New Blog!

If you've enjoyed reading about my experiences in Tanzania here, check out the new blog I've started on Wordpress as of November, 2017. It's called "Back to Tanzania" and you can read it here. All new adventures in Tanzania from an older, wiser, more experienced expat.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Well, I'll Be Jiggered!

Reader and frequent commenter Joanie Dodie commented on my recent post about a weekend at Mkadini Beach  that "nothing bad happened." She spoke too soon. And let me warn you--if you are squeamish about insect invaders of the human body, stop reading now and close your browser immediately. Think "Aliens" with Sigourney Weaver, but on a much smaller scale.

Two days after I got home from the beach, a white pea-sized blob appeared on the side of my big toe. Canned pea, not fresh, because it was flattened a bit. Hmmm, it looked like it could be a wart. But it appeared so quickly and warts start tiny and grow slowly over weeks. Plus, it was a bit softer than a wart, and bleeding a little bit. And there was a strange black spot right in the center.

Then I thought, maybe it's a spider bite. And it's infected. Yeah, that's it. I could wait a few days and it would clear up if I kept it clean.

Two weeks later, it was still there and looked exactly the same. Memories wriggled into my mind--memories of coworkers who came home from Costa Rica with insect eggs buried under their skin that hatched two weeks later.

Sorry about the picture. My feet aren't pretty at the best of times, which this was not.

Meanwhile, I was reading this memoir by a young American woman who lived with the Maasai for a year. (Here's my review from the Goodreads website.)

My Maasai LifeMy Maasai Life by Robin Wiszowaty

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author's experience as an American university student living for a year with a traditional Maasai family in a remote village in Kenya was really interesting and she presents lots of information and stories clearly. But her writing is nothing special. Competent enough to get the point across, but nothing imaginative or original. The book even contains several grammar mistakes and incomplete sentences. But overall, worth reading if you're interested in knowing more about the Maasai.

View all my reviews
Halfway through, she describes a white blob appearing on her foot. She followed the same line of reasoning that I'd just been through, starting with wart. And ending with her Maasai host telling her, "That's a jigger. We have to cut it out."

The next day, my travel companions from the beach trip, Cynthia and Shanette, were in town and we met for lunch. Lema, Cynthia's Tanzanian husband, was there, too.  At lunch, I asked Shanette if she knew of any sea creatures that caused this white bump. When we were at the beach two weeks ago, she was very knowledgeable about all kinds of sea creatures, so I thought she might know. Since she supervises a medical lab, she is totally unfazed by grossness, so she said, "Can I see it?" So I took my shoe off right at the table. At least it was outdoor seating in a casual setting. Shanette didn't know exactly what it was, but thought some organism had for sure burrowed into my toe.

Then Lema said, "Can I see it?," and came around the table for a look. "That's a jigger," he said. "You have to cut it out." Just like in the book! He told me it's caused by an insect that has laid eggs under the skin, and that if I didn't get it cut out of my toe, it would start shedding worms. And that it looked like it was pretty far along and getting close to the shedding worms stage. Gahh! He also said that if left untreated, the victim can lose a toe. It turns out to be a sand flea and is common at the beach, where I spent the whole day in flip flops in the sand. If you want to know more about the sand flea and don't mind disgusting pictures, go ahead and click here. Shanette offered, a little too enthusiastically, to take care of it for me. At least she has medical training, and it would save me from another trip to the hospital.

But we didn't have time to take care of it that day, and got home late. I slept restlessly with visions of worms gestating in my toe and wriggling around my bed. But things are always brighter in the morning, and I woke up with my toe still intact. Shanette was in the guest room, so soon after feeding her a quick breakfast, I dragged her out to the supermarket to collect our surgical supplies.

Razor blades, sewing needles, and disinfectant. Really, what more do you ever need?

We set up on my front porch, because if worms were going to come spilling out, I didn't want them inside the house. Shanette was really excited at this point, kind of like a kid with a new toy. At Mkadini Beach, when she was in full marine biologist mode, I wondered whether to call her a science geek or Miss Caribbean. Now I know it's definitely science geek.

 Doesn't Shanette look inappropriately happy about this?

Although I have to admit this jigger sand flea does have an interesting life cycle and reproductive strategy. It had encased hundreds of eggs in a capsule built just under my skin. Shanette cut expertly around the edges of the capsule with a disinfected razor blade and was able to remove it all in one piece. I didn't feel anything.

And the science geek in me overcame the squeamish patient enough that rather than being terrified (as a reasonable person should have been), I was actually kind of interested in the biology of it all. That's when you know the surgeon has a good bedside manner! Inside the capsule were many, many eggs, and some miniscule worms. If they were bigger, we could have seen them waving their head ends around and heard them howling at us, like in "Aliens." Lucky they were so tiny.

One remaining point of concern--there was a tunnel boring straight down into my toe. We wondered if a worm or the adult flea had gone deeper, but Shanette did not want to dig around with the razor blade to be sure. I was ok with that. She asked if I'd taken my worm medicine yet this year. I said, "Huh?" She told me everybody who lives here should take albendazole twice a year to kill whatever worms have accumulated. Although it's intended for the digestive system, it would kill any worm anywhere, including anybody left in my toe.

This whole operation was so painless that I was able to put on my hiking boots and go for a six kilometer walk around Lake Duluti with Shanette a couple of hours later. When she asked me at the trailhead if my toe hurt, I said, "I can't feel a thing." Then I noticed her look of concern and added, "Not like nerve damage or paralysis. Just like there's no pain. It feels normal." We saw a couple of monitor lizards and a couple of fish eagles. I'll tell you all about it in my next post.

My toe is almost healed already. And Shanette really needs to go to medical school. She's a natural!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Beach Weekend Tanzania Style--Mkadini Beach

Another African road trip! This one was a quick weekend at Mkadini Beach at Fish Eagle Point Lodge, which is a short 40 km from Tanga. At least I thought that last 40 km would be short....

(An update as of 2012:  the road along the coast--that last 40 km that I describe dramatically, below--is completed and paved and the last 40 km out to Fish Eagle Point is now less adventurous, but much easier. See the comment from the lodge managers' son, at the end of the post, for more information about current travel conditions, including the dhow option if you want to put the adventure back into the trip.)

Let me start from the beginning. About two weeks ago, I met Shanette and Cynthia. They both work in Moshi in HIV/AIDS research. Shanette is a friend of a friend. And here's why I totally changed my mind and now I like Facebook. Martha is a friend I knew back in Idaho when I was a teenager. I wasn't in contact with her for over 30 years, except that I heard from a mutual friend that she lived in Africa now. A year or so ago, I came across her on Facebook through that mutual friend's profile. She's in Zambia, working in HIV/AIDS research and Shanette is her former coworker. When Shanette got a job in Moshi (about 90 minutes drive time from Arusha), Martha linked us up. Shanette's from the Bahamas, by way of several years in America, followed by a stint in Zambia. And now I'm hanging out with her in Tanzania. And with Cynthia, her coworker, who is Kenyan and recently back in East Africa with her husband and baby, also after several years in America.

All three of us agreed we needed some fun, and settled on a trip to the beach. I left Arusha bright and early Friday morning, cruised into Moshi, went the wrong way through the first roundabout (kipuleftu in Swahili), quickly recovered, and swung by Shanette's place to pick up Shanette, Cynthia, and Amaya, Cynthia's beautiful 11-month-old daughter.

 My traveling companions--Shanette, Cynthia, and Amaya.

We sailed right on out of Moshi to Himo, where we somehow didn't notice two big road signs marking our turn. Twenty minutes later, we were puzzled to see a barrier closing the road as it entered a large area with several men in uniform and a sign saying something about leaving Tanzania. Oops! It was the Kenya border, which we were not planning to cross. The Tanzanian customs agent laughed at us and gave us directions, as I executed a three-point turn to avoid the need for a visa.

Back at Himo, we made our turn to the east and were on our the Indian Ocean this time. We expected about six hours of drive time from Moshi. We passed through quite a swath of Tanzania. First the green mountain landscape of the Kilimanjaro area, next a desolate area of orange soil and scrubby acacias and shrubs and mud houses. Finally we eased into the coastal zone of lush tropical vegetation, complete with mango and coconut trees. The roadside vendors changed with the landscape. We started out with dozens of vendors lining the highway with buckets piled high with tomatoes. Then for hundreds of kilometers, no vendors at all, just groups of people hanging out together in every patch of shade. As we approached the coast, the vendors were back, with piles of big, bright green mangoes everywhere. The young male vendors vied to outdo each other in aggressive sales tactics, stepping halfway into the travel lane and shaking mangoes at oncoming cars. The women stayed off the road in the shade. I guess the effects of testosterone are pretty much the same in every country--young men everywhere will shake their mangoes.

We tried to stop for lunch in a tiny town along the way. But the waitress in the little pub was reluctant to speak to us, even with Cynthia speaking fluent Swahili. She did finally tell us we could have rice or ugali, but nothing to accompany them. We were a little bit early for Tanzanian lunch time. But she was annoyed when we left without ordering! The second try for lunch an hour later was successful, in Mombo, a bigger town where buses going to and from Dar es Salaam stop for meals. As we relaxed at an outdoor table in a pleasant shady spot, we were entertained first by a flock of guinea fowl and then by an American male voice wailing loudly, over and over, "Patricia! Patricia! Patricia!" It seemed to be emanating from a bus that was pulling out. But I guess he got them to wait for Patricia, because the bus and the wailing both stopped for a few minutes. Lunch was nice, but it took almost two hours.

Lunchtime entertainment provided by guinea fowl. (Photo by Shanette.)

Back on the road, we passed through one village after another, each with its own array of speed bumps in varying symmetrical arrangements. Usually you bounce over three sets of four small bumps, then sometimes over two widely spaced big speed bumps, then usually over another three sets of small ones. Kind of like the warm up, the workout, and the cool down. The little ones varied from not much of a bump to slam-on-the-brakes-or-you'll-knock-out-your-front- teeth. Cynthia got the worst of that because she was riding in the back seat with Amaya and all her baby gear. Each of these little towns sported a sign with the town name before the first speed bump and a sign with the town name covered with the red diagonal slash after the last speed bump. Instead of "Entering Pongwe" and "Leaving Pongwe," simply "Pongwe," followed by "No Pongwe."

Traffic was light all along our route. So it was easy to pass all those big, lumbering cargo trucks without being stuck behind each for more than a few minutes. And easy for all those careening buses to careen right around my Suzuki without being stuck behind me for more than a few minutes. Several times we said to each other, "Just be glad you're not on that bus!" We passed a few accidents in which the big trucks had just rolled onto their sides and slid off the edge of the road due to taking a curve too fast. We also passed one bus lying on its side in the ditch, with a group of stunned passengers sitting on the ground making cell phone calls.

Lumbering trucks and careening buses. (Photo by Shanette.)

This was one of the smaller buses. You can see it has a serious lean to the left. Maybe that's why they named it "Barack Obama," which you can just make out across the back window. (Photo by Shanette.)

But overall, road conditions were good and traffic was light and scenery was interesting all the way to Tanga, a city on the coast. We found our way through town (after Cynthia used her Swahili to ask a security guard for directions), and onto the Mombasa Highway for that short 40 km out to Fish Eagle Point Lodge. It was about 5:30 at this point. It gets dark at 6:30 and really pitch dark by 7:00 and I didn't want to be driving after dark. The highway speed limit is 80 kph, so I figured we'd finish that last 40 km and roll into the lodge car park just at twilight, no problem.

We hadn't booked rooms, because I had thought we should take a look at the place first. If the rooms weren't nice, we could retrace the 40 km and head south to Pangani where we would find several other lodges to choose from. But just as we bumped off the end of the tarmac and onto a sandy "rough road," it became clear that it was too late in the day for that. Shanette called the lodge and booked a bungalow. The lodge manager described to us the horrors of road construction just ahead of us and told us to take note of our odometer reading and watch for the turnoff at 35 km, because it could be hard to spot in the dark, which it certainly would be by the time we got there, especially if the construction crew had taken down the resort signboard, although gosh, it had still been there at lunchtime.

 Really, we had no choice but to slow down...but thanks for the warning, guys. (Photo by Shanette.)

 China is building a new road along the coast from Tanga to Mombassa. They're upgrading a narrow dirt road into what looks like it will be a super highway. Right now it's a nightmare! There's a  huge, wide roadbed of smooth dirt rolling along for miles. We weren't supposed to drive on it yet, though. A narrow, very rough dirt road braids back and forth across it. We bucked along in the trusty Suzuki, looking for the hand-painted red arrow signs pointing to where our road crossed the Chinese road.

(Photo by Shanette.)

 There were several villages right along the road, and many locals were riding motorcycles on the new roadbed. It looked temptingly smooth. But at one point, when I misinterpreted the signs and drove on it for a few meters, it was actually too soft and slick. Conscious of approaching darkness, I kept trying to drive a little faster. But no matter how much I tossed Cynthia around the back seat, I couldn't get much over 20 kph. As we settled into twilight, I had to slow down and really look for the red arrows and really ponder what exactly they were pointing at. Shanette had to lean over and read the odometer (can't drive with my reading glasses on) to track our 40 km. We pulled over several times in wide spots to let large oncoming trucks driven by Chinese engineers with African crews riding in the back pass us. They didn't give an inch (a centimeter?). It was up to me to get out of their way. We passed one large truck lying on its side.

At the very moment that deep twilight was leaning into true dark, Shanette spotted the Fish Eagle Point Lodge sign, still standing, and we turned onto a narrow dirt road through the bush. But with my high beams on, it was easy to see the route here. Shanette called the lodge manager again, and he gave us directions. We got briefly lost only once more and drove a hundred meters into a village and had to be escorted by a man on a bike back to the turnoff. We rolled into the car parking area around 8:00 pm, way after full dark. I said, "Let's just check the rooms and see if they're OK. If they're not, we'll head down to Pangani."  Shanette and Cynthia were tired enough to laugh at my joke, and then we went off to a lovely dinner. The manager had asked our dinner choices on one of our earlier calls and had food waiting for us. Great service!

The lodge is rustic, with soaring thatched roofs on every building. The cabins have half walls of brick. You close off the top half of the walls with curtains or bamboo blinds. You don't need much more privacy because the site is so remote.

Our home for the weekend--a family cabin with room for all of us right on the beach.

Inside our room.

Here's the shower stall inside the big bathroom. It would have been more luxurious if water supply wasn't such a problem. The shower actually runs salt water, leaving your skin sort of clean, but not really. Also, the water pressure wasn't sufficient for getting the sand out of the cracks after a day on the beach.

There's Amaya... cute that most of the staff and some of the other guests had to pick her up and carry her around. Cynthia says when they ride buses, the other passengers pass her all around the bus and take turns holding her. She's a quiet, happy baby.You know how in America, a cute baby is a "chick magnet"? Here, they're also a "man  magnet." All of the waiters loved her.

The beach and a long tidal flat were right at our door.

Lots of seaweed and pandanus...

...and mangroves and more seaweed.

Beautiful! But not suitable for a day of lounging at the beach.

We were dreaming of relaxing on a white sandy beach--especially Bahamian Shanette. We consulted Steve, the British manager and he steered us to the perfect spot, and even recruited one of the askaris to help us carry our stuff. (I had more "luggage" for a few hours at the beach than K2 takes when he's out of town for three days! Plus, a really cute  basket to carry it in.)

We crawled under this boardwalk...

...and emerged at the perfect secluded beach.

That's me, hiding in the shade. (Photo by Cynthia.)

Steve provided snorkeling gear, including life jackets. The yellow one on top is actually one of those inflatable life vests from an airplane! When I asked Steve if he'd been in a plane crash, he wouldn't say. We never did snorkel. The water was kind of rough and we were really enjoying the beach.

At this point in the day, Amaya was actually more tired than Cynthia.

But of course that switched around later in the day.

Shanette, island girl that she is, was giddy with the thrill of being back at the beach.

Dozens of crabs were scurrying everywhere, and Shanette chased down most of them.

Doesn't this one look like Sponge Bob's boss at the burger place?

Auntie Shanette wanted to pass on her love of the sea to Amaya, an inland baby.

But Amaya wasn't too sure about all that rushing, noisy water...

...even if she was with her usually trustworthy auntie.


It's okay, honey, you're safe with Mama now. But keep a lookout for Auntie Shanette!

Time for lunch back at the beachside dining room. The food was very good, lots of fresh seafood.

Cynthia and Shanette talking with the senior waiter shortly after he discovered that Shanette does not speak Swahili. He was so surprised he walked big circles around the dining room and did the big Tanzanian clap in which you swing your fully extended arms past each other and clap your hands in the middle as they pass. It means you're really surprised or something is really funny. He said (in Swahili, which Cynthia translated for us), "I spent so much fuel talking Swahili to that woman. Now I have to go refill my tank."

This deck is elevated over the water right outside the dining room.

After lunch, Cynthia took Amaya back to the room for a nap. Shanette and I returned to the secluded beach. Late in the afternoon, we all met up at the beach in front of our room and headed out across the tidal flat.

Cynthia's arms were tired from lugging around 10 kilos of Amaya  all day, so she opted for the traditional East Africa baby carrying method. I was pointing out to her that she needed to tie the cloth tighter so Amaya couldn't lean away, then making fun of her for relying on a white woman from America for advice.

Amaya's not used to being carried that way, and she didn't like being behind Cynthia where she wasn't a part of the conversation. So after about 20 minutes, they reached this compromise.

That's Shanette all the way out by the water, in her element, checking the tide pools.

I don't know what made this inch-wide track, but whatever it was came up out of a hole in the sand, made a loop, and went back into the hole.

Starfish and seaweed. (Photo by Shanette.)

(Photo by Shanette.)

Shanette actually knows how to tell male and female crabs apart. She'd been catching males all day, but kept looking for females so she could show us the difference. (I don't know whether to call her a science geek or Miss Caribbean.) This one's a female carrying eggs--the dark oval mass between her sets of back legs.

Early that morning, when the tide was out, Shanette had spotted chitons, or curbs as Bahamians call them, stuck to the rocks. She said if only she had a screwdriver, she could make curb salad, a traditional Bahamian favorite. It so happened I had put a screwdriver in the glove compartment for this trip, because the latch that allows the driver's seat in the Suzuki to adjust forward or backward is broken and I can only adjust the seat by reaching underneath and releasing the latch with a screwdriver. Wait, it will all become clear in a minute....

The pink thing is the meat of the curb, which is under the segmented shell, which is clamped onto the rocks. You can see two shells to the left of the meat.

Shanette used the screwdriver to pry the curbs away from the rock.

Then she used a knife to scoop the meat out of the shell and clean it.

Next, off to the kitchen, where the waiters and cooks were polite, but clearly thought she was crazy... be making salad out of these sea creatures.

She chopped onions, tomatoes, and the curbs and added lime juice. It was good! And notice the cute dress: when she lived in Zambia, she sketched designs and had dresses made from Zambian kitenge cloth.

We had to leave early the next morning, in order for Cynthia and Shanette to be back at work on Monday morning. This vacation would have been better if we'd spent three days at the beach, instead of just one. Any longer than that, and the salt water shower would have started to bother me. Really, I need to find some friends who don't have jobs, but have enough money to pay for petrol and lodging!

But we did take time to enjoy the sunrise and have one more look at the tide pools. (Photo by Shanette.)

Here comes Shanette... looks as if she's caught something else...

...ooh! What a pretty starfish! No chasing or tools required for its capture.

 We said a reluctant farewell to the beach, took our picnic lunch packed by the lodge, and made an almost-early start.

We made our way back through the Chinese road construction. It was easier to see where we were going in the morning light. But still, at one point, I misinterpreted the sign and drove a few hundred meters on a really narrow bit of road hanging on the edge of the bank above the new road. We were hoping not to meet any oncoming traffic, because it would've been impossible to pass. But then it ended, and we saw that the reason we'd met no oncoming traffic was that we weren't even on the detour. 

We were all thrilled when we hit tarmac, and I immediately hit the gas and tried to drive fast...until we got mixed up with dozens of men on bikes and a whole series of speed bumps. We made our way back through the mango vendors, and started looking for a nice place to pull over and have a picnic.

We parked in the shade of a lovely mango tree right off the road.

An older man with a bucket of small mangoes soon approached me. I wanted to be nice, so I asked the price. Then an aggressive young man with a bucket of mangoes butted in to try to steal the sale. They got pissy with each other. I bought one mango from each, for 300 T-shillings each (about 20 cents U.S.). I couldn't make exact change for each, so I gave the total to the older gentleman and told the young guy to get his money from him. The young guy then hit me up for another 200 T-shillings. By this time, Cynthia was telling me I'd already paid too much. The dueling vendors withdrew. We continued our conversation about how I'd paid too much (a continually recurring theme for an mzungu in Tanzania). The young guy then returned, acting contrite, and gave me a free mango! Just as the dueling vendors left, the tree dropped a green mango on the hood of the car and made us all jump.

Heading on down the highway, two national policemen in olive green, carrying big guns, waved us to the side of the road. Tanzania has a law that police can demand rides from passing motorists. It's cheaper than buying enough vehicles for the police to accomplish their work. Anyway, the older one (about 24) leaned in and asked if we could give a ride to the younger one (all of 18, I'd bet), who was traveling to West Kilimanjaro. We were going right where he needed to go. But I was so happy to be able to wave to the back seat and say, "So sorry, but it's impossible. We don't have enough room. You see the baby." The car seat and diaper bag took up a lot of room. So we went on our way without an 18-year-old man with a gun in the back seat. (Although K2 tells me that Tanzanians like to give police officers a ride, because then if another police officer stops you for a license and insurance check, they'll just let you go.)

The rest of the drive was scenic and uneventful and we safely reached Moshi, then Arusha. On the way back, I felt that I now knew Shanette well enough to say, "Shanette, get a picture of that sign!" "Shanette, get a picture of that bus!" That's why all the road pictures in this post are Shanette's. Shanette, thanks for being a good sport and for sharing your pictures with me! And Cynthia, thanks for bringing Amaya and all her gear to fill up the back seat!