Friday, 24 February 2012

Marcia will go ballistic.

You may recall I mentioned the mass vaccination programme? Perhaps you don’t, I do tend to rabbit on a bit so it will come as no surprise to you to learn that the nickname I quickly acquired at the Royal Military Academy was ‘Gobber Gowans’.

Just to remind those of you with attention spans that would not stress an amoeba, since my arrival in the wonderful community that is the Barra de Kwanza I did notice the lack of on site medical support and commented thus. This singular failing was first brought dramatically to my attention when, only days after our arrival, both Alex and I went down with Malaria the only effective treatment for which I discovered much to my dismay, muscles rigid with fever, was a trip in a truck 60 kms north of where we were both dying.

This, I like to think, ‘near death’ experience (yes, we both survived in the end but only after much suffering), encouraged me to look at the medical support available to this small, but thriving community. Purely for selfish reasons, you understand. Since the results of this analysis were solely for my own personal benefit, I was willing to offer my consultancy services Pro Bono. Had I been tasked by the UK government, of course, I would have had to fly in a large team from UK to have ‘power sessions’, ‘work groups’, create at least three think tanks and conduct an environmental impact study. Instead, I walked around the village, smoked half a pack of fags and downed a couple of beers before deciding after thirty minutes that there were fuck all medical services available. Since the exercise probably did me good it would be churlish to charge for that so the cost of this survey came to 50 Kwanzas for the ciggies and 200 Kwanzas for the beers so let’s call it US$ 2.25. It would cost me more in postage to claim that back from the World Health Organisation. A WHO funded survey would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars only to eventually reach the same conclusion, this place has no clinic but it really needs one. Most of the expenditure, by the way, would have been on the committee tasked with deciding whether calling it a 'clinic' was politically correct or not and after additional funding would have plumped for 'Community Health Centre' oblivious to the fact that the acronym CHC sounds more like a recreational drug or powerful toilet cleaner (and is in fact the airport code for Christchurch in New Zealand). I like to call a spade a spade (an allusion to simple tools, not my coloured neighbours for to do so would see me having a spade buried into my head by a justifiably incensed spade) so see nothing odd about calling a clinic a clinic.

There is cash in the village, the fact that my shop is so busy bears that out but not every family has cash all the time. That is why, and this is a new word I have learned, we offer Kilapa. Kilapa is what any regular in an English pub or the now long dead ’Open all Hours’ corner shop will recognise as ‘putting it on the slate’. Interest free credit, in other words. This being a fishing community, we have gone one step further and accept payment in kind. Either in the form of freshly caught fish or good old honest hard labour.

If I haven’t any jobs that need doing, I can always invent one. I wasn’t an officer in the British Army for nothing as many a sweating soldier who carried sand bags from one end of a rifle range to the other can testify. I realise that officers are about as much use as lighthouses in the desert but even a lighthouse so inexpertly positioned can provide some hope of succour to the man crawling dehydrated through unforgiving sand. While the dissolution under duress of the last dregs of human energy is still considered useful with regard to military discipline, I find the same moral courage irreplaceable when it comes to the construction, for example, of the raised vegetable and herb beds that will allow nature to bless us all with her occasionally verdant issue and a pastime which, for the participants is a damn sight more agreeable than excavating and fashioning the revetments that in times past protected us from yet another artillery barrage.

What occurred to me, though, was that kids never get sick when their parents are flush. They will always keel over with a raging fever when parents are strapped. Also, this is a fishing village so at two O'clock in the morning when the fever hits 104 and the kid's eyes are rolling into the back of its head, where do you get transport from?

I have learnt to my cost that there is no use fighting nature so I have resigned myself to the fact that if God wants the sea to have a big chunk of my land he will have it whether I like it or not, regardless of how much I spend trying to disagree. After all, if you believe the press reports, He made the universe so a few lorry loads of expensive in fill hardly amount to an impediment to His Almightiness. This means my project will come in under budget. Not through superior fiscal management but because I have less dry land upon which to build.

I haven’t yet decided on a name for the new river crossing my land or the one acre lake the views across which I have now decided I enjoy, especially as it is now teeming with water fowl and its banks afford genuinely pleasant places to sit and contemplate what might have been but it really bothered me that kids were dying for lack of medical attention. No disrespect to the Angolan Government. Since the war they have made great strides and in twenty years this place will be brilliant but given that most kids die before their fifth birthday, time was clearly a luxury not available to my new neighbours or, more pertinently, to their offspring.

I know I am a sad old alcoholic. Some people have kindly described me as a rough diamond which is sort of romantic but if I am, I am flawed to the core and under the stress of the cutter’s wheel would probably shatter well before acquiring any sort of polish. Korsakoff’s Syndrome, brought on in part by the steel toe capped head kicking I endured at the feet of an Aggreko employee, will ensure that my comprehension of reality is sporadic, that I can never drive a car or motorcycle again and that I am apt to make some bizarre decisions but even pin balls eventually find their way to the slot. Only the disciplined routine I learnt in the Army will help me remember where I took my boots off the night before. It is the dogs, who sleep under my bed carrying my boots off to chew, and a maid who insists on placing my underwear in a different drawer every day that confound me (I am barefoot right now as I have not yet worked out what this teasing bitch from hell has done with my socks). But I cannot bear to see a child suffer. I may be a bit simple now, but that much I know.

For that reason, I organised the mass vaccination programme. I thought that Marcia’s uncle would pitch up but clearly he understood the system better than I did and engaged the local doctor responsible for the area who attended instead. I was annoyed and finally at best reticent but this local Doctor was accompanied by a bunch claiming to be from the Ministry of Health and, I have to confess, he was pretty adept at stabbing kid’s arms with needles which, after all, was the objective. He was also a really nice bloke.

It dawned on me, thankfully not too late, that I had a delegation here.

There are, apparently, many thousands of villages all over the country that need medical services and it will take time for every one of them to enjoy a clinic. Even I could see that. But during that time, countless kiddies would die. Even they could see that.

‘So how about I build the clinic?’ I said.

Marcia will go nuts. She is busy cooking dinner right now and I haven’t told her but I think this will be one of my better investments.

The best part, I mean the really best part of all, is if she beats the crap out of me tonight, I’ll have forgotten the reason why by tomorrow and will still stumble around looking for my boots the same as ever but the kids, the kids, they will still get their clinic. Now that is definitely worth a thick lip but before anyone gets emotional, like I said, it’s purely selfish. Next time me or Alex get malaria, we will only have to totter 300 metres instead of being driven 60 kms over African roads. Any sane person would agree that a well staffed and equipped community clinic is a small price to pay by comparison. I only hope that Marcia is, by my casual definition, sane.


  1. Great yarn! Can you go back to beginning - I missed the bit in the middle where you walked on the water of a lake you had constructed on the 'lay-by' system!

  2. Good on you! Whilst it might be self-serving (300 metres vs 60 km), there are countless others who'll benefit.


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  4. (Re-posted minus appauling spelling mistakes)

    That's profoundly touching and a wonderful thing for you to have done and to consider expanding on.

    I'm a BIG beliver in people being 'placed' in situations and others lives for a good reason. Maybe this is just one of yours?

    I was watching the box the other night and saw a story on the local news about a charity that collects all the (slightly) out of date but useable or inappropriately returned drugs/ointments/pills/bandages etc. (you get the picture) and ships them off to Africa rather than dumping it all in landfill.

    The link is here if you want to check it out;

    Maybe you might have some joy there too.

    Anyway Gobber, I do hope your new inland fishing lake enterprise goes well and you rice fields become a huge success.


  5. Thanks for the link, Chris. I'll mention it to the Doctor.

    I STILL haven't found the courage to tell Marcia. I took a little too much Dutch courage last night in preparation but fell asleep on the sofa instead. Obviously that hasn't endeared her to me so things are a little frosty this morning. Considering that she bitched about me wanting to spend $250 on a digital video camera (which Fidel the Cuban still has not delivered, the bastard), Christ knows how she will react to the cost of a clinic!

    Still, it is only money and as Megan points out, it may be self serving but how can you place a value on even just one little life being saved? Besides, they're all future customers so in twenty years time, I'll get a return on investment.

    I'm afraid I rather like being considered an anti social grumpy old bastard, people tend to leave me alone so I cannot afford my reputation to suffer by being seen to do something altruistic.

  6. JohnD, after reading your comment I thought I'd give this walking on water lark a go.

    I had entertained a notion to dredge the lake a bit deeper, using manual labour of course, to make it more permanent and less unruly. I can now confirm that I can neither walk on water or swim in mud. Marcia, seeing me emerge from the bush covered in goo and oblivious to the serious nature of the experiment I had just conducted, thinks I am barking mad.

  7. as usual a great read.... lets hope that Alex remains well... he is a delightful boy and so bright ( I only say that cos he reads GOING GENTLY)
    AS FOR Korsakoff’s DEMENTIA.. I remember looking after an old lady when I was a student on the alcohol dependency unit in chester.. she was in her 1980s and had the start of korsakoffs so confabulated terribly....
    when she was asked about her drinking in an open group meeting
    she said in her cut glass voice that she only drank after meals....
    when the group looked disbelievingly at her
    she said with a chuckle
    "I had 18 small meals a day!!!"

  8. I've been mostly away for two days and only had a glimpse of this, no time to read until today. Wow, as usual a lot to absorb. Hard to believe I'm reading through Korsakoff. Good job, and Marcia won't be that mad. Then you'll be getting on with it, another day, another kid......

  9. Hiya JG,

    I would have loved to meet the lady you refer to. After my first heart attack I was flown by air ambulance to Johannesburg. By the time the aircraft arrived I had long since woken up (I remember briefly waking up and asking where I was and they said we were in Windhoek refuelling and I must have gone to sleep again) but in the remaining hour of flying I scoffed all the crew's sarnies and was beating them at cards. The Ambullance crew were there to meet us with a full crash kit and I said, bollocks, let me sit in the front and see the countryside so they took me on a bit of a round robin before delivering me to Morningside clinic.

    After one day in intensive care I had unhooked myself and was reading a book to a dear old lady much sicker than I was.

    After four days an exasperated consultant agreed I could go home to Cape Town discharging me with the words, 'You are the fittest bloke I have ever had in Intensive Care'.

    I just had to get out though as I was busting for a decent pint and a fag.

    Joanne, I had never heard of Korsakoff's syndrome but the doc, when he broke the news to me said he had good news and bad news for me so I told him to give me the bad news first. He said I had Korsakoff's. Blimey I said and asked him for the good news.

    'You'll forget', he said.

    Apparently if I knock the booze on the head and take vitamin B tablets, I'll be OK. Trouble is I just can't remember where I left the damn tablets...

  10. so I said to the Doctor, 'I'm sorry, you've lost me. I'll forget what?'

  11. Tom
    you are obviously made out of the same stuff as sylvia..... she said it was the heat that allowered her to drink so much!

  12. Just watching Bomb Hunters on Discovery channel. I can't beleive how old some of my ex ATO colleagues look so I guess I must look old too.

    Still haven't summoned up the courage to tell Marcia about the clinic.

    I am such a chicken.


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