Cale and I were set to leave Indianapolis for Kenya (via Memphis and Amsterdam) Monday evening. So of course I was feeling sick on Sunday. Mostly it was just cold-like symptoms. I was tired, my nose was stuffy, the like. I honestly wasn’t too surprised. The last few weeks had been very stressful and the previous Tuesday, several members of the ACCT group had woken up with colds themselves. Considering we had all been at a potluck at Dr. T’s house the night before, I wouldn’t have been surprised if we had all ended up with colds.
However, by Sunday evening before we to were leave, I was feeling less like a cold and more like the flu, as the nausea set in. And so, I tossed and turned most of the night on the bathroom floor and found myself emptying the contents of my stomach into a bucket my our bed only 18 hours before I was set to be on a plane to Africa.
*Oops, Teresa I am sorry, I mentioned vomit without warning you in advance.
The irony of the situation was not lost on me. Friday I had given a presentation to the ACCT International interns on the symptoms of possible diseases they should be alert to in Kenya. Here I was experiencing what felt like a majority of those symptoms. All I needed was a mysterious rash and I would have been set.
I spent almost all of Monday on the couch. Sitting up long enough to arrange the limo for my sister’s bachelorette party (which of course, is less than five hours after I return from Kenya in July), wiped me out. When I finally took a shower around 1pm, I had to sit down for most of it. Here I was, sitting on the floor under the water stream trying to shampoo my hair, wondering how I was going to run through the Memphis airport where our connection between flights was only 30 minutes.
Dad took us to the airport, but our first stop was Marsh where Cale bought me a ginger ale and some ginger root to help with the nausea (Dani, I got some for you too. We’ll be ready for the ferry ride in two weeks). When we finally made it through security almost three hours before our flight (in my paranoia about missing flights, I always plan to be at the airport way to early), I immediately took up a spot on the floor and tried to nap.
The flight from Indy to Memphis was uneventful. Cale had cut up the ginger root into some pieces I could swallow whole to help settle my stomach. I am sure it was an interesting scene at the airport bar. “Excuse me, can I have a scotch and a butter knife? I just need to saw away at this random root, don’t mind me.”
As I expected, we had to speed walk to our next gate in Memphis, which, I do not believe, could have been any further away. It took us the entire 30 minutes just to move from one gate to the other at top speed. When we arrived, they were almost done with boarding, but we had to wait in line to speak to the gate agent. For reasons that is not entirely clear to me, I had no seat assignment on this flight and despite Cale’s best efforts to get me one before we left, everyone from the Delta CSRs to the ticket agent in Indy, to the gate agent in Indy, insisted that I would have to get my seat assignment at the gate in Memphis. Just to be more difficult, Cale already had a seat assignment and we were hoping to sit together. This is a difficult feat to pull off when you arrive at the gate just at departure time and you are the last people to board an already full plane. Fortunately, the gate agents were amazingly helpful. When we first asked to be seated together, they said that wasn’t possible. I totally understood. I then requested an aisle seat because I wasn’t feeling well. They had no aisle or window seats left (or really, any seats), but the agent saw the I was assigned was in an exit row and determined she would have to move me since I was sick. After much shuffling, that included a gate agent getting on the plane just in front of me and asking an already seated man to move to my old exit row seat, Cale and I were seated across the aisle from each other for our nine-hour flight to Amsterdam.
I spent most of the flight trying to sleep and being generally unimpressed with Delta’s seats. They are no Air New Zealand or Korea Air by a long shot, let me tell you. I ate some of the pretzels (adding to the saltines I had eaten earlier as my only food for the day), sipped ginger ale, and desperately asked the flight attendants for water every time they came around. Why is it that they will only give you water in tiny cups on planes? Do I only need water three sips at a time? Can’t I just have a whole bottle of it? I know, you just don’t want us up and going to the bathroom. But with all that arid, recycled air, I was desperate for water.
We were set to meet a high-school friend of mine at the airport train station when we arrived in Amsterdam. I haven’t see Dawn since we both went to Cardinal Ritter High School our sophomore years (1996? Was it really that long ago?). Somewhere along the way she met and, recently, married a Netherlander (I always want to spell this word with a “d.” That is how it is pronounced, right?). She’s been living and teaching in the Netherlands for years now. It seemed like an ideal time for us to finally see each other in person again. I, however, was a little worried about this meeting. Here I am, barely able to drag my nauseas, congested body around, and I am meant to sightsee in Amsterdam. I was worried that Dawn would have taken the train all the way in to the city (an hour for her) only to have me want to just lay on the floor and not do anything.
As it turned out, our meeting was not meant to be. When we arrived in Amsterdam, I checked my facebook to discover a message from Dawn’s husband letting us know that she was sick herself and wasn’t going to be able to meet with us. Though I was looking forward to meeting Dawn, I breathed a sigh of relief and proceeded to lay on all sorts of uncomfortable benches in the Amsterdam airport.
Our layover in Amsterdam was nine hours. Sometime after the halfway mark, I decided to be a human again. I ate some crackers, washed my face in the bathroom, brushed my teeth, and set out in search of caffeine (of course, we found the Starbucks). When a group of six American girls set up shop next to us at a café and proceeded to paint their finger nails (yeah, that nail polish remover is a lovely smell, thanks girls), Cale and I moved to our gate. We had to go through security immediately before boarding, which meant, of course, I had to board the plane without any water (great, another nine hours of water doled out three sips at a time).
The flight to Nairobi was run by Kenya Airways. Both the seats and the food were dramatically better than Delta. I ate more than half of my potato gnocchi dinner, the first real thing I had eaten since about 3pm Sunday (it was now more than 24 hours later). After getting our visas and gathering our luggage, we were met by a smiling Dr. W just outside the Nairobi airport at about 6:30 am local time Wednesday. He immediately took us for some breakfast (my first chapati and a taste of ndazi [I will have to check the spelling on those later]). We had a little bit of a wait ahead of us, since our flight from Nairobi to Kisumu was not until 1:30 pm. While we waited, Dr. W regaled us with the story of how he met and wooed his wife, the other Dr. W. After several hours, we were met by Samson of the African Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW), one of our partner organizations. Samson is a logistics sort of guy and he runs the ANAW guesthouse, Kifaru House, where some of our students stayed when the arrived in Nairobi Thursday night (hmm…how to refer to something that will happen in the future from the perspective of the story you are currently telling [which is set in the past], but has in fact already happened at the time of writing?). Sam showed us around the airport and assisted Dr. W to get a pass so he could wait at the gate when the students arrived Thursday and Friday.
Our flight from Nairobi to Kisumu was a little bit of an adventure. First, we tried to check in early so we could check our luggage and not carry it around when Sam showed us the Nairobi airport. This turned out to be more complicated then we thought and included myself going back and forth through security multiple times as we sorted out an issue with my ticket. Later, as we waited to board the plane, Cale remembered we needed to take our antimalarial meds again. Let me say very clearly now, when doxy says take with food, it means take with food. We had forgotten that it had been five hours since breakfast and the only thing we had eaten recently was some fresh-squeezed mango juice. As I sat on the tiny plane that would take us the 45 minutes to Kisumu, I began to experience the most amazing heartburn. However, as the burning sensation spread from my stomach up my chest, I realized it had no intention of stopping. And so, I used an airline airsick bag for the first time in my life before the plane had even taken off. It was amazingly embarrassing. The flight attendants were incredibly helpful and the flight itself was uneventful, but I was still feeling miserable when we landed. Cale explained later that he too felt the affects of taking the doxy without food. He had forced himself to not throw up.
We were to be met at the Kisumu airport by our In-Country Coordinator, Pam Lutta. In addition to being the Director of Marketing and Corporate Relations for the Mumias Sugar Company, she is also Dr. W’s sister. I was ashamed to meet her for the first time in my current state. I stank, I had recently vomited, I looked a mess. After a quick tooth brush in the airport bathroom, Cale and I found a welcoming Pam just outside the airport gates. She was not put off by our disheveled appearances or, hopefully, by our smell. The ride from Kisumu to Mumias was just about one hour. Cale found himself powerless against sleep during much of the ride. During the ride, I noticed again how things in the developing world are much the same wherever you go. The scene out the window could easily have been somewhere inland in Samoa, Thailand, or Cambodia. The roads were in quite a state and our driver sped around potholes and overtook other vehicles with relative ease. At one point, a large stretch of road was under construction, and we were shunted off to a dirt path next too the road. Luckily, it is the rainy season, as Pam explained the dust from the construction is overwhelming when there is no rain to keep it down.
Finally, more than 40 hours after we left Indy we arrived at Pam’s house on the Mumias Sugar compound. This will be our home too for the next 10 weeks. I will share the story of the students’ arrival in Kenya soon.