10 Letters from Kibera

Letter 3


The first advice I will give you when you visit me in the slum is – do not be sick while you are here. You must stay healthy, otherwise you will know trouble like you never have before. I know you will not listen to me and even if you did you will still get sick as you can’t help it and will likely to be sick with a variety of different ailments. First you will run a fever, next you will probably suffer nausea and feel dizzy and then maybe you will have problems with your bowels.

We will not be rushing you to the hospital. Oh no! For a start there are no hospitals in the slum and anyway they cost too much and what is the need, we have seen these symptoms many times before, we all get sick and we know the exact cure for what you are suffering from. We will use a herbal concoction, it is very popular here as it cures 40 diseases! We call it Muarubaini (this is Swahili for forty). We boil for several hours the buck of the neem tree with fresh bones from a cow. This concoction will be served to you in a big mug; you must drink it all down without putting the cup down. It is more bitter than anything you could ever imagine; but the bitter taste is good for killing the germs or so we are all told. You will go temporarily deaf – but have no fear within a day or two your hearing will be back and the feeling of sickness will be gone!

If after two days you have not sweated out the illness, and you do not have any money, you are in big trouble however here in the slums, we always support each other. We will spread the word that someone is sick and needs help. We will place a bowl at the front of our house and friends will drop money into it – a penny or two but it all adds up. In a few hours we will hopefully have enough to take you to a doctor at the County Government Hospital.

Now the big job will be to carry you from the slum to the hospital – remember there are no roads getting into the slum just rough muddy small paths between the houses. But we are creative people; we will pull out a blanket, wrap you with it and get two strong men who are not working that day to carry you. There is never a shortage of volunteers for this job; as we move around the village, many people will step in and take turns carrying you. Soon my friend, you will be at the entrance of the County hospital, with a large crowd escorting you to the doctor’s office. This crowd will compete to inform the doctor what is wrong with you; some clever ones will even suggest the kind of medicine the doctor should prescribe for you. It will go like this “Doctor, we have brought our friend here, who has malaria, just give him some quinine and he will be well again” others will dispute this diagnosis and say “our friend here has typhoid, please give him antibiotics and he will be fine”. The doctor will need to call the hospital guards to push out all these bare footed doctors in order for him to hear and examine you.

Once the crowd has been successfully evicted, then you will have your turn to speak to the doctor; in a few minutes you will have a prescription in your hands, you will pay for your medicine and the crowd of sympathizers will escort you home. There will be many stops on the way home as those who did not get to accompany you are updated on what they have missed out. Once at home, there will be many visitors coming by to check on you and to find out if the medicine is helping you, someone suffering similar symptoms might even stop by to share your medicine!