Risks of the road

Our third and last sweep to visit teams that had participated in the keadership development program was to the coast. We travelled all day on Monday, a holiday, to get to Tamatave, on route nationale 2. It is mostly a good road, which means people drive too fast. It is also a good road while it last. There are many 60 ton tractor trailers, some with as many as 30 wheels. They are loaded to the gills and then some (bananas and other local produce added by folks along the road – which I am sure is not alllowed). They truck the large containers with stuff from China and elsewhere to Tana for further distribution throughout the country by ever smaller means of transport.

Here and there the asphalt is starting to give and it is just a matter of time and a few more of those heavy trucks before it is gone. I have never understood the utility of the truck weigh stations as well as here. I have seen a few of them here, though none were in use.

Notre Dame de la route stands at the start of the paved road in Tamatave. She has to compete with the testosterone which is illustrated by texts on trucks: “Bad Girl Edition” and the “Need for Speed.” Notre Dame was on our side this trip but we saw a few turned over tractor traulers and some other wrecks where the need for speed had clearly won.

We had a flat tire about 3 hours into the trip. The jack turned out to be too small size for our 4×4. We searched for stones, anything hard, in the wet red clay but every stone crumbled under the weight of the wheels. A truck parked further down the road lent us a better jack and we got back on our way. I appealed to Notre Dame to keep us from having another flat tire before the flat one was fixed in the next place where we could do this, one and a half hour away. She listened.

While the tire was being fixed we ate at a sketchy roadside restaurant. I discovered a few hours later that I had eaten more than a fried fish and ingested something my body did not like at all. Once we arrived in Tamatave, one of the more desolate places I have been to lately (I commented to my road compagnons that this felt like a city without a vision) I also felt increasingly terrible inside.

I ate my dinner reluctantly knowing something was wrong. This proved to be correct when a blew my dinner once back in the hotel. My body kept busy throughout the night to remove whatever bug I had eaten that didn’t agree with me. It was an exhausting and sleepless night that left me in a pretty poor state for another day of driving over bumpy roads.

I was miserable all day, wondering all the time, are we there yet? When we finally arrived at our destination it was dark and we met the team in a dark district health office (no electricity) assisted by smartphone lights. In the middle of the interview I became nauseous again. I was taken out to the hospital grounds to vomit wherever I wanted. I suppose there are animal brigades that clean things up here. But nothing came out as I has not eaten for nearly 24 hours.

My team mates decided that the local hotel would not do for someone as sick as me and took me to the convent and handed me over to the care of the nuns. And care they did! They prepared a room for me, two buckets to accommodate expulsions from top and bottom, put a tray with toast and a thermos with hot water for tea next to my bed, lit a candle and bade me good night. they probably also said a prayer for me I suspect. they forbade me to leave my room and use the buckets. No shame. I had a good night.

I was woken up by the singing of the nuns this morning and the sound of a 100 birds. I already feel better. The bug is gone.

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