December 9, 2009

24 Hours Like None Other


The day started off well enough.  It was a very productive morning and afternoon.  Around 6 pm I grabbed a medium Pineapple and Ham pizza from the one lone pizza place in Nairobi.  I devoured the whole thing, satisfied to have consumed a massive quantity of Ham and Pizza at the same time. 

I took the bus back to the Hospital near my place, but as it had become dark outside, I arranged for a cab to drive the 1.5 mile distance to my apartment.  Now this is typical, as its just not safe to walk around at night, in particular as a foreigner. While I live in a very nice neighborhood, the streets are typical for East Africa, with each house surrounded by a large concrete wall and a guard standing at the gate.  The guards where I live are two Masai men.  The Masai are an interesting tribe within Kenya, as the most feared warriors, the most likely photographed among tourists, and also the lowest social class.  I believe they are seen as 'backwards' to the other people of Kenya, as the Masai struggle to balance their cultural history and identity with the forces of the outside world. 

One of the guards has often asked me for money.  I never really cared that he would ask, but as I have been living on a tight budget, I always told him no and thought maybe at the end of the month to give him a nice tip or christmas bonus.  Yet last night the situation got out of control.  As I departed the taxi, the guy went into the compound and locked the gate, refusing to allow access unless I give him money.  Highly irritated, I called the landlord from my cell, who promptly ended the situation.  It turns out that the guard was also intoxicated and he denied the whole situation.

I feel sorta bad, but the man was fired today for being such a jerk.  Yet the landlord insisted that the guards are well paid, and should never behave in such a manner.  After all, thats the sort of thing guests at his guest house would probably never complain about, yet in the future never actually return.

This incident was only the beginning of my troubles for the night.  I'm not really sure what happened, but I suspect the Pizza I hate actually gave me food poisoning.  I spent the whole night clutching my stomach in agony, repeatedly vomiting, suffering from all sorts of cold sweats, hot flashes, nausea, dizziness... about every system out there.  At one point I stood up and suddenly felt feint - and NOT wanting to relive the India experience again - I immediately laid down at the place I was standing.  It was horrid really.  Once the constant vomiting ceased, I took 500 mg of Antinol, and immediately began to feel better. 

Eventually around 8 am I fell asleep.  I also cancelled all my appointments today. Around 2 o'clock I called my favorite cab driver (same from the night before) who then drove me to a pharmacy and a grocery store where I stocked up on antibiotics, juice, water, and tea crackers.

I do feel much better now.  But there are few things worse than sudden acts of physical illness to prompt feelings of homesickness.  I did, as for good news, receive some information to further proceed with acquiring access to Dadaab.  I also received an email stating I can now make an appointment for an interview with MSF.  I am quite excited about that, as earlier today, I was thinking about the difference of having strong institutional support when traveling vs. the frustration of doing it on your own.   Had I been working with a larger agency, especially MSF, I would have been able to access immediate health care, and perhaps much of the last 24 hours could have been avoided.  Not to mention just the support of having other people around.  As for now, I guess I'll just continue to buddy up with the cabbie.

Before I go, I guess I could mention the one interesting thing today.  Kenya, like Egypt, is a very simple place to obtain medication.  In fact, the antibiotics I purchased today are the manufactured in Cairo.  For an entire box of pills, the cost was 180 schillings, or just over 2 dollars.  In Cairo I believe it might cost even less.  I didn't require a prescription, but simply walked in and told them what I needed.  Other folks stood around doing the same thing.  I really wish America could learn something about this, having affordable and easy access to medication.  I know people always argue that lower prices would staunch innovation, but when you look at the quantity of innovative medications produced in Northern Europe, evidence points out that this is simply not true.  Had I been in the States today, I would have had to just 'tough it out' and continue fighting the illness much longer than today.  About 5 years ago, when I lived in Camp Washington and acquired food poisoning from a fried fish joint, an attempt to 'tough it out' by going jogging at 3:30 in the afternoon turned into a disaster.  Certainly learned my lesson!