Don't eat the matumbo

This is the sympathy-seeking illness post – if my bowel movements or self-obsession bore you, please look away now (although obviously I can't understand why you'd find either anything less than riveting).

Things come in twos and threes. I've been very lucky so far in Kenya – I haven't had the faintest bit of stomach trouble, despite travelling quite a lot, and eating more meat than I've ever eaten in my entire life. Until last week – which also happened to be my last week in Nakuru, trying to get everything finished up work-wise, and to get myself organised to move on to Nairobi.

From Monday to Wednesday I was in Churo in East Pokot, further up the Rift Valley: an astonishingly barren place that seems to have been forgotten by the government, the NGOs, and modernity. My organisation's conflict management interventions here are also worse than useless: like holding a seminar for famine victims. It's a place full of cows, where a cup of milk costs more than in Nairobi (the drought has made the local cows dry up, and transport costs for packaged milk are enormous). It's the only place in Kenya I've seen some children go to school naked (not out of charming traditional practice, because their families can no longer afford clothes during the dry season).

Shamefully, this neglect is at least partly to do with the fact that everybody seems to hate the Pokots – and the community leaders of the Pokots, at least, seem to hate everybody. Hating the Pokots, in fact, seems to be the one thing that unites communities in the Rift Valley. Samburu and Turkana groups, for example, are engaged in intensifying fighting and cattle-rustling against each other, but in several places have been brought together in a kind of grim peace to fight Pokot raiders. More significantly, Pokot politicians are even less important than Samburu and Turkana MPs (themselves junior acolytes to the 'Rift Valley mafia' which, along with Kikuyu-dominated Central Province MPs form the two major power blocs in Kenya's parliament). So Pokot politicians don't get to 'eat' at all when the spoils are carved up in Nairobi.

Anyway, more about East Pokot, the land the do-gooders forgot, later on. This post is all about ME!

The only thing to (actually) eat in Churo on Tuesday was matumbo ya mbuzi – goat intestines, which, quite literally, tasted of shit. I only ate a small amount, with a lot of maize to compensate. And felt absolutely fine for the next two days, and the journey back to Nakuru. And then, at precisely 4.17pm on Thursday afternoon, my digestive system melted.

I just about managed to get home, perched on the back of a boda-boda bicycle taxi (the quickest way to get home, and conveniently affording rapid dismount facilities for tactical chundering on the way). I make it up the four flights of stairs to the flat to find W, the building's security guard, standing outside the door waiting for me, and talking very fast in Kiswahili. Through the bilious haze I think he's saying that my (heavily pregnant) landlady is having a baby (anazaa), and that she needs me to come with him to the hospital. But I can't be sure. W speaks no English, and my Kiswahili is worse. I also don't tend to need much gynaecological vocabulary, day-to-day. I end up rudely ignoring him, and pushing my way through the front door. The flat, uncharacteristically, is empty. My landlady is nowhere to be seen.

This is very bad news. So now I'm on the floor of the bathroom, evacuating, er, dually, and simultaneously grappling with my Kiswahili-English dictionary trying to look up anazaa. As I'm doing this, W returns and starts hammering on the front door again, just as getting to 'Z' in my dictionary to find out that '-zaa' does indeed mean 'give birth'.

Fuck. This is now very bad news.

Unfortunately, I can't seem to find the words for “I'm being sick”, so am forced to just sit there idiotically shouting siwezi kuja (I can't come) and matumbo, matumbo (stomach, stomach) – which I now realise W the guard may have thought meant I was masturbating in the toilet while confirming my landlady's gravidity.

After about half an hour of hammering and evacuating, I'm ready to make the lunge to the front door. I open it, and W is still there heroically saying Esther anazaa, anazaa, kuja, kuja, asking me to come with him. So now my liquifying bowels are fighting my English 'rise-to-the-occasion' gynaecological chivalry. I want to ask where the fuck Esther's boyfriend is, but can't remember the vocab for 'boyfriend' or 'fuck' either.

What would Hugh Grant do? In the Hugh Grant film version there would be some hilarious schtick with Grant careering round the room flopping his hair about and apologising with his trousers round his ankles. In this version I don't have the energy for flopping or hilarity. There's just me, my bowels, and my useless Kiswahili.

Fortunately, I'm saved with cinematic good timing. Just as I'm about to improvise some kind of nappy/bib/plastic bag arrangement to use in a taxi, up the stairs comes...Esther. It turns out she's been to the hairdressers, which W the guard for some reason mistook as a dash to the obstetrics ward. So I'm released from my doorstep agony to retreat for the bathroom, where I stay for the next 24 hours.

Lesson 1

Englishmen: if you learn one foreign language phrase while travelling abroad, make sure it's “I can't come to the door, I'm shitting myself.” If necessary, tattoo it on a body part you can see while squatting.

Lesson 2

A loo-seat is the only essential accoutrement of civilisation. My Nakuru flat has one of only two real loo-seats I've seen outside of Nairobi. This single piece of technology improved my quality of life last week more than mobile phones, the internet and electrification put together.