Monday, 17 October 2011

Elective 03. A pleasant surprise

Today I arrive at the hospital, after a long journey with few problems. I find there are three European girls staying in the same accommodation as me for my first week; its nice to have some company to help me get used to Tanzania. I meet my personal chef, go for a walk to see the village and learn some Swahili greetings and have my first encounter with the outside squatty toilet and its resident bat.

We get up around 4 to get to the hospital on the bus. Dr Bike's taxi driver friend was a good 45 Minutes late to pick us up, though, meaning we arrived at the bus station as the bus we had booked was about to leave. It was full, But fortunately Dr Bike seems to be friends with all of the bus drivers and wrangles us another bus. This taxi driver's punctuality is my first taste of the famous African time keeping. Having the two large boxes of drugs (I mean medication) in the bus, along with my bag of clothes etc, meant we had to pay a supplement to the ticket (when I say we, I mean me, of course. I had to pay for both bus tickets). This was either because the Medical equipment was worth a lot and the bus would be liable if it was lost, or because the bus had to keep under a certain weight. I have no idea - and I don't think Dr Bike did either. You don't need reasons in Tanzania. Just go with it! Having paid for everything yesterday, from food to the hotel, and now the bus today, I am feeling little like a white cash-Cow but, on reflection, there is no reason for Dr Bike to spend his personal money as well as his time in picking me up and taking me to the hospital.

After an 8 hour journey on the bus, with a TV playing half a dozen Christian-African-Dancie music videos on repeat (definitely worse than no entertainment at all) at the front for company, we finally arrived close to the hospital. I had been told the hospital was a long way away from any public transport, but it seems this has changed recently. With a large mining and industrial area further into Tanzania than the hospital, a tarmac road has been built by the Chinese recently so they can import and export to this region. This means buses can now pass within a few miles of the hospital and village, rather than stopping where the road used to stop, about 100 miles away, as they did last year. Once dropped off by the roadside, the headmaster of the school came to pick us and the medications up. A strange choice of person, but I was told he had the only available car, as the ambulance was currently broken.

A picture of the drugs packs and my rucksack dropped off the bus by the roadside. Welcome to rural Tanzania!
On arriving  at the hospital, I was dropped off at the hut I would be staying in, and left for the rest of the day to settle. It turned our there were three European people already Staying at this hut: two medical Students (we normally go on electives in pairs or more for company)  and one girl volunteering at the village nursery school post-A-levels before going to university. At first I thought this was a bit of a Shame (secretly of course), as I came alone with the intention of being the only student around, to force myself to mix with village life rather than just hang out with my friend, but this (secret) disappointment quickly changed to happiness when I realised
1) How lonely it is here. And how little happens, and
2) They were leaving in about a week

Perfect, I get the best of two worlds, help in getting used to the hospital and making friends in the village, then time in the village on my own to force me to mix with locals. Talking with these three girls, it seems that very little tends to happen, both in the village, in the hospital and the school. They do say, though, that when things do happen in the hospital, we are treated as though we are doctors. A scary prospect.
I will find out how much responsibility I am given tomorrow, when I am introduced to the hospital and the staff, but today I got to experience how laid back life here can be. I am told that little happens in the hospital after 2PM, and the volunteer work at the School finishes around 10.30AM, so my hut-Mates were free to Chat about the hospital and area. I meet the lady who does all of the cooking and cleaning in the hut is (she is Currently 9 months pregnant), and hear that the food she cooks consists of about three dishes. Though with the ingredients available, this is still an achievement. The hut had solar panels installed about 2 month before l arrived, so most rooms have a dim electrical light in. This is a shame, as I was looking forward to lanterns, but makes things a lot easier! Mineral water is bought for drinking, but water for washing ourselves is brought up from the lake (which is a long way away) by the 9 month pregnant cook, due to the village pump being broken. The girls don't know if this lake has schistosomiasis or not, so perhaps I should start learning about how this disease can present. I don't want any wacky infections! I intend to be very careful/frugal with the water, so the pregnant cook has to carry buckets up from the lake less regularly, hopefully decreasing the chance of her going into labour while lugging water a good 20 minute walk!

I go for a walk with my hut mates, learning Swahili greetings and practicing them on the cheery village people and hospital patients wandering around. There is a wealth of different greetings to be used on people, and the correct greeting should be used on the correct sort of person (i.e. respectful for older or higher class, general for similar age, informal for kids and so on). The wrong greeting can offend, and I have no idea what I am doing. Hopefully I will learn quickly, but I have the worst brain for languages.

As for the girls, they appear to have turned feral in the absence of western society, and are so scared of the outdoor squat toilet at night, with a resident bat, that they have constructed she-wees out of plastic bottles to take care of all toiletry needs. Over a dinner of very well cooked spaghetti covered with what seems to be sugar (yes, it was even more disgusting than it sounds), we discuss our lives, before my hut-mates go to bed around 7.30pm. It is dark and quiet outside, with nothing going on. I brave the bat-loo and have a flurry of wings fly out of the darkness at my head as I open the door, and beat around my torch until I leave. Exciting, but not quite exciting enough to force me into doing all of my buisness into a plastic bottle. I cannot sleep this early, so spend my time sending a few texts out to family and friends who I miss a little too much, given that my elective has just started.

The squatty toilet. From what I saw, the bat seems to live INSIDE the toilet bit, but sometimes 'hangs out' in that nest thing at the top of the back wall.

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