jenny out of her bed. I thought about doing the gentlemanly thing of offering to sleep on the floor instead of her, but convinced myself she wouldn't have it and insist I stay where I was, which was good. It was a VERY comfy bed. :D

This morning, it turns out the floor was perfectly comfortable for Jenny. We got up, determined to fit in as much as we could before we had to go to the airport. We ate as much as we could and we went swimming and kayaking (more successfully this time). The girls bought a few more items from the touts and the gift shop, then we were off. The plane ride back was great. I was just sitting writing my journal, when suddenly Carly points at the window
and right there is a huge mountain... Oh wait... I'll stop now.

09 August 2008

8th She doesn't.

Finally, a placement in Kikuyu hospital, the placement I signed up for. So I put on my finest frock and left. It was a bit of a waste at first as me, Jenny, Hannah; an Estonian chick living and studying biomedical science in England with the best accent ever, and other Jenny; a cool and very left wing psychologist from San Diego, were forced to wait for an hour of our three hour placement until someone showed up to take us to help out. Hannah and myself were taken to emergency medicine where we were seperated and I ended up sitting in an office with a young clinical technician named Jane who seemed to have similar powers to a doctor, diagnosing and prescribing drugs.The most difficult case was a two year old girl with a fever. She was scared, uncooperative and she wouldn't stop screaming. As she wouldn't shut up, we nothiced her tonsils were very swollen and when we tried to get a closer look at the tonsilitis with a torch, she tried not to let us.

Next it was off to the Nest, a child institution to look after babies and kids of all ages while their parents are in prison. We got them painting, only to realise the mess we were going to have to clean up. Afterwards, we got them dancing and drumming. There's something hilarious about watching two year olds shaking their hips to a drum. Caroline and English Jenny forced me to dance too, damn them. It was pretty fun. Then the kids drew pictures for a while, then we helped with the feeding of the babies and toddlers.

We got home to find Christine still a bit under the weather, but she'd been tested and she doesn't have malaria. She also doesn't need any more injections, which is good as she's terrified of needles, bless. She'll be awesome again in no time. Though I'm not sure of the healing properties of tumeric.

I'm off to the coast this weekend to go windsurfing, snorkeling, not sunbathing etc, which should be great. Incidentally, it cost much more than I was expecting, so Sparky and Phil, please make sure you pay me rent, and anyone else can feel free to donate money into my account. You know... If you want... Please. :D

08 August 2008

7th Kyo Gnombe Slum Clinic

Sorry about the lack of posts, the internet went down at Brackenhurst (where I'm staying). Got up bright and early to post a blog I wrote two days prior to writing this blog, I'll catch up eventually.

Went to a slum clinic with Caroline, a twenty-five year old from Nevada with the biggest heart of gold ever. Met a doctor named Robert and the three of us went on a home visit to check back on a woman with a now healthy baby.During our rounds, we were invited into a school by a wonderful teacher. The school was a tiny 3x3x3m corrugated iron shed, but she did an amazing job with what she had and even got the kids singing and dancing for us. Also during our walkabout, two guys outside the local corrugated iron pub were very insistent that we let them buy us a beer and sit with them for a while. We stood and talked, but had to decline the beers, we were working.

Arriving back at Brackenhurst, Caroline and I went to check on Christine, who stayed behind today, as she had a massive headache. We found she had been in bed all day without eating, had a fever and sore legs, as well as the headache still. One thing popped to everyone's mind, so we took her to get tested for malaria. She matches the symptoms, but they weren't one hundred percent sure, and the lab tech had gone home, so they gave her some meds to deal with the symptoms and told her to come back tomorrow for a test. She looks much better for the moment.

Will Steve ever overcome his insecurities? Can McGuiver save Kenya? Will Christine die a horrible, painful, parasite induced malaria death? Tune in tomorrow for the entry I should have posted today, but decided to sit on my arse and play spoons instead.

6th IDP and LCC

Headed out this morning to help at an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) refugee camp called 'Word of Faith', opened to give a home to those displaced during the post election unrest and violence earlier in the year. The camp wasn't heavily populated, as many of the refugees have been able to return home; only the very unfortunate, who had their homes burned to the ground remain.

Jenny, the youngest volunteer at eighteen, very quiet and wants to be a doctor like myself, taking a gap year now she's finished college; Christine, a twenty year old Newzealand Malwi events organiser, wants to start a career organising charitable events and is the most confident person I have ever met; and I dished out porridge for lunch, Christine burned herself in the process, then we graffitied on the children with felt pens until we left at around mid-day.

We really felt redundant while we were there, and Jenny felt guilty when two kids started a punch up over the right to mess with the dial on her watch. One of those kids were pretty spiteful and made two other children cry during our time there after the original incident.

Next, me and Jenny ended up in the Limru Children's Center orphanage and helped with some chores while the girls I have come to know as 'the three Irish girls' (They don't talk to many people outside their little clique, though I'm told they are nice) who we picked up on the way there, painted a mural out the front.

We finished the ironing and played with the children for about an hour while Katherine, a first year med student at Leeds, and another girl called Sarah; who had both just arrived from a morning at Kikuyu hospital, prepared the children's dinner.

The day wasn't all that exciting, but I'll see if I can get some pictures up for you all.

...Nope, I can't. Gotta love those third world countries. What can you do?

07 August 2008


Sweet. After 32 hours with no sleep, I really needed that. Shame It didn't last longer as I had to get up at 7ish to be ready in time to head out to one of the smaller slums in Nairobi, populated by a scant 100,000 people. Bernard drove us, so we only had one car accident on the way, wedging the front end of our minibus under a lorry. No whiplash, it's cool. I feel confident that, had I been driving, it would have been a whole lot worse. I'd never want to drive in Kenyan traffic.

The slum was an extreme culture shock. It looked like a war zone. The most uncomfortable thing is that everyone treats you like a celebrity, everyone you walk past stares at you and the children all wave and run up to you shouting "How are you!" as it's the only English they usually know at that age. I never expected people that share a living space of eighteen cubic meters with five or six other people to seem so happy.

We visited a couple of local clinics and a chemist, met the staff and learned about how they try and cope with their limited supplies. I'll be working with them soon enough. The school was great. All the kids wanted to hold our hands until we each had about five children hanging from each arm, bless.

On the way back, there was a traffic jam, all the touts come out to play. Standing in the road peddling their wares to all the stationary vehicles. I made the mistake of taking an interest in a hat for sale and the haggling ensued. The traffic cleared in front and our driver took off, revealing the desperation of the seller as he sprinted for two-hundred meters alongside the minibus trying to close the deal. I haggled him down to half price and I feel sorry for him even now (also for myself as the hat doesn't fit too comfortably after all that).

The girls have really taken a shine to my DVD collection (probably more than they have me) and I'm slowly getting to know them, a few are pretty cute. I may have just slightly offended one of the Americans when she kind of engaged me in a political debate (and she's a republican) but I really didn't mean to. I'll try and repair the damage some more tomorrow.

Sorry the blog's a bit behind, I don't have much opportunity to get online to post them. Pictures soon, I promise.

05 August 2008

3rd - 4th Heathrow is the WORST AIRPORT IN THE WORLD!

The traffic around it is impossible to navigate unless you are a veteran Heathrow visitor, everyone else just has to cut people up changing lanes because the signs only let you know where to go seconds before it's too late.

Didn't get to the gate in time to meet Katharine and another volunteer, Jen, and couldn't find them while wandering about the plane after take off, so I needed to ask an air host to find them on the manifest for me to introduce myself. When I first boarded the plane, however, I was greeted with a surprise felt by the other passengers in the cabin as I exclaimed "Fucking hell!" when I found that Amy, an old college friend of mine just happened to be on the same plane only headed for Zambia to do volunteer work also with Real Gap. What are the odds?!

A selection of movies to choose from during the flight, I chose 'Kung Fu Panda' which I was quite pleased with along with all of the complimentary bits and bobs, not all of which I'm sure I was supposed to make off with at the end of the flight. Blankets, pillows, nice! But if you can consider closing your eyes for two hours, counting the number of times you hear the toilet at the end of the aisle flush in spite of your earplugs to be a good nights sleep, you can't be disappointed with economy class.

Arrived in Doha airport in Qatar at about so-many-minutes past dawn, stepped out of the aircraft into the roasting air stream of the plane's jet engine. As I moved away from the area it became apparent that the jet engine heat was, in fact, merely the normal, skin blisteringly hot wind one should come to expect at six AM in Qatar. Fortunately, the girls didn't have to suffer my whining for too long as we got to the terminal and checked straight onto the connecting flight, after saying so long and good luck to Amy.

I've eaten microwaveable pizza pockets that weren't as hot as that country.

The connecting flight to Nairobi, Kenya was as uneventful as it was uncomfortable. Somehow with even less leg room, nothing complimentary, and the in flight movie was restricted to 'Over Her Dead Body'. Yayness!

We were picked up from the airport by a delightfully psychotic driver named Bernard. Apparently, the only road law in Kenya is "we suggest you drive on the left". Driving through the slums was a real eye-opener, so many people, and occupying buildings, shops and stalls that looked like they could collapse at any moment. Beautiful countryside was to follow and we eventually pulled into the compound I will be calling home for the next four weeks. I've been shown around, met the staff and most of the other volunteers, all from around the world, all are awesome so far, though I can't remember many of their names.
Out of fourteen volunteers here, I am the only guy.

PS Yes, Mother. I've arrived safely, free from terrorist attack or incompetent pilot induced mid-air collision. I'll be fine.

29 July 2008

Five days to go!

I'm off this Sunday and I can't help but feel the onset of terror. Plus I was blackmailed by my supervisor into working a six day week this week, which I'm not too happy about. Less available time to sort out all of the last little bits and bobs.

My last day at work is Thursday. Then I never have to go back there ever again!!!! Woo! Had a sort-of leaving do thing, which was actually for my department manager, whom leaves the same day as me. It was pretty cool, though left lots of really-nasty-looking-but-not-that-painful bruises. I wouldn't mind going go-carting (why are there so many hyphens in this post?) again, though paintballing is closer to the top of the list. Or skydiving again... that's number one.
We all got drunk afterwards, Bell probably got naked as usual (too drunk to remember) and he most certainly injured himself requiring a trip to A+E (also as usual... sigh). Overall, a great night for all. Except Bell.

I've yet to go about visiting all of my friends and family one last time before I jet off. Still got to plan what I'm packing, sort out how much cash I'm taking and in which currency. Also I need to budget and whatnot for the safari I now plan to go on. I know a few people that have been on safari that have told me what an unforgettable experience it is.

I've found out that I'm on the same flights out there as at least one other person on my program (Kate Fox. She seems pretty cool). So if I get lost in Doha during the connection, at least I have good company to talk to.

Note to self: Buy a book to read on the flight ready for the quite likely event the in-flight movie just happens to be one of the worst films ever made (You're such a movie snob!) and you aren't sat next to Kate on the flight.

05 July 2008

Much more relaxed

College is now completely dusted, so I'm left with a lot more free time to sort out the few remaining bits and bobs. Hassle has plagued me at every turn over the last few weeks and I'm relieved that I'm almost sorted. My passport arrived with the obligatory tragic looking photo of yours truly, courtesy of my friend Dave standing outside the photo booth trying to put me off and make me laugh (git). My car MOT was the worst thing, taking over a week. You know you've taken your car to the wrong garage when they lend you your car back and tell YOU to go and pick up the parts they need to fix it (City Exhausts and Tyres on Goldsmith Avenue... just DON'T). My arm and wallet are both aching from the vaccinations (Hep A, Hep B, Typhoid, Yellow Fever) and I need to buy a butt-load of Malarone tablets to help prevent malaria (anyone know where to get it cheap?). But on the upside, I am so much more financially stable. I got a loan and my Granddad gave me £1000 to help me out.

I did hand my notice in at my job. That made me feel much better, too. They keep saying they'll miss me, but I can't stand any of them, I've wanted to quit since my first day. Hopefully my next job will have like-minded people; you know, listen to good music, hate Big Brother and not have a misguided obsession with films like 'Norbit'. Too much to ask?

I keep meaning to contact Real Gap and find out how I'm supposed to get to know the other people on my placement, now I have the time to, as I can't find any forums on their site. I wanna know if they're as anxious as I am about the trip, and if I get to know them now, it might reduce the awkward silences when we get there. Caroline, a friend of mine from college is from Nairobi and she's going back this summer to see her family, so I'll have someone I can hang out with if all goes wrong and someone brings Date Movie on DVD with them.

Some may call me pessimistic (I prefer the term 'realistic').
I say, only 'pessimists' can make the world a better place, as optimists are cursed with the delusion that everything is already perfect.

Four more weeks and I'm there.

17 May 2008

To begin...

So I've booked the placement in Nairobi so far. Now it's just a simple matter of:

-Waiting for confirmation of the placement
-Applying for a passport
-Applying for a visa
-Booking flights
-Find out if I can use my debit card and phone in Kenya
-Telling my boss I need a month off work (I may phrase this as: "Fuck your job, I QUIT!")
-Possibly applying for a new job BEFORE I go on the trip ready for when I return
-Getting to know others on the same placement via the webbysphere

Now I've realised why I rarely travel, but I think it will be more than worth it.
I've got to finish my exams, tax and MOT my car and think of a way to afford everything this summer for the time being. Might try for a loan, but I'll probably be refused (Damned global credit crunch).

Applying for a passport may be my biggest issue. They try to make the form as complicated as they can. I don't even think I've known any professionals for over two years. Who the hell can I get to counter sign it!? Plus I've got to fill out details of a long expired and forgotten parent's passport that I was included on as a child.

Stress stress stress stress

I probably do work too hard, but who else'll do it?

As far as flights go, Qatar seem to be the cheapest, if not quickest route to NBO via Doha. Never heard of Doha, but it seems I'll be spending twelve hours there during the connection, may as well have a wander around. May consider Wiki-ing the city before I go to find out what it's all about and if they are currently experiencing any civil wars I should be aware of.

About ten weeks to go!