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A GUCH in East Africa

By Paul Spencer

If someone mentions Zanzibar many people would be clueless where it was, except in Derby, it's a Night Club. You might know it as a tourist. Zanzibar is a group of Indian Ocean islands, off the Tanzanian coast, nick named 'The Spice Islands' since growing spices, particularly cloves, was its biggest industry. The growth industry now is tourism. New hotels, gift shops and restaurants serve growing numbers of foreigners. I've become the new manager of St. Monica's Guest House, run by the Anglican Diocese of Zanzibar. I arrived in November 2001, for three years, after a long selection process in Britain, including an investigation into my health background.

Health questions started on the 'Initial Enquiry Form', of the organisation I came out with. However I could answer honestly and still not reveal much. 'Are you in good health?' (Yes) 'Are you undergoing any treatment at the moment.'(NO),

After a local interview, and a 'Enquiry Day' of interviews and psychological testing, the second 'Enquiry Day' was health related. More psychological testing. It was difficult treating the fuzzy pictures seriously, (which seemed to have replaced ink blots where you are asked what you see), and they still allowed me to come to Africa!

There was also an in-depth medical exam paper, followed by 'the doctor', a gruelling interrogation, machines, intimate prodding, of every orifice that can be prodded and more, and samples taken. The returned blood report was three pages. I came out with shorter nails. I should've revised for it. Good job the psychological testing was earlier. The doctor was rather 'Kaii sana' (fierce). My life style was pulled apart, chewed and spat out. I shouldn't be given the responsibility of dressing myself, let alone run a Guest House.

The doctor asked if he could contact my cardiologist. He was going to anyway, but it was nice of him to ask. Getting that report was like waiting for the Ark to float by. After a month I contacted those who had done the medical. They hadn't heard either. After three months pestering the consultant's secretary, and being told the consultant 'is away', 'very busy', 'it's on his desk', 'he's read your notes. etc., finally his registrar, who had done my last cath, wrote the report instead. What a mistake. The next thing the organisation says, they have the report and have had to 'reconsider' my application. I felt like a parachuting pachyderm had hit me. However they would still put me forward for the residential selection conference, the following month. What a month. Then a couple of days before, it was cancelled. I had to wait nine weeks - more anxiety.

I contacted the hospital for the report. They were a bit reticent to let me see it, and when it arrived I knew why. The registrar had certainly been honest, and blunt. The consultant in previous medical references had been more tactful. I had the Registrar for my next appointment.

At the selection conference there were four interviews. Only one briefly mentioned my health, and she was like the Enquiry Form. Yes, I was in good health and no I am not having any treatment at the moment. I learnt later that she had a daughter with learning difficulties. It takes someone like that to be sensitive and not jump to conclusions. I had been selected. I was over the final selection hurdle, now to prepare to live in another culture.

There were a few medical recommendations. I should register with Medic Alert. (Even they could not get my condition right.) Also where the nearest specialist cardiology centre is, in Tanzania. The organisation also takes out private medical insurance, including MedEvac. I feel guilty! I have this escape route when my African colleagues can't afford the relatively poor medical care available locally.

After thirteen vaccinations, here I am. I've remained extremely well, praise God, except for a mild bout of Malaria, which some recommend once, to build up some resilience to it. Sometime I'll tell you about malaria and the conflicting advice about this metamorphosing spectre over large parts of the world.

This is Paul Spencer, East Africa Correspondent, handing you back to GUCH News.

Printed in GUCH News, Summer 2002

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