HELLO + WELCOME as we drive up from Sydney to London. It’s Gareth here today.
Well, it was bound to happen. One of us would get sick in Africa and true to fashion it was me.
It was about 12pm by the time we reached the border town of Busia in Eastern Kenya. Driving in from the Ugandan side it was dusty and dirty. The Kenyan side got worse. Lots of beggars and old dudes in wheel chairs. Pretty sad to see an old man getting about life in a hand propelled wheel chair in such filth. But I guess it is all they know.
As soon as we enter a town like this in our big expensive looking Mzungu car we have a bunch of slimy looking’ dudes trailing us. The usual guys are money changers, fixers and insurance guys. They greet us as soon as we open our door every time. ‘Hi there. The Immigration office is there. Do you need Shillings? Do you need insurance?’, ‘No thanks. We have insurance. We have money.’ They wear big fake watches and have fat pockets full of local currency. We just walk on by and go about our business.
At this border one particular character was in his Ugandan football jersey. He walked with us for the the whole hour including checking out of Uganda. At the end he said “Maybe you can leave me something small”. “For what mate?”, I said. ‘For helping you’. I wound my window up with a smile on my face. At least he was trying.
We have not used or needed a ‘fixer’ yet. We know crossing into Egypt we will. All the African borders so far have been fine. Easy, actually. We come prepared and read up on what is required. We had to wait for some lazy turd to get back at to his desk at this one but it was good to see him scurry after Kirst asked a police lady to get him going. On first approach she was huge and stern but with a friendly ‘Hello’ and a little bit of charm she soon let go a massive toothy smile. Her shaved hair had bleached dots in it like an oversized human leopard. She was very, very nice.
It was about the time the lazy guy got back to his desk that my stomach started to gurgle and I started feeling ill. Five minutes later, we were in Kenya. Without paying a cent. It was going to be another 2.5 hours to our planned stop by Lake Victoria. The roads were slow. Lots of pot holes, speed bumps and bad drivers coming head on.
We reached the camp and by this time I was about to explode. The camp looked like an open field with buildings thirty years old that had not been maintained since built. This was where I discovered one of the worst toilets in Africa. I entered the dungeon like toilet block and was immediately knocked back with the stench of ammonia coming from the urinals.
:: Can you smell it?
Straight over to the loo and I go in not wanting to touch a thing. But of course when you are holding on to something you know is not going to be pretty you realise there is NO f!cking toilet paper. We always keep a stash in the rig behind the front seat, so after grabbing a fresh roll I went back in for the kill. It was going to be me or the toilet, I wasn’t sure. The stench was unlike nothing I had smelt in all of Africa. We have also travelled through India and I did not see a bathroom worse than this. Four trips later I just had to go back in one more time to snap a couple of pics. I think my pictures make it very look good.
:: I chose not to wash my hands in this basin but rather a couple of squirts of hand sanitizer instead
We sat at the ‘bar’ and had a lemonade each. I was hoping this would help. By now I was feeling completely f!cked and told Kirst that we HAD to go to a place with a dunny and a room. Otherwise it would be her cleaning my undies. On the other side of Lake Victoria there was a lodge that was supposed to be good. It was OK but by this time I just needed to lay down. We checked in at 5:30pm. Kirsty negotiated the price down from $220 to around $140 and I went straight to bed shivering. I felt cold but my body was hot like a heat bead. Kirst was wearing a singlet and I was dressed like an eskimo. The hotel staff said “We will pray for him”.
That night was the sickest I think I have ever been. Cold sweats, runny tummy, hot sweats, a thumping headache and shivering like I have never shivered before. I was thinking the worst at this time. Malaria. I was thinking this mainly because I had just finished our friends book Safari Jema where both Tris and her husband Scott had a serious bout of the dreaded sickness while in Africa. We botched up some DIY malaria tests which confirmed I did in fact have malaria.
:: I managed a samosa and a sprite for dinner
I did not want to get malaria. Even though we have been taking prophylactics I knew that they do not always work. It was a sleepless agonising night. I’m the kind of guy who never gets sick, but I was feeling really crook.
The next day Kirst drove me up to the Aga Kahn hospital in Kisumu. We were checked in and 3 hours later we were out. Blood test, stool test and some heavy drugs to boot. I couldn’t believe how efficient everything was. The diagnosis was “You have a severe bacterial infection” and I was to rest, drink plenty of water, eat lots of food and pump the drugs into my body. That all sounded good to me. All this came to around 60 bucks.
:: First blood test of the trip. Ha! I was pretty down and out here.
The next four or five days I spent inside a tented camp laying in bed. Too weak to even get out and look at a giant Hippo grazing by our room on the second night. The hotel was booked out for the weekend so, still not feeling great Kirst said that we should drive into Nairobi and find a camp where we knew we could stay for an extra week while I recuperated. After a couple of days in Nairobi, once I had finished the medicine, Kirst looked at me and said “How are you feeling?” I guess, as a man who never really likes to be knocked down physically, I said ‘I am fine’.
Kirst knows me better than anyone and she knew I was lying.
We drove up to the local hospital and Kirst checked me in. She requested another blood test and stool test for me. I was sitting in the waiting room with my hands on my face and head down when I smelt a strong stench of body odour. A large, strong looking Masai man plonked down on the seat next to me. I could feel the air swish up as his bright red cloth blanket moved as he sat down. He was supported by what looked like his brother and mother. Both had changed into their Sunday best and looked particularly smart. I assumed the sick Masai was too ill to get out of his normal traditional clothes.
It was my turn for a blood test and as I was ushered into the small room and told to sit down. The ill looking Masai hobbled in as well, flanked by his walking stick. He looked real bad. Proper malaria I concluded. He did not even lift his head to look at who else was in the small room. By this time, I selfishly thought that his weakness gave me strength. I thought to myself, I don’t have malaria, I am young and healthy and I have the money and insurance to look after me. I am so lucky.
It was sad though because I thought that it must be so expensive for poorer Africans to afford even basic healthcare. The sixty or so dollars I paid was, in the scheme of things for me, peanuts. If this strong built Masai man needed more drugs than me, then how would he pay for it? Sell a cow, I assumed.
:: This dude was nice but he left me with a wicked bruise on my arm
Diagnosed for the second time, I was told by a young very green, African doctor that I had a secondary infection. I asked if he could prescribe me some probiotics because my gut was still very tender. He didn’t know what they were but suggested that I eat ‘Lots of yogurt’. I smiled and thought, well I guess that’s the same thing but not as concentrated. He ordered me another round of medication and to rest! And to drink… ‘Bottled water of course. You cannot drink from the taps here’ . Job done.
I have recovered well. With two strong courses of antibiotics under my belt, I think the bug has been destroyed.
An extra special thanks to my beautiful girl Kirsty. She looked after me so well when I was sick and her love and devotion to me is something that I will always love her for and give back when she needs it from me.