As promised, I will be sharing a memory or story from my time in East Africa for every day of this week to draw attention to our work and my life over there.
August 8th, 2014 – Kampala, Uganda 11pm
There is not a single star visible on Kampala's cloudy night sky. It's been unusually cold and rainy despite the fact that it is supposed to be dry season until the end of August.
I'm sitting on a plastic chair outside of Kampala Coach waiting for the 11pm bus to Nakuru, Kenya. Everyone around me is wrapped in a leso or Maasai blanket – I should have known better and brought something although my dusty red Javahouse Coffee fleece is keeping me somewhat warm. In front of me: dozens of canvas and plastic bags meant to go on the bus that is yet to arrive, a pregnant tabby sleeping next to them.
I was told by one of the company's employees that "it is better to take a hotel and wait until morning – yesterday's bus came very late and people were waiting until 9am; If the bus comes, most of the luggage will be left behind". I am determined to wait – or actually, I barely have a choice.
A hectic three day journey from Nakuru, Kenya to Kampala, Uganda to Masaka to Kyazanga into rural areas of Central Uganda behind me, I have little more than 10,000UGX left (roughly $4). My final trip to Uganda is as well-planned as possible in East Africa as I am hoping to see families we started sponsoring through the orphanage I volunteered for. A series of unexpected events has shaken up these plans but nevertheless I get to show two friends the roots of my love for the beautiful red soil and green banana trees that make up parts of Uganda. In addition, I get to introduce them to the wonderful children at House of Hope Uganda. While trying to distribute the clothing donations given to me by friends, organising a food party as well as conducting some research and interviews on disabilities and stigma in Uganda with my friend Sally, I am asked to take a fourteen year old girl to the hospital to get an x-ray: there is a massive lump of her back that has caused pain for two years. I know her brother, who had been eagerly participating in my music classes the year before and the three of us make our way to the nearest town, Masaka, hoping to find a hospital that offers x-rays. Two hours and two overly crowded minivans with 14+ people later, we make it to the General Hospital. No power.
No power, no x-rays.
By then, the boy has thanked me for the 10th+ time, referring to me as "mother, because I care about them". By then, I have fallen in love with both of the kids who I had only spoken to briefly before. Sarah, who speaks little English, has started to contribute more to the conversations her brother Ronald and I are having and we all seem determined to find a place with power. After being redirected to two different hospitals, we find a clinic with x-ray services. Success!
Sadly, the x-ray itself shows an unimaginable cause of the lump: two of the vertebrae appear to be completely ruined, "rotten" as the doctor says. This has caused the spine to collapse, resulting in the visible "lump". Possible cause? Tuberculosis. Possible treatment? Drugs, several surgeries and a long recovery. The doctors and myself are baffled how Sarah is even walking.
We get referred to a spinal surgeon who confirms what the first doctor told me. However, TB testing cannot be done until Tuesday, as this is when the government pays for treatment. I will have returned to Kenya by Tuesday.
My head is playing through possible scenarios of how to support Sarah. How to stay here or at least stay in Kenya, how she won't be able to stay in a rural area only accessible by motorbike or a 45 minute walk – conditions impossible after spinal surgery.
Leaving rural Uganda without a solution, knowing there is no solution as such, I barely speak during the 3 hours ride back to Kampala. We make it roughly before 7.30pm, the time my bus is scheduled to leave. My friends have a hostel room for the night as they are white water rafting the next day – this being their first time in Uganda, I decide to leave my SIM card with them so they can organise their trip. I miss my bus.
Stuck in Kampala after dawn, I leave them behind to go look for a bus on foot. A decision so irrational I can only explain by the amount of emotions I have experienced in the past 48 hours. I find another bus company promising me a bus at 9pm. I spent my remaining Ugandan shillings on a bag of chips – as I cannot afford anything else – sneaking into a bathroom for customers at a restaurant next door.
Kampala – 9.20pm
Turns out the bus is full. Outraged and disappointed, I make a minor scene saying how I will have to stay out on the street with no money and food (exaggerate much?). A boy from the bus company puts me on a motorbike suggesting a bus park a few minutes away. We almost crash into a truck during the 20 minute motorbike ride through half of Kampala.
I might have needed this ride – the cold air while driving under the beautiful nightsky. I have no idea where I am going yet I am too relieved to be on a motorbike. I am headed somewhere, at least. Anything is better than staying at the bus station.
My reason for not staying in Uganda with my friends was (besides spending the money on something important to me) mainly the few days I had left in Nakuru. I didn't want to spend a day without either my kids in rural Uganda or my friends in Nakuru, Kenya. This mindset is probably what has lead to my decision to run off into the darkness of Kampala.
Nevertheless, I am on my way somewhere. Unfortunately, I cannot pay the motorbike driver – I offer him the few Kenyan shilling I have.
Kampala – 10pm
Carrying my belongings on my back, I search for a company going to Kenya in a bus park full of numerous people waiting to travel or drinking in one of the kiosks/hotelis. Kampala Coach is supposed to leave at 11pm!
Kampala – 1 am
I AM ON A BUS. Roughly 11 more hours and I shall be home in Kenya.
I awake several hours later, finding myself at the border to Kenya. Expecting to exit the bus at Busia to cross the border as usual, obtaining a VISA and getting back onto the bus, I am surprised (to say the least) to discover we are NOT in Busia. I don't have a phone with a working SIM card to check, and I don't have a choice but to go with it anyway but... where am I?
It appears to be some kind of official border and I manage to receive a new Kenyan VISA within an hour. Traffic, rain and the natural occurances that come with traveling by bus through East Africa, I get to Nakuru at 5 in the afternoon – only 3 hours later than expected with the bus leaving after midnight. Only 26 hours after leaving my Ugandan village.
As exhausting as some of this may sound, even if given the choice (money for a plane ticket, that is) I would choose the bus over flying anytime. There is something about travelling by yourself through the beautiful hills in Kenya, the tea farms, crossing the source of the Nile in Jinja, getting into crazy busy Kampala and then hopping on a minibus through the beauty that is Central Uganda. I have met some extraordinary people on my bus journeys, telling me their stories travelling back and forth from Kenya to Uganda and sharing cassava and coffee at 4am at the border because buses are not allowed to drive before 6am on the Kenyan side.
I have waited almost a year to share a bit of not only my stories, but Sarah's story. It is difficult to know what is currently going on and how she is doing but I have made it my mission to go beyond my best abilities to help Sarah receive treatment – whatever that treatment may include. I am not fundraising for her specifically (yet) as I do not have the details of the current condition but she is included and will benefit from the donations pool I am raising for Siku Njema Kesho.
Whether this story has lead you to question my choices regarding mode of transport or the relevance of this story to what I do in East Africa, I hope Sarah's story inspires you as she is one of the strongest people I have ever met.
Consider contributing to her treatment by contributing to our fundraiser, please. It would mean the world to me.
Here's the link to the fundraiser: www.youcaring.com/nonprofits/siku-njema-kesho-our-children-in-kenya-and-uganda/341219