Porcupines and Typhoid

May 3, 2007

Dear Friends and Family,

We hope you're doing well.  We are pretty good now.  Michael was sick last week...he came down with Typhoid fever.  Not sure if you're familiar with it but its a gastrointestinal disease passed on via faecal matter.  We had about 6 people on campus come down with it…symptoms include fever, aches and pains, headaches, diarrhoea etc.  600,000 people die of it each year (about 10% of untreated cases die). Michael was pretty sick with it last week, but he's pretty much feeling better now with antibiotics.  We were surprised he got it because he'd been vaccinated against it.  Well, obviously the vaccine isn't 100% effective...about 80% effective I read. 

It has a 1-2 week incubation period and you often get outbreaks of it, especially with everyone eating from a centralised food source (cafeteria).  People here aren't good at hand washing fullstop, so that doesn't help. Others people have tried to encourage them in this respect, but with little effect.   We weren't sure what to do to prevent the school from having a full blown outbreak of Typhoid, and the only 2 solutions seemed to be to either take blood tests of everyone, so that we could treat those infected with Typhoid, or to give everyone a course of antiobiotics (drug the masses!). Well neither option was terribly appealing but we took the later.  I absolutely hate the idea of mass drugging people.  We would have liked to have immunised everyone against Typhoid, but unfortunately, typhoid immunisations aren't available here.  In fact, the people here didn't even know there was such a thing.  We also had a little educational talk to all the staff and students and told explained to them about the disease...including that because this disease was being passed on to a number of people, it basically meant they were somehow eating each others faeces/urine due to their bad habits of not washing hands properly, peeing in the creek and then drinking the same water, etc.  This seemed to have the desired effects!

Following on from this…the students normally bath in the creek, and the boys bathing area is further down the creek from the girls bathing area.  There are a few showers, including one out the back of our house.  For the last week, one of the boys, Alexander, has been asking me everyday if he can use 'my shower'.  Last night he told me the reason he has been using "my shower' is because he has a cut on his foot, and because the girls pee in the river upstream from where he bathes, he doesn't want to get urine in the cut on his foot. 

We are becoming accustomed to unwanted awakenings in the middle of the night.  The last few have been helping us to get more acquainted with yet some more of the local inhabitants.  Last weekend, we awoke on Saturday morning to find one banana from a bunch of bananas on the bench had been eaten, and the rubbish bin was knocked over onto the floor.  We thought it was probably the result of a hungry rat.  The next night, I woke to go to the outhouse in the middle of the night, and noticed another banana had been eaten.  When I went back to bed, I heard what sounded like a big moth flying round the room, but then when it squeaked, I realized it was a bat.  Well it finished off another 2 bananas that night.  The bananas are now kept in a more secure location.

Then, 2 nights later, I was awoken at 1.30 am by Michael and a strange creature in our bedroom.  Michael woke up first, and his initial thoughts were that it was a large owl in the corner of our room, due to its spikey outline which, to a sleepy person in a dark room, looked like the outline of an owls wings.  Then, he thought it was a kangaroo because of its long tail and the thumping and jumping that it was doing.  By the time he got the light on he thought maybe it was a sloth, because it was trying to climb up the wall and because its face looked like a sloths face.  Finally, we figured it might be some kind of a porcupine because of all the spines on its back.  I encouraged it outside with the end of the broom, only to find it had a mate outside waiting for it.

Well, you may wonder how an animal the size of a wallaby got inside our house in the middle of the night.  One of the doors in the house is like a rough screen door (just a frame covered with mosquito netting), and the bottom ˝ meter is uncovered, as the previous occupants of the house had left it this way to allow the 3 cats to come and go from the house as they pleased.  But having a Bolivian Porcupine in our bedroom at 1.30 am seems like a very good reason to cover the bottom of the door over.

Last week we had our first "Sur" (which I incorrectly call 'Sewer") - a cold weather front that comes in from the south.  It was BEAUTIFUL!  The day before it was soooo hot.  Then we had the cold front come through - we even needed to sleep with 2 blankets, got out long pants, woolly jumpers and all.  It was the first time I'd wished i wasn't showering under a cold shower at night.  The students even had their gloves and beanies out!  Guess what the temp was.... around 20 degress, maybe at the lowest 18 celsius.  But it really felt cold!  I guess we must be acclimatising!

Things are going well at the school at the moment.  We are feeling pretty settled here enjoying getting to know the students.  Our ability to communicate is improving slowly, although its still VERY limited.  Taking the English classes is helping me to improve my Spanish as well, although sometimes I feel so sorry for the poor students trying to understand my muddled up explanations, although they are very patient with us.  I´ve also pulled my first toenail out - yuck!  One of the girls had been working with a hoe clearing grass in the soccer field and had ripped her big toenail half way off with the hoe.  Fawna (who is also a nurse) & I put some local in the toe, attempting to do a digital block, which worked pretty well, then I had the honors of ripping the toenail off with a pair of pointy nose pliers...something that I am hoping not to have to do again any time soon.   


Michael has been spending a lot of time working on the development of the campus, as well as doing some electrical work on the new cafeteria with the students in his class.  Today we have just purchased a 5000 litre water tank, which will have a tower constructed on which it will stand.  Its exciting to see the plans for the development here.  Amongst other things we are also working on getting a brick factory in progress to help support the school financially.


Well, that´s about it for now.  We are trying to sort visa stuff out today.

Love to you all,

Dani and Michael