While volunteering in Ugunja, in Western Kenya, I spent all of my time living in the same local lodgings near the centre of town, the equivalent standard of a very basic hostel. After a couple of nights sleeping here, I did wonder if I had made the correct decision of moving from my previous mud hut accommodation.
The accommodation itself was perfect; safe and secure, and guarded at night by security and a dog called Sumu, Swahili for poison. While many members of the public swore of the ferocity of this dog, the black Labrador was harmless, wanting nothing more in life than to be loved and given affection. I had plenty of interaction with the staff that worked here, increasing immensely my enjoyment in Kenya. There was just one tiny problem though. As this was the cheapest lodgings in town, out of only two options available, some of the clientele were not what I was expecting. My first experience of this on the second night, waking up in the middle of the night to hear what I thought was a lady crying. On a closer listen though I realised that the crying was not in fact crying, but instead were the sounds of pleasure accompanied by a now loud banging of the bed headboard.
My concerns were confirmed a couple of nights later when I was informed by one of my new colleagues that my new humble abode doubled as the local brothel. I made sure to make eye contact with all fellow guests here, so they knew I knew exactly what dirty things they had been getting up to. If I had had the guts I might have even imitated some of the noises coming from the neighbouring rooms that would sometimes keep me up for hours upon end. Luckily though, in most cases it was over in a matter of minutes. I felt especially sorry for those escapades that were over in seconds. These were the ones that normally made a pre-dawn getaway, probably to escape the embarrassment of their performance, and actions.
Although such habits kept me occupied and entertained through my stay here, they weren’t much liked by myself during the first week. Even less liked during my first week was stumbling across a murdered body outside my new lodgings. Well, I’m slightly exaggerating when I say stumbled, as it sounds as though I was the one that found the body. In truth I walked out of the entrance and saw a group of people across the road, accompanied by a number of policemen. Being a nosey bugger that I am, I couldn’t help but wonder what all the commotion was about. I wish I hadn’t now as it certainly wasn’t a pleasant sight to see. The poor guy had been strangled.
It just so happened that this murder took place in exactly the same position that the police set up a road block, also outside my new accommodation. Now, if I was the police I would want to take away the body pronto, not only to preserve the evidence, but with a killer on the loose, other members of the public are surely in danger.
Unfortunately these members of the Kenyan Police Force were more interested in supplementing their meagre wage with bribes from passing motorists than to take the body away. During my time here their minds were so one tracked on taking bribes, that they somehow managed to miss any signs of the illegal arms trade that was rife in the area, and the trading of severed human heads, used in witchcraft and black magic, also within the locality. Considering this I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that they left the body at the side of the road, where he gasped his last breath, over the whole of the weekend, through the burning African heat and torrential thunderstorms, before picking up the now decomposing body on the Sunday evening. The smell was atrocious and could be smelt 50 metres away.
I should be even less surprised upon learning a few days later that this tragic, strangled man had been classified in police records as just collapsing and dying. Maybe because opening a murder enquiry would cut down on the amount of bribes they could take and the hour’s worth of drinking that these officers participated in. Plus of course it would seriously increase their workload. I think that such corruption was one of the things that I found most unbelievable during my time here. Every time a road block was set up, there were two policeman accepting bribes from almost every passing vehicle, while another two policemen sat drinking at the bar across the road. After a couple of hours they would swap positions with their compatriots, who would happily knock back a few double liquors, while more bribes were being taken.
So all in all, it was a rather eventful first few days in Kenya, and an experience I will not forget in a hurry. On a number of occasions I did wonder what the hell I was doing there and I think if someone had offered me a one-way ticket back to England, I would have grabbed it from them. I am so glad though that I didn’t take the easy way out, as these experiences have shaped my current outlook on life and not only given me a huge amount of confidence and mental resolve, but have also helped me appreciate how fortunate I am to live the life that I do.
I think that a first week in a new environment and culture will always be hard, even if they are nowhere near as eventful as this. Homesickness will always be a problem. But if you manage to see the first week through, no matter how depressed you are, then you will start reaping the rewards, giving you experiences and wisdom that many people can only dream of.