Lessons I Learnt in Africa: Part Two
“Africa, I’m coming in prepared!” I thought smugly. Having spent hour upon hour trawling the internet for packing lists that would have all eventualities covered, I thought I was set. Oh dear. Africa certainly taught me a lesson or two about being prepared (and how naive I was to think I could possibly be so). There are some things you just have to learn the hard way.
Lesson #3: The one type of medication you don’t take is the one you’re going to need
Fact. Well, maybe not … but pretty damn likely.
My dad used to be in the military, my mum works in hospitals and my sister and her fiancé are paramedics. There was no chance of me setting off to see the world without being properly medically equipped. However, the first aid kit (“just the essentials”) they put together for me turned out to be squeezed into two rather large bags, which would find no home in my 40lt backpack already stuffed to the brim. I needed a Plan B. This Lifesystems Trek First Aid Kit worked out perfectly. In addition, I took plenty of oral rehydration sachets, eye drops, Sudocrem (miracle cream!), three months’ worth of anti-malarials and the pill, Immodium and Motilium for all bowel issues, a two-week course of antibiotics, allergy tablets and a thrush treatment. Aside from accidentally setting myself on fire or breaking some bones, my medical supplies would cover most eventualities. Or so I thought.
Two weeks into the trip, after upgrading to a safari tent for a couple of nights, I woke up to find my arm covered in little red dots and incredibly itchy. Another girl from the truck, who had also upgraded, had the same issue. By the looks of things we had traded in our sleeping bags for flea-ridden beds. Lovely. Did I have anything to treat that? Of course not. Because that’s the lesson, folks: sod’s law will find you, no matter which corner of the globe you hide away in. I wound up borrowing some hydrocortisone cream until we next came across a pharmacy and the rash cleared up soon enough. I would also like to take this moment to say: I do not have fleas.
Lesson #4: Sometimes you should just bury the toilet paper
An explanation for the uninitiated: Pulling up on the side of the road and finding a hidden spot (read: bush, dip in the land, tree) to pee is the norm – much easier for men than women, might I add. We call these ‘bush toilets’. Once finished, you’ll be left with some pesky toilet paper. You can bury it to prevent it from becoming an eyesore but in some places the locals may specifically ask that you burn it.
The troublesome thing about burning toilet paper? The fire doesn’t always realise where to stop. At a bush camp in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, we were asked to burn our toilet paper. This was no easy feat; the temperature soared every afternoon and most of the vegetation was dry. A few times, I almost burnt myself for holding onto the paper too long and on other occasions I nearly set light to the ground when I dropped it too soon. I had to stand there for a good few minutes to make sure it would stop smoking and wouldn’t burn our campsite down. This was one of those times when burying was the best option.
Another time we should have buried: Spitzkoppe, Namibia. One of the girls burnt a big enough patch of land when trying to get rid of some toilet paper. Oops. For a moment we weren’t sure the fire was going to stop but with some buckets of water to hand, we managed to get it under control.
Lesson #5: There are some bugs a sleep sheet can’t protect you from
Sleep sheets are awesome. A thin barrier to protect you from all the evil things the outside world could be waiting to unleash upon you as you sleep. I chose a silk one because I read somewhere that bed bugs are less likely to make a home of it. Fair enough, I never did find a bed bug inside it. I found something worse.
I slept in a room in Malawi that seemed to be infested with the things. I fearlessly clambered into my sleep sheet on the first night, confident that I would be safe from the buggers. Alas, I woke up in the morning to find one inside, squashed underneath my leg. UGH.
Moral of the story: Nothing can save you from cockroaches.