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Only in Hola (part Two)

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

The sloth is the slowest mammal on earth. It moves at a maximum speed of 10 feet per minute. That is what time felt like in Hola. You would have a 100 things to do when you woke up and be done by 11am. Problem is I didn’t have 100 things to do. My day’s activities would end before 11am and then — the tree.( If you are wondering which tree see part 1)

I became a spectator of my own life and the lives and patterns of those around me. The first thing I noticed was the high turnover of the hospital staff. No one stayed more than a month. Granted, Hola was a town forgotten by time; a place where you most likely ceased to exist to the rest of the world. No wonder it was a designated detention camp during the colonial times. It was not exactly a tourist attraction so apart from the locals, no one stayed. You couldn’t make any meaningful change even if you tried.

Being the Med Sup then, I decided to occupy my days talking to the hospital employees. I asked them what it would take to get them to stay — some incentive of sort. It is through this random research that I spearheaded the opening of a Recreation centre with a pool table, a darts board and a TV. It became the new ‘sitting room’. After this I started to look for projects to undertake. First things first, we fenced the hospital. And sent the goats packing.

It is during this time that the Provincial Medical Officer contacted me. “Meme, you have been in Hola a few months now. I think I can get you a transfer. Where would you like to go?” “I think I will stay.” “Huh?” He couldn’t hide his surprise. “I have started some interesting projects. I would like to see them through. Besides, you did say that I would get into a Masters programme quicker if I stayed right?” “Correct.” Then he paused. “You are a peculiar young man. Carry on.” And I did. Together with other heads of department, we set up a health information system at all cash points and raised the revenue of the hospital. We even managed to reclaim some buildings from the bats. It was a new dispensation. Those are the bats. By now, crocodile and hippo attacks had become the norm. Even with the projects, I was craving some form of excitement. It came soon enough. One night while I was at the house, I was called to attend to a very sick patient. A guy who had a history of peptic ulcer disease was spraying the walls with blood from his gut. We rarely had critically ill patients in these parts so it was a spectacle. We stabilised him, best as we could but I knew he needed specialised care so I decided to refer him to Garissa and accompanied him. Before we left, the male nurse and driver filled the back of the ambulance with boxes of multivitamins. I was confused.

“What are you doing? Why are you filling the ambulance with multivitamins? We dont need them!”

“Daktari, we can’t go anywhere without these drugs.”


“You will see.” We left Hola at about 10pm. The trip felt like we were being bounced on a mixed tide of sea waves. I didn’t want to imagine how the patient was feeling being tossed around on these bad roads. Midway through the journey in the still of night, we suddenly stopped. “Get the multivitamins.” I heard the driver tell the nurse.

He looked at me and asked me to stay still. Before I could utter a word, I saw them. Bandits. They approached the vehicle, rifles pointed and cocked. A conversation ensued in a language I barely understood. Then the exchange happened and they let us pass.

“Doc. No one passes these roads without some form of medication. Those bandits demand that we must give them drugs. They own these streets. So we give them multivitamins.” He laughed. It wasn’t funny.

We met a second set and repeated the same cycle. All the while with a patient exsanguinating at the back. We got to Garissa at midnight. Followed due process and left.

I had barely recovered from the long journey when the Inspector of police called me. Funny how everyone knew everyone. Hola had a measly population of 6,532 people and it was possible to know every single one of those people. Being the village doctor, I was accessible to everyone from the area chief to the herdsmen. In return I never lacked for anything. Especially food. I would take lunch at the Chief’s house and dinner at the DC’s abode. I digress.

So the cops call me. Someone had been shot dead somewhere in the forest. I was needed for a postmortem. ‘Not again,’ I thought. They picked me up anyway. We went on a fishing expedition. In search of this body. We were in the middle of nowhere when we finally stumbled upon him lying in an eczematous patch in the forest. It had taken us 3 hours stacked in a car in the debilitating heat. It’s a surprise hens in these parts didn’t lay hard boiled eggs.

We found the body of the guy with a bullet wound to his right thigh. Story is he had gone to steal a girl from the neighbouring community. People still did that stuff in these parts — sneak into the next village and steal girls whom they would turn into their wives. This chap wasn’t so lucky. They pursued him and his buddies and he was the unfortunate one who ended up with the bullet. He died for love — literally.

The cops couldn’t go back without an attempt to catch the perpetrators. And they very well couldn’t leave me at the scene of the crime. That is how I morphed from the village doctor into a homicide detective. I accompanied them on foot in my t-shirt and kikoi as we followed the trail of the killers. My heart beat in anticipation. What would happen when we found them? A gun fight? Grenades? It wasn’t long before we found them. I steeled myself ready for the gun fight that would ensue. Nothing. There was just a lot of angry verbal back and forth and they arrested some men. Such an anticlimax.

So there we were. A mixed curry of men and a body bundled in a vehicle on our way back to the town. It took us even longer to get back because the driver couldn’t find his way. We were lost in the woods.

“Use the stars.” One of the killers said. I rolled my eyes. As if you could find your way out of this quagmire using astronomy. But it worked. Much to my chagrin.

Days turned into weeks and then months and it was the season of circumcisions. My most exciting time. A chance to be busy doing what I was trained to do. In addition, the Ministry of Health had posted an unsuspecting doctor to join me. Misery loves company. I was ecstatic. He came by, as oblivious as I was — full of green hope. I welcomed him with the same enthusiasm that my predecessor had. And added him to our unit of 3. Remember the nurses? They were still there. He joined us at the house.

Back to circumcisions. A member of staff brought her 14 year old son for the procedure. They were in the minor theatre waiting for me. I went in and spoke to him briefly, explained the procedure and then began to set my tools. I had walked out briefly to pick an item I had forgotten. On the way back I heard the boy sounding hysterical. He was shouting something to his mum.

“I can’t mum. I will not. I want to go back home.”

I heard her reassure him as I got closer. The chap was probably afraid of the pain. Then I heard him say,

“Mum, that guy looks like a little boy. I can’t let my age mate circumcise me.”

I heard that and knew it was time to leave Hola.


As narrated to me by Dr Muriuki Meme who left Hola in October 2010 after two and a half years.

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