Shocks to the System

Trip Start Sep 08, 2003
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Trip End Ongoing


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Sunday, November 2, 2003

Wednesday morning began well, I woke, had a bath in my bucket, and after consulting my wardrobe of 3 outfits was ready and dressed in 2 minutes for school.
At school I found the children had exams, and my lessons had been cancelled - must have slipped the timetable master's mind to tell me.
Walking dejectedly back home, I suddenly felt unwell; the usual dizzy feeling hit me, followed by the horizon starting to slip to the left. I made it home and suddenly very pleased I wasn't teaching. My last thought was I was glad I was in bed, and this wasn't happening in front of the children.
I came round, to find myself still on the bed; I was very disorientated and had no idea how long I had been there. I am sure it was only a few minutes, as I still had my shoes on and was fully dressed. I thought I should let someone know I was ill again, and in the absence of Vicky, sent Allan a text message. He was in a meeting in town, but asked if I was eating okay and suggested black tea.
I struggled into the sitting room and pumped some water for the kettle, but before it could boil knew I wasn't going to make it. I sat down again as my head span, then jumped up and dashed for the toilet. Squatting inside I was trying to take my mind off being ill and pondering names for the Loo lizards. Lizzy Lizard had now got two little lizards that follow her around. How about Luke and Leia.... Looking up as they wriggled across the ceiling, I decided that as skywalkers the name was very apt. I looked back down...Blood... is that normal? This was when I knew I was going to have to go back to the hospital. I decided to go back to sleep a for a bit, and if still unwell in a few hours I would be a brave girl and seek the medical help here.

I drifted in and out of sleep/consciousness and everytime felt worse. I called Allan again and he arranged to meet me at the hospital. I sat on the brick bench in the sun, thinking of all that had happened since I had last sat there a month ago. The teaching had got better,.... my relationship with Vicky had got worse, ......my love of Africa had increased, ......my weight had dramatically decreased. I had yet to complete more than 3 days of keeping anything in my stomach.

The doctor nodded, and said 'yes', 'yes', many times, in the same way I have seen my kids do when they have no idea what I have just said. Keep nodding! Then the diagnosis of dysentery. I was given more pills, which are dished out in little brown envelopes, the name handwritten on the front. Mum later researched them and informed me that one was for alcoholism, and the other heart or genital problems!! Hmm, no mention of the stomach! I didn't have any option but to trust the doctor and see if they made me better.
Allan took me to the American Supermarket, and after a text from mum asking if I wanted to give up and come home, I decided to blow my week's food budget and buy all the expensive English things I had promised myself I could do without. Into the basket went Marmite, hot chocolate, good bread, some rice and pasta and a few 'just add water' sauces. I decided my stomach needed some of the food from home, instead of constant beans and Ugali.

Two phonecalls from Home later: I had decided I was happy to stay, had some dinner inside me and was wrapped up in bed.
The next day I decided to brave the outdoor shower. I thought the cold spurt of water may refresh me, and make me less lightheaded. I waited for the sound of children playing outside to stop, so I knew they had definitely gone to school, undressed and dashed across the courtyard. The shower enclosure has a little wooden door and corrugated iron roof. Taking a deep breath I put my head under the icy water. How can it be so cold I wondered. I had just put some shampoo on my head and worked up a lather, when I heard a buzzing noise. I looked up, nose to nose with an African bumble bee the size of a 10p. Its extra long tail hanging between its wings. Eeeeek, more buzzing, looking over my shoulder I saw 20 more of them hovering behind me, and above me, a bees nest straddling the joint of the iron roof. Darting outside, shampoo running into my eyes, water splashing around me, I coughed and spluttered into my towel, and decided to go back to my bucket baths.

After a few restful days I started to feel better. I was trying to keep everything ultra clean; the children hustled around my door in the evening, asking if they could sweep my floor, make me tea. Little get well cards were stuck to the wall. They were the reason I had stayed.

On Saturday I arranged to see some of the other volunteers. I had not stayed with Lee and Ben at Sekei School before. It is reached via a long steep muddy track cut into the hillside. No electricity, outside longdrop toilet, and an impressive termite mound! They do however have a proper oven! I was looking forward to being able to cook properly and planned to do lasagna.
A trip with Claire to Central Market was needed first to buy and haggle for ingredients. It was my first trip to the heart of Arusha, and I stood opened mouthed in the old railway station type building bursting with colour and noise. The women sat behind their rickety tables, plastic umbrellas shielding their faces from the hot midday sun, yelling and yodelling to passersby. The fruit and vegetables were displayed, the red of peppers, green of beans, orange lentils, yellow pineapples, purple beet, pink onions. Thigh high bags of rice and maize, skinny fish, chickens and cockerels still clucking and patrolling proudly around the floor. Each fruit was piled into little pyramids - you couldn't buy one tomato - you bought the whole statue. The mud earth floor, was littered with discarded fruit peel, yesterday's rotten vegetables and plastic bags that the street children chased in the wind, to pick up and sell for a penny to the women laden with vegetables on their way home.

The evening went well. I enjoyed the homely feel of preparing dinner for a group, cutting the onions, making the sauce. Then came the task of lighting the oven - something the boys had never attempted. It was a gas oven, and I was slightly anxious about the boys' suggestion of shoving a lighted match inside, and putting my fingers in my ears! Even if ambulances did exist in this part of the world, they would never make it up the eroded hillside. In the end Stuart took the bottom of the oven apart to find the gas pipe, and we lit it there. 3 hours later we sat down in candlelight, to Lasagna, garlic bread and warm beer. Cosy and warm the 6 of us played cards, dealing until the candle flame got too low, even to squint by. I enjoyed the companionship of the evening. I didn't realize how much I had missed it.

I was to experience a week where I no longer felt so alone; with Vicky gone the other volunteers started to come to see me, as well as inviting me to stay with them. On Monday night I had Kirsty to stay, turning Vicky's old room into my guest room, with the help of Kirsty's Winnie the Pooh pictures - which the children are already fighting over!
On Tuesday night, both Stuart and Kirsty came to stay; the children had never had so much attention! 3 laps to choose from, 6 hands to hold. During all the excitement no-one noticed the long black shadow stretch across the path leading to the dormitory. I had just made a cup of tea, and had settled into the armchair, when a scream went up from the other teachers' room.
The children ran outside, the security guard in pursuit. They all had congregated around the teachers' toilet. I got up to see what the commotion was, as the children started grabbing rocks, stones and sticks and flinging them down the pan. As I peered round the corner, I felt my own throat contract, as I saw the now dead 7 foot long snake sat curled and battered on the concrete. All the children were now screaming; some with laughter, boasting that it was their shot that had killed it, the younger children with fright, as they explained it was deadly.
For me I needed to rationalize it, but I couldn't get any sensible information from either the children or the teachers. Which snake was it? Could it really kill? Lots of nodding, then lots of head shaking. Just the same word over and over snake... snake....sssssss.... snake. I gave up. The snake was dead, and as long as its big brother did not decide to come up out of the long drop as well, I could forget about it. Just hope I don't need the loo anytime soon! As the children were escorted to bed, I made hot chocolate and settled down to organize more important things ... now that I was staying... like - in which African country were we all going to spend Christmas!
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