Thursday, August 04, 2011


I wanted to write this while I was still seething with anger. While I was still hopped up on righteous indignation and the need to make someone feel accountable. But now all I feel is sadness. A deep, ridiculous sadness. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning. 2.30 am and we are tearing down

Mbagathi Road after having had a long meeting. I’m sulking at having been kept up way past my bedtime and the only sound is the wind howling outside as I unleash my frustrations on the speedometer.

We turn the corner and he materializes out of the darkness. A ghoulish figure. Lonely. Staggering. Alarm bells sound as Nairobi instincts kick in. He raises his hand to stop the car ahead of us and the driver goes on. And then he comes into full view. Blood everywhere. His face bruised and battered. A single yelp of surprise comes up from us both. I take my foot off the accelerator for but a brief moment then the speedometer needle inches higher again. Mercy still has her hands clasped around her mouth. Horrified. Her mouth agape as if in a silent scream.

“Turn around.” She says. Equal parts request and order. I hesitate and then turn the car around. Both our dads were the victims of such nocturnal misfortunes and something about this hits a bit too close to home. We approach the man cautiously. Scared of what might be an ambush. Up close, his face is a mangled mess. His eyes are almost completely shut by the swelling and his lips and gums are bloody rivulets. The car stops next to him and he clambers into the back seat. Mercy has a tonne of questions.

With the mixture of blood, pain and obvious intoxication, we can hardly tell what he is saying but we manage to find out he was mugged and brutalized a couple of hours earlier and had since then been trying to get help. The car is filled with a noxious odour. We suspect he either lost control of his bowels or the beating had ended up with him in a sewer. The windows are firmly rolled down.

We take off to go to the nearest hospital while the man continues with a string of unintelligible thank you’s and God bless you’s. Minutes later we are at Nairobi Women’s hospital emergency room. No one else is in the room. It’s quiet. The receptionist looks at him with concern on her face but makes no attempt to help. The man’s blood leaves a trail on the white tiles and the security guards stare at us apprehensively. Here, we find out his name. Johannes. He has his driving license and the picture on it makes us wince even more. The beating has left him unrecognizable.

The staff makes no move to help him until we coax them into offering him gauze and cotton wool to stop the bleeding. A male nurse walks up to me and asks us to take him to Kenyatta. The three thousand shillings Mercy has offered for his payment will only be enough for consultation and outpatient service and then they will be forced to release him. Even at four am. Frustration begins to rise.

Minutes later, we are back in the car. The hospital staff watches us leave with a mixture of pity and disbelief. Kenyatta looms in the distance. Mercy can’t believe they turned him away. She swears to go on a twitter rampage the following day. Pretty soon we are at Kenyatta Hospital. It takes us forever to find the casualty department. Exactly what dying patients need…a game of hide and seek with the emergency room. The staff isn’t helpful and we find ourselves seeking help from other patients. At this point I can tell we are almost regretting being good Samaritans. Little did we know that the night was only going to get worse. Much worse.

We locate the ER and it’s nothing like the stuff they show on television. McDreamy isn’t patrolling the corridors looking into his patients’ eyes with that soulful gaze. No one is yelling ‘Stat!’ or running through with patients on a gurney while reading out their vitals. No. Here despair hangs in the air. Patients are set around on beds looking gloomy while some try to fall asleep on the steel chairs. Eyes shift to us as we enter with the man shifting slowly behind us.

We ask for the procedure. A receptionist curtly directs us to a triage area. Before we can get there, a janitor orders us out of the vicinity. He has to clean. Later, a nurse comes through to the triage area and we stand outside to give them privacy. Inside, we can hear her bark orders at Johannes. What’s your name? Take off your coat! What’s wrong with you? Mercy has tears in her eyes. These people must be used to these situations. They’ve probably seen worse. Much worse. But why must they be so mean?

Soon Johannes is out.  He still looks and shuffles like a zombie. We have to pay for his registration. We take the form to the cashier who doesn’t look up for a second before referring us back to the receptionist. That number is taken. We make a quick trip and then we are back. The payment is made and then back to the reception to get forms filled out. What’s his name? We already gave you the name. We need to see his identification. I take a deep breath and walk over to Johannes who has fallen asleep on the seats. I rouse him long enough to get his license and then we are back at the reception.

The receptionist asks for my name and I give it to him. Mercy wonders out loud how Johannes would have gone through this process alone. Next question. My phone number. Why? I ask. It’s required by the form. Is it compulsory? No. Then I would rather not.  He looks at me incredulously. We might need it just in case of anything. Like what? A hurricane? He raises his voice. The form requires it. And we snap. Our responsibility was to get him to the hospital. We are leaving.

The receptionist runs to the nurses’ station and then to find the nearest security guard but before he can we are off. We are livid and laughing at the same time. It’s not a happy laughter though. It’s surprise at how the night has turned out. At this point I can’t remember if the parable of the Good Samaritan ended with him being hounded out of an inn by a Roman soldier asking for his phone number. I’m pretty sure it didn’t. Then again this is Nairobi. 5am and we drive away wondering what will become of Johannes.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The idea of a good samaritan does not work in Nairobi. I tried that too, almost got a baby for free. People in Nairobi do not like to be responsible for anything. It's a pity, really.Only people who have had an experience like yours can help.

  3. I had a conversation about this kind of hypothetical situation with a cab driver when I was still in Nairobi. It makes me sick. I swear to god it's one of the reasons I just can't come back. There's no love in Nairobi, and certainly no mercy. Thank you for trying to do the right thing- it reminds me what a remarkable exception to all the rules you are.

  4. And therein lies the problem with this country. It's not even so much about going above and beyond as it is just doing your job. Early last week I had a midnight hospital incident as well. The guy at the reception was too busy blowing up asteroids on his computer screen to fill in the form so my sick friend could get emergency treatment (which she received about an hour later). So sad. So ridiculous. ugh

  5. Nairobi might not be the most polite place on the planet but on that night I also saw eyes that ached to help and that reflected sympathy and concern.

  6. Haven't i read this story somewhere? Some blog, what was its name again..? uuuuuum, maybe the 'a kenyan girl one' or 'even angels fall' can't remember. Creepy.

  7. Eva that would probably be because it was the same experience.We were together when it happened. She\s the girl mentioned in the story.

  8. Well written man! Cheers.