Tuesday, June 13, 2006

To Brussels, Amsterdam and London


I am now in London. I've had a few adventures getting here... After meeting friends my goals for this holiday were to 1) buy a particular new camera 2) to take a course called 'Finance for the non-specialist' and 3) to get a lot of rest. Guess which of these has actually happened as planned?

First I went to Brussels to see my friend Alan. I was still a bit overwhelmed by malaria and I hope he didn't mind. We walked around a lot of the town and had a splendid meal and a few extra beers there and there. Brussels has some very nice architecture.

Then I went to see my friend Marga in The Hague. We had a lovely but brief time - it was good to catch up on our lives. Then I went on to Amsterdam to see my friend Gwen. I had a fanstastic three days including a great birthday evening with her and her friends on Friday. I always enjoy Amsterdam but it's particularly good to have a knowlegable tour guide like Gwen. I also managed to see my friend Bonno who I'd known in Buchanan.

While in Brussels I'd learned that the shop in London where I was planning to buy my camera was out of stock so I changed my plans and bought it (at a higher price) in Amsterdam. It's a lovely Canon EOS 5D with a EF 24-70mm F/2.8l USM lens. The first test shots (of Gwen's dog) came out very well but when it came time to take out the battery I couldn't - it was stuck in. By then it was too late to return to the store while in the Netherlands or even on this trip so I began to panic.
Luckily here in London the camera store (Camera World) I'd wanted to patronize were very helpful. Actually they pointed me to a camera repair service that was able to pull out the battery - to reveal that it was a) sticky and b) NOT A GENUINE CANON BATTERY. (The 5D is supposed to come with a genuine battery.) I am furious with the Amsterdam shop. (They had also neglected to give me the camera dust cap and lens back cap. Furthermore I heard them spending 20 minutes trying to persuade an unfortunate customer that the scratch on his lens is 'irrelevant'. Even though front surface marks ARE out of focus they cause blur and block light and it was very unprofessional to claim otherwise. Oh - and they also grumbled about having to process my VISA card transaction manually because VISA were blocking the unusual purchase...) Please do not patronize "Foto Professional" in Amsterdam - I think they are crooked. But all ended well here in London - and then I had a DELIGHTFUL evening with my friends Susi and Jon.

This morning I headed to the finance course in Hampstead - only to find that it had been canceled on the 8th. I hadn't checked my work e-mail because I'm trying to be on holiday from work... I'm dissapointed and it means this holiday will use three more days of precious leave than planned but then those days weren't going to be holiday and now they can. So perhaps it's alright - at least I'll take the opportunity to see more of London. My notions for tomorrow are the British Airways London Eye, The National Portrait Gallery and perhaps a tourist bus tour. And I have some fun dates set up...

Saturday, June 3, 2006

Malaria is no fun at all

Sydney Zoo
March 29, 2004

I am unexpectedly in Monrovia - I planned to be in Buchanan until Tuesday when I will fly to Brussels and the beginning of my two-week vacation. I am here now on doctors' orders, at the tail end (I hope) of my first bout with Malaria.

It hasn't been fun. Last Saturday I felt a general soreness in my mouth along with cold sweats and I realized I'd been feeling lethargic for a day or two already. On Sunday I had did a 'Paracheck' blood test which detects only the most common malaria parasite here. The test was negative but on Monday I did a blood smear and although the hospital lab technician who can distinguish malaria parasites was not available, the lab did confirm I had malaria. Meanwhile I grew more and more sleepy and less and less useful at work and more and more irritable (and probably irritating). I developed a 'geographic tongue' (misshapen by sores) and an intolerance to anything in my mouth except salty water. Before raiding my bosses fridge here this afternoon, the last thing I ate was canned pears, very gingerly, on Tuesday. I completed a course of combined drug therapy but yesterday tested positive again for Malaria. Today, Dr. Simon (my colleague in Buchanan) and Dr. Julius (our Chief Medical Coordinator here in Monrovia) sent me to Monrovia for further observation. Actually I feel a bit better today - and even think I'll be going to a farewell party this evening.

In a certain way I'm glad to know a little more about Malaria. It can manifest itself in various ways - for instance I was never observed to have a fever. I was never in danger because I live and work with two nurses and a doctor but I felt sick enough to be able to imagine how it would have developed without expert treatment. Malaria is the number one cause of mortality (and morbidity) in Liberia - it kills about one person a week right in our own hospital. I'm glad I'm one of the much luckier victims.

In a lighter vein, I've just finished reading a great fiction series lead by The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. (You can see all my recent reading here.) These are remarkably delightful books about a 'traditionally-built' private detective in modern Botswana - which Smith makes sound like paradise. The books are at once hilarious, feminist, pro- and against development, ethics manuals (Altering the Blueprint: The Ethics of Genetics is by the same author) and guides to human failings. Most importantly, they are gentle and charming. Two thumbs and two big toes up.