25 Jan

Journey to Karero Clinic

The Journey to Karero Medical Dispensary, November 2011

By Ed Bjurstrom

We had previously visited this clinic in 2009 when the entire area was locked in the grip of a 3 year drought. The plains and hills were brown, dry and dusty and we drove to Karero from Nairobi on an unfinished dirt road for many hours. We were in a miserable van with eight other people. We had bad food, bad bathroom experiences and the clinic was not even open yet when we finally arrived.

Fortunately, by contrast, this time in 2011 we were driving from Arusha, Tanzania (much closer) on a road that was brand new, paved and nice. Also, the early, or short rains have been coming for several weeks at least. The weather was cool and the hills and plains were green! The Massai people are herders of cattle, sheep and goats. They are nomadic by nature and follow where the pastures lead them. They were a happy people on this visit.

We started off through the Arusha traffic, which was noticeably heavier than 2 years ago. We quickly left the city behind and had easy going for about an hour on the new road. We came to a section where they were still working on the road and we had to pull off to a shoulder road. That was when our quick thinking driver noticed smoke billowing out of the hood of the vehicle and pulled over and stopped. After about 20 minutes of fiddling under the hood and attempts to restart the vehicle (4 wheel land rover type) we noticed that smoke was now billowing out from under the dashboard! At that point, we declared the need to bring a replacement vehicle from Arusha.

Unfortunately, this meant nearly a 2 hour delay in our trip. The replacement vehicle arrived, we transferred and continued on the road to Karero. From Arusha to Nmanga, the town on the border between Kenya and Tanzania, it is about a 2 hour drive. The crossing at the border can take some time and then it is easily an hour to travel the 20 or so kilometers from there to Karero clinic. The last leg takes a good hour or more due to dirt roads and crossing two rivers. This all takes longer if you get stuck in the mud or in the river.

We were a little dismayed, but not surprised when we arrived at the border with Kenya and discovered that we each had to pay $50 USD for the brief planned visit to Kenya. We filled out lots of papers, were finger printed, paid our money and were on our way after standing in lines and waiting for bureaucracy to do its work. Somewhere in the process of standing in no-man’s land, having exited Tanzania and not yet entered Kenya, that I realized I had left our immunization records at the hotel in Arusha. It came home when I read the bold typed statement that adorned the walls of the Tanzania Immigration Office that PROOF OF IMMUNIZATION WAS REQUIRED. This was followed by instructions on where you could go in the general vicinity to be immunized or tested for Typhoid. Apparently, you could leaveTanzania and cross over toKenya without proof of immunization, but could you get back? I raised this issue with Evans (our driver) and he said that it would be “no problem” since we were just going to Kenya for a couple of hours. Of course, he has also assured us that we would not need a visa for the trip either. I decided that there was nothing we could do and worrying about it would not change anything. I did, however, begin to practice continuous prayer about the matter.

Leaving the border we headed into Nmanga where we picked up the cousin of Moses Pulei to be our guide up the river valley that lead to Karero and the clinic. There are no real roads (even dirt) to Karero. There is more of a track that is much used by animals, the occasional motorbike and the rare 4 wheel drive like us. During our trip up the river valley, we experienced several significant contrasts to our last visit to Karero. First, the area was very green due to the recent rains instead of dead brown. The Massai were tending their herds and flocks in the valley instead of migrating out of the area in search of good pasture. Finally, we were in a 4 wheel drive vehicle which went through treacherous mud fields and river bottoms without a hint of getting stuck as opposed to the last visit in a conventional van which we were lucky to have only gotten stuck twice.

Arrival at the Karero clinic was as expected. They pulled the thornbush “gate” aside to let us onto the grounds of the clinic. We were met by Joyce (nurse) and Jacqueline (lab tech) who had no idea we were coming. Since we arrived essentially at the lunch hour, there were no patients waiting. We brought our few supplies and gifts (including Compassion Tea Gift Bags) and had the detailed tour of the clinic. This was very important as the last visit had been before the clinic was functioning. An early afternoon patient (a pregnant Massai mother) showed up and we met the girl who brings water from a well a mile away. She brings water in buckets hung on donkeys every day to the clinic. Apparently, the Staff of Hope group has drilled 4 wells on-site with all coming up dry as they only had a shallow borehole machine. This machine is now rusting in the front yard of the clinic. Staff of Hope is planning to bring in a deep borehole machine sometime soon so the clinic can have a regular source of water and not be dependent on donkey-power for their water.  There is also no electricity whatsoever at this clinic, but the three women on staff happily live in the clinic, each having a separate room.  They do their cooking over a small gas stove on the floor.

We received a list of other items that are much needed and hoped for by the staff and then left the clinic at approximately 3:00 pm. We did not see any camels on our way out this year, but the baby goats were plentiful, and good sign for the Massai who had been through a long drought this past year. (We were allowed back into Tanzania with no problem.)


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