Monday, March 29, 2010


I've been unwell for quite a while: first my asthma's impressive come back ("Take my breath away" interspersed with "I will survive"), followed by a lovely duet of Pharyngitis feat Sinusitis - all in all a two week long tour, which had me entertained. I am heading towards being okay again, but all this has inspired me to tell you about something I've never described before: the little things you should be careful about when in Africa. Here it comes: a list of potential problems, pains and illnesses or how Africa changes your daily routine.

W is for Water
In many Central African countries you're not supposed to even wash your teeth with tap water. It may contain loads of bugs and bacteria that you really want to steer clear from. Luckily, Gabon is a happy exception. Here tap water is perfectly drinkable and both of us drink it instead of bottled water by now. Of course, at the beginning it's good to give yourself a time to get used to the local water - it's always different than in Europe. We've switched to tap water completely (cheaper) and it's working out very well, though. However, we never drink it when away from Libreville. When on a trip, we tend to be extra-careful and use mineral water even when we brush our teeth.

M is for Mosquito
And Mosquito is for Malaria. It's out there, just like flu, rather common, I'm afraid. There is no vaccination and you can only take preventive medication for up to one month. After that, you're on your own. Malaria mosquitoes mainly show at dusk (around 6 pm, that is, the very time I'm writing this). This is the right moment to close your windows and, if you're planning to leave home, generously spray your skin with an anti-mosquito product. And don't forget that you're never safe - use a mosquito net at night, the malaria squad doesn't go to sleep just because you do! Of course, you will get plenty of bites anyway. Just another way to test your luck.

S is for Salmonella
Are you obsessed with personal hygiene? Do you wash your hands seven hundred times a day? Good! Africa is the place for you. Salmonella tends to sit on unwashed fruit, in dirty water and also anything that might have contact with the two (the change you get from the taxi driver... somebody's hand you shake... you name it). Once it gets into your mouth - say, you absentmindedly touch it while deep in thought, or you're in a habit of biting your nails - the moment it gets into your mouth, you're done. Typhoid fever is what you get and - I know, I've been there - it's not pretty. Ask my boyfriend.

A is for Air-conditioning
Gabon, and above all Libreville, is not your stereotypical "wild" Africa, not at all. It's got great restaurants, big bildings, lovely flats and European shops. As it's very hot and humid, all of the above mentioned tend to rely on excessive use of air-conditioning. How so? Let me explain. Imagine you're working in an air-conditioned building. You're comfortable in your suit, complete with a tie, it's around twenty degrees and you're rather cool, typing away on your computer. Suddenly, you remember that you've left your snack in the car. So you walk out of your office, open an oven - ekhm, I mean the door - and you arrive at your car, your shirt soaked with sweat. You take off your jacket, panting, head back to the office, open the fridge - the door, I mean, sorry - ups, it's freaking cold! - you put on your jacket, you sit down, still sweating, cold all of a sudden... And there you go, the next day you're down with a cold. Or sinusitis. I really do think that this is one of the greatest dangers we face in Libreville on a daily basis. Ironically.

And B is for...? Can you guess?
Yes, last but not least, you can't speak about Central Africa without mentioning the B. Bugs! Bugs all over the place! To start with, cockroaches; huge fat flying cockroaches, that are everywhere and will probably take over the world some day. You inevitably have them at home (we are only relatively cockroach-free, which is a great achievement anyway), they will cause havoc at school (I'm pretty sure they take great pleasure in disturbing my classes) and they will boldly crouch right next to your chair and stare at you while you have lunch at a restaurant. Oh, and they're rather ugly.
The ants are there, too. And the little worms that you constantly find in your flour, pasta and rice. No matter how many plastic bags you put them in. However, this is nothing compared to the laundry fly (not its scientific name). If you put your wet laundry outside to dry, be ready for surprises. There is a fly that lays eggs in humid fabrics, which later nest in your skin. This leads to a red spot, looking like a mosquito bite, but containing a live worm, growing inside you until it's ready to break the skin and leave. Apparently, you can feel it move and all. Gives you special motivation to iron your clothes, doesn't it?

And that's all I can think of, folks. Not so bad, innit?

The pictures downloaded here and here respectively.


  1. Clearly then I am not made for Africa - my one not-working-properly/constantly-stuck sinus would bring me down with sinusitis in a second after stepping onto the African soil.

    Keeping my fingers crossed that this alphabet does not grow with more letters of unpleasant infections, illnesses, creatures and bigger and smaller animals.

  2. mmmm obrigado polos ánimos :-S