Merced County Times Newspaper
The Power of Positive Press

Not sure what was worse: train robbery or the train

Bob Quall is a two-time United States Tennis Association national champion, and a former Merced County Superior Court judge. You can email him with comments or suggestions at: robertquall@comcast.net.
Bob Quall 

On our medical trips to Kenya, we try to go to areas where health care is scarce.

Mombasa has horrible health care so we go there when we can.

One year I got the bright idea to take the “night train” from Nairobi to Mombasa, which would get us into Mombasa in the morning for a large clinic in the slums. I imagined a train like the Orient Express. Polished wood, linen table clothes, hot steamy meals and warm comfortable beds in our stateroom.

I must have been hallucinating.

Our team of 40 arrived at the station with high expectations. The train I envisioned evidently doesn’t exist! Instead, the conductor pointed me to a railway car, dirty, rusty, with peeling gray paint. Well, I thought, maybe better inside. Nope, inside were metal bunk beds and army blankets. I went looking for the toilets to make sure they existed! I opened the door marked toilets and sure enough although the floor was metal it looked like there was a shower! Upon closer inspection, I couldn’t find the shower head and the conductor said,”What you thought was a shower drain is actually a pit toilet drain.”

He reminded me not to go to the end of the caboose while the train was in motion because the fine spray coming up from the tracks was from toilets being in use. Something about centrifugal force.

The conductor came though our section of the train and told our group to keep the windows closed when the train was stopped so robbers would not stick their arms through and grab any thing they could haul away!

As director, I maintained a positive attitude although I had a premonition that there was more to come.

Sure enough, three hours into the trip at about midnight, the train’s emergency brakes went off as shots were being fired into the train. I thought, “You have got to be kidding!”

Turns out that a government official’s son had decided to rob our train by firing the shots and then boarding the train to relieve passengers of their valuables.

The train did not move for five hours until the man was captured.  One of my team members told me he was glad the toilets weren’t stopped up while we were waiting to move again. I told him the toilet couldn’t be stopped up since it deposited directly to the tracks.

Some of the group thought the train trip was great fun because of the unique bunks and dining car and danger that was resolved.

I was not impressed.

Unfortunately, we missed the clinic site because of the delay and the 1,000 would-be patients caused a serious disturbance in Mombasa because of our absence. We did conduct clinics the next several days and FLEW back to Nairobi.

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