New Year Emotions

I didn't know whether to entitle this post 'malaria test', 'moving into my new house', 'tabaski' or 'new year', as all four titles would be relevant to this past weekend.

First came the high temperature, with aching joints in my neck and shoulders, slight headache and the overall weakness that comes with a temperature. My instinct would have been to stay in bed and let it pass, but of course in the tropics I know that such symptoms have to be taken seriously, and with one colleague already down with malaria I knew the risks. So a doctor was summoned, who asked the obvious questions and checked my temperature, blood pressure, etc, and referred me to the clinic for a blood test - a positive would mean malaria and a negative probably flu.

The clinic was clean and efficient (or at least it was clean until I was sick all over it) and within an hour I had my result - negative. I have to admit to being slightly disappointed! Not only because malaria would have been rather more exciting and glamorous than flu, but also because it would have justified calling out a doctor and having colleagues fussing all over me, which I now feel rather embarrassed about if all I was suffering from was flu. But in any case, I took the prescribed tablets and ampoules and was better within a couple of days.

During my illness, however, the time came to move into my new home. Very exciting, although a holiday weekend was perhaps not the best time to suddenly find myself alone in a very sparsely furnished house with no food in it. However I set about trying to making myself at home there. & now it has at least a little furniture in it I can see why I have been thinking of it as 'little'. The kitchen is not big enough for cooker, fridge and washing machine, so the fridge is in the dining room (and the dining table they have given me is too big so will have to go back). The spare bedroom which I am currently sleeping in looks to me to be too small to house a wardrobe as well as the bed, though we shall have to measure up. The only sizeable rooms are the bathroom and the lounge, but being east facing and with its only window looking onto a wall, the lounge is really dark and so I have not felt tempted to spend any time in there as yet. But colleagues tell me that as the hotter weather comes I shall be grateful for it.

To be honest it doesn't feel at all like a home as yet, but once I get some more furniture in, and when my stuff arrives from the UK - particularly my music! - it will have a bit more life and hopefully start to feel like mine. What I don't like much at the moment is the lack of privacy one gets from having a guard. The first time I used the kitchen I suddenly heard someone at the door - it was the guard, checking up as he had noticed the door ajar. & with my windows all at ground level and curtains only in the bedroom I was very aware of being visible to the guard as I wandered around in the evening. Worst of all though, is the fear that I may not be able to sunbathe in my own yard! Clearly the all-over tan will have to go, but I'm not even sure that I would be comfortable in a bikini in front of my uniformed guard. Will have to get advice from colleagues on that one!

On New Year's Eve I went out wandering and searching for food - and my goodness, what prices! US$6 for a lettuce!!? But we are out of season now for home-grown produce, and everything imported is expensive because of the duty. Still, I found a few tomatoes, onions, baguettes, etc, and even treated myself to a bottle of Senegalese wine, though had to drink it out of a mug as I haven't yet bought any glasses.

In my wanderings, I had just gone into the outskirts of the Medina (the big, old, working-class heart of the city) when I saw a blackboard, down a little alleyway, on which was written a few of the previous day's English Premiership football fixtures. I went down the alleyway to see what this meant, and blundered straight into an extended family Tabaski celebration - sheep heads and feet all over the place, women washing up and the men sitting around watching them (some things are the same all over the world...). I was immediately ushered in and offered a big plate of meat, and when I finally left a few hours later it was with the promise that I would be back the next day to watch the New Year's Premiership football on their family TV.

I had, I admit, been feeling a little lonely in my house up until then. Here I was alone in Africa, still not sure if I had done the right thing by taking this job and coming here, and with no-one to talk it over with. & I do find - always have - that when I feel a little below par in Africa I suddenly notice the poverty - no, not the poverty, actually it's the squalor of the place - and that brings me down even further, to a level below the way I ever feel in other parts of the world. But having gone low, it takes very little to bring me right back up again, and so it was here, my new-found friends putting a smile on my face and a spring in my step as I went home.

& so on New Year's Day (after an early night, still feeling tired after my dose of flu) I returned, and ate lunch and watched TV in the Medina. The TV was stood on an old crate on the sand, with a sheet of corrugated iron held up overhead to give shade, and a couple of wooden benches set up for the audience of assorted family and friends. Various wires and cables from the TV disappeared up above, one of which must have connected to the satellite dish on the roof, as the football was being shown on a South African TV channel (with English commentary!). Around us the family's children played and two tethered sheep munched on whatever bits of rubbish they could find.

I saw into a couple of rooms there, and they were TINY. Typically one wall was solid concrete and the other three were made from wooden boards; there was a bed taking up 90% of the space and a couple of bits of other furniture squeezed between the bed and the walls. I did use the toilet at one stage and this was of course just a hole in the ground in a screened off area. I guess there was a kitchen somewhere, although the preparation of the food and washing up afterwards all took place in big bowls out on the sand, beside the TV.

Lunch was a big communal metal bowl filled with rice and mutton, cooked in a tomato and chilli sauce - a little spicy for me, but quite nice. All day the men made Senegalese tea on a little burner, and I was also given cold bissap (a bright red sweet drink made from the hibiscus plant). Apart from the result (a draw against a team ravaged by injuries) I had a great day, and I suspect I will be back there on a regular basis. My only slight worry was whether I will be expected to invite any of them back to my place one day - the gulf between the size and quality of our homes is so enormous that I really don't want them to see where I live.


Alison said...

Hope you are fully recovered now. Flu might not be as dramatic as Malaria, but alone, in an empty house, I think Flu is pretty nasty. No reason not to feel sorry for yourself.

Your visit with the family sounds great - so friendly that they 'adopted' you.

Gill said...

Am so impressed and slightly in awe of what you have done. Hope you continue to enjoy your time in Africa. Am enjoying reading your blog
Gill (Alisons sister)