Hospital Horror

Trip Start Sep 08, 2003
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Trip End Ongoing


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Friday, September 19, 2003

The second day of teaching dawned, and the children that had shyly come to say hello the night before, decided to show their appreciation by tapping on my door at 5am to see if I would like to have breakfast with them. I tried to calmly remind myself that the reason I had come to Africa was the children! So I was reasonably polite as I answered the door and told them to come back in a few hours - preferable when the sun was up!!

Breakfast was runny milk yet again , but as I still wasn't keeping food down it didn't really matter what it was! Then I was outside watching the children "parade". Parade is performed every morning before school: the children line up in front of the main hall, the Tanzanian National Anthem is sung, the flag raised and the older children march around with sticks, making sure the children in the younger classes sing.

As a special treat, Alan the director had organized for some touring acrobats to come and perform in the school hall. It was a good opportunity for me to study the children as they were watching the performance. The school has about 120 pupils aged 3 to 12. There is a school uniform, in theory, of blue checked shirt, long grey socks pulled up to the knee, and grey shorts or skirt. This is worn in various stages of correctness, by different members of family. So one brother may have the regulation shirt, while the other the correct shorts. The gaps are filled in with clothes bought at market. So on a dry Thursday morning in September, one child was sat there in a Father Christmas jumper, the correct shorts and then elegantly finished with welly boots!

I was surprised to see so many t-shirts advertising schools, colleges and work places from around the world. It is common to see overalls from Sainsbury's or T-shirts from a University in America. I thought the clothes must come from charities - the kind you see collecting clothes back home, with the promise that they are given to the third world. However I was about to learn differently - the clothes are not given, but sold to street market sellers in big bales. A collection of shirts in one bale, skirts in another. The clothes are then bought by Africans. The clothes are still sold cheaply, but it came as a surprise to me - I thought that by donating clothes in England I was directly helping the most needy, not the market sellers.

The dress code for the teachers also raises a smile. They all look like extras from a starwars movie - eg. big shoulder pads have migrated downwards and are stitched on the upper-arms, the sleeves tight to the arms, with a bulge at right angles to the body above the elbows. As money is scarce, a teacher may only have one or two "nice" items of clothing like this, so they are teamed with Jodhpurs or sarong skirt. Alternatively a nice skirt is put with a Mickey Mouse jumper from the market.

All the while I was watching the children and teachers, the acrobatics was continuing. By English standards they were not talented, but I loved the effect it had on the children, and I got my enjoyment from watching them. African children have fewer inhibitions, laughing, crying, jumping up and down on their seats with excitement as the acrobat hopped around on one leg in front of them.

That afternoon, after school had finished at 3.30 I was to witness all the children attempting to copy what they had seen that morning. All the borders congregated around our doors to show us what they had practiced. I tried not to flinch as I watched the fearless children back-flip across the concrete. They seem a lot more hardy then English children, if they fell, they jumped up and brushed themselves down, the hard stone floor hardly making a graze. I remembered back to teaching lifts and gymnastics at Churchill School - foam gym mats were a necessity on a wooden floor!! The children were starting to become friends; I was learning names and I was starting to feel more content being in Africa. This was the reason I had come and the harsh living environment became less of a problem. Having possessions and furniture didn't feel important any more.


I woke up the next morning, hoping to act on my new found enthusiasm for being in Africa. However 8 days of not keeping down any food had taken its toll - I couldn't stand up. My muscle strength had gone, I felt weak, my stomach ached with hunger and to make it worse I couldn't stop crying. (I blame the Larium malaria pills!! - not lack of willpower!) I called through to Vicky that I would stay put for the day, in close vicinity to a bucket and attempt to keep something,anything inside me!

Vicky set off on the walk to the school, and I attempted to get a grip! Come on Emma, I reasoned, just try and stand up. I sat up, stretched my arms forward and lifted my feet around to the floor with my hands, and tried to uncurl myself. I looked up from this elegant position to find the director of the school in the doorway, Vicky had gone straight to his office and he was taking me to hospital.

Hmmmm. I wanted to feel better, but at the same time I had heard horror stories of Africa's Hospital hygiene and wasn't in a great hurry to test the truth behind the stories. I sat down again with a bump and realized that I wasn't in a position to argue. Alan tried to set my mind at rest telling me that it was the hospital he used, and he had lived in East London for 8 years, so he knew how a hospital should be. Still not a great comfort!!

I got into his car - the hospital was just outside Arusha, on the Nairobi-Moshi road. I realised the place we had arrived at was the hospital, and not a concrete shack, by the chalk sign scribbled on the road outside saying "reserved for Doctor". We went through the stable door and found ourselves in a courtyard, not unlike the one at the school. There was a fairground ticket booth on the left hand side, where we queued up to register. I suddenly realised the weight Alan carries as a school director in the community. We were moved rather more quickly up the line than the elderly beggar that came in later. The waiting room was a long wooden bench on the other side of the courtyard. Men and women were separated by a little wall partition in the middle. The patients sat in the sun waiting to be called through the stable-door on the right of the courtyard. The doctor was friendly and quite patient as I struggled to tell him what was wrong. He took my blood pressure, and told me something in Swahili as I nodded and tried to look confident about what he was saying. He then gave me a pot the size lip-balm from the Bodyshop comes in, directed me to the hole in the ground marked "ladies" and asked for a sample. I nearly fainted again. There was nothing in my stomach to give! The doctor patently explained again that I would have to stay in hospital until I could "perform" as he called it! We sat for a while; a few nurses came out of a room marked 'maternity' and I peered into a dark room with a bed in the middle. A woman was sat on her own, panting and holding on to the bed rails - she was all on her own. Then the nurse shut the door from the outside and left her to it. There were only 3 doors around the courtyard:- 'doctor', 'maternity' and 'operating theatre' - and I had no wish to see into that particular room!!! I was starting to feel faint again, sat in the midday sun, and desperately hungry. Alan stepped in at this point, explaining that I would be better off at home in bed, so could they give me some pills and he would take me home again. I was hoisted into the upright position then ushered into another queue and given a concoction of pills. I was to take 7 a day at various complicated intervals for 5 days and then I would be better. Yep I could buy into that. I wanted to believe anything, and get out of there!

Alan took us for lunch at a more 'western' café, explaining he thought some food from "home" might help. Home I thought, pushing back the tears - damn the larium! I had a scrummy hot chocolate, Cadbury heaven after the runny milk porridge, and the first 3 pills.

Fingers crossed!
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