Monday, November 27, 2017

Ludwar, Kenya to Lokichar, Kenya: Break days, Sick days, and Holidays

On break days and sick days I get a little lax with the camera, sorry.

It was nice to finally have a break in Ludwar. Not only was it a much needed break from all the sand and wind and Abu Walad Sandwich Biscuits and lack of roads of the past few weeks, but it was our first break day since arriving in Africa. We had intended to take a break day about once a week, but we found ourselves in Ludwar having not taken a break for 13 days, almost twice that.

In addition to just being able to rest – and have internet, something we'd only had once since arriving in Addis – the other nice thing about being in one place is you get to feel like you know where things are. We found the bank on the way in, and split up for reconnaissance on the two grocery stores across the street. Mine ended up being a little ritzy: not that it looked ritzy, but the staff followed you around with a basket, and the prices were a little higher than you might like, but... BUT, they had chocolate. Jacob's was more of the bulk foods variety: cheaper, without staff that followed you around with a basket, but still they are just as helpful if you ask, and some of them sit in random places swinging electric fly swatters. Zzzz! Zzzz!

So the first day I settled for chocolate and cereal with milk, both things I hadn't had since I could remember (chocolate – probably a Snickers around Greece or Macedonia; cereal with milk: Weetabix in Bristol, Britain, at Hattie's. And what was I having now? Weetabix. Thanks, British colonization!). For dinner Jacob taught me how to use his stove, since he was tired of always cooking and his stove was better for two people than mine. Indome (Ramen), soy chunks (for protein) spinach, and peppers.

So, we knew where the bank was, and the grocery store, and... who cares about anything else? Okay, but the next day I also made use of a hardware store, since you might recall the water bottle cage had fallen off of my fork. I was determined to put them both on irrebreakably, so hose clamps it was. And of course by "a" hardware store I mean "three" hardware stores, because Africa.

Before visiting the hardware store, of course, I had to be in the business of getting money, because I didn't have any. I went to the only ATMs in town, walked up to the one on the left, and tried not to gawk at the one on the right, because there was a white person using it. Eventually I found my gumption and open with the dashing,


Volo was a missionary from Ukraine, and after some awkward -trying to use the ATMs while talking- I humbly suggested we meet up after, so we did. He kindly offered Jacab and I a place to stay, about 30km east of Ludwar. I wasn't sure it would work, not least of all because the road, I was told, was mostly sand. Okay, all sand. And I could not bike over sand. (Jacob, of course, just stands up and powers through). But, I wanted to make something of this rather fortuitous meeting, so I suggested we head to the hotel and convene with Jacob.

In the end we settled for lunch. Jacob would have wanted to either bike to Volo's and then bike from there (since Jacob is bicycling all the way around the world – no rides unless absolutely necessary), or get a ride to Volo's and a ride back. The ride back would not have come until Monday, and it was Friday, and we were already itching to get back on the road after not even a whole break day.

Volo knew a good place for lunch – fried chicken, chips (AKA fries), and coke, as Kenyan as it gets – and we got to talking about travel and, well, the things you talk about when you're bicycling through Africa and you meet a missionary. He told us about the election, which was featuring very prominently on TV, and taught us some Swahili, and how to get someone's attention. I was hoping for something polite and American like "excuse me," but in Kenya you just make a hissing sound that opens with a bit of a "k," like "skssss." Skssss, skssss, he called the waitress over, and asked for a bottle of water.

With a standing invite to Volo's place – that weekend or any other time – he dropped us off at the hotel, we snapped a selfie, and Jacob and I were back on our own.

This time my visit to the grocery store was a bit more comprehensive than the last (not that any visit involving chocolate can't be called comprehensive), but I ended up not feeling well that night, and settling for Weetabix again. Jacob concocted some fancy Asian noodle dish – that is, Indome (Ramen), and soy chunks, and some vegetable, and peanuts. Because, if you add peanuts to something, that makes it Asian, obviously. He also tried some street fish, despite my suggestion that might not be the best idea. But Jacob, as you know, is not one to worry about getting sick later. He's more about the now.

My not feeling well manifested itself as diarrhea that night, so up and out of the mosquito net it was, at least three or four times, and mosquito hunting time it was, as I rested on the porcelain throne. Jacob's mosquito net, he would say, had holes in it, so at least we both had equal chances of getting malaria.

The next day we hoped for pavement, but it was not to be. We wanted to make it to Kitale in three days: Kitale, a beacon of hope, of paved roads and big grocery stores and ATMs, more and better of everything than Ludwar, and "highway quality roads" to Nairobi. We still figured we could do it if the road wasn't quite as bad as it was that day, but it was pretty bad, and I was pretty tired. At noon I suggested a 3 hour nap might be nice, and Jacob allowed me 30 minutes, and I allowed me 20, since by 30 I'd be too far in to deep sleep to get up, I thought. It was quite nice, lying there, not doing anything, but Jacob tapped my shoe and it was time to go.

Later that day Jacob would be feeling it too, so we'd both take frequent breaks, heads down over our handlebars, and for one break we both ended up on the ground and I just wanted to sleep. We decided malaria tests were in order. The next city, Lokichar, seemed to get farther and farther away – 30 miles, then 20, then 15, then 12.5, then 11... but eventually we made it, and to the first guest house we went, right next to the hospital, and there we met Richard and Karen.

At the time I was so delirious I had no idea who these people were but they were kind and Richard offered to drive us to the hospital. It wasn't 100m, but it was farther than I wanted to walk. I was, I would later be told, green.

Richard and Karen, though, do deserve an introduction. They were in the area for Karen's PhD thesis, which is on how the beliefs of the tribes affect their medical care. They are both from South Africa, but have received US Citizenship since Richard taught Engineering in the US for so long, and as a result he can work almost anywhere.

It was too soon to be showing malaria symptoms from the night in Ludwar (malaria typically takes 3-5 days to manifest), but they tested us anyways – both negative. We were treated for gut bacteria (eg giardia), and given IVs, and sent home to rest. Richard and Karen had dinner prepared for us and gave us bottled water, for which we were most grateful.

And they told us where to get these fried dough things for breakfast, called mandazi.
The next few days are a bit of a haze, but we wouldn't leave Lokichar for 7 nights. Every time we thought we were getting better, one of us would get sick again. First it was giardia, then it was malaria, and then Jacob got food poisoning (from the fish, we assume). On the last day, it was simply a headache for me, and sore eye sockets, which James said was typical of malaria.

Oh, yea. James.

The second day we were there we met James and his wife, Gloria. James does work with circumcision, mostly outreach and documentation, because it's documentation that gets funding. There is, apparently, significant evidence that circumcision reduces incidences of HIV, so there is a significant push to get young men circumcised (they do it at 10 or 11 here, with local anesthesia). James travels throughout the impact areas and gets to know the doctors and the tribal leaders (since it's them you have to convince), and documents the population and how many get circumcised and how many get infected with HIV. In the time he's been doing it, there has, apparently, been a marked reduction in HIV cases. It must be very rewarding work.

So it was that between Richard and Karen (who drove into the bush on the third or fourth day) and James and Gloria we were incredibly well taken care of. James knew doctors in the area and called one in one day, he arranged piki-pikis (motorcycle taxis) for us when we weren't up to walking, he made sure we got the best prices at the hospital and town pharmacy, and he always came with us to the hospital and was asking how we were. As we were better or worse, Jacob or I would take up getting food from town and cooking, but mostly it was provided by James and Gloria and cooked by the staff at the guest house. There was talk of the raiders on the route ahead, and how a bus got robbed and three people shot dead and a woman raped, but we weren't in any condition to decide what we were going to do next.

Then there was Thanksgiving. For my non-US readers, Thanksgiving is a holiday where you get together with your family and eat a lot of food.

By the time Thanksgiving came around I had just about forgotten it. Richard and Karen had mentioned it in passing and James and Gloria had asked about it, but I was too tired and frankly, it seemed like a lot of heartache to endure remembering it and just having rice and beans for dinner. But Gloria wanted to make it special. That morning she asked what we usually had, and Jacob and I went through the list. I was at the table having just had tea, and Jacob was lying in bed with a headache, saying through the window: turkey, sweet potato, biscuits, gravy, rice, butter beans, cranberry sauce...

"Well," said Gloria, "We don't have much of those things here. But we'll have an African Thanksgiving. With mutton."

And, Jacob reminded me from his bed through the window, there was something else you always have after dinner...


All this talk had inspired me, but there wasn't any lard available. How could you have a pie crust without lard? And how could you have a pie without a pie crust? But there on the table was my answer: crackers. And so, I became unstoppable: We were going to have pie.

We made a list of what we needed to make pies and decided trying to find sweet potato was worth a shot. James and I descended onto the village, him with the local knowledge and language and me with what little money we had left. We were close to running out, having only planned for three days and some extra to Kitale with ATMs, and having spent 5 now in Lokichar without ATMs. But I wanted pie.

So all the vendors were told about how important it was that we get everything we need, but even so we couldn't find sweet potato. It was alright... potatoes were... almost as good... kind of. To be honest, it's good we found anything, because the bridge to the next city was "out." Everywhere you went, nobody had anything. "I'm sorry," they'd say, "the bridge is out." How to ford the river, whether to risk getting shot by a raider, it was all far from our minds that day.

So we got back and the cooking commenced. Gloria did the mutton and the mashed potatoes, and I did the pies. For an oven, we flipped a huge pot upside-down on Jacob's camp stove. The crust was based on a graham cracker crust recipe I totally didn't make up, except it was the crackers we had on hand. There was to be apple pie, and a meringue, whipped by hand, also totally not made recipes. I whipped. Jacob whipped. James whipped, in awe. "You didn't add anything to it?" he said. I didn't. Just some good 'ol fashioned muscle, I said, making an arm.

"Stiff peaks!" I kept saying to everyone. "We want stiff peaks!"

And then, only after everybody's arm hurt, did we get a stiff peak.

So it was that for Thanksgiving 2017, I celebrated in Lokichar, Kenya, with Jacob and James and Gloria, my family at the time. We had mutton and mashed potato and apple pie and lemon meringue. Though the apple pie was more like an apple crumble, and the lemon meringue collapsed so much when I tried to serve it, it was more like lemon flavored, buttery graham crackers. Cream of Tartar in rural Africa? Not in my lifetime. But it still received many "mmmms" from the crowd, and everybody ate all of it, so it must not have been too bad.

Achievement unlocked?

1 comment:

  1. Thankful for Richard and Karen, and Gloria and James. Nice break.
    Valiant effort on the pies!! It sounds like a Thanksgiving you will never forget. We really missed you here.

    Love, Mom