“He did not make it……..”, Eldoret, Jan 7th 2011

The minibus driver from Kitale really tried hard to kill his 14 passengers but after 5 or 6 nearby crashes and 2 hours I reach Eldoret and it takes me 4 minutes to feel the vibe of this city. What a change: no hassle, no strange looks at me, people (including women) in suits and other working clothes, big town atmosphere with infrastructure like good internet cafes, shopping malls and super markets that carry yoghurt and, yes, chocolate. At the internet café I meet John, an American journalist in Kigali, Rwanda, who visits his Kenyan friend here. So I end up in a nice sports bar watching a football match while having chicken wings and meeting local people. It turns out that John’s friend is a marathon runner training in Iten, a runners camp near by and that they intent to go there the next day. Well, I don’t need to think long to answer their invitation. Going with the flow, my schedule for tomorrow is set.

Next morning, Wednesday January 5th, I have to learn that my new relaxing attitude is almost too much for Africa. I show up for breakfast at 9:30am. Besides the funny signs asking people to “please do not spit on the floor!” there is also a sign telling that breakfast is only till 9am. I would accept that if there is no breakfast available anymore but it is only that after 9am I have to pay for it. No way, not with me. I discuss, I have time for that. With the boss I arrange the “deal” that I get my breakfast without paying and I will stay another 2 nights. I intend that anyway but the promise to show up before 9 tomorrow hurts more, smile.

At noon I meet with John and his friend Philmont. In fact, John’s family has sponsored him for many years in order to become a Marathon runner. His personal best is just under 2:08h. (for info, my personal best is close to that, 3:19h, smile, and the world record is just below 2:03h). You would think that Philmount’s time is pretty good but he is 26 years old now and has not made a single dollar yet. There are just too many good runners in this and other African countries. The fact that he drinks 2 regular cokes and skips the afternoon training sessions today does not help either I think (but don’t say it). About 30 minutes later I get confirmed as we arrive in Iten, the runners town at the Great Rift Valley, 2400m high. You see fit young people wearing running shoes everywhere. Our walk takes us first to the house Philmont trained when younger and I meet some quiet famous runners if you will. One was second in Boston last year, another was pace maker for the winner in Frankfurt 2010 and the girl has made third place in Boston, London and the Olympic Games. Cool. As we leave their house I get almost run over by hundreds of kids aiming to become the next famous Marathon man or girl. It is an amazing sight. Then we hike up the mountains and find some more runners trained by mostly white coaches, the German Dieter Hogan being the most famous one. Also I get to see the best houses (from outside only) in Kenya so far belonging to the successful runners who invested their millions into land here as well as sports schools and so on. Some also invest their money into pleasure with the local girls which is causing big trouble these days. Today’s newspaper has a big article on it. Back in Eldoret I have soup for dinner, serve the net and have a long call with Angi. She will visit me in March in Brasil. YES.

Thursday I follow the offer from the Germans Lukas and Susanne to visit the hospital here in Eldoret and it will top my dramatic impressions from health care in Venezuela 10 years ago. It is the “Moi Teaching and Referal” hospital, the third biggest in the country and for sure the most advanced in the west of Kenia. From the outside it seems to fulfil the promise and I enjoy watching the busy morning from a nice place in the shadow. Susanne had an emergency and so I waited for 90minutes. Then she takes me inside and soon security makes sure I do not take anymore pictures. They have good reason to forbid it. Two people in one bed (and I mean it), sometimes 3, tons of relatives around them, smell of urine and TB patients only separated by a small curtains if at all just to mention a couple of impressions. The relatives are actually the only reasons things can keep going. They do the washing of people and clothes, they do the cooking and they do remind and alarm the doctors if the patients have a problem. After a month working here Lukas and Susanne are a bit frustrated or maybe rather feeling helplessly. They are “only” students but they see the issues, see what could be done and their eagerness to help is not always appreciated. It’s not the lack of money or equipment they say, it’s the attitude of people and the hierarchic system that costs people’s life here. Nurses only do the minimum to keep the job, doctors make sure they stay on top, meaning information sharing is not on their mind and a lower set doctor would never question the decision of an upper one, no matter how sure he is that the treatment is wrong. Unfortunately I get to witness a real time example. Lukas today is really keen on getting this little boy into intensive care. He believes the boy would die on the regular station. So he goes back and forth, negotiates, and argues towards the involved people. Finally the intensive station “does him the favour” and he gets the last free bed for the boy. Back at the regular station he again insists that the boy must be taken to intensive care now, not later. Finally, when the bed to transport him is pulled up and prepared Lukas feels ok and we can leave the hospital. The next day Lukas finds out that it took another 3hours until they actually brought the boy to intensive care and that then he did not make it……………………………                    .

I am impressed by Lukas and Susanne’s work here and try to tell them, that they should look at the people they saved, not the once they lost. Kenyans have a different approach to death which another example proofs drastically. This one patient is certain to die within a week or two but medicine could ease his pain in the process. His family however, understanding that he will die for sure, decides against the treatment. It’s a lot of money for them and the family can use it in “better” ways. It’s hard but I stick to my principle to perceiving this as different, not judging on it. The visit ends almost with a positive picture. The child and new born station is looking quiet modern and well run. Then Susann tells me that about 90% of the patients here have HIV.

The 3 of us have a late lunch together and decide for a weekend trip starting tomorrow afternoon, lake Baringo. Then we go to the local market where I buy mango, passion fruit, papaya and banana. Later I will put them in my yoghurt for dinner, watching “Heat” on my lap top. After this day in hospital I enjoy it even more, being fortunate and healthy and I appreciate my home country Germany, where a broken leg is healed and not cut off and where a virus infection is analysed and not guessed before treated………………………….

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  • Thomas says:

    This is an heavy article.
    I guess that in this kind of country, the discovery cannot be easy to live every day.

    PS : Nice Hair cut Frank, you made it, you dropped the Gel even if you probably did it by default :)

    Thank you for relating your trip with so much details.

    Thomas V2

  • Markus says:

    Damn, that`s heavy stuff. Makes you appreciate good old boring conservative Germany. Anyway…i remember a video shown during your wedding…Frank playing the first person to finish a marathon in less than 2 hours…maybe you should spend some time in that training camp ;-)

    • frank4444 says:

      Hi Markus,
      ja, trainiert hab ich tatsaechlich lange nicht mehr aber trotzdem abgenommen. Kann also mit den 2h noch klappen, dann aber wir 2 zusammen, ggf. du den Kinderwagen schiebend, smile. Tschau FRANK

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