27 January 2011

Kenya: The Car Inspection

After a lot of Gatorade-powder-enhanced hydration, chicken masala, and chips masala last night, we were back on the horse this morning.

With Josh driving, we picked up Brenda's father ("Papa Joshua"), a clinical officer, who was to help with today's educational session at the clinic.  Today's trip down the Jomo Kenyatta Highway was a little different than the others.  Things were smooth sailing en route to Ahero from Kisumu until we noticed a lot of people walking along the side of the road.  We were asked to pull over by a few police officers standing on the side of the road, accompanied by a military officer and an "inspector."  This was a random crack-down on car inspection stickers, but the machine gun on the military man felt normal.  Josh is the perfect "Number One" to have here in Kenya, and I think the stickers usually aren't enforced, but today, the "2008" inspection sticker on our windshield was just a little too out-of-date for the Inspector and the Police.  Josh continues to refuse to pay bribes, which I would agree with (he knows best), so the Inspector took Josh's driver's license and KEYS to the truck and said he needed to go to Kisumu and pay for a new temporary sticker and then eventually get the truck "inspected," I guess.  No ticket.  No warning.  No opportunity to drive the truck back to the city and get the truck inspected properly.  

Word of the crack-down had spread, so no matatus were driving through this section of highway - I assume their stickers weren't even as up-to-date as ours, if they had one at all.  So the plan was for Josh to walk back towards Kisumu, in hopes of finding a matatu to give him a ride just up the road...and we (Mom, Papa Joshua, and me) would walk towards Ahero in hopes of finding the same.  That was the only option...

...Until Momma Bias got pissed.  Mom's been known to score a few free pizzas in her day, from Mr. Gatti's delivery drivers who showed up about 90 seconds past the time they promised:  "WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO TO MAKE ME HAPPY?!"  Not pleased.  Well, apparently, the Inspector standing next to the Police officer with the giant baton and the military officer with the automatic weapon did not deter her.  She was NOT going to walk.  So, she approaches the inspector, "Look, Mom's tired and it's hot, something else can't be done here?"  I'm honestly not sure the exact quote, because I was standing back, paralyzed in shock.  So, they pull over one of the giant charter buses, Papa Joshua and the Inspector ask them to take us on, and they agree.

So, we make it to Ahero for about $1, and then broker a deal with a car for about $8.  This was still the expensive "mzungu price."  We are already haggling kings, so when the first truck said "1000 shillings" ($12), we said "forget it," and walked on.

At clinic, I saw about 7 patients.  Annette told me to bring all these anti-allergy eye drops (which aren't cheap) and I hadn't seen a single case yet, so I was beginning to wonder.  I saw 3 cases today, and I'm hoping the drops help.  It's amazing the irritation caused by the smoke and dust in the air.  

Brenda's 9-o'clock educational session began about 10:50 after Papa Joshua and we arrived.  They teach about preventing the spread of HIV to their unborn children among other basic public health teaching.  At the end of the session, they passed out toothbrushes and toothpaste, along with bed nets to all the mothers (about 24) in attendance.  Mom sat in the entire session while I was seeing patients, and her details are below.

The most uplifting experience of the trip came after we left clinic and headed to the community hospital in the neighboring village.  We found our mother - the one who delivered her baby in the village yesterday - sitting up, smiling, with a little more energy, breast-feeding her baby.  Baby clinically looked good.  We dropped off supplies for the mom - juice, flour, cooking oil, rice, beans, maize, infant formula, multivitamins with iron, soap, and a bed net - which Brenda helped us pick out and buy yesterday for about $30.  Your (and our) prayers were surely answered.

Her bill was going to be 2500 shillings (about $32), but we talked them down to a little less than 1000 shillings - $12.  $12.  $12 for a one-night hospital stay, 1 liter of IV fluids, a couple doses of metronidazole, dinner for the mother, and gloves and towels used for what took place in the "labour room."  Yes, we have an itemized receipt.  Money well spent.  One, or maybe you'd say two, patients helped.  Thank you for your prayers and contributions.

Being amongst extreme poverty in such a way gives me this conflicting feeling.  One instinct tells me that as soon as possible, I want to go to Disney World, or on a cruise, where every desire is catered to.  Everything is sparkling clean, and whatever you could imagine wanting is available.  Yet, we're also pulled to go home and conserve as much as possible - spending money only on essential priorities.  Conserve water.  Do without luxuries, take care of the basics, and contribute to those who truly are in NEED.

It also makes want to improve my Texas gentleman etiquette.  The southern hospitality courtesy.  There is a glaring lack of that here.  If I can walk ahead of you and cut you off, I do.  Women work and they work hard - planting and harvesting rice fields, walk to fetch water, take care of children and the household, and bring home the money.  This is true for most regions here.  Here, men ride shotgun.  

Mom's version:
Hello all!  I'm back and ready to report a day that was most interesting!  I've recovered from my sunburn and am well hydrated again.

Josh picked us up and as we were driving toward the clinic, we suddenly saw lots of people walking. Josh said, "Oh no, inspection".  And sure enough there were police and military men who pulled us over.  They asked for his license and noticed his inspection sticker was outdated.  He tried to reason with them but before I knew it, we were asked to get out of the truck, the keys and his license were taken away by the inspector and Josh was told to return to Kisumu to purchase a temporary sticker.  The truck would remain behind (although we later learned it was taken to the police station) and Josh would have to find his own way back and we would have to find our own way to the clinic. Fortunately, the social worker's father was going with us to the clinic and he was our interpreter.  I wasn't sure whether to cry or what.  I remained calm and went up to the inspector and said we were doctors and needed to get to the clinic and could Josh take us there and then return to Kisumu.  The inspector said "no" but when I made my plea that "Mama was old and couldn't walk", he must have felt a little bad cause he beckoned a large bus (like a Greyhound) and they took us all to Ahero (5 miles or so) for 100 shillings (about a $1).  Then we had to find another way to get from Ahero to Masara (about 10 miles).  A "nice" man offered to take us for 1000 shillings but Trav said, "no mzungu price--that's embarrassing" and started off as if we'd walk.  Thankfully, Joshua, our interpreter, found us a saloon car (a toyota 4 dr sedan) for 700 shillings and we were off arriving 1.5 hrs after we'd left. But seriously, what an adventure!  I had my hat, lots of water, and my sunscreen so was more prepared.

We arrived to a hearty welcome by Brenda, the Social Worker. She had invited 20 pregnant women to a training and her dad, a clinical officer (like a PA) was going to be the instructor for much of the time. It was to start at 9 but didn't get rolling til almost 11 (surprise--ha). Anyway, he began by having the women form a circle and have everyone introduce themselves (all in Kiswahili, of course) and tell their name, how far they were in pregnancy, marital status, # of children delivered and # alive as well as their village.  Many came from far away.  There were women pregnant for the lst time ranging to 11th time (this woman had 7 live children).  It was really a psychoeducation group where they could learn but also support each other and know that they weren't alone in their issues.  They learned about antenatal care, going to the clinic for testing for HIV, STDs, and malaria (most were afraid of learning about test results so didn't want to go), newborn care, breastfeeding and substitute feedings (diluting cows milk with water).  Joshua was quite entertaining and there was lots of laughter and the women loosened up and began to talk and ask questions.  He kept their attention and it truly appeared that they were learning many things for the lst time. By the time the training ended, there were 23 women, 6 babies and 2 community aide workers. At the end (after 4 hrs), they received insecticide-treated mosquito nets (bed nets from the Ministry of Health), toothpaste and toothbrushes (thanks to donations we brought), water and a special nutritious porridge.

Travis saw several patients during the training time and we left the clinic in yet another vehicle to head back to the hospital where the woman and baby we'd dropped off yday were recovering. I'm pleased to report that both mother and baby (a boy) looked 100% better. I'd feared they wouldn't live (thanks for all your prayers!).  People are tough here--you have to be.  It's truly survival of the fittest in it's rawest form.  Travis paid the bill at the hospital (about $12) and we delivered goods that Trav and the social worker had purchased yday. This included maize, flour, rice, stuff for porridge, baby clothes, formula (in case breastfeeding wasn't possible) and other stuff I can't remember.  Mom was most grateful and was going to rtn home today.

It's now about 4:45 and we're going to get back to the hotel to get ready for dinner with Dr. Allibhoy and his wife at 7:30. I'm really looking forward to this as the lunch I ate that his wife prepared for us earlier in our visit was quite good.  It will be interesting to see their lifestyle.

This is a place of many interesting contrasts. There are "car washes" (using dirty water) all along the roadway and yet everything else is so littered.  Many are starving in the villages yet there's a cell tower in the middle as many have cell phones.  I don't think I'll ever really understand but I do know that I'm incredibly grateful for all that we have available to us in the states.

I'll sign off for now.  Love to you all!!!!


P.S. Josh is still at the police station.  Without the truck.

Asante sana!  Much love.


  1. Bravo to both of you, Travis and Cheryl....for your strength and courage. I'm taking a long drink of cool clean water and thanking God for it today.

  2. So, just to be clear, here. One day Mom forgets to bring sunscreen on what turns out to be a three-hour midday walk through equatorial Africa. And the next day she's browbeating machine-gun toting military men as though they were Mr. Gatti's pizza delivery guys. Oh, I feel very comforted.