He disappeared below the desk as he rummaged through a drawer for something. He returned with a block of gauze which he then wetted and used to clean the red mud from his faded plastic bag and the Timberlands he wears every day. He gave them each an additional assessment, and finding them satisfactory, said he was ready to go.
Entering the metal gates to the ward I noticed a large black sign for the first time. Painted across the front in big white letters it said “Be Aware of Conmen” and below it in Kiswahili what must have been the same.
“What is that sign for?”
“You know, for people pretending to be doctors or nurses”. Maybe that explains the armed guards in full camouflage uniforms that can be seen patrolling the hospital at all times.
Ward 1, the pediatric ward, has a very distinct smell. I can’t quite decide what it is, but it reminds me vaguely of wet rags which have been left in a heap and have become mildewed over time. An envelope of rain sealed the hospital today and the smell inside was almost unbearable. I made a concerted effort to breathe through my mouth but had to escape for a minute. I walked outside and was hit with a breeze saturated in bleach, so much for a break.
Udadisi was nowhere to be found today, but I made a new friend. I could tell she’d been here for some time because she’d started to take on the smell of the ward and the front of her fleece jacket was covered in a few weeks’ worth of dribbled food. Regardless, she was adorable and I let her hold my hand and lead me around the ward.
The severely malnourished girl in the critical ward was looking much better than the last time I’d seen her. She sat up in bed and smiled at me timidly as a fly sat perched at the corner of her mouth. The purple hood of the same Barbie fleece I’ve seen for over a month framed her beautiful face.
“She looks healthier.”
“That is the edema (swelling)” Mwanafunzi responded. She isn’t actually getting any better, if anything, she seems to be getting worse.
We cut through the maternity ward on our way back to the nutrition office. I noticed a bucket against the outer wall with a sign above it which read “Incase of fire outbreak use bucket below with sand”. It made me realize the complete lack of fire extinguishers or sprinklers in the hospital.
I walked past a man wearing a black and white striped prison uniform with his handcuffed wrists held out before him. He was followed by a couple of the uniformed hospital guards. Maybe that was one of the conmen the sign warned about?
Many of the cars here have stickers across their back windows or writing along the bumper. Most is religious in nature, but some is just downright baffling. The car in front of me on my drive back to my office was emblazoned with “SNIPER” in white letters.
Driving further I passed a man clutching a handful of what could only have been miraa. He peered over the pile of twigs in his hand as he fervently chewed on one.