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Kenya

Walking to work

Thunder and lightning seemed to continue for hours in the night. But in the morning, there was a beautiful pale blue sky. I have taken to walking to work. My job is sedentary so having a brisk 25-minute walk to the office is good exercise.

The first part of the journey is a muddy track, rutted and eroded by the rain. It has been graded in the past, with a marked camber. I try to walk down the middle but when a vehicle wishes to pass, I have to slither down to the edge of the road. I’m really glad I brought some tough leather walking boots; I have worn them almost every day.

Just by the corner of the district hospital, I saw a man delivering milk from a bicycle. He had a churn strapped on to the rear carrier, with two plastic measuring jugs hanging at either side.

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As I walked past a newspaper vendor, a headline caught my eye: “Witches eat the Dead” was the banner headline on the front of the Sunday paper, “The Nairobian”. No time to browse, however. Apparently, there was a butcher’s shop in Nairobi which was selling human flesh. The police allegedly found human skulls in a pile of bones.

There was a nasty smell of burning rubber and plastic coming from a matatu pulled over at the side of the road. It had come down the steep hill just outside town and I guess that the brakes had jammed on. Clouds of grey smoke billowed from the rear onside wheel.

Other matatus buzzed past me. I need to spend a few hours sitting by the roadside taking photographs of them. One had a decent portrait of President Donald J Trump on the side. Another had a faded image of former President Robert Mugabe. Politicians are less popular than rap stars, however.

Ladies selling fruit were arranging individual bananas and oranges into piles of equal value. They waved me over to consider buying, but I told them I’d just eaten my breakfast. “Take these for your lunch, then,” she replied.

The overnight rain had made the earth at the edge of the path damp and muddy. As a result, a small beggar girl with paralysed legs had moved her pitch from a raised mound in the verge to the middle of the pavement. Beggars often put some coins in a mug which they shake, making a noise to attract bypassers. She didn’t have any coins, just a plastic bottle top in the tin pot. How different from the knots of chuggers, trying to make eye contact with you while earnestly jiggling their coin boxes outside shops in central Leicester.

One man had some decent-looking papayas and avocados in a chicken-wire cage. Only he could access the fruit from the rear. They were priced individually and came with a suggestion of when they would be best to eat. I pointed at a cannonball-sized papaya which he told me would be ready in two days. It cost me 50 pence. He wrapped it in an old newspaper because “it has just come from the shamba” and he didn’t want it to dirty my shirt. It was a shame he hadn’t used the front page of “The Nairobian”.

When I got to the office, I looked down at the bottom of my trousers. They were smeared with mud. Now I know why the old men tuck the bottom of their trousers into their socks.

By Dr Alfred Prunesquallor

Maverick doctor with 40 years experience, I reduced my NHS commitment in 2013. I am now enjoying being free lance, working where I am needed overseas. Now I am working in the UK helping with the current coronavirus pandemic.

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