Sunday, August 31, 2008

Shopping and Safaris

Wow, this weekend so far has been nothing short of amazing.
Yesterday, the three of us made our way into Manzini. We were all very excited. Julia even told us that it was such a special day that she decided to wear BOTH deodourant and underwear. Manzini is about an hours drive away from here. It is basically on the other side of the country which gives you some idea how small Swaziland it. Our first stop was “Swazi Candles” and I was just so impressed. It had a candle shop (obviously) as well as a market selling African curios (souvenirs) and an amazing little restaurant. We sat and had coffee (the real stuff- not what they sell here in Siteki) and then we ordered lunch. It was just beautiful. I had grilled Mediterranean vegetables with pesto and mozzarella, toasted in pita bread. After what I have been eating for the past 2 weeks, I honestly thought I was in food heaven. We then shared an American brownie which was delicious. We have vowed to visit this place once a month because the food simply enriched our souls.
We then headed to “Pick and Pay”- a large grocery store. The variety of food was overwhelming and I stocked up with enough food to hopefully last me a month. I was almost delirious with choice. I could get anything that I would normally get in Australia and many of the brands were the same as what is on offer in Australia. I also picked myself up a South African edition of the magazine called “Marie Claire”. I was a little hesitant about buying it- with no TV and radio here, I was going to try and stay away from “western frivolity” but when I saw the magazine, I just had to have it. I have to admit there are times when I am so bored here. If I’m not reading a textbook, I’m reading a book and there are times when I am so tired that I just can’t read either- the magazine will allow me to just sit and look at pictures and escape from the reality which lies outside my window.
I also felt enormous guilt about the food that I was buying. Just last week, I started to identify some real classic effects of malnutrition. Don’t get me wrong- I am not a brilliant doctor, but I started to see a few patients with symptoms that I could just not work out and I was almost certain it wasn’t due to AIDS. I started to do a lot of reading but it was only after talking to Julia that the penny finally dropped for me. Some of my medical colleagues will probably think I’m a bit slow for not having picked up on it earlier, but I have been so consumed with learning as much as I can about HIV and TB, that I didn’t start to think about vitamin deficiencies. Julia goes around to many homesteads handing out medication and food. Her group gives out maize- the staple diet here in Swaziland. The World Food Programme (a branch of the WHO) also works from the Good Shepherd and they give AIDS and TB patients 6kg/ month of a soy-maize based mixture. However, WFP are not able to reach everyone and Julia’s group tend to reach out to the more remote homesteads. Julia tells me that the people out there do not have anything else to eat- maize is the only thing they have on offer. They often don’t have any water and this would explain the bizarre urine that my patients sometimes produce. It’s a very dark amber colour and almost as thick as molasses- it’s quite intriguing. Anyway, when I thought about the nutritional content of maize I finally realised that some of my patients are deficient in Vitamin B and Niacin. The syndromes I am seeing are called dry Berri berri and pellagra and after a couple of days of vitamins, my patients are starting to get better. It breaks my heart that people here don’t even have proper nutrition- how are they ever expected to have any resilience against disease?
After by big shopping trip and the purchase of a few cleaning products, I woke up this morning with the intention to try and clean my little flat. I didn’t know how successful I would be because I didn’t know if things were really old or just really dirty. Turns out things were REALLY dirty. I scrubbed that bathroom and was overwhelmed to see the difference. It was like one of those ads on TV where the bathroom is covered with scum and then after one swipe with a particular cleaning product it comes up shining. Well, believe me- it was nothing short of a miracle. I was so excited by my new clean bathroom that I made Julia come and inspect it. She said it was “glistening”. Dear Julia- she must wonder at times what the hell a person like me is doing in Africa (I ask myself the same question every day)
At midday, Chris suddenly decided that she wanted to go out and because we still had the car, we decided to go to Hlane- a game park about half an hour from here. It just blows me away that we are able to suddenly decide to go out and within half an hour we’re doing a safari. First of all, we had a picnic next to a watering hole where we watched a mother warthog and her two babies drink and bathe. There was also an amazing amount of bird life around. There were rhinos within 30 metres of us and an elephant came down and took a bath. We then went on a sunset safari where we were literally metres away from elephants, giraffe, antelope and my all time favourite- lions. We were incredibly lucky to be about 5 metres away from a male, three females and two cubs. It was just magic. I saw all of this on my trip to Kenya and Tanzania in 2005, but it is still magical second time around.
I decided that I was up to driving home. I had been somewhat reluctant, but I am using my four months here to try and instil in mysel a little well needed bravery. The car we hired was a Toyota made in the 1980s and it was a manual drive. I can drive a manual car (although my sister may argue with me on that point), but I much prefer an automatic. One month ago, I would never have thought that I would be driving a manual car along a really bad dirt road, in the dark, dodging impala, but I did it. I know this may not sound like much to some of you, but I was really proud of myself. I drove really well although I was very nervous. I do not want to drive at night here again, but I know if the need arises, I can do it. Watch out world- Mel is getting brave….

6 comments: said...

Hey Mel, I finally got to look at this stunning Blog. We should all be very thankful you've got some regular internet access. I think it's fascinating watching someone go from Princess Diaries to Lara Croft in under a week, for which I salute you. Evidently the all-pervasive stench of death & inconsolable suffering is good for you somehow. Fire does temper the blade, they say.
I'm also delighted to hear "she is not an idiot, epileptic, insane, mentally deficient, deaf and dumb, deaf and blind or dumb and blind and that she is not suffering from leprosy, TB or trachoma". I don't think anyone at PA would have dreamed you'd turn out so successful already, nor that you'd find someone willing to put it in writing (although I notice 'stress-incontinence' was conspicuous in its absence from that list).
PS Well timed for the King of Swaziland's 40th birthday - go take your place in the 'potential bride' line-up & satisfy some curiosity, maybe he's sick of nubile ebony princesses: you never know your luck (& that certificate's got to help some).

catngirls said...

Brave and a true adventurer! You have my laughing and in shock of your stories. I know one thing is for certain I am living vicariously through your stories. I hope you are taking pictures of your beautiful sights because it's sounds like a scene out of a movie. As for the bathroom, I don't know what to say because I know how you are about cleanliness. The magazine I think is your sanity and you need it to remind you of home and as you said a mindless escape. I don't think you need to worry about having too much "western frivolity" you have more than your fair share of reality in Swazi daily. I am glad to hear you have some fun and laughter to compensate for the horrible things you have endured. I could go on more but I know it's supposed to be comment on your stories. Much love to you! Catherine

Liz said...

Mel, each entry leaves me hanging for the next, and today, photos!! Not surprised you made friends quickly and am so grateful they will help to balance out some of the misery. Awesome effort, thanks for the insights, it certainly has generated much conversation this end.Looking forward to the rest of your journey.Liz

Louise H said...

Hi Mel, I'm loving your blog. Great that you have found some supportive friends there, as medically it all sounds a bit trying. It's a litle surreal reading about malnutrition and all the other medical trials you're up against, whilst I'm stuck in the crazy world of overtreatment (ICU).
Always knew that you had all that bravery in you, not to mention that you are certified as not an idiot (that's something to frame adn show off to the folks at home).
Keep up the good work, don't get to overwhelmed remember to set achieveable goals and not do too much comparing with the standards in Australia.

MS said...

Nice to hear from you Melanie - Keep you chin up - I am sure you are achieveing a lot more for your patints than you give yourself credit for
Neville also sends his regards MS

Lena said...

Mel, You are truly awe inspiring with your efforts and dedications to your patients and the various extremes of Swazi. Thankyou for taking the time to update us on your amazing experience - it is something to be very proud of. I'm so happy you have two guardian angels to help you be the best you can be. So don't be too hard on yourself!
Look forward to hearing more :)
Lena xxoo