So last night didn’t allow much sleep. About three I made a solid effort, and slept fitfully until 6:30. There were roosters nearby that got very excited once the sky started to lighten. There were Muslims getting up way too early to chant. There was my foot deciding to cramp. And there was the fact that it was somewhere around 6 pm according to my internal clock. I was hungry! So I had plenty of time to shower again, repack my bags, play with my camera, and have some me time.
A little after 8:30 I heard Matthew emerge from his room, so I went out to say hi. A sweet lady from the hotel saw us and invited us to breakfast. She taught us that a word that sounds like “caribou” means welcome, and that the proper response is to say “asante assana.” We also met a teacher named Tom from Iowa who is also working with the Diocese. He was extremely helpful in getting around.
We ate a breakfast provided by the hotel of fried eggs, white bread, and tea that is similar to a weak chai, and instant coffee. The more we ate, the more food our hostess brought out. We chatted for a while with Tom until our driver arrived. We brought our bags out to the Jeep and paid our bill after signing in the ledger. Each room cost 25,000 shillings, which is less than $20.
Next, we bumped along the red dirt roads of Same to the office of the Diocese. I’m really not sure how all the terminology and titles work, so bear with me, please. Martin led us up to meet Mr. Chambua, liaison to DMU’s global health department and the Diocese himself. They were polite a friendly and wanted to make small talk. I think the idea was to get to know who they were hosting in their country. Unfortunately, Matthew and I are both shit at small talk, and didn’t really know what was expected of us in this situation (speak only when spoken to, or start telling charming stories?) Tom had come along with us, and he spoke pretty freely, though he seemed to be a naturally friendly kind of guy and probably doesn’t have to think about things like etiquette because everyone likes him anyway.
Next we were taken to the accountant’s office to pay for our ride to the hospital. We chatted for a while with the guy in charge there, then got down to the business of paying up. $350 per person seemed pretty steep, but I knew the cost beforehand and just went with it. We were probably helping to subsidize the church’s income, and there are worse ways to spend your money. The man who took our money was like every accountant everywhere: all about the numbers. It turned out the exchange had shorted us on a couple of our huge wads of money, and he wasn’t shy about telling us to give him more.
I haven’t told you about the money, yet! So when we exchanged at the airport, I had $900 to change. The going rate was 1560 shillings to the dollar. She only gave us 5000 shilling notes, so we had stacks of paper money probably six inches tall. Not exactly discreet for traveling.
Anyway, our account settled, we got on our way. The Diocese had told us that the rainy season has come early this year, and they had had heavy rains described as catastrophic. Homes were lost, roads washed out, crops destroyed. Our driver, Martin, didn’t seem worried, even though we saw no paved roads for the rest of the trip. They were dirt, mud, and rock roads. Every now and then you saw men repairing the roads with minimal tools, and even less frequently you’d see a CAT tractor (every piece of wheeled machinery is a tractor, right?) that had probably just fixed that washout that we made it across.
So we bounced our way safely up the mountain, enjoying the beautiful scenery and wondering at the people that lived all along the way. There were houses all the way up the winding mountain road, with villages every twenty minutes or so that consisted of three or four small buildings with signs and no other real indications that they were shops or churches. One of the things that struck me was the variety in everything. Houses: we saw brick, stone, wood, stick, and dirt and rock, they ranged from ruins to shanties to mansions to villas. Strangely, the small brick ones seem to be the most often abandoned. Dress: we saw suits, khakis, children in uniforms, jeans, dresses, ratty t-shirts, and rags. Flora: sword ferns like back home to exotic berries whose flowers were yellow in the center and pink on the edges. Crops: bananas, corn, mangos, avocados, often all growing in the same field – if you can call the side of a mountain a field. And there was no clear cutting. If there was a tree where crops were planted, it was left alone. Domestic animals: dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, cows, sheep, and goats.
There were electrical lines running all the way up the mountain and old, crappy satellite dishes on some of the bigger houses.
Around noon, three hours after we left, we arrived at the school where Tom was to work for the next week. We got out, met all the people there, signed in the guest book, used the facilities, and were on our way, one person lighter. After about another hour, we arrived in Gonja. I could not believe we were going to spend four weeks in a place so beautiful.
Sister Dora, the Matron greeted us and took us to our apartment. It’s a one story duplex with cement floors, three bedrooms, one “bathroom” and a sitting room. A chicken coop sits right behind the back of it. After getting our bags in our rooms and keys to the doors, we set off to get some food and take a tour of the hospital. It was after one at this point and we were hungry. Mama Joyce, who runs the Cantina told us lunch wasn’t ready yet, and would we be okay with just tea? Tea turned out to be that chai again, flat bread, and small, sweet bananas, which tided us over wonderfully.
We were introduced to everyone we came across during our tour of the hospital, and of course, remembered none of the names. We discovered almost immediately that we were idiots for not learning Swahili before we came. Sure, lots of the hospital staff speak English, but they reverted to their native tongue for greetings and such. Dr. Lusingu assured us that we’d be fluent by Friday. Ha!
The hospital has four wards: Reproductive Health, HIV/AIDS, Medical, and Surgical which they call the theatre. All the wards are large room with beds packed in and not even curtains for privacy. I still haven’t figured out where the patients pee…
The hospital doesn’t feed the patients, so there is a kitchen where family can cook meals for the ill. They are only allowed to visit at meals and in the evening. I don’t know where they sleep or if they go home every night. I can’t imagine they do that, because it’s over 30 kilometers for some of them, and most don’t have vehicles.
Lunch was served around three and consisted of white rice, baked beans which were very good, and pork in a light sauce, with more bananas, flat bread, and tea. Water doesn’t seem to be served with any of the meals. Luckily, we bought a couple of cases of water while in Same. The food is all very palatable, and maybe on the bland side, and there doesn’t seem to be much variety.
After lunch we were set to our own devices, and came back to our “chateau” as Matthew is calling it to rest and prepare for the following day. He has been a wonderful traveling companion and I’m so glad to have him here with me.
I was feeling pretty freaked out after the tour. The language barrier feels like a huge handicap and things are done so differently here. I was also pretty drained from meeting so many people. I felt like we were talking all day long, even though we had only been at the hospital for a few hours. And the two hours sleep in two days was catching up with me. About 8 pm, dinner was served, but I was too tired, so I took a Xanax and went to bed with ear plugs in.