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Africa’s storied charm is in the toilet, along with the never-quite-dead cockroaches. Okay, that was for rhetorical effect, the cockroaches didn’t go in the toilet; I called the askari to take them out of the house because I refuse to get within four feet of such grotesque creatures. (Four feet is sufficient distance for bug spray to slow a roach’s movements, I’ve learned.)

Let me share how I spent my days while Craig launched a new career amid the most stunning vistas of Africa and rested his head on the plush pillows of swank resorts.

Day one: the cockroach invasion – two of them in the house right at bedtime, not the biggest we’ve seen, but big enough. Between me and my can of bug spray, Mia’s squeals and our askari, we got rid of them.

It got worse after that.

Day two: the fall — Mia kept interrupting my attempts to get Lily to bed. Poor Mia, she’s bored and alone and we don’t even have a television to distract her. Finally I gave up and just played with them both until it was time for me to get ready for bed. I put Lily in her crib (which is in our bedroom) to keep her out of trouble. Mia wanted to get in with her. So I put her in and as I brushed, I could hear them giggling behind me.

Then Mia hollered that she wanted to get out. I asked her to wait a minute. Fifteen seconds later I heard a crash and turned to see Lily face first on the concrete floor.
(This African-designed crib has a rail that folds over and is held in place by a latch, a latch that can evidently be opened by a three-year-old. Mia opened the latch while Lily was standing and leaning against the rail.)

Horrified, I picked up my screaming Lily and began searching her face for sign of injury. Just as I noticed her forehead swelling, she threw up. And this sent me into a lunatic panic. I demanded to know from Mia what had happened. And then I did something I regret, I hollered at Mia. I paced around with Lily, both of us covered in vomit as she wailed. I couldn’t reach Craig by phone.

Lily calmed after about 20 minutes – her wails reduced to a whimper. At this point, I had a talk with Mia about my freak out and explained it wasn’t her fault Lily got hurt — it was the fault of the badly designed crib, but she must listen to Mummy next time. She nodded, her big brown eyes, staring at me. “I just wanted to get Monkey,” she said. sigh

In about an hour I went to put Lily down to bed, but her left eye had swelled and I began to panic again. Then I put both babies into their car seats, told Mia we were going on a Dora-like adventure to look for a doctor, and set out to find the nearest hospital.

God, or something, was on my side and somehow five minutes later I pulled into a parking spot that had been waiting for me (no signs of the hospital were visible from the road, but I had a sense of where it was, having seen in during the day). It was clean and organized but by no means anything I’ve experienced in Canada. But the staff was attentive and bright and in three minutes (after I’d paid a fee of approx. $7 Cdn) a doctor was looking at Lily. A young, bright African doctor, he assured me she was fine. He explained why the eye swelled and told me to keep a lookout for signs of more serious injury but he strongly suspected she was all right.

Day three: the aftershock — The next day Lily was happy, energized and hungry but her eye had swollen shut and was puffier than the night before. In the afternoon she began to whimper and moan and wouldn’t take formula or water. In a state of complete panic again, I began to fear she had a brain injury. Mia had gone down for a nap, and Emmie, our nanny, was out for lunch.

I walked around in the bedroom holding Lily, crying (I was crying, not Lily), cursing everything from the furniture-maker to God to myself for turning my back on the kids.

As soon as Emmie returned from lunch, I decided to take Lily to the Aga Khan hospital (the biggest and best in Dar). My neighbour offered to drive and in short order a neurosurgeon had a look at the baby. By now, Lily had had a nap. So, she sat in his office giggling, grabbing at his papers and gulping formula. Her state and his assurances satisfied me that she was fine. He explained that swelling generally increases for 48 hours, so the eye didn’t concern him at all. But he too, like the earlier doctor, said to keep a close eye on her for a couple of days.

The next few days were pretty uneventful, the usual railings against bedtime and night wakings. Lily will have a black eye for a few more days but she clearly did not sustain a serious injury. I don’t know what would have happened if she had.

The whole experience has left me drained and feeling utterly alone. With no family or friends in Dar, going through this without Craig really bowled me over. The only communication Craig and I have had are very short phone calls and text messages. Always having had loved ones nearby, being alone like this is a shock.

Mia is darling company (when she’s not having a temper tantrum), but she’s only three.

I now await Craig’s arrival (his plane is supposed to land any time now). I need some reminding about why this place and this life is so preferable to living in Canada, where 911 will dispatch help in minutes and family and friends are a phone call away when my husband is out of town and I need a shoulder to cry on.

Here’s a glimpse of our living arrangements. We live in a two-bedroom apartment in an area called Mikocheni.

OIt’s about 10 km from the Dar city centre (during traffic that can be well over an hour’s drive). Our building is three storeys high and has six units. We live on the third floor. It’s lovely. Clean, bright, spacious.

OThere are two en suite bathrooms and one giant powder room. There are no bathtubs (just stand up showers), so Mia and Lily bathe in laundry tubs. We have all decided these are far superior to a bathtub. The kids love them and can’t seem to get into too much trouble. Although Lily dove head first into Mia’s tub the other day and came up sputtering. We have air conditioning that is controlled in each individual room (saves on electricity big-time) and we have fans as well.

PThere’s a grassy area in back where the kids can play and where we put in small horsey swing for the kids (up in a tree, actually).

I know that is a whiny headline for my first post, but I feel whipped. It’s just a cold, or maybe it’s malaria (says my neurotic self), so I should just suck it up.

It is Monday, 10:24 a.m. and there is a lovely breeze behind me. Breezes here are beautiful. Cool. Kind. Refreshing. Mia is at school (more about that later). Lily is napping. Craig is waiting to hear about his flight to Zambia/Malawi.

There is a great deal of waiting in Dar, I find. In traffic, for taxis, for meals, for internet. It’s a different kind of waiting than I’m used to. There seems a greater acceptance of it. I believe the word I’m looking for is patience. There appears to be more patience here, in general. Patience and acceptance. For example, rather than bemoan the horrific traffic that daily plagues the entire city, many see it as an opportunity to make money: vendors who come right up to your window while you wait in traffic, selling oranges or ice cream or ironing boards. It occurred to me yesterday as Craig launched our blog (and went through his posts for typos) that we don’t have a dictionary in our home. No problem, I thought, I’ll pick one up at the intersection of Haille Salassie and New Bagamoyo tomorrow on the way home from Mia’s school. And I won’t even need to unbuckle Mia from her car seat. See? I’m adapting so smoothly to Dar.

But my throat is aching (does malaria cause sore throats?!) It’s a cold. Mia brought home the virus from her new school. It’s brand new, has roots in New Delhi, just opened last week so it is very clean and freshly painted. The teachers are sweet and Mia loves it. The administrators are ridiculous. Formal and stiff and “we will make your child a success in life.” She’s three. She wants to play in the dirt and have a friend besides monkey. It’s a real adjustment, this paying for school business. But we’re learning. We arranged to give the school a try for two weeks before paying a shilling. So that’s savvy, we think.

I like it here. It’s like the wild west. So much opportunity and so much chaos. The rules are made up as we go. Driving is on the left, unless a bullock cart gets in the way, then you just drive in the other lane like you are in Canada (wow this is easy!) until you see a Hummer coming at you. Fines for leaving your driver’s licence at home (as Craig learned) are 3,000 shillings (about $3 Cdn), if you want to go the police station and get a receipt. Otherwise, it’s a touch heftier.

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