Ag in Africa

25 September, 2006

Cruelty to dogs and diarrhoea

Filed under: Development worker, johannesburg, Soweto — Ag @ 6:13 pm

So, anyway, I’m in Africa. I had one of those they-wouldn’t-treat-a-dog-this-way journeys. (Why are dogs always the benchmark for cruelty? I treat many people loads worse than I treat my dog, Bobby. For example, only a very limited number of my friends are allowed to sleep on my bed and none of them are allowed to share my pillow. Having said that, Bobby doesn’t smell or snore…)

The journey started on that lovable old rogue – the British Train. Got on at Tiverton where me and mon amour could barely squeeze into the vestibule (or whatever you call the bit where you get on). Loads of people – men to be exact but unusually pleasant ones – squashed in like cattle. As always in stressful travelling situations, I switch to my refugees-put-up-with-this,-so-should-I mindset. But it was so bleedin’ awful I wasn’t sure that refugees do necessarily put up with it. To top it off nicely, one of the men sharing the vestibule was on crutches, which begs the question – Would they let a dog on crutches stand in a vestibule for the length of the journey? Or cattle on crutches? If I could draw, it would be a great pic. (Lucy, if you get time out from being super-successful, please add illustration here.)

It was one of those very modern trains where the toilets are the size of a pied-a-terre-a-Londres. Three times brave (more likely desperate) people scrambled over the luggage-terrain and were able to hit the ‘open door’ button. The door slid back gracefully, conversations stopped and we peered in at the amazing space in the toilet. It was like peering in on first class. There was floor area – enough that you could have sat down on it. And you could stretch your arms wide, you could stand up straight. It was almost attractive… If only it wasn’t a water closet.

Inevitably, the rest of the journey was better, cos it didn’t involve a British Train. I got stuck in one of those seats right in the middle of the plane, next to a woman reading ‘Properties Abroad’ and an English bloke banging on about how awful the UK is. His example was, ‘You can’t say boo to a Muslim without getting in trouble’. Which begs another question – Why would you want to?

On arrival I went to a wedding in Soweto, as you do. It was HUGE. I’ve been to Indian weddings, but this was ENORMOUS. There were hundreds of people, and they all got fed. The speeches were interminable. When I’ve been at Hindu weddings, I’ve been reliably informed that the more cash you pass to the priest-person, the quicker the dull bits of the ceremony get done. After an hour of endless speeches in Zulu, I was wondering if this might be a good time to spread a bit of international good practice.

But the wedding was also very beautiful. When the bride and groom arrived, they danced very gently and rhythmically up the street towards the building. Songs were sung by everyone following behind, and everyone danced. It was gorgeous and I felt my awkward Englishness at not taking part. Then, mindful of mon amour’s insistence that I eat well, I stuffed my face with yummy veg casserole and rice. Then I spent the whole of last night running, in both senses of the word. Cramped trains, obnoxious passengers and diarrhoea. So far so typical.



  1. Hey there, nice blog! I’m doing aid/development work too, but in Papua New Guinea. Weddings, celebrations and random events here often induce similar health issues although I have managed to avoid it, I hope you’ve got a well-stocked medical kit. Keep up the good work and enjoy!

    Comment by Carolyn — 25 September, 2006 @ 10:50 pm

  2. Ha! brilliant. you’ve been there two days and you manage a wedding AND a blogpost! i’m very impressed. and after surviving a british train journey… i remember those longing looks toward the loo… sigh.

    of course I’ll do you an illo… I’ll send you the flickr of it later 🙂

    keep it up… and keep it in (your guts, i mean!)


    Comment by lucy — 26 September, 2006 @ 7:36 am

  3. An auspicious beginning… (hmmm… I meant more the wedding than the running…) I would have liked to hear the music at the wedding. African harmonies are my favourites.

    Comment by deeleea — 26 September, 2006 @ 8:08 am

  4. Great to hear you’ve settled in and headed straight for the parties!! Wouldn’t expect anything less 😉

    Comment by Paul Smith — 26 September, 2006 @ 8:39 pm

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