I’m a psychiatrist, get me out of here!

Last night as the Zomba VSO crowd arrived for Cinema Matawale, Sarah asked what those black spots were moving around our backyard in the dark. With a naive curiosity I took out my torch and walked closer to have a look, and found that they were cockroaches, of all sizes but mainly very large. These ancient pests are also frequent visitors in the house, and fiendishly difficult to kill. Some are brown with garish yellow stripes across the back, pimped up for extra shock value. I must admit that they repulse me. The ants which swarm over our kitchen sink from time to time are for me much less bothersome, though they rile Steph, who has implemented a strict system of water filled plates into which we place potential ant attractors, out of temptation’s way. Of course, some of the ants do bite, and that’s unpleasant. A few times I’ve been washing dishes, suddenly interrupted by sharp pricks on my torso. Looking down I see the little buggers crawling up my shirt and down my pants. It can be much worse if we sit outside. If one is not weary outside one realises far too late, and jumps up at the first prick to find hundreds of ants on shirts, trousers, skin. (Most don’t bite, but enough do.)

Going to bed last night I once again rued the fact that our mosquito mesh is broken all round the house, as the mozzies start to buzz and bite from about five thirty. We’ve mentioned the broken mesh to our landlord and the hospital, but wonder when it will be replaced. People here are very friendly and helpful, but things tend to happen slowly, and we hope the mesh will be fixed before the rainy season starts in a few weeks. Mosquitoes breed in water, and any small puddle or pool nearby increases their numbers – and my itchiness – greatly. There are also spiders, and one especially creepy specimen gives me sweaty palms even to write about. It was so large, and, alerted by the rustle of it scuttling across my papers, I looked up to glimpse it running from behind my pillow around the skirting boards.

What sort of spider is this?

What sort of spider is this?

(Our mattresses are still on the floor, with actual beds promised within the next month or two. I tuck my mosquito mesh in tightly.) I include a photo, and will not write any more on it. For all other unidentified flying or crawling creatures I have coined the words TWIMSU and TWIMBU – “Thing Which Might Sting/Bite You”. It hasn’t caught on yet.

Cinema Matawale almost didn’t happen last night, as there was a sudden power cut from around 18h30 for an hour or so. These are not infrequent (sometimes three times per week), and although there is an ostensible program of “load shedding” (as happens in South Africa), it seems that the cuts are more random than that. Although irritating, lack of electricity is not too bad, as I have a Trangia portable stove and a head torch, both invaluable and to be recommended to anybody. (I plan to buy a large gas stove soon.)

Today we woke to no water, again. This is starting to become a pattern, and an alarming one at that. I do enjoy my running water. I have not been able to shower or clean since coming down Mulanje on Sunday two days ago. (Admittedly, we did swim in a pool on the way down, so it’s not as dire as it sounds.) Our taps have spouted water only for an hour or three per day for the last week, leaving us dry most evenings and some mornings. When the water does come, the hot water doesn’t work, presumably due to an airlock or some such thing in the pipes. The lack of hot water is actually not too bad. One simply boils a kettle for a bucket bath, and the shower doesn’t work anyway.

Bath with basin for washing

Bath with basin for washing

Bucket baths are now routine, and the odd shower when I visit Rob or other people is a luxury. Washing in general is very satisfying here, as one gets dirty! I wash my hands a good few times per day, and every time there is a pleasing dirty brown foam which drips off. The first wash of clothes in the plastic tub creates an opaque reddish brown soup from all the collected dust. But back to the lack of water…. Our guards have been helpful, and fetched water in buckets for us from our landlord’s house down the road. We usually manage with two buckets between water outages.

Also, most bought things don’t work for very long, if at all. I’ve already written about our two extension leads, one of which fried itself into a melted mess on the first night, and only half of the sockets work on the other, and then only in certain positions. A camping stool I bought disintegrated tonight while I sat on it chatting on Skype. All of the first batch of plugs we bought have slowly melted.

Another prongless melted plug

Another prongless melted plug

There was an incident while I was away one weekend, when a different extension cord caught flame on top of a cardboard box, setting the box on fire in the kitchen. Apparently Steph screamed to Penny to get out of the house, Penny jumped out of her bucket bath and fled down the corridor wearing only a towel, and ran into one of the guards who had come to help. All very funny. These problems are not peculiar to our house, but endemic to Malawi it seems. (In the hotel we stayed in when we first arrived in Malawi, the kettle in the room, internet, soap dispensers, etc… didn’t work, and this seemed normal.) Things don’t (tend to) work. This makes it difficult to get work done sometimes, and most businesses suffer as a result I think. Personally, it becomes very tiresome after a while, though one gets used to it.

On a more cheerful note, Sue Smith, a visiting psychiatrist from Wales, arrived tonight and will be staying with us for a month. She has come for her sabbatical as an “educational tutor” to the Clinical Officers specialising in psychiatry, though her role will be much broader I’m sure. Sue was supposed to arrive yesterday, but the hospital transport which went up to Lilongwe to pick her up was impounded by the police for bald tyres.  Sue will be sleeping in the small dank room just off our kitchen, which Rob has cheerfully dubbed “the cell”, though he has bought a few trinkets to make it more liveable.

Penny, me and Steph with cake

Penny, me and Steph with cake

Also, it was my birthday today, and Steph and Pennie baked me a lovely chocolate cake, complete with three candles. Very kind of them. Also spoke on Skype to family in CT and Nat in NL, which was really good. It is nice to have some contact from home when one is out here.

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1 Comment »

  1. Rosemary Stewart said

    Hello Gareth

    Just found your entertaining next episodes. Looked up the spider in the book and found what looked like the type. I couldn’t understand why it had 10 legs. Followed up on the web and hey presto I think you have the answer. Not a spider. A Red Roman solifuge. A TWIMBU! Give your pillow a shake at night! http://www.biodiversityexplorer.org/arachnids/solifugids/

    Would you like me to bring a couple of decent plugs from England?

    Rosemary

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