Almost Died of Malaria in Kenya


Busia the Dark Border Town

The shared taxi dropped me at the city center of Busia. The streets was pitch dark. There were several taxis on the street. I heard loud music and smelled alcohol in the air. There were some scantily dressed girls flirting with drunk guys. In the whole neighborhood, I only saw one place with light, a grocery store steps away from me. I saw 3 women inside, one was obviously the mother and the other two teenagers her daughters. Like in every country on our planet, women were less likely to be violent than men, so I got into the store and asked them where I could stay safely.

The mother was about 30 years old. She was appalled to see me and immediately ran away, half shy half scared. (Seriously? Was I that scary?…… heartbroken 😦 ) It was one of her teenager daughters who calmly came up to me and told me: ‘Danger at night! Guesthouse! Go to guesthouse!’
I: What danger?
She: No danger for me mister. For you danger! You no Ugandan mister.
I thought: Is it really that obvious that I am not an Ugandan?! ……
She: motorcycle taxi to guest house! It’s there (pointing to the dark )! Go!
I: Is it far?
She: 5 minute walk
I:…… then I can walk there!
She (putting up a scared face): NO! NO! NO! No walk! Taxi! Taxi! Danger! People bad!

As I was already well warned of the danger of this small border town, I decided to take her advice and pick a taxi. I had a look at those taxi drivers in front of the grocery store. There were two types of taxis there, one was scooter taxis, the other bicycle taxis. Yes! They carried you on the back of their huge bicycles! 🙂 You know, since I lived 6 years in the Netherlands, I had this special connection with bicycles, so I went up to one of the bicycle taxi. Just when I was about to say anything the teenager girl shouted: ‘NO! NO! No this taxi! That taxi!’ She pointed to a scooter taxi.

The driver was an old man with a glowing face. He was drunk and happy. I had a gut feeling that he was trustworthy, so I thanked the teenager kid and went on the scooter to the guesthouse.

They showed me to one room which would cost 5 USD per night, which was the cheapest. It was a hot night and there was no fans in the room. I was ok with that. After traveling in South East Asia, India, Pakistan and Eastern Africa, I had become very heat-resistant. However, there was also no light in that room…… I went to the reception girl to complain. She was a bit grumpy. Without saying a word, she went to another room which was empty and crewed down the light bulb there and put it in my room. Then without saying a word she left.

I entertained myself that night with the game ‘how many mosquitoes can I catch in one night’! The answer was …… 243!



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Hitchhiking in Kenya

The next morning I walked from the guest house to Kenya. After a long queue at the border checkpoint and half an hour walking, I started hitchhiking again in KENYA.
It did not take long before a small pick-up truck stopped and the driver, a local Kenyan from Luo tribe, the same tribe as the father of Obama, opened the door for me. We talked on the way and he was much amazed by the way how I travel.

–“Where do you sleep?”
–“I have a tent and a sleeping bag!”
–“How do you sleep?”
–“I can go to restaurants and ask if I could have some leftovers.”
–“You are not afraid?”
–“I believe in the kindness of strangers. Even in the most dangerous places, there are kind people. Even in the most scary situations, there is the light of humanity.
He gladly nodded.

One of the most important lessons I have learned on the road: MOST people in our world are good people. Bad people are a small small minority. To judge a country only by the small minority is not fair. Seriously, after being on the road for such a long time, I can safely say that the world is really not as scary as most people believe or the media portrait.

Before he dropped me, he gave me 500 Kenyan Shelling (5 USD) and there was no way for me to say no. He smiled when I finally accepted his money and gladly drove away.

Kenya was obviously more developed than Uganda. There were more cars and the roads were way better. Although Obama already long left, everywhere there were signs welcoming Obama, with big portraits of Obama and the words ‘Destination: grandma’s home’. They were so proud of him.

After another 2 cars, I got stuck in a small village. I was standing on a bridge which was at the entrance of the village. A bunch of kids shouting ‘Mzungu’ passed me. A couple of birds flew over me and one of them dropped some dung…… just beside me. There was the smell of bulls and freshly cut grass in the air. WOWO! The countryside! 😀

It was going to be dark soon. Since I had stood there for almost one hour, the bunch of kids who saw me earlier gathered other kids and came back to look at me. They were soon joined by some adults…… I know, I should have charged them with ticket fee. I became a local attraction…… 😦 😀

The last piece of sunset glow was hanging around and was just about to disappear. Villagers started cooking already and smoke came out of the sheds. I smelled boiled maize and the smell of burned wood. It was as mellow as a summertime dream.



A car stopped. Out came a middle-aged bald man. He was short but stout, smiling in a profound way, like an old sage.

He: So, where are you going?
I: Nairobi. Sir, how about you? Where are you going?
He: Eh… Why are you hitchhiking?
I thought: ‘OMG! He knew the word hitchhiking!’ and told him about my journey and the fact that today I came from Entebbe, where I did some volunteering work.
He: What? You are telling me you don’t have much money yourself and you spend time trying to help others? Hahaha! My friend, if I have not lived in Europe myself, I would not believe you!
I: You lived in Europe? Where?
He: Austria and the Netherlands.
I: Where in the Netherlands?
He: Delft! Do you know it?
I: Of course! I lived in Leiden for 6 years. That was like 15 minutes from Delft!

His smile changed to a big laughter.

He: Come on in! I am not going to Nairobi today. I will stay in my mother’s house and go to Nairobi tomorrow. You are welcome to join me!

That was how I met Mboya, my Kenyan brother, a real estate businessman. I stayed in his place for 15 days. No matter where he went, he took me along, even when he was meeting his mistress and mistress candidates. He was a legend himself. Hopefully I would have time to tell his story in later days.

During my stay, to make things easier for him, we agreed to tell everybody, including his wife, mistresses and close family that I was a Chinese construction business man. We studied business management together in the Netherlands. I was doing some business in Uganda and since Kenya was nearby, I came to visit him and check out the business opportunities in Kenya. You know, not everybody understood hitchhiking.



The Dangerous Girls and the Dangerous Malaria

One day, he had to supervise a project in a city called Kisumu. He was building a new apartment building in Kisumu. Of course I went with him. We slept in a simple shed on the construction site infested with mosquitoes. During the day, as his ‘business partner and an engineer’, I would watch over the site for him, touching the sand, the metal works and closely examining the logs. The workers really believed that I was an engineer their boss invited from China and took great care of the details.

Mboya said he would show me the ‘unconventional night life of Kisumu’. One night after having some grilled goat meat we went to a bar and just in front of it stood some girls in short skirts. Mboya gave me some money in advance and asked me to loudly buy the most expensive beers for him, you know, to play the rich and stupid foreigner. So I did. We soon caught the attention of everybody in the bar, which was not difficult, since there were very few guys there but many girls.

Mboya: Now the bartender would give signal to the girls telling them that two rich guys came and seem to be an easy catch. They all work together! Be careful. The girls are all prostitutes. They will find the chance to take advantage of us. Watch my signals.
I profoundly nodded without saying anything. 😀

A tall girl with long hair suddenly appeared in the bar hall. She had such a curvy figure that everybody, male and female, were all staring at her at once. She was pretty, young and had a confident smile. At that moment, I felt the dim bar was suddenly lit up.

Mboya: Do not look at her. She will come to us! As I predicted, the girls in the bar called her and they think she can handle us.
I: Got it! So…… what should we do?
Mboya: Talk with her but play hard to get.
I profoundly nodded without saying anything again.

I had my total trust in Mboya. To be honest, he was the smartest Kenyan I had ever met.

Indeed the tall girl came up to us and we started talking. Soon other girls joined, one of them was Ugandan, with whom I could speak some Luganda. We drank and drank. Soon Mboya got drunk. He started jumping around like Spider-man. At a certain moment, only the tall girl was left and she said she would go to the bathroom for a moment. She left with a profound smile.

I: So…… are things still under control?
Mboya: Now! Now she will take out the drugs she carried and when she came back, she would drop the drugs into our beers. When we fell asleep, she would steal our money and even IDs. They are dangerous!
I: So…… shall we leave now?
Mboya: Yes! We should go!

However, he became so obviously drunk that he could not even walk in a straight line. Instead of going, he went to the bar counter and bought another beer…… Within 5 minutes he fell asleep on one of the tables.

I really had total trust in him……

I woke him up and before the tall girl returned we left the bar.

He woke up in the fresh air mixed with mosquitoes and said: ‘You see, this one is a low end bar. I will now take you to a high class luxurious place! We will have a good time!’ That did not happen as we were soon kicked out of this luxurious nightclub because drunk Mboya insisted that they should give him an official receipt, which meant that they had to pay tax.




When we got back, it was already early morning and the air was cold. The next day I felt that I had a bit cold. ‘Just a bit cold, no big deal!’ I thought. So I did not do anything about it until 4 days later, when I suddenly became very tired. I felt sleepy but could not sleep as I had a fever and was super sensitive to noise and light. I felt exhausted.

I told Mboya: I think I need to find a place to take a nap.
Mboya: No no! Do not sleep! Go to the clinic. It’s only 500 meters away. You may have malaria!
I: No no, not possible! I have been in Africa for like two months and never been ill.
Mboya: NO NO! Go to check your blood!

So just to relieve him, I reluctantly went to the clinic. 500 meters, it took me half an hour walking, so weak was I. After testing the blood the doctor told me with anger: ‘Why do you come so late! You have malaria and it already progressed! If you come a bit later you will be compulsorily hospitalized!’ Then I realized the severity of my situation.

I received some medicine and paid for a room in a hotel nearby. I took the medicine. It had such a strong effect that soon I could not get out of bed anymore. I had to lie down. Mboya asked two neighbors to cook food for me. However, I could not eat anything. After eating a bit soup, I immediately threw up. On the second day, I became so weak that when I spoke with all my strength, Mboya and the neighbors could not hear me anymore. I realized: ‘I am dying. I am really dying.’ Before leaving Mboya said: ‘Don’t worry! You will be OK!’ but I could see fear clearly in his eyes.

That evening, I lay on the bed, unable to move, hearing the noise of cooking outside the window from the villagers living nearby. I heard the voice of  kids. I smelled the burning of wood. My cognitive ability had reduced enormously. I could not even think what to regret for. I was dying.

‘If I did not survive tonight, I will die’ It was as clear as that.

The next morning, when I did wake up, I grabbed the sheets and saw the sunshine from the window. I realized: ‘I am still in this world!’ I survived.

Mboya came to see me and was in ecstasy that I survived. He kept saying: ‘You know what? I really thought you were dying! I really thought you would not make it! I was worried and scared! How would I explain to the authority about your death? Tell the police that I found you on the roadside? They would never believe me!’

Two days later, I finally could walk again, but very slowly and holding the railings of stairs. Four days later, I could finally eat without throwing up. One week later, I recovered and tested my blood again. The result? Malaria negative!

It was the nearest I have ever been to death. I felt life was so fragile thing and yet it was so strong.

Tip: so…… get malaria vaccine before you go to Africa, seriously.


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