I spent the first two weeks in Nasir living out of my suitcase in one of the guest rooms in the main house in the expat compound. Since then I have tentatively moved into what was my predecessors tukul, or traditional mud hut, of which there are several dotted round the compound. I say tentatively because the first bit of unexpected wildlife that comes my way in the night and I’m moving straight back! I still have remarkably vivid memories of what it was like to have a rat land on my face one night in Nepal…
There is plenty of wildlife around here for me to be wary of! Because of our proximity to the river – which borders one long side of the rectangular hospital compound – there is a profusion of insects in the area. Beetles, mozzies, flies, enormous khaki coloured crickets and diminutive dragonflies are everywhere and (ecology lesson alert!) where you have wee animals you will inevitably find bigger ones busy eating them. So we find spindly, alien-looking praying mantises stalking across the tables; huddles of bats chittering and roosting in the toilet tukul and on the office ceiling; hundreds of disproportionately noisy little birds pecking around the veranda; sleek lizards and shy geckos peering down from the walls and flabby toads crouching under the beds and in the shower room.
And busy eating all of them are the next level in the food chain – scrawny, unkempt semi-feral cats which contrast sharply with the gorgeous sleek and sinuous civets; big brown eagles, giant Nile monitor lizards and occasional snake. At least I sincerely hope they are occasional.
And diligently avoiding all of the above you will find… me! Although that may well be easier said than done – last night one of the civets that live in the rafters of the main house was in the kitchen as I entered it, and it actually ran out of the door over my feet and between my legs. I may have shrieked a bit! The river has the most amazing huge pelicans, storks and ibises along its length which I get to see up close when I go with the outreach team on the boat.
There are also quite a lot of domestic animals wandering about the place. Chickens and goats roam at will about the hospital grounds, and in the town, cows, sheep and donkeys constitute most of the traffic on the roads! Incidentally, I have discovered that donkeys make the singularly most appalling noise I have ever heard… none of this dignified sounding “hee-haw” that we teach nursery age children, oh no… I was helping out in one of the consulting rooms at the OPD this week and was treated to a prolonged serenade from directly outside the window of what sounded like a cross between an elderly foghorn alternating with fingernails running down a blackboard magnified many, many times. Made taking a decent medical history very, very tricky!
By yesterday I was getting a bit fed up of laying in bed apprehensively staring up at the cloth and straw roof of my tukul above me every time it rustled, so by dint of strategic and slightly nervous poking at the ceiling I managed to get the largest and noisiest of my night-time neighbours to reveal himself to me – a chubby and distinctly disgruntled looking eight-inch gecko, who legged it down the wall away from my assaults and sought shelter under my shelves. I have christened him MacDougal in remembrance of the Scottish prayer that begins “From ghosties and ghoulies and longlegged beasties and things that go bump in the night…” Am more than happy to have him for company as he will keep the insects at bay!