I volunteered at this Facility, both to do something useful and also to educate myself. I learnt so much being at the sharp end of the HIV/AIDS virus. The Facility is run by a Non Government Organisation (ICAP) and has fantastic staff who are overworked. Sister Seline is extremely pro active and positive, cheerful and knowledgeable. I also learnt that she and the staff are trying to do a valuable job with very little equipment. I am looking for donors who will provide the basic birth delivery packs and suturing sets, so if you know of anybody, give me a shout.
I sewed up a man's head after a ladder had fallen on him. Lighting was very poor and the needle far too big for the job and forget about aseptic technique. Apart from drenching him in dressing fluid and prescribing precautionary antibiotics, I was not hopeful about the wound staying clean and dry. It's a case of having to do the best you can with very little.
They have a maternity ward for pregnant mothers which again is basic. Forget about gas and air or an epidural. If the birth is uncomplicated, all well and good, if not, you've got problems and the mother and child may not survive. The nurse in charge is extremely competent and experienced and knows more about birthing than I will learn in a lifetime.
The main function is to test and treat people for HIV. They have support groups, teaching groups and clinics to record weight of mothers and children, dispense medication and advise on family planning.
I plan to go back there next year and help, if they will have me.
I had a motorbike taxi to and from my residence to go to the HIV Facility in Sigomere. I knew it as Sigomre, but it apparently has been spelt wrongly all over town. Forgive the confusion. Several men were my driver, Nelson, Evans, Ronny and a boy racer who I didn't book again. The roads from Ugunja to Sigomre are metalled and laterite. Potholes in the first make it extremely dangerous to any bike and dust on the second make it very dirty. When it rains, it is slippery as well.
I used to be a Hot Biker Chick in the 60's having borrowed my sister's helmet and leathers. It brought back a few memories, but with hindsight, it is still a dangerous way to travel.
You guessed it, no helmet for the passenger or any leathers. However it was the only way to get there apart from walking. Price was 100Ksh a trip for me, less for a local.
They have a taxi stand in town where all the bikers hang out waiting for fares.
It can't be repeated often enough. This is a high HIV area. You can get the exact figures of infected people from the Sigomre Health Centre by asking the staff. Please don't think for one minute that the diseases listed don't apply to you. They do. Remember Kingafreespirit VTer who died of cerebral malaria because she didn't take the antimalarials?
Don't assist in an accident where obvious blood is present unless you have brought gloves and a mask with you.
Don't dress open wounds or try to stitch them if you don't have gloves and a mask.
Don't have any kind of sex with anyone. If you don't get infected with HIV, many people have TB, syphilis, gonorrhea, gut infections and worms. If you must, bring your own condoms as most here are sub standard and likely to break.
Take your anti-malarials every day and sleep under an insecticide treated bed net. This is a high malaria area. Continue to take your meds after you have got home as prescribed by your doctor.
Make sure all your injections are up to date as yellow fever, dengue fever and rabies are common here.
Treat any kind of scratch, cut or skin break seriously. Clean it with potassium permanganate and keep it covered with a clean dressing. Take a course of heavy duty antibiotics with you from your own doctor. Pills in Kenya can be out of date or of questionable quality.
Don't drink the water unless it comes in a sealed water bottle. Wash with only heated water as this kills the bugs in the rain water. Don't jump in the river.
Despite having dressed the wounds of a man with leprosy, this is one disease you are very unlikely to catch. You need to be bitten by a flea that has the lepra bacteria.
Street fights can break out without warning. I had no idea how this one started or what it was about, but it was sheer undisciplined agression. Two young men were beating the hell out of each other and meaning it. No Queensberry Rules here, mate.
The thing you have to watch out for is that fighting attracts attention. A crowd quickly gathers and the mood changes from one of quiet every day walking around town to men getting all hyped up and possibly wanting to join in. It's entertainment, but if you have any children and they used to watch Power Rangers, you would see your child in front of the TV swinging punches and kicking the air. That's the kind of mood change that happened. No one tried to stop it.
It also happened between young men hawking food and drinks at the bus stops. A quick playful slap around the head as one man tried to pinch the other's customer and all of a sudden peanuts were flying in all directions followed by bottles all in the middle of this cloud of dust.
The best thing you can do is to walk quietly past and look as invisible as possible. Whatever you do, don't try and break it up.
Call the Chief or Wilfred or Crispin. I've got the phone numbers if you want them.
Be aware that as soon as people see your pretty white skin, the price can easily quaruple, particularly if you try and fix the price without local help. One example is Frederick, a local driver. My friends agreed two weeks' guaranteed work with him, to and from their house to the Health Centre where I was working. The agreed price was 500Ksh a day (around £5) with extra if I needed to travel to other towns. This rapidly went up to 800 per daily trip, then 500 each way. It got to be ridiculous at 1200 per day at which point I repeated AGAIN that I was on a tight budget and that Mzungus' money does not grow on trees. I cancelled the agreement and found a motorbike taxi at 100Ksh per trip which was within my budget.
As I drove past the taxi rank and spotted Frederick sitting around waiting for a fare, I waved gaily and yelled out *How's business Fred?*.
I must point out that this was not Fred's car, he paid the owner a fixed price every day and all extra money was his. I had also explained that he was quite free to pick up other fares as and when he found them, but that I was booking him for an 8.30am pickup and 4.00pm return journey. I would also use him for any shopping trips and give him adequate notice so that he would have plenty of time to meet the agreement.
This unfortunate practice of price hiking did not happen when I was eating out as the prices were on the wall of the cafe, nor did it happen when I was buying fruit. It DID, however, happen if I was buying the lessos (the colourful skirts the ladies wear) or any type of curio or souvenir. In which case, bargaining was the norm.
Unique Suggestions: Make it abundantly clear that you are not a millionaire (unless you are, of course) and that you have a tight budget. Explain about other costs you may have like getting home, hotel bills, transport, medical bills etc etc and take time to make it clear that at home, you are just an ordinary person on a fixed salary. Also mention how much it costs to go on Safari to the game lodges, the price of your air ticket, how much your clothes cost to buy. It will go a long way to dispel the myth that you have a couple of personal jumbo jets at home you are not telling anyone about.
Fun Alternatives: I'd borrow a bicycle if you are planning to hang around for a couple of weeks. Also invest in a stout chain and padlock (or bring one with you) so that your bike is not borrowed when you are not riding it. It will keep you fit and you can stick to your own time schedule.
You can wander around Sigomre Town as you please. Just check with Chief Victor Opondo first, especially if you are European, so that people are not suspicious or worried if you start taking pictures. It's also for your own safety to have someone along with you to translate and show you around. You will attract a lot of interest if you are obviously foreign, but by and large, people are very friendly and want to say hello. The children, particularly, shout out HOW ARE YOU at the tops of their voices and find you very funny indeed. They also yell MZUNGU!!! which means European or wonderful in Kiswahili. I yell back AFRICAN!! which also causes a lot of amusement. It's even funnier if you speak Kiswahili to them.
Round the back are several small shops, internet cafes, hairdressers, chips shops etc, pics below show you what I mean.
The chips are safe to eat as they are fried in very hot oil, as is the fruit which you can peel. If you eat at the local cafe, it is important to wash your hands with soap and water. The cleanest thing to dry your hands on is the air or your skirt. People eat with their hands and you are unlikely to be offered any cutlery with which to eat your food. The coca cola or bottled drinks are safe as well.
You can have your hair braided at the hairdressers which not only keeps it out of your eyes but makes it easier to wash as it seems to get less dirty.
The internet cafe I found was run by Thadeus and his sidekick David Odour who is a member of VT, please welcome him. He is a young man, bright and computer literate who can help you connect and use the internet at 1 Ksh a minute.
More importantly, if you bring along a cheap mobile phone from home that is not locked into any service provider like Virgin, O2 etc, you can get a Kenyan SIM card for about 50Ksh which you can load up with airtime from a provider like Airtel. They sell the vouchers at small kiosks. Well worth it as the texts are 1Ksh each and calls 3Ksh a minute. Much cheaper than roaming with your own home mobile.
This local secondary school has accomodation for disabled children. These children are physically disabled but the mission statement is *Disability is not Inability*. Some are victims of polio. They live with a house mother in a dormitory and are well fed and looked after. There is a physio department with all the mobility equipment available as well as workshops to teach the children a trade like sewing, computers, woodwork, hairdressing, art etc.
There is a seamstress who makes all the school uniforms in different sizes for boys and girls. Every effort is made to give the children the best education possible, but sometimes the money is not forthcoming fast enough from the Catholic Church to pay the wages. Often credit is needed to get food for the schoolchildren.
This school can always use donations and volunteers to help with improving the education possibilities.
Ugunja Division, Busia-Kisumu Highway
P.O. Box 74
Sigomre, Saiya, Kenya 40635
Phone: +254 (0)57-34378