(from pp 44-5)
An hour before sunset we reached Ambatoharanana. I was dying for a pee again. Abdulla invited us to see his hôpital. I accepted with as much enthusiasm as my bursting bladder allowed. I prayed that his hospital would be small. Abdulla led us through the village: a muddle of tiny houses, most thatched and all perched on stilts. The ‘hospital’ was not much larger than the other houses. It too was on stilts but had a corrugated iron roof which made it stiflingly hot and airless inside. There were four beds, each with a mosquito net full of holes. Under one, lying on plastic sheeting instead of bed linen, lay a man who groaned and rocked his aching abdomen. Perspiration poured off his emaciated body. Abdulla demonstrated his training and how ill his patient was by prodding him sharply in the stomach. The invalid curled up and his groaning grew louder. I felt sick. Aides sanitaires [like Abdulla], who are male, educated and leading village figures, are given a whole year’s training to provide a basic primary health care service. They organise immunisations, treat what they can with penicillin, chloroquine, aspirin and antiseptic, and may refer patients to the doctor. He showed us his meagre dispensary while I tried tactfully to ask about the man with belly-ache. Would the doctors come and see him? Shouldn’t he be evacuated to Ambilobé?
‘Maybe tomorrow,’ came Abdulla’s answer.
Abdulla asked if we wanted to use the bathroom. Baffled, but hopeful still of finding somewhere discreet to squat, I said ‘Yes’, and he led us out between the little huts to the edge of the village and waved vaguely towards some kapok trees.
(from p 49)
The long day speeding across the desiccated savannah turned us brick-red; smiling sent dust slicks avalanching off our faces. We stank of stale sweat and paraffin.
(from p 105)
A bat brushed by, and was gone more quickly than a whispered curse.
A quick dip
(from p 111-2)
exploring... deeper in. We continued along low mud causeways which meandered across awesome lake-filled chambers over 150 feet high... Attracted by twittering above me, I craned to see a bat colony high in the roof, and suddenly found myself skidding off the causeway into the water 12 feet below. I went right under, weighed down by my boots and a heavy day sack. The immersion extinguished my carbide light. I floundered in the pitch dark until I felt my feet on the bottom. I stood up, grabbed a breath, but slid away deeper into the lake and under water again... by the time I'd got my feet planted well enough in the mud so that I could stand up, someone had appeared at the top of the mudbank. I couldn't see who it was but giggles gave her away.
'What are you doing down there?' Anne asked.
[Blind shrimps inhabited other little underground lakes these] looked inviting but as soon as I slid in they turned from clear green to a sticky brown porridge and I kept losing my boots in the tenacious mud. The shrimps I pursued were eyeless yet amazingly adept at avoiding capture.
(from p 112)
Cave animals rely on floods or commuters like bats to bring in food. Moulds grow on such imports and are grazed by glistening white springtails. These are very small and totally harmless, their most offensive weapons being their sausagey antennae which they use to identify friends or beat the stuffing out of intruders. They never evolved wings, so their only defence is to jump and they manage an impressive eight inches - spectacular for a creature just a tenth of an inch long. Here in the cave, wherever there was a trace of mould or bacteria to eat, they were there dashing around dodging ants, mites, spiders and centipedes - all of which would have liked them for dinner.
(adapted from pp 136-7)
Having already spent so long travelling the entire length of the island on buses, I didn’t believe the journey right across Madagascar would only take a day. The scheduled 4am start began quite punctually at 9. By the time we’d driven 30 miles, the two extra co-drivers had demolished a whole bottle of rum and were giggling like schoolgirls.
The suspension broke. Our trio of drivers squatted in a huddle by the wheel to discuss what to do. More giggles. Several cigarettes and swigs of rum later they settled on the usual local solution: binding the suspension leaf-springs together with inner tube. Further discussions, cigarettes, games of tag, and the repairs took an hour and a half…
…we were awoken by attempts to bump us out of another huge boggy hole in the track. Often we’d stopped to survey the best way through waist-deep pools that blocked the way. Sometimes we could go around but in other places, scrub and trees forced us to drive straight through. The extra drivers often had to push the taxi-brousse and were clearly cheap substitutes for 4-wheel drive. They seemed to enjoy cooling off as they waded and fell about in mud-sludge. The sober driver would then take great delight in driving off at speed, spraying his drunk colleagues with soup-thick brown water, pretending to leave them behind.