The joys of Ahero (especially the hospital)
The nearest town to where we stay with Millicent and Eric in Magina is called Ahero. Our friends’ house is a couple of miles from the town down a narrow, potholed busy road (it’s a main route to Tanzania) on an embankment: picking the moment to go down the gravelly slope to the track that leads to their house (or the one that leads to the care centre, or the school) is a tricky and potentially dangerous manoeuvre as no one will wait behind – you have to let everyone pass you before you dare to try turning right because everyone, whether car, bus, lorry or motorbike will simply try to overtake even though you are clearly signalling and turning right. Once off the road, if there has been rain, it’s a matter of ploughing through sticky mud (4WD is essential), but we always say thank you to God when we safely get off that awful road and arrive at our destination. After a few trips over the mud, the ruts are so deep that the car steers itself! But my heart always sinks when I know I have to go into Ahero, for shopping, building supplies or whatever. But such trips are necessary, so we pray and go!
Before reaching Ahero, there is also the matter of the roadworks. Sometime in 2018, someone started to build a huge flyover at the junction of the Tanzania Road with the main road from Nairobi to Kisumu. The junction actually worked OK (in the usual chaotic way that Kenyan junctions always work), but I guess someone could make more money from building a flyover than improving the road, so work started. And then it stopped. Eric believes someone disappeared with the money, so at present all the traffic has to bump its way over huge potholes in a completely unmade section.
Let me just give you some portraits of the joys of Ahero. Apologies for the lack of photos: Ahero isn’t really a place where we like to draw attention to ourselves by taking pictures. First of all, Tuesday is market day, and really is to be avoided if at all possible. People and animals walk all over the roads and the centre is impossibly crowded. Driving in the centre is frightening, because people (including small children), bikes, animals and motorbikes come at you from all directions: it would be so easy to hit someone, even though you are driving at snail’s pace. On another day, it is just about possible to drive and find somewhere to park near the supermarket, though reversing into a space is hazardous because people and motorbikes won’t wait: they just walk or ride behind you. We quite like the supermarket because although it has a limited range, at least you know what they prices are. Out on a stall in the street, Sue wanted to buy a piece of foam. “300 shillings.” “OK”. But when we handed over the money, the lady decided she would ‘revise’ the price, and demanded more! Generally, although I wouldn’t say we feel unsafe in Ahero, and the shopkeepers we know are fine with us, most of the people are not particularly friendly towards us. White faces are definitely a rarity, and the general feeling is that we are there to be taken advantage of.
One day, we needed to try to buy a wrench for our lad James to change the water tap on a tank at the care centre. There is no B & Q. The hardware shops generally don’t sell tools, just building materials. So, he asked around, and we trailed around the hot, noisy, busy street, first to one plumbing shop, then another, then another and finally back to where we started. The soundtrack is amazing, by the way. People shouting everywhere, motorbikes with horns blaring, drilling, someone cutting metal, loud music blaring out, including, bizarrely, a choir singing the old Sankey hymn ‘Master, the tempest is raging’! Quite appropriate, though I don’t know what happened to the ‘Peace, be still’ of the chorus! The smells are something else too – a mixture of burning rubbish, open drains, random stuff cooking and many many sweaty bodies!
Back at the original shop, someone produced a small ancient wrench that was falling apart. He wanted 1000 shillings (about £8.50) for it. We pointed out that it was old and in poor condition, and tried to negotiate, but he refused – so we left empty handed. Millicent went to Kisumu the next day and bought a bigger, new wrench for 850 shillings. This kind of thing just sums up that feeling that some people just want to take advantage of us. If I received a lifetime ban from going into Ahero, I would not be too upset.
But the really worrying trip was to Ahero hospital. Our young friend Gideon, who had travelled with us from Nairobi, was taken ill with malaria one Sunday. We found him flat out on the grass with a very high temperature. He comes from an area where malaria is not prevalent, unlike the Kisumu area, which is a very unhealthy place. We needed to take him somewhere where he could have a blood test to confirm malaria, and get some medicine as soon as possible.
Arriving at the gate, we were reluctantly let in by a surly security guard. We went to a window where a lady was sitting and were given a form to fill in. She then disappeared and reappeared at a desk at the front (all this is in a kind of veranda at the front of the hospital, with uncomfortable benches to sit on). She started to take some details, then disappeared completely. Meanwhile, someone turned on the TV that was above the desk, so no one could really hear what was being said. Another man wandered up having come in off the street. He came and shook my hand and asked what we were doing – I explained brusquely, thinking he was probably angling for money for treatment for something, but he then went and sat down at the reception desk and continued taking details. Another man appeared with a blood pressure cuff and took Gideon’s blood pressure (no attempt at cleaning between patients), and they weighed him. Sue (having insisted that they turned the TV down so we could hear what was going on) asked about taking his temperature, but no one appeared to have a thermometer. The chap disappeared and reappeared with one, and quickly took Gideon’s temperature, which appeared to be almost normal – the machine clearly hadn’t been calibrated properly because poor Gideon was burning up. He was then escorted through for a blood test, then reappeared and was escorted through in the opposite direction. We then needed to pay for the blood test before anyone would give any results. The problem was that the lady behind the window who was supposed to be taking the money was nowhere to be seen, so we couldn’t pay – so no blood test result. Eventually, she reappeared, apparently quite irate, because she had had to go out somewhere to get change. Gideon was finally confirmed as having malaria and was given an injection, and a prescription for medicine. Sue asked the young man in jeans who had given her the prescription if it was OK to take an anti-inflammatory, like ibuprofen, with the malaria medicine, and she was told it was. We looked it up later, and it is most definitely NOT OK. He had also prescribed a really strong painkiller, likely to cause hallucinations; a really strange move. This chap said he was a doctor, but since no one wore a uniform or any form of ID, it was impossible to know from beginning to end whether we were dealing with a doctor, nurse, cleaner (probably not a cleaner – there wasn’t much evidence of cleaning going on…), or a random tramp who had wandered in off the street. In fact, even in his very sick state, Gideon told us afterwards that when the man came towards him with a needle, Gideon said ‘But who are you?!’
The whole experience was shockingly unprofessional. Obviously, we were glad to get some medicine for Gideon (he was flat out for 2-3 days, but has now made a full recovery), but our strong advice is not to become ill in the Ahero area. This is not our first encounter with the Kenyan healthcare system. Our NHS may not be perfect, but when you see the alternative, it makes you extremely grateful.
You may remember on last year’s blog that one of our top tips was not to take a day trip to Luanda airport (Angola). This year’s top tip is that Ahero is not the best tourist destination in Kenya. We love our friends, the care centre and the school – but Ahero is a necessary evil!