The lowdown on what’s happening in Kenya during the coronavirus pandemic.
When I flew out of Abidjan I wasn’t thinking about getting stuck.
I was thinking, ‘Oh, it will be so nice to be out of West Africa’. I was having a hard time there.
I was thinking of the big plate of Ugali with Sukuma wiki I was going to devour. The Kenyan staple.
I was thinking how great it would be to be able to communicate in English again. My French sucks.
There was already lots of concern about the Corona, though when I flew in there were no reported cases in Kenya. There were no reported cases in Ivory Coast. There was no enforced quarantine.
I spent a few days in Nairobi and put together a plan of sorts. I took a matatu to Naivasha.
Naivasha lies at 2,086m, almost 7000ft, which would mean cool nights and beautifully warm days and a bit of rain. The Crescent Island Game Sanctuary was virtually in town. It sounded ideal.
I booked 2 nights in a guest house where the budget dormitory was a treehouse.
Then the panic set it. The border to Uganda was closed on March 22. They closed the schools. Then it was announced that after March 25 there would be no more international flights, in or out.
Upon arrival in Naivasha, I put myself in semi-isolation. If I had been exposed to Corona, then the flights from Abidjan to Addis Ababa and onto Nairobi would have been where that would have most likely happened.
I did not stay inside all day every day. I took a late lunch at the same restaurant in town but I followed the rules: no hand shaking, washing hands when going in to the bank, the restaurant and the supermarket, upon return from town, before eating. I had my temperature taken every day for the first 14 days here. I kept my distance from the staff and the few guests.
Initially, I was paying 10US$ a night including breakfast. I had the treehouse all for myself. I went to the Crescent Island Game Sanctuary. My first African Safari. A self-guided walking one at that. Up close and personal with giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, impalas and Thomson’s gazelles. I loved it. I blogged about it, put in a load of links to the sanctuary’s website and Facebook page. They loved it. They invited me back for, for free.
Then the panic set it. The border to Uganda was closed on March 22. They closed the schools. Then it was announced that after March 25 there would be no more international flights, in or out. The number of other guests dropped. On March 27 a BA flight from London was turned back. It was arriving empty to repatriate UK citizens. It was denied entry into Kenyan airspace.
I called a meeting. I needed to know what the score was. I was alone in a country that wasn’t my own and we were shutting down. I wasn’t interested in getting home, I just need to be somewhere to ride out the storm. And, as a budget backpacker who has quit his job, somewhere affordable was my main concern.
The guys here are very kind and I could not have asked for more. I would be looked after like a brother. I would not be forced out. The staff would keep coming to work to maintain the property anyway, so having me here wasn’t an issue.
Most of the hotels in town had already closed after the movements of a French guy who had tested positive had been traced to an up-market hotel here. They closed it down and quarantined the 25 staff. Just like that. No warning. Bam! Then the hotels in Nakuru, the main administrative town not far from here, were shut down. I was still free to leave. There was no travel ban, but hotels were closing up. Places to go to were running out.
Then I was advised that I shouldn’t go out. There had been some anti-foreigner feeling over this whole affair, mzungus bringing it to Kenya, but that subsided after the governor of the coastal district of Kilifi, on having arrived from Europe, had not quarantined himself and had later tested positive. Mandatory self-quarantine was implemented a few days after I arrived.
If I needed anything the staff would get it for me and lunch and dinner were provided. Then after days of rain they moved me out of the tree house. It was leaking a bit and there was a mouse or rat living in the roof, not that I cared too much … but it was pooping a lot. I was given a small suite. Living/dining area, separate bedroom and bathroom. I would still pay my 10 bucks a night. I was comfortable and it was very affordable.
I have been at the same guest house for 26 days now. In the last 17 days I have been into town just twice, with 2 of the staff here. I needed to use the ATM and get a few bits from the supermarket. I don’t actually need to buy much. When food is provided and drinks, sodas at 50KSH, and beer at 200KSH or 250KSH for a Guinness Export are available, there is nothing really I need to get — money and toothpaste aside. Goodies are something I can live without. (100KSH =1 US$+/-)
Then, of course, as time passes, things change. The food stock was running low. And the boss informed the staff that I would have to provide my own food and cook it in the small kitchen I had. The staff could continue working but at 50% salary.
The town relies on tourism and commercial flowers. The hotels are all but closed and the flower companies have shut down. There is no business. So the staff all opted to stay on. They really had no choice.
Coping with the boredom:
I have plenty of little projects to do. I have my blog, I have Kindle, I have a Sudoku puzzle book. There is a large garden. Late afternoons are great to watch the Superb Starlings and Speckled Mouse Birds. I have rediscovered the joy of simply sitting and looking. I can watch TV, I can re-subscribe to Netflix, I can down load more eBooks. Keeping busy is not a problem. But concerns over Corona are never far away.
The mental pressure is what’s hard. I am safe, I comfortable, but I am alone in a foreign land and am not free to leave at any point for the foreseeable future. All travellers still out there on the road are in the same boat. Many people across the globe have pretty hard lives in normal times, and their lives just got harder. I know that. How to write this without gloating?
But this is my personal story and with luck I found myself to be pretty comfortable. It could have easily been 200 times worse. Travellers like me are stuck in places like DRC and other difficult places, where rooms cost 100$ a night. Life under normal circumstances is tough. I couldn’t imagine being stuck there.
Does that mean I just stay put and don’t worry about over-staying? Hard to tell.
In West Africa, I know there is a British cyclist stuck in Grand Bassam. But he is in a safe and affordable place but cabin fever is an issue. A few others got into Ghana before they then shut their borders. I don’t know if they managed to get out. A Swiss couple were travelling in their converted transit van. They made it back to an overlander’s camp in Mauritania. They are comfortable but summer is approaching. I don’t envy them. MRP is on the road in China, living the Van Life. He’s already spent a month in a parking lot. Foreigners are facing yet more restriction as newer measures are introduced. I have drawn strength from his relaxed attitude. We just gotta ride out this shit. His initial advice was to go to the beach (at Diani) but the beaches are shut and in the coastal towns there is almost a total lock down.
I am on a 1 month visa. I hadn’t seen any announcement that foreigners on short stay visas were to be given visa extensions automatically, but that didn’t mean that the directive hadn’t been issued. From the British Embassy I got an almost auto reply via ‘our man back in London’ with the usual blah blah blah. I found the Twitter pages of the British High Commissioner.
I sent a tweet to the Kenyan immigration department, as well as 3 emails to various addresses. But at least I got a hopeful reply on Twitter:
Does that mean I just stay put and don’t worry about over-staying? Hard to tell. I am doing the right thing. I am staying safe. I am restricting my movements. I am doing what they would like everyone to be doing voluntarily. Easter is approaching. As Kenyans continue to ignore the advice, there are now major measures in place. All routes into and out of Nairobi are now blocked. The announcement was along the lines of, “If you can’t see the sense in not going to see relatives in Mombasa or Kisumu, then we will block the roads.”
I like the heavy handed approach.
A reply from another Tweet I sent:
And then the official response from The High Commissioner herself and then, very shortly after, a missive from the Kenyan Immigration department:
Each day brings something new. Am praying for the news that the travel restrictions are going well, that people are finally getting the Stay At Home message and that the curve is starting to flatten out.