I live only nine degrees south of the equator. Last time I checked, that definitely fell within the tropics. Should be hot and humid all year round eh? That's what I expected. So why am I so bloody cold at night? Marcia, Alex and I huddle up in the same bed covered not only in blankets but also a fluffy eiderdown. If it wasn't for the fact that they are evidently suffering as much as I am and are unquestionably a lot younger than me, I would conclude I was getting soft in my old age.
The other morning, once again unable to sleep, I grabbed the camera and as the grey light of dawn began to illuminate the countryside, I took this picture:
The view is obscured by the fog that rolls in off the sea from the cold Benguela current. The moisture was condensing on the wriggly tin roof of our accommodation and dripping onto the pathways. I do not care that the BBC on line weather forecast predicts a nighttime low of a balmy 20 degrees C for Luanda, right where I am, so close to the sea, it feels perilously close to freezing. Yet there is no rain whatsoever. For over three months, not a drop.
This is the time of year when people get sick. Runny noses and chest infections are endemic. Everyone, especially heavy smokers like me, cough their lungs out and hawk Docker's Oysters up onto the street.
The worst though, are the eye infections. They call it Pink Eye, or Madras Eye. It is a highly infective condition affecting the skin of the eye and the inner side of the eye lids. The relative coolness and desiccating dryness of this time of the year seem to favour the viruses or bacteria that cause it. I can't stop Alex playing with other kids. I can't seal him up in preventative quarantine. It only requires one person to become infected and it rips through the community. Rubbing one’s eyes, a natural reaction, provides only further doses of agony.
For those who have been lucky enough to avoid this particular affliction yet are curious to experience the symptoms, toast some bread, grind it up in a blender, and then rub the crumbs into your eyes. Fine sand works as well but only if well-seasoned with salt and pepper.
Inevitably, Alex came down with it.
|Now he looks sorry for himself|
Followed quickly by Marcia and I. Gentamicin, unlike rubbing one's eyes, provides almost instant relief even if accompanied by a little initial smarting as the drops go in. There is no pharmacy close to hand and even if there was, most parents round here could not afford the medicine. As Alex's friends appeared each morning to steal his biscuits and watch cartoons, I lined them all up on the sofa and dripped drops into their eyes. It is a ridiculously expensive cure at $50 a 10ml bottle. Did I do it out of altruism? No, of course not. Well, OK, maybe a little. Mainly, if I wanted Alex to avoid a reinfection, I was left with little alternative but to cure his pals as well, and Marcia and I while I was at it.
Finally able to open my eyes for more than a couple of seconds at a time, I saw Charlie the dog crawling up the driveway. I tried to pick him up, unsure what the hell was wrong with him and he howled piteously. This dog was in serious pain. I made a bed up for him (usually he sleeps outside) whereupon he fell asleep exhausted.
|If you look carefully, you can see his displaced shoulder|
Finally, Charlie let me examine him. I am looking for broken bones so I have to dig around a bit with my fingers. If it got too much for Charlie, he would grab my hand firmly in his jaws, staying my hand as it were but he never really bit me. Alex helped. He stayed at Charlie's head end and reassured him while I poked around the dog's shoulders.
'I can't be sure, Alex,' I told the boy, 'but I think Charlie has a dislocated shoulder. Gently feel here on the good side. Now very gently feel here. Can you feel a hollow there while there isn’t a hollow on the good side? See how all his shoulder muscles are bunched up? Everything else seems to be OK, though. His leg is fine'
Alex nodded his agreement. For a four year old, he picks things like this up pretty damn quick.
'Let's give Charlie a break,' I suggested. 'I'll cook him some more steak, you feed it to him and then you are going to have to hold his head'.
I once had a dislocated shoulder stuffed back into place by a couple of grunts and I can tell you, it is jolly painful.
I'll say this for Alex, he's got guts. He hugged Charlie ever so tightly, his face only inches from the dog's jaws. ‘If this doesn’t work, Son, we’ll have to take Charlie to Town tomorrow and see if we can find a vet who can help him’
I took a firm hold on his upper leg with my right hand while feeling the joint with my left. I gently moved the leg around a bit and could feel the gap closing so I gave it a little twist and the bone slipped back into place.
Charlie howled. Alex howled. The boy from the shop came running and burst into the room. Charlie shot off into the bush which annoyed me. ‘Don’t you bloody knock?’ I snapped at the boy.
‘I’m sorry, Sr Tomas, I thought the dog was attacking Alex’
Considering the boy is scared witless of dogs and my goose, I thought it commendable that he would overcome his own phobia in order to save Alex.
Come food time a few hours later though, I was pleased to see Charlie turn up on all four pins. I called for him to come to me so I could take a look at his shoulder again but he was having none of that. Apart from a limp, he seemed fine and didn’t look anywhere near as sorry for himself as he had done only a few hours before. I fried up loads more steak and asked Alex to give it to him. Charlie is very protective of Alex so I wanted to make sure the dog’s confidence in him, and his obvious affection for the lad, had not been irreparably dented. As Charlie tucked in, Alex felt around his shoulders. ‘It’s fine, Daddy!’ the boy called out while the dog munched on unperturbed. Well, that was OK then. I could just leave Charlie in the very capable hands of Nurse Alex.
I usually wake up at around four in the morning. Last night I awoke at three to the sound of feral pigs trashing the dustbins. Now I have had enough of this. Obviously with Charlie sleeping indoors, these foraging big bastards had recognized the coast was clear and were making hay. This time, I was going to make at least one of them rue the day so I drew my sword from its scabbard and snuck out the door and around the building. My eyesight is not what it used to be and is especially bad at night. As I reached the corner of the building around which the pigs were truffling, I realized I had made a serious tactical error. I had gone left flanking which meant, with the sword in my right hand, I was going to have to step out from behind the corner fully exposing myself before I could take a swing. These pigs survive because they have a finely honed instinct for self-preservation. By the time I suddenly appeared in front of them, had raised my sword to strike and inefficient eyes had focused on anything moving allowing me to take a half accurate swing, they’d be moving alright, well out of reach of my blade.
Picture the scene. It’s foggy. There’s no moon. There’s the corner of a building. On one side of the corner, feral pigs have their heads stuck into the household waste they have liberated from overturned trash cans. On the other side, stands a naked, portly and visually impaired white man clutching a sabre.
I was so annoyed with myself. If I reversed my steps and made my approach round the other side of the building, I was most likely to fall over something in the dark. If I went back to the room and switched the outside lights on, the swine would be off in a flash. I know they can be very vicious if cornered but I so badly wanted to kill and eat one of these bastards, I did not care. So further impeding my already compromised vision was a red mist in addition to the cold clammy fog off the Benguela current.
I leapt around the corner and in a classic overhead sabre stab, drove my blade into the first bulky object I saw.
There was an explosion of squealing followed by the sound of trotters beating across the ground.
I dusted myself off and went back to bed.
‘Did you kill a pig?’ asked Marcia surprising me by being awake.
‘No, Marcia’ I admitted, ‘but there’s a bin bag out there that needs intensive care’.