Coronavirus: Notes from the Field It’s Sunday night and instead of doing a menu plan for the week, organizing my work purse to grab in the morning, and remembering to tally up the money I owe for the kids’ Read-a-Thon because I’m fairly sure it is overdue at school, I’m trying to decide if it’s time to start panicking. Not really, of course: panic helps no one. But I am trying to decide how much “social isolation” to do in a country where we don’t yet have our first confirmed case of COVID-19. Botswana is a small, landlocked country with a population of 2.2 million.
Everyone can handle the expat lifestyle when it’s all famous international landmarks, breathtaking cultural experiences, and charming local children giving you presents. But what to do when your day hits the skids and you’re far from home? Last month I had the chance to find out (not once, but four times), which inspired me to come up with today’s list: the Top 10 Troubles you will face overseas and how to deal with them. I’ve faced every single one of them myself. 1. Car accidents I used to consider myself a good driver. Then I moved to Africa and promptly crashed my car into inanimate objects four different times in two years. My most recent crash involved a tree, a hungry preschooler in the backseat crying for pizza, and my least favorite gear: reverse. The quote to repair the bashed rear of the car seemed enough to cover the entire cost of a new car, but everything car-related is more expensive in Botswana and there aren’t many budget repair options.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve slapped up a post here, but I will use that age-old, tired excuse: I just had a baby! And although a newborn in the house DOES grant you hours of isolation shut away from the rest of the world and its distractions, those hours are largely spent shushing, pacing, nursing, and theorizing as to the possible reasons why your infant is not sleeping. (“Is he allergic to the dog?” “Is the fan too blowy?” “Does he hate us?”) I’m mostly kidding: Denton has been a fairly decent sleeper but even if he wasn’t we would still love him to pieces. In the end all the hard work paid off.
The last time I was pregnant I was planning on a homebirth, so I never bothered to pack a hospital bag. That’s why, when I ended up in an ambulance speeding towards the hospital anyway in the last hour of labor, I didn’t even have a pair of shoes with me. This time around there is a different plan, involving a hospital room, midwives, and a back-up doctor just in case, and this plan requires the packing of a bag. What do you really need in a hospital bag?
Next time you find yourself pregnant and unable to easily return to your home country to have the baby (yeah, okay, not super likely), I highly recommend Cape Town as an alternate destination. The very air here has a pleasing and soothing effect: and the fact that every time you look out of any window you see either the sea or a gorgeous green mountain doesn’t hurt. It’s also a great place to indulge pregnancy cravings.
The first time I got pregnant, I was living in Pakistan. This time I’m living in Botswana. The difference with baby #2 is that we’re not hightailing it back to America to have our child. We’re packing up the car with our toddler, our nanny and our dog, and driving 18 hours across the border to Cape Town in South Africa to have our son there instead (sadly, the pet tortoise doesn’t get to come). We’ll get there with a month to spare in case the little man decides to come early. Some Americans might say that the United States has the best healthcare in the world and that they would only feel comfortable going back home for such an event. I am not one of those people.
So I had my first Botswana hospital experience. I suppose it was only a matter of time. After all, I headed to the Emergency Room in Pakistan only a month after moving there in 2009. This time I made it almost two years in Botswana before being forced to navigate the bureaucracy, fluorescent glare, unknown medical infrastructure and curious medley of bedside manners that compose an ER in a foreign country. I had so many chances to avoid the encounter. TUESDAY: It started as a faint throbbing behind my eyes, as if I had been peering at my laptop too long in the dark (which is almost certainly the case). WEDNESDAY: I made a series of good decisions including calling in sick to work to soothe what I now believe were the beginnings of my first migraine headache. THURSDAY: I got too cocky. With no headache in evidence, I plunged full speed back into my normal work, gym, social and home schedule. I was punished for it around midnight when a wave of the worst pain I have encountered since childbirth hit me and I could do nothing but stumble around the bedroom howling, hoping not to wake Lila.
Turns out my “I’m feeling better!” celebrations from the last post were a little premature. I thought I was basically cured, but as we know by now Pakistan is full of surprises. Instead of that 100% recovery I was expecting, I had a little relapse. It turns out that having a stomach bug for six straight days is the best way to become dangerously dehydrated and get people really concerned. This is how I found myself at one o’clock in the morning last night being hurtled toward the emergency room of Shifa Hospital in downtown Islamabad with an entourage of four: my driver, my boss, my colleague (and acting translator), and our security chief. Overkill? Maybe. But it was really nice of all of them to come to the ER with me. And know we all know how to get there for next time! So, What is the Emergency Room Like in Pakistan? Pretty much like in America, except that it is way better. This particular ER had the huge plus of no waiting. I was ushered right in immediately to my little curtained-off bed and saw the doctor within 3 minutes. When I went to Boston Medical Center in 2001 with what turned out to not be appendicitis, I waited for six hours in the ER with no water or pain meds before anything happened to me, unless you count being poked by med students on their first day of school “anything.” Granted, BMC is in Dorchester, and it is hard to pay much attention to the girl with the tummyache when all the gunshot victims are being wheeled by on gurneys. Advantage: Pakistan. What’s the […] Read More
It finally got me. The deadly blister on the heel of the fantastic ex-pat experience. The reason, perhaps, why 70% of Americans don’t own a passport. The inevitable initiation that tests how much you really like your new exotic environment, all the beautiful sunshine, and the exciting development work. The devil-child birthed through the marriage of a new microbial environment and the occasionally dubious sanitation practices of my adopted country. It seems rude to talk about dubious sanitation practices, and it makes me want to retract that statement. On the other hand, many, many people who have lived here for a very, very long time have told me that the most dangerous thing in Pakistan is the food. (They usually say this as a way to minimize concerns about terrorists attacks. As in, “Nah…don’t worry about bombings. The most dangerous thing in Pakistan is the food.”) But, as we all know, I love food. I don’t ever want to be on the wrong side of food. So I started the relationship slowly and carefully, testing things out to make sure I wasn’t going to get burned. And everything went so well at first. I watched, sympathetic but relieved, as one by one, every member of our team went down except for me. It was immediately clear every morning whether a target had been hit: obvious in the haggard look of the haven’t-slept, the grimace at the sight of breakfast eggs, the cautious “Oooh, no thanks, my stomach isn’t doing so well.” I, however, seemed immune. As the days passed and nothing got me, I grew cocky. I thought my naturopath-recommended regimen of probiotics, herbal tinctures […] Read More