Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Expatriate Surprises

 On the road in the countries where I worked in Africa, I used to identify safe pee spots. This was of paramount personal importance because there were no public toilets anywhere on those routes. And the bush could be lethal with all the creepy-crawlies slithering about. Friend of a friend in Uganda was killed doing just that.

     In Uganda, I sampled one or two Primary school staff toilets in desperation and came away with olfactory experiences I would never want to repeat. I remember coming out of the toilet one time to the staff welcoming party lined up to meet the visitor, Head Master ready to do the honours. When the first teacher put his hand out to be shaken I took a quick step back. Being Indian was my salvation. I brought my palms together and said a virtuous Namaste. Phew! I knew there was no water within walking distance of those toilets.

     Sierra Leone was no problem. On the routes I travelled there were many empty stretches, where I could get off the land rover and safely use the roadside. I wouldn't go into the bush because Sierra Leone had cobras all over the place. Freetown is still one of three capital cities in the world where cobras are endemic. 

     On my first day at work, I had to drive past the Ministry of Education; it was a scenic road with the land dipping away into the ocean on my left. At nine n the morning. there was a huge cobra stretched out  across the tarmac, clearly dead. A matatu had run over it and squashed its middle.

     When I was transferred to Freetown in my third year in Sierra Leone, one day, a baby cobra climbed into my neighbour's air conditioner. Kaba, my garden-boy, had to go over to deal with it. He brought it later to show me - a limp rope hanging on a stick.

     'What was the man of the house doing?' I asked. He was a British colleague of mine.
     Kaba grinned. 'Taking photographs,' he said.
In the process Kaba had got some venom spat into his eyes. I treated it with a coconut milk wash. Kaba took it all in his stride.

     Malawi was snake kingdom. One crawled under my 'fridge and freaked out the maid. It was many days before we could persuade her to return to the kitchen. My gardener killed nine snakes the day I moved into my house in Lilongwe - two of them on the trumpet creeper that climbed up the corner wall.

     Most of the countries I worked in were sparsely populated and one did not need three days of  planning to find a place to pee. But Zambia was impossible. This was a crowded country; on either side of the road, people lived and there were no quiet spots. You had to wait till dark and take some other risks.

     Perhaps the most unexpected hazard was the python in Ikot Ekpene. In the evenings we would sit out in front of our house, the only light coming from the moon and the Tilley lamp in the living room. When the leaves moved the shadows shifted in the half-light. Until one day, the dappled shadow moved forward.

     I shouted for the steward, Akpan. He beat it to death. Next morning the skin was hanging on the garage to dry. 
     'Did you bury the rest?' I asked.
     'We ate it,' he answered happily.


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