12.11.2010 15 °C
In 1883 Stanley arrived in Mbandaka and placed a rock on the South bank where he believed the Equator crossed the river, he was about 6km out. The heat when I arrived here was quite incredible, I could really feel the difference in just 393km between here and Gemena, but what surprised me the most were the beautiful old colonial buildings that remain intact and in use. This country does not have a good track record of preserving buildings, war and neglect can have that effect, but here in Mbandaka you can still see evidence of the Belgians; large square houses surrounded by wide terraces with fenced gardens lining a grid network of paved roads.
I am here for two weeks, staying in an old house on the river and enjoying so far bi-polar weather [two days of broiling in intense 12hr sunshine, and 1 day swimming around town wearing every layer of clothing I brought with me]. I have not been feeling so good in the last 2 weeks, I thought it was just a bug but it has stayed with me so I decided to visit the Centre de Sante yesterday, recommended to me by colleagues as one of the best outside Kinshasa. I walked into an unlit reception room with a nurse in grey-blue scrubs and gave her my basic symptoms in my best French, which she jotted down carefully in a school notebook with a picture of Samuel Eto’o on the front while sticking a dirty, smelly thermometer into my arm-pit [well at least it wasn’t in my mouth]. ‘It’s 6,000CF to see the doctor’, and she held out her hand. Ok, I can live with $7. I jumped the queue [in front of babies and elderly men – so uncomfortable], and went straight through to the doctor’s office which was equally unlit although he was impeccably dressed. He thought I have amoebas in my intestine, same as a colleague of mine and exactly what I was expecting, but would like me to take blood tests anyway [15,000CF]. He gave me pills for my amoebas and I debated just going home and taking a nap, but just to be sure I agreed to the blood tests. I was led into another unlit room, a kitchen, with a broken window and two lab assistants dressed in oversized white coats. There are two chairs, barely any equipment, and when one assistant asks if I want a new needle and syringe [2,000CF] I start to have reservations. After my blood is spilt a sample is added to a chipped piece of glass and left to dry on a filthy window sill under a grey, decaying curtain.
This is the best medical centre in Mbandaka, the provincial capital just a 40 minute flight from the capital, certainly the most expensive, at 23,000CF its out of reach for almost everyone, and I am absolutely terrified. I refuse a drip and am promised test results by the afternoon. When I return the place is deserted aside from a few live-in patients in their rooms; the doctors don’t work afternoons which essentially means nobody does – 20 minutes after he left so did everyone else. I went back this morning feeling better after 24 hours of amoeba pills and expecting nothing exciting………just typhoid fever and malaria to add to the amoebas, merde!