After our grueling jungle trek, Dani and Serena and I decided we deserved a day at the Hotel Serena for poolside piñas, and we’d begin the journey to Kenya refreshed and rejuvenated that night. Our sense of relaxation came to an abrupt end not long after we left the hotel, when Dani had her backpack stolen from the bed of the pickup truck in which we’d been riding. Dani wisely had all her valuables in the daypack she kept on her, so there was nothing of worth to the street kids who had run alongside the truck and lifted her bag. Size zero female clothing, miniature high heels and Caucasian-complexion makeup didn’t interest them, so with the help of a friendly local businessman, Dani miraculously got her bag back the next morning. Just about everything was intact (albeit smelly and dirty). We chalked it up to a valuable travel lesson we needed; we’d been too complacent, had ignored the gut instincts that told us putting our bags in back wasn’t a good idea.
And now we had to double-time it to Kenya, busing it from Gisenyi to Kigali to Kampala to Kisumu. More than 24 hours and two border crossings later we arrived at the guesthouse in Kisumu where our friend Casey, and other volunteers with the medical project he’d organized, had gathered.
Casey, a med student at Tulane, was there with fellow project planners and volunteers from the U.S. They’d been organizing this free clinic for about a year, and had brought thousands of dollars’ worth of donated medications and supplies to set up in a local hospital in rural Port Victoria, on the Ugandan border. It was the home town of one of the organizers, Rennatus, a public health officer now living in Atlanta. Of the three of us latecomers, Dani was the only one with health skills to lend to the project (she’s a nutritionist). But as we’d learned in previous volunteer stints abroad, anyone willing to help can and will be put to work.
We took much-needed showers and met up with the other volunteers at a small lakeside restaurant for dinner (grilled tilapia eaten, per custom, without utensils) and Tusker beers. Then it was on to the Hotel Imperial bar to watch Ghana vs. Uruguay in the World Cup. Ghana, the only African team left in the tournament, had the rabid support of everyone in town and so we all cheered for them too: me and Serena and Dani and Casey, and the others: Megan, Stephanie, Laura (all Americans) and Rennatus, Mike, and Merugi (Kenyan-Americans). Ghana lost in a heartbreak ending just as both Casey and Laura started feeling the first rumblings of travel illness (blamed on some street-vendor samosas eaten that morning). The day was definitely over.
By 3 o’clock the next afternoon, when we met at the bus station for our trip west to Port Victoria, the worst of Casey and Laura’s puking was over, though they still felt pretty lousy. I felt bad for them, first on a jostling and hot 2-hour bus ride, then crammed into a matatu (mini-bus) for another two hours. It was definitely a Developing Country Travel Experience, with 22 passengers packed into 10 designated seats, more people clinging to the outside of the vehicle, and all the associated smells and sights and sounds that come with it. My iPod kept me sane as I pressed against the window and thanked the travel gods that at least this road was (by Kenyan standards) relatively smooth. A million stars and a big meal greeted us when we arrived in Port Victoria, and then we distributed ourselves into the three resident houses where we’d be spending the next five days.