A Travellerspoint blog

May 2009

Yup, stuck back in Nairobi


And so it is that I'm back in Nairobi. And for pretty much the first time since I left Portland, actually alone. This is quite strange. By nature - and history – I am a solo traveler, but this trip has seen me with constant companions, and baring 36hours or so around Walvisbaai I have not been alone. Which in itself is also quite strange: Maaret is now back in London or somewhere, but the 3months or so we have traveled together is the longest continuous period I have ever traveled with somebody in my life. Virtually all the rest of the people who have been part of my trip so far have also left Africa, or at least, are not in places where I will see them again soon. Even the other long term resident at the hostel here, Andrew, a cheery English guy, has just left: He's off to Angola to be a pilot, as you do.

So i'm now the sole guest in an empty hostel, and wondering what to do next. I haven't really been well for over 6weeks now, and it's almost 4weeks since i started my continuing liaisons with the staff at Nairobi Hospital, and even more continuous fights to avoid being conned by the taxi drivers outside it. I now greet the staff at the pharmacy, coffee shop and newspaper seller by name, and they respond with similar familiarity. This is rarely a good sign.

I estimate that I have now been seen by 41 different doctors and specialists. I have given enough blood to keep a small ship afloat, and enough stool to sink that same ship (yes i know its disgusting. But i'm still working on the pretty well proven assumption that nobody of relevance ever reads this sh1t anyway, and those that do should expect what is coming). I have been tested for more diseases and problems than I can remember – including some i'm pretty sure were eradicated 60+ years ago - and been poked, prodded, scanned and violated in many different ways (I am as yet still unable to sit down after the last such violation: That was 2 days ago), and been given enough medication to fill a small pharmacy: At one point my breakfast was a couple of pieces of toast, 2 glasses of liquid medicine and 14 pills.

The fact that pretty much none of that has made the slightest difference and nobody as yet has actually got the faintest idea exactly what is wrong with me should probably worry me allot more than it actually does. Possibly if I understood a bit more about what the medical professionals were talking about i might be more worried, but I'm actually now starting to find it a bit funny. There is nothing i can really do, and I am definitely better than I was after I had been in the hospital for 2weeks and I don't seem to be getting any worse, which for me is good enough to be going on with. About all the doctors can confirm and seem to agree on is that I don't have stomach cancer, my elbow is not broken, and I am probably not pregnant.

Which basically means that as for now, i remain stuck in Nairobi. I have come to the conclusion that there is no point in my leaving until i am diagnosed &/or up to at least 80% of my normal health: I have no specific appointments or time frames anymore, so I may as well stay here and get fixed. Without the faintest idea how long I will be here. So if anybody happens to be coming to Nairobi at some point before September 2013-ish, come and say hello!

Posted by Gelli 22:49 Archived in Kenya Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (0)

Bye-bye Yes-Dear


After abandoning me for the second time – this time, 10 days in Uganda – Maaret returned to Nairobi. Feeling a bit better and in one of my “let's wait and see” rotations at the hospital between appointments and Maaret's return to Europe looming, I made an executive decision and decided we would go to Arusha for a few days. Now I freely admit that I am not entirely sure what i expected to accomplish as i am still not in anywhere near good enough to attempt such things as long safari trips or climbing Kilimanjaro (I can barely climb stairs at the moment, let alone anything else!), but it made sense at the time. Basically, I was so bored of looking at the same walls that I just fancied looking at some other walls for a bit.

And it kind of worked. The journey didn't cause me too much in the way of problems, and we found a nice little hostel mostly used by long term volunteers, and where we were instantly brought into the 'family' and made to feel very welcome. Plus there were puppies. Which for those that understand – and even those that don't, as it is pretty obvious at least from one angle – means baby animals.


The people behind the Ujamaa Hostel have links to several local charities and projects, and people come and stay for a while and volunteer. You can choose to do as much or little as you want, and get involved in whichever project you want, and mix and match pretty much as you please: It is one of the few programs that i have come across in the last few months where they are genuinely looking for people to come and volunteer, as opposed to the norm which is that they want the money the volunteers pay (normally lots of it), but then really seem like they couldn't care less if the volunteers stick around or not. At Ujamaa, you don't pay (read: hand over a blank cheque) for the privilege of volunteering: You just volunteer.

Sadly, i wasn't really up to much. I had good moments and bad, but pretty much did not allot except hang around the hostel and occasionally wander around Arusha. Frustratingly, I didn't make it to a single of the projects (reasoning that with my currently extremely sensitive stomach, the last thing I need was enthusiastic kids running up and grabbing/hugging me), though have already resolved to return when I am finally alive again and stay for a few weeks and help out.

One of the things that I have enjoyed so much about being sick and stuck around Nairobi for the last few weeks has been the wonderful support and consistent presence of Maaret. And so having been abandoned by her twice in the previous couple of weeks, and with a third abandonment rapidly approaching, I was warmed to discover that when she went out to a club with most of the hostel residents (pretty much everybody except for me and 2 other sicknotes), she had to field 2 wedding proposals – and not from locals – and got involved in this**...


Sigh. The hints are becoming increasingly less subtle. The evening was topped off when part of the group arrived home around 4am, and when Maaret came in to check on me, I got a strong whiff of alcohol and “club” smells and pretty much had to sprint straight off for another, erm, comfort break. And who said romance was dead?

  • * To be fair, the three guys are all really cool New Yorkers who are gay, gayer and really gay.

DISCLAIMER: I have been almost politely asked to point out that Maaret has never really abandoned me, and I am using that term for semi-dramatic-ish affect. Left me alone for days on end whilst she went off to do other, more exciting things on 3 different occasions? yes; abandoned me? not really. To set her worries that free that any of my friends who ever stumble across this and actually read it will think that by leaving me in my hour of need (or something like that) she is a heartless so and so, in the hope of not being slapped later on, I hearby state for the record that I had no problems with – and actively encouraged – her side trips. I don't want somebody ruining/wasting the end of their holiday to sit in a cell staring at a wall with me hen i'm in an even less friendly, sociable and useful way than normal, when they could be out enjoying themselves and seeing all sorts of exciting things, such a paint drying. Fred, on the other hand I am a bit miffed that he deserted me. He could have worked wonders in several hospital situations that I have found myself in! Now, Honey, please don't slap me?

Posted by Gelli 16:42 Archived in Tanzania Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Life and death in Nairobbery


In a previous warbling, I noted just how much I was looking forward to Nairobi, and my expectations of the city. I am happy to report that Nairobi has exceeded that. After 2.5weeks of pretty much been stuck between the confines of a heavily fortified hostel toilet and a hospital, I finally felt able to risk a trip into the city. Sick or not, i had chores to attend to and medicine's to collect. The day went pretty smoothly, though I was utterly shattered by the end, the product of barely having done any exercise for some time. But I was never quite caught out on comfort break requirements, achieved pretty much everything i needed to and finally got to see some of the city. By day, at least, Nairobi is fine. To me it felt more European than African, at least in the central core, (though I couldn't explain why) and was pleasant enough.

But it was when I risked a trip to the Ethiopian embassy – more out of future curiosity and a desire to actually get some exercise for the first time in ages than any pressing need – that i started to think that perhaps the Nairobi that I have long heard of was not in fact a myth. Maybe 500m before the embassy i was walking along a suburban road, when a man comes staggering towards me. I assume he is drunk. But when he is maybe 20metres away, he just collapses in a heap on the floor with foam coming from the mouth. My first thought was a horribly cynical and paranoid one: perhaps this is just a ruse for an unsuspecting pick-pocket to go for me whilst I try and help. But I quickly get past that. The foaming is just too realistic.

I stand for maybe a second, whilst looking around and seeing that the other 15 or so pedestrians – and 3 security guards at gates, who are all closer to the man than I - within sight are all ignoring the event. I don't have a Kenyan phone to hand so I start to approach to see if I can help. Barely 2 steps later, a smartly dressed woman in her 50's grabs my arm and says strictly “No. stay well clear.” And drags me across the road. As we start to cross to the other side of the road, two men calmly walk up to the prone body, frisk him, take his wallet and shoes and walk off. Still nobody is batting an eyelid, except that one of the security guards looks strongly at me until he catches my eye, and makes a swift gesture indicating that I should just keep going and ignore the man. I can't quite believe what is going on, but with people making it obvious they don't think I should even try and help, I don't really see what I can achieve so simply carry on my way, slightly perturbed.

When I return from the embassy maybe a half hour later, the scene is the same as before – nobody stopping or paying any attention – but for one obvious change: the man now has a blanket over his body and as I approach, is lifted into the back of a van which suddenly appears. Death is not unusual in Africa and people deal with it more frequently than many Westerners, but even so, I couldn't believe the lack of anything resembling curiosity (if you collapse on a pavement in Western Europe, China or much of the rest of the world, you would at least have a crowd of people looking over you in curiosity, even if none are actively trying to help) or even vague attempt to help. I don't know if I am frustrate or saddened more. But the really horrible thing was that I was in no way surprised. Welcome to Africa.

Posted by Gelli 11:38 Archived in Kenya Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Fred world


There is very little that is as frustrating being stuck somewhere sick when you are away traveling. Though you have the support and sympathy of other travelers and passers by, they are by nature transient people and not around much. You keep having to explain exactly what is wrong, and of course, you are basically stuck. And stuck somewhere not of your own choosing. Whilst I was at least in a decent hostel which was friendly and at least allowed some interaction with others (unlike the hotels and guest houses which had been the norm for the previous few weeks), it was still a hostel in the suburbs of a city I didn't know, and a fairly empty one to boot. My world is pretty much down to the hostel, hospital and taxi's between the two: my every movement is carefully calculated so that I am never far (in distance or time) from my constant current companion, the toilet. I am spending so long around certain toilets, that if I were married (those that know certain episodes from my past: Shut it) it could be used a grounds for divorce.

I like to think that I am a fairly patient person: If it takes you 3days to travel somewhere that you could fly in 3hours, you pretty much have to be. But after a week or so looking at the same walls and wishing there was paint drying that I could watch, and with Maaret briefly back and a cheery Northerner Johnny also onboard, a plan was hatched. And so it was that one Saturday morning, and after some very careful, erm, comfort-stop calculations, we went in search of Giraffe's.

Though not the cheapest, and, to be fair, a fairly limited amount of options and activities to be undertaken, I loved the giraffe park. Even more, I loved the smell of fresh air (and giraffe sh1t, but mostly air) and actually being pretty much anywhere else for the first time in a week.

I like Giraffe's.


Especially when you get to do things like this:


And this:


And whilst, sadly, I was too sick to even contemplate attempting it, of course this:


....Although Fred, as a gay giraffe, was somewhat disappointed that he didn't receive more attention than he did:



Happily covered in giraffe slime (Giraffe saliva is possibly the most gunky thing that I have come across since the bad old days of Noel Edmunds gunking people, a memory which oddly persists from TV in my much younger days) and comfort-breaked yet again, we then made a quick beeline to the Nairobi National Park Animal Sanctuary and more comfort break comfort.



The Animal sanctuary was odd. To be fair, I was increasingly in trouble by this point and so not as focused as I could have been, but for some reason I just found it mildly depressing. Yes, there were animals, and a full range of cats, including things like the Caracol ((XXXX spelling XXXX)) that I have never seen before. But it just didn't seem right. We were able to go into a Cheetah pen for a bit, but later discover that was only because the boss wasn't looking, and would we 'please show our appreciation' to the guards. There was one monkey who did a great Grinch impression, and another who had escaped and amused himself by rattling the outside of the enclosure he had escaped from – to the irritation of the remaining inmates – and taking grass from tourists. But even though it was feeding time, i think the thing that really showed how interested I was in the place was that the animals i spent most time watching, weren't even attractions:


Yup, I went to an animal sanctuary and spent as much of my time looking at Dung-beetles as anything else. Hmmmm. Still, at least I had made it out of my own miserable enclosure for a few hours. With luck,i may be allowed out on a leash again in a week's time.



I haven't had a sign picture for some time. This isn't a classic, but it marks the return of a n old favourite of my blogs

Posted by Gelli 07:36 Archived in Kenya Tagged animal Comments (0)


Ah yes, Nairobi. A real big city and home to the hopes, dreams and aspirations of millions, with a burgeoning industry of carjackings, muggings, knifings and murder, at least if you believe the hype. Downtown has a reputation that few can match: even the likes of Bogota and Detroit sound like Utopian paradises in comparison to some of the tales from Nairobi.

I've never been one to trust the media and guidebook culture too much, and it seems very likely that regardless of how bad it really is, it's reputation and the scare stories/travelers tales are probably a little harsh. Having said that, the previous days paper which i read on the train detailed 3 nasty sounding carjackings (though to be fair, i'm not sure what a good sounding carjacking would sound like), I was also acutely and sadly aware that 2 acquaintances had been murdered and 3 more had been badly robbed in Nairobi within the last 8years, all in separate incidents. Thus it is safe to say that Nairobi was never high on my list of places to visit, despite it's almost utter inevitability as the main logistical hub for pretty much the whole of East Africa.

And so it was that 4hours late, feeling like utter sh1t and having not slept the previous night that you might understand that i did not greet my arrival in Nairobi with a whoop of joy. Merely a restrained dash to the toilet cubicle.

As for the utter sh1t thing, well I have been iffy on and off (more on, in terms of iffy) for coming up to 3weeks now. Never really bad, but bad enough and obvious to anybody that spent any time with me that I wasn't at 100%, shall we say. A few times i've thought of getting checked out, but later on or the following day I have been feeling better and so hadn't, hoping and relying on my ability to fight off whatever I had. But the last couple of days had been particularly bad, and I knew I could not go on. So off i trekked to a hospital with a couple of books, and vague hopes that I might be seen by a doctor at some point that week.

Some of you will be aware that at various moments of my life I have been a reasonably regular visitor to assorted medical establishments around the world for an often bizarre and unlikely serious of complaints or breaks. As a youngster, I was not brought up on GMT at all, but rather on NHS time, a strange thing which is so complicated that it distorts the time-space continuum and can't even be understood by Stephen Hawking. But in vague terms based on what my long experience has shown me, it apparently utilises times from every world timezone in the same day as a way of finding more hours in the day and ensuring patients (eg: me) wait as long as physically possible to be dealt with whilst not being late (why are you complaining that your 2pm appointment is several hours late? it's barely 1pm in Bolivia...). Even BRST – see a previous blog entry on Zambia for that one – is wonderfully punctual and efficient in comparison. Thus it was that my expectations were low.

So I was delighted that barely 8hours later, having sh1t in things i was supposed to sh1t in (or not supposed to on occasion), given enough blood to feed the Transylvanian population until 2017, vomited a few times (just because I wanted to, damned it) and paid at least three times - alongside the inevitable selection of form filling, registering at countless desks, long waits and occasional confusion – and with the search parties sent out to find me, I was the proud recipient of 3 lots of drugs i've never heard of, a long list of do-nots and a warning not to leave Nairobi before more test results come back in a few days. It made me feel all nostalgic: I haven't been told not to leave somewhere in such firm terms since, erm, well... that's another long story which perhaps should be left in history.

And what was the diagnosis? Erm. Dunno, really. They agreed that I definitely have something. And they don't know what, and don't want to guess. Except that they did guess and was told some disease i've never heard of that it was 6words long – none i've ever heard before – or, failing that, possibly typhoid (typhoid?! As Maaret so succinctly put it “who the hell gets typhoid?”). But it might not be either. They don't want to guess.

Ah yes, the wonders of travel. Now i truly do feel as if i'm in Africa.

Posted by Gelli 07:08 Archived in Kenya Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (1)

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