Botswana Calling #14
Etsha, N. Okavango Botswana 1983
Next stop was the clinic.We were in search of profilactics and medicine for Smiler's father.The nurse, we were told was in the store, so we sought her out. Such a sweet little lady, she wore a gentle, concerned expression, spoke excellent English, and came up to my waste. An extremely pregnant lady accompanied her. Chris explained the dilema of Smiler's father and then touched upon our little problem. 'Ah, profilactics for malaria' she boomed. 'Er, no, said Chris quietly, 'For the lady' (I was scarlet at this point). 'Oh, don't you take the pill?... No? You want to get pregnant?" 'No, I ...." "Oh, you want some 'F.L's'? "Y...yes" I stammered shyly. "OK, this lady (pointing to pregnant woman) deals with that. Come to the clinic at 2".
After a lunch of Fat cakes and jam, we proceeded yet again to the clinic and were greeted by a man there who helped us seek out the nurse. In the surgery, the nurse gave us the necessary pills for Smiler's father, issuing express instructions for him to be brought to the clinic as soon as possible. She asked us to take a seat, which we did. The nurse began to tell us that she had worked most of her life in Malawi but had travelled a good deal, she had even been to UK. Half way through her life-story, she began harrassing the pregnant lady with instructions re. the condoms. My cheeks flushed becomingly. The conversation continued, but was interrupted a second time with a loud 'thud' as a large box of contraceptives hit the table amidst all three of us. My blush deepened and I struggled to maintain a normal dialogue. I limply enquired about the escalating rates of T.B amongst Botswanan's when I was completely drowned out by the meticulous counting of said 'FL's by the pregnant one....."sixty five, seventy, seventy five...." "How many do you want"? she enquired looking directly at me. I just about burst a blood vessel as Chris let out a loud, raucous laugh. The little nurse told me I could sell some if I liked, whereupon the counting continued...."eighty five, ninety...... Paradise". She uttered the brand name with a look of nostalgic longing, her distended belly hardly proving an advertisement for the product. My embarrassment had now been converted to nervous/hysterical laughter, altho' a rosy glow continued to adorn my face. The nurse offered a knowing smile as the rubber-ware was unaesthetically stuffed into a clinical looking plastic bag.
Our exit was swift, leaving in our wake a baffled looking young man, who had introduced Chris as my father to the nurse.
There were plenty of subjects in Etsha. I delighted in some of the lined old Bayei's faces who proved willing models and who often invited me to their humble abodes. There was tremendous activity throughout this little town... people selling fatcakes (deep fried flour balls), meat, bread, or favours and party's in full swing at all hours of the day, the rinky tinking African music belying their location.
A large sled, pulled by four strong looking oxen provided the attraction in the town centre, where they awaited a full load before moving ponderously through the deep sand.
Mungabe offered us his hut for the night which was the height of hospitality. There was no evading such an offer, despite vain attempts to trot off down to the river and pitch our tent. A gang of Mugabe's friends, had by thist time arrived on the scene, so to refuse his kind offere would prove extremely humiliating for the sweet man. What a night it turned out to be! Upon returning from the river, having had a good wash, quite a throng had gathered around the fire outside Mungabe's hut, the majority of whom were rather bibulous. They had consumed it seemed a vast quantity of 'cardy' the local beer. Chairs had been arranged for us inside the hut which afforded a certain amount of privacy for the eating of our goose. A continuous flow of visitors ensued with a rather wobbly Mungabe holding court in the corner.
I found it quite amazing how these folk lived so informally - wandering in and out of eachothers huts continuosly, doors never used and privacy never indulged in. Such gregarious people. A key visitor was that of the 'barmaid' who hauled into the hut a large barrel of evil looking beer. She sat down in the corner and began pouring the contents into large tin mugs. The smell was vomit-inducing and I declined to taste the brew altho' I noticed Chris knocked it back with avengence. The barmaid maintained a demure, sober look throughout, whilst Mungabe slobbered all over her in a very unbecoming fashion.
After an hour of these debauched proceedings, the party, along with the travelling barmaid, moved on... much to my relief. Just as I was about to crawl contentedly into my sleeping bag, I noticed that the hut had no door! Chris was not happy with this arrangement and went out to find one. Within minutes, a moth-eaten old mat appeared at the vaccuos spot, which proved more than useless, despite a roar of approval from the party outside! A succession of equally useless doors appeared before my eyes and I began to lose any inclination to sleep. Chris called out that he was still negotiating and everyone was convinced a door could be found. Eventually a large reed mat was slapped with great dexterity into the doorway, obscuring all signs of the ongoing cardy party. The night proved far from calm - we were visited at regular intervals by various locals, all come to 'meet Mungabe's friends', domestic animals, including one particular goat that had a fetish for Chris' tobacco pouch, and howling children looking for their mother. An excellent recipe for insomnia! The method has been tried and tested.