I travelled to Mombasa, on the coast of Kenya, to work for one month in a local hospital, staying with a local family. There were hundreds of sights and sounds to take in on the journey to where I was staying including the crazy traffic, slum areas and street stalls. My hosts’ house was situated in the Old Town, which was full of narrow streets, souvenir shops and tuk-tuks (three-wheeled taxi vehicles).
Very early on I experienced "Africa time", when I was told that someone would return in ten minutes, and it turned out to be an hour! Mombasa was a very relaxed place, and also very friendly. Everyone I met greeted me enthusiastically, saying "karibu"- welcome. It was predominantly a Muslim area, and at first I found it strange to see women with only their eyes showing. I had been a bit apprehensive about the food I would be eating, but I really liked it! Rice and ugali (a white cake made from maize) seemed to be staple, and I had many stew-like meals.
On my second day I went on a medical outreach camp, and the journey to the clinic brought new meaning to the word "bumpy"! The village we went to was very remote, and it was fascinating to visit their community. The clinic was set up with curtained treatment booths, and a pharmacy. I helped out in the pharmacy, and it was very fast-paced but rewarding work. I really enjoyed the day.
On the Monday after I arrived, I was taken to visit the hospital where I would work. It was a very pleasant place, and the foundation stone had been placed by Alicia Keys. My host and his wife and I then went out to give out protective clothing to the local rubbish collectors. Seeing the conditions they worked in really made me realise what I take for granted at home. The next day, I started work. I was taken to the Data Office, where I worked for two days, transferring information on TB patients from paper notes to a computer database. I got a bit tedious after a while! However, it was interesting to speak to the staff there, and one thing that they couldn't understand about UK culture was that many people did not practise a religion. Pretty much everyone in Kenya is either Christian or Muslim, and religion plays a big part in their lives. After work, I caught matatus (minibuses) back to town. There was some quite scary driving!
I then transferred from the data office to the lab, and spent a week there. It was a fascinating place, and I learnt a lot. During my time there I carried out numerous tests on blood samples, stained blood and viewed it under a microscope to look for the malaria parasite, and carried out urinalysis. They had lots of modern machines alongside simple tests. The staff were lovely, and seemed very grateful for my assistance.
Subsequently, I moved to another department that organised volunteers to visit HIV positive children and their caregivers, in their homes. I went out with various volunteers and visited some of the children. Some of them seemed more ill than others, and the thing that really struck me was how underdeveloped a lot of them were. Some of the families' stories were very moving. The area I went to was a series of villages that were full of shack-like houses, waste running through the streets and children playing in the dirt. It was quite an eye-opener. I also visited a nursery school and when I entered the play area, all the children rushed to greet me and crowded around to chant "mzungu, mzungu" (which means white person) and held onto my arms. They also liked to chant "how are you, how are you" over and over. Their classroom was very basic, but they all were very cheerful. One family we tried to visit wouldn't let us in, as they didn't want to see us unless we had brought something to give them. In another home, the uncle continually hassled me about how I was going to help them financially. It was a hard situation to be in, but thankfully all the other people I visited were very welcoming and willing to discuss things with me.
I learnt more of the Swahili language each day, and the locals seemed to understand what I was saying - on the whole! “Nasema kidogo Kiswahili” (I speak a little Swahili) and “nafurahi kukufahamu” (I'm pleased to meet you) featured frequently when I was meeting new people.
I went on another medical outreach camp on my second weekend, this time to a remote area south of Mombasa. We were given tea and mandazi (a semi-sweet, doughnut-like snack) before starting up the clinic. I was assigned to help in the vital signs area, and spent most of the time taking blood pressure and temperature. It was extremely hectic, and there was a never-ending stream of patients coming through the door. After lunch, we were treated to a performance of song and dance by the local ladies, to thank us for running the clinic. It was an amazing thing to see.
The next week, I went out to visit some children's homes. The clinic ran a feeding programme for them, and we distributed the food. At the first home the children were all delighted to see me, and had lots of fun teaching me Swahili words. We made sure all the children had eaten, and then went on to another place. This was in much better condition, and had a well-organised school on site. I was given a tour by the principal, and he also explained their education system. When I returned to both homes two days later, I was given an even warmer welcome. The children were delighted that I had remembered them and had come back to visit.
During my last week in Mombasa I went to a second local hospital. I had an early start each day, as the journey took about 1 1/2 hours, and it was a very bumpy road. On my first day there, I was given a tour of the hospital, and then went to the HIV clinic. A doctor there taught me a lot about the disease and its treatment. I then went to MCH (mother and child health), where a talk was being given on family planning. It was a bizarre concept to most of the women there. I also visited the maternity ward and saw a woman giving birth, which was very strange! There was also a small satellite clinic about 45 minutes away, and one day I sat in on a clinician's consultations and got involved with prescribing and lab requests.
Back at the hospital, I went to the outpatients department, and took vital signs. I also saw lots of injections, dressings and stitching, and got to do some too. A woman with leprosy came in, which was a case that you would be unlikely to see in the UK. I spent time in the HIV pharmacy too, and helped prescribe medication.
As well as doing medical work, I had time in the evenings and at weekends to experience the other things Mombasa had to offer. I visited Fort Jesus in the Old Town, which passed through Portuguese, Arab and British hands over the years. I also travelled by tuk-tuk and matatu to a swimming pool on the city outskirts. There was an incredible ocean vista from it. I visited a community handicraft centre with a fellow volunteer, which had a huge shop that was jam-packed with hundreds upon hundreds of beautiful wood carvings, some bigger than me! I also visited various beaches, which were amazing. I enjoyed the feeling of being on a deserted tropical island, with breathtaking views of the ocean and white sands stretching for miles in either direction. The main market in Mombasa was a fascinating place to wander around, and it was an exciting challenge haggling over prices with the stall holders. There were some beautiful clothes and fabrics, and lots of carts selling gorgeous fresh fruit.
On another visit I went into some spice shops, and it was amazing to smell the wide variety of spices. I looked around various religious buildings in the city. They were really beautiful and interesting, and people inside were very happy to explain them and their religions. One weekend, I went on safari with some other volunteers, and we had a fantastic time seeing a multitude of animals from elephants to lions, and buffalo to flamingos. We also toured a Masai village, and were treated to spectacular views of Mount Kilimanjaro. I had a fantastic time on my “Hospitals and Beaches” project. I learnt a lot from my hospital placements and going on medical outreach camps, really enjoyed exploring the area and going on trips, and had a wonderful host family that really made me feel at home. I gained a great deal from the whole experience, and have memories that will last a lifetime.