Laden with drugs, the speedboat starts before dawn, its route only lit by the full moon as it climbs between miles of dense mangroves to the boundary of Kenya with Somalia, where few dares to go.
Two hours later, at sunrise, the ship arrives in the village of Kiangwe, one of several distant coastal towns whose only health care comes from the Safari Doctors Mobile Medical Team’s monthly visits.
Volunteer physicians and nurses roll their pants and heat containers full of medical supplies on their shoulders before they walk ashore and walk up a hill to a building that will serve as a clinic for a few hours.
Kiangwe and its adjacent villages have been hit hard by the Kenyan government’s conflict with the Somali extremist group Al-Shabaab, whose militants work in the neighboring Boni Forest, which runs across the frontier.
– Few options in emergencies –
The team is setting up a triage area within the improvised clinic where patients are weighed as well as their blood pressure is taken before being transferred to one of several medical staff desks. A group of nurses crowded around a lady with a difficult lump in her throat at one desk thought to be a bullet lodged there from an Al-Shabaab ambush on a vehicle that she had been traveling in a few years earlier.
The nurses are advising her to go to Lamu to remove the bullet. She just shakes her head when she asks how she will do that.
– Changing traditions –
In reaction to Nairobi’s sending of soldiers to Somalia in 2011, Al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabaab has staged several bloody assaults in Kenya, including in Lamu. A few hundred members of an al-Shabaab affiliate in Kenya are thought to live in the forest.
The clinic is not only the only alternative for villagers, but also for the Al-Shabaab troops, whose operation was plagued by bad collaboration, lack of facilities and demoralization, analysts claim