Kalahari dreamin’

In a good way, it felt like I’d never been away when I returned to the village in January. Our new doctor Clare is great and having a second doctor again takes a lot of the pressure off. The translators managed their money reasonably effectively over the holidays so I didn’t come back to angry villagers waiting for me to pay off the translator’s debts.

Brightly painted house under an imposing sky

January to March is the rainy season in Namibia and the weekly thunderstorms are super intense. The long, dusty, sand tracks that I left in December are now often turned into streams running down the gentle slopes of the Kalahari. An unfortunate consequence of this is that our newly built staff accommodation flooded in the heavy rain. The buildings are now protected by our home-made sandbags until we can alter the flow of water. I hadn’t seen a drop of rain for 7 months and when I arrived back after Christmas my house was flooded. How ironic. (sic)

It’s obvious how much harder life is for the San with the extremes of weather. It’s fine for a tourist to say they like hot weather, but they don’t live in a corrugated iron shack, unable to leave the shade as they don’t have shoes to walk on the unbearably hot sand. You could say that you prefer to be too cold than too hot as you can always put on more layers, but not if it’s -5 degrees and your entire family sleeps under one blanket. ‘A bit of rain never hurt anybody’ is true I guess, unless your hut isn’t waterproof and your entire possessions including your important documents become waterlogged every time it rains.

The view as we finally found where a child lived, after he had spent time in hospital

January is the start of the new school year. I had been spending time with the schoolboys and girls over the previous 7 months with their endeavours with football and San cultural dancing respectively. I was so sad to be told that less than 25% of them passed the year, and only about half of them had come back to school this year.

Grade 10 is the equivalent of GCSEs and is an amazing achievement for the San in our area. There were three San girls in Grade 10, all of whom failed the end of year exams in December. One is now heavily pregnant and the other two have jobs babysitting in Windhoek. I spoke to the girl that I knew best, trying to persuade her to come back to school. Obviously the myriad reasons that she gave up school meant that I didn’t succeed. My western arrogance thinking that I could change the situation with some words of encouragement and an offer of financial help, was wildly misplaced.

There are so many reasons that school is tough for the San and finishing education is an insurmountable task. If anyone from a high income country thinks they are successful solely because of their own hard work, they need to see life here. Even the most naturally intelligent San child, with the best work ethic and determination doesn’t get an opportunity to fulfil their potential

On a more positive note, I was able to help a boy start school again after talking to him when he played for my football team. His main problem was with money and school uniform, which I can sort relatively easily. I took him to Gobabis with me one day to pick up his academic report, so he could register at the school in our village. I’m under no illusions that this will change the course of his life but perhaps a small positive might come of it.

Two of our translators comfortable in the back of the 4×4

We’ve had more fun with my football team in the last few weeks. Three narrow losses in a row in January has brought the team’s sky high aspirations down to earth (after winning three in a row before Christmas they asked whether they were the best San team in the country). My best player hasn’t been able to play as he can’t hitchhike to our village easily in the rain, and the best defender has dropped out of school. I had a great time giving out the donated football boots from Orkney and am currently looking at setting up a San football tournament before I leave.

Life isn’t always glamorous here. I recently had to take de-worming medication. Don’t ask how I knew but it had to do with a toilet brush. I also had an unfortunate escapade with scabies. These horrible little mites jumped ship from a delightful child I was examining and left me unable to sleep because of how itchy they are at night. Another moment that I had to reassess my life was at 1am one night, paddling around in sewage water, holding a torch for my friendly Namibian neighbour as he unblocked our septic tank pipe that was overflowing. At least when I looked up at the sky in exasperation at the situation, the beautiful night sky including the Milky Way, made my problems seem very small again.

Outreach at a school in a remote village

Probably my most interesting patient since I’ve been back in the village involved squeezing 10 tumbu worms (no relation to the maize based alcohol sold at the shebeen) out of a guy’s abdomen and thighs. I didn’t know what the holes in his skin were, but my translator told me that there were worms living in there. I squeezed gently and the rear end of a cream coloured worm poked out. I squeezed harder and a fat, juicy worm came out and landed in my gloves. Tumbu worms are pretty disgusting but rather satisfying to remove. The patient asked me how he could stop it happening again so I looked it up. He has to iron his clothes after hanging them out to dry. His daily problem of not having enough food to eat meant that having an iron, or electricity for an iron were lower down on his priority list.

I’m back in England for a few days next week to attend a 20 minute interview for a job later in the year. Total cost for the planes and trains: £1000. I think £50 a minute seems a bit steep. I’ve now advertised for the doctor that will replace me in June. Sadly the slow timescale of the STOP TB funding will mean that I probably won’t get chance to work on the project myself. I’ll be involved with the set up but I’m jealous of the busy and interesting year the next doctor has ahead of them.

Enthusiastic lady waving while waiting to be seen on outreach

2 thoughts on “Kalahari dreamin’

  1. Always interesting, humorous and sad to read your blog! We have the same problem with that worm/fly larvae in the Nelspruit/Lowveld area!
    May you continue with your good work and keep us updated!


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