A certain student from Kenyatta University named Dora Mwabela was answering a call of nature when she dropped her Alcatel mobile phone (that's cell phone for you Americans) at her house in Kisumu Dogo at Kongowea, a suburb of Mombasa in Kenya.

Kenyan plumbing is obviously at a rudimentary stage of development, even in Mombasa, as her mobile phone fell down what is reported as a 40 foot pit latrine. (So recovery wasn't just a question of closing your eyes and sticking your hand down the U bend.)

Distressed at the loss of her precious Alcatel mobile phone (cost 6,000 Kenyan shillings) Ms Mwabela offered a 1,000 Kenyan shilling reward to anyone who would recover it for her. Since over half the Kenyan population apparently earn less than single US dollar day, and a 1,000 Kenyan shillings are worth around USD 13, this is a significant amount of cash to your average Kenyan and half the neighbourhood seems to have come round to assist in this quest. (Which also means that an Alcatel mobile phone at 6,000 Kenyan shillings or around USD 80, costs as much as most Kenyans make in three or four months, which means Dora Mwabela was quite wealthy in Kenyan terms.)

One of her neighbours named Patrick Luhakha, described as a 30 year old radio technician who had recently married (nothing like a bit of background colour), ripped up the floor of the house to gain access to the latrine, got hold of a suitable ladder and descended into the pit.

Unfortunately Mr Luhakha failed to come back up again. So another neighbour named Kevin Wambua climbed down the ladder to help, only to slip and fall at the bottom and he failed to re-emerge as well.

So a third neighbour named John Solo went down to see what he could do to help, collapsed halfway down the ladder. He was dragged back up again and carted off to hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival.

A fourth man had to be physically restrained from descending into the latrine by the Kenyan police who by now had realised what was going on. (Technical explanation; human waste produces ammonia, which tends to concentrate in basic pit latrines, making them rather hazardous places to spend any length of time in.)

The official police comment from acting Mombasa police boss Peter Njenga;

"The fumes inside must be extremely poisonous considering the short time it was taking to disable the retrievers."

The bodies of Patrick Luhakha and Kevin Wambua were later retrieved, and they never did find that phone.

Dora Mwabela will just have to buy a new mobile phone.



The Daily Nation newspaper online http://www.nationaudio.com/News/DailyNation/14032003/
The BBC online http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/2850045.stm