Posted by: Claire Liew16 APR 2013
*No money and a little bit of danger
My first hint of danger - I made the mistake of leaving the town of Masasi too late, on a dala dala so wrecked you could see tarmac through the chassis. After 90mins the driver decided he wasn't going any further. It was dark, I didn't know where we were, and bus stops here are yet to install the digital next bus is due in XX minutes announcers. After waiting at what may have passed for a place where buses could be hailed, the village got wind of a mazungu in their midst and before long 30+ men and children were enjoying the Saturday night spectacle that a stranded mazungu provides. Piki-piki drivers offered me rides back to Nyangao but I didn't fancy getting on the back of a cheap Chinese motorbike after dark, with a potentially drunk driver, on roads where you could disappear up to your neck in a pothole. People were trying to tell me there were no more dala dalas but I suddenly suspected everyone of trying to trick me and rob me of the papaya and Grade A cashew nuts I had in my bag. I'd lost the ability to understand a single word of Kiswahili and no-one spoke English. I buckled and tried to ring someone with a car to come and rescue me but there was no phone signal. I was one more drunk man away from crying like a baby when I weighed up the options and decided to trust the 3 guys who said I needed to leave the village and walk down the unlit highway to a makeshift barricade 200m away. From here I would apparently be able to get a ride. I headed off into the dark leaving the throng behind me with my 3 companions who turned out not to want my papaya or nuts. At the cordon, the lights of a dala dala appeared out of the darkness and with huge relief I climbed on-board before they could fully open the door. I have never been so happy to see the familiar Nyangao sights - the dead Baobab tree, the intermittently functioning Vodacom tower, the tatty plastic tables at the Old Trafford pub (which was in darkness again after another power cut). Prior to the adventure getting home, the trip to the scruffy crossroads town of Masasi was fun (ref: pg 192, The Rough Guide 3rd ed). It was like visiting Waitrose after only shopping in Asda. We toured a corosho (cashew nut) factory and saw the labour intensive process involved in getting the nuts ready for sale. Sheds full of women shell coroshos manually, their fingers covered in flour and oil to protect the skin from the toxic substance inside the shell. The flour and oil is not enough to stop them developing chronic eczema and then later possibly skin cancer. The older ladies were given jobs that let them sit on the floor - sifting through the discarded shells for the tiniest pieces of nut that could be turned into animal feed. I also feel safer this week as one of the village schizophrenics is an inpatient at the hospital. Ward 1 is going through absurd amounts of chlorpromazine and diazepam but at least the cameraman, as he is affectionately called, is not wandering the village. Usually good-natured, the cameraman has recently started attacking women. He lost the broken camera he always carried around his neck a while ago - around the same time he suffered a beating and black eyes but he keeps his nickname so we can differentiate him from the other schizophrenics. During the Sunday Service he always used to sit on one of the altars, but since he beat one of the choir members last week, he hasn't been seen in church. Hopefully he will be transferred to the one and only psychiatric hospital in Tanzania but if his family can't afford the costs, that's unlikely to happen. The hospital is otherwise quiet at this time of year. There are fewer patients in the wet season because there is less food available so the little money people have they spend on keeping their families fed rather than getting diseases and broken bones treated. More time than usual is spent lolling outdoors on benches chatting with other hospital staff or going nje to chat to people outside the hospital walls. "George, wapi?" (Where is George?) "Nje" (He's outside). "Andreas, wapi?" "Hayupo" (He's not here). It's trickier than usual to track down one's colleagues at the moment. The hospital has run out of money too. Today a notice went up explaining that no-one could be paid February's salary. Nobody knows when they will be paid; there may be no money for several months. More of my colleagues than usual are telling me they're hungry, indirectly asking for money, but I won't collect my VSO allowance until they get theirs. Before long, I imagine more and more staff won't turn up, going to work on their shamba (farm) rather than at the hospital. Everyone has more than one job here. I bought Baba Hamsa the askari (guard), a bottle of chloramphenicol eye drops because he had no money to see a doctor or pay for medicine to treat his eye infection. It only cost 40p but that's 10% of my daily income and a much greater proportion of his. In return he brought me some custard apples. He pinched them from the tree in James' garden so I don't feel so bad that he spent his little remaining money on me - they were the first and best custard apples I've ever had.