Travelling on back of a lorry from Voi to see patient in city

The journey to Nairobi was derailed after an elephant was knocked down by a goods train. ILLUSTRATION | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • The first sign of trouble on the return journey was noticeable at Voi station, when the train did not move for half an hour.
  • It was sheer luxury to ride a chauffeur-driven Mercedes 250 after the back of a lorry! My bones remembered every pothole on the road from Voi to Nairobi.

A couple of interesting episodes and we can then resume the story of my life.

Being pukka British, Marie’s penchant for the sun, sea and sand, richly inherited by Jenny and Jan, took us often to Mombasa.

After the children went to England for their university education, they came home during Easter and Christmas and we took them to Mombasa.

One Easter, they wanted to travel to the coast by the overnight train, a world-famous trip those days, like the Blue Train journey in South Africa.

The Safari rally took place during the long Easter weekend then. The journey to Mombasa was uneventful. We had a delightful Good Friday, splashing in the warm sea and walking on the beach.

On Saturday morning, at breakfast, I noticed a waiter carrying a board with my name on it. The waiter spotted us and told me that there was call for me in the telephone operator’s room.


On reaching there, I discovered that Angelo De Cunha, a surgeon in Nakuru, was calling me.

“Sorry to bother you when you are at the coast for the Easter weekend but I have an emergency, which needs your help. I obtained your where-about from the Aga Khan Hospital,” he added as he read my mind, wondering how he found out where to get me.

In case of any emergency arising with patients operated by me that week, I left my where-about with the hospital.

“The 18-year-old son of my lawyer was watching the Safari cars from his car at a vantage point, when a speeding service vehicle hit his stationary VW and injured his thigh. He was brought to me and X-ray showed a fracture of his femur,” he continued.

“I was planning to nail the fracture but found him unconscious on my round this morning. I have diagnosed him as a case of fat embolus. I read your paper in the local medical journal and noted that you have got a set regime for this rare complication, which is invariably successful and have decided with the father’s consent to send him to your care,” he said.

“I am returning to Nairobi by train tomorrow night and could see him on Easter Monday,” I replied.

“I can go straight from the station, so if you and the patient’s father agree, you can send him to Nairobi today and my registrar, who I will ring now, can start him on our regime.”

“The father is standing next to me and is nodding his approval,” Mr De Cunha replied.


The first sign of trouble on the return journey was noticeable at Voi station, when the train did not move for half an hour.

I alighted from the train and walked to the stationmaster’s office to find out why we were not moving. The office was full of people like me asking the same question.

The stationmaster explained in Swahili: “An elephant on the railway line was knocked down by a goods train which ran ahead of your train and the dead jumbo is lying on the track and we can’t move until it is removed.”

“When do you think this will happen?” I asked. “Don’t know,” replied the stationmaster.” I have notified the headquarters in Nairobi and they are sending a team to clear the track so that we can move.”

I returned to my compartment and repeated my conversation with the stationmaster ad-verbatim and expressed doubt if I could keep my promise made to Mr De Cunha.

“I don’t mind being left on the train with the children till it moves, and see if you can get a lift on the road.” Marie said. And pointing to the children, she added. “As you can see, they are fast asleep.”


Quite reluctantly, I took up her offer and walked to the Mombasa-Nairobi highway in search of a lift. Dawn was breaking; many cars passed by ignoring me.

They saw my crumpled safari suit, unshaven face, dishevelled hair and did not consider me a safe bet!

I walked to the nearest petrol station and waited there to talk to a motorist, who stopped to fuel his car.

The first vehicle to stop there was a lorry; I talked to the driver in Swahili and explained my predicament with an orphan’s expression.

He shouted: “Hop in the back of the lorry.” I don’t think he believed me and wanted to keep me at a safe distance! Fortunately, he was in a safari mood and drove at breakneck speed with me standing holding tight to the railings, and landed me in three hours at the Baring Biscuit factory in the Industrial area at my request.

As I expected, the indefatigable, late Madatally Manji, Biscuit Baron, was working in his office, despite the factory being closed for Easter.

Looking at the state I was in, he asked: “Where have you been?” “I will explain later.” I replied. “What I need now is transport to Aga Khan Hospital, where an emergency patient from Nakuru is waiting for me.”


Mr Manji called his driver and instructed him to take me where I wanted to go.

It was sheer luxury to ride a chauffeur-driven Mercedes 250 after the back of a lorry! My bones remembered every pothole on the road from Voi to Nairobi.

The roads in Nairobi were empty – everyone had gone to the coast – and I landed in the hospital in 15 minutes flat, where the patient and his parents were relieved to see me and equally surprised by my appearance.

I might add here that the patient recovered, adding one more success to my meagre statistics.