Monday, October 13, 2008

Delo, partou, partou!!!

It's been a crazy couple of weeks. Davinia has been and gone, and I think its safe to say that the Creole spirit took a hold of her, gave her a good shake and left her wanton. Not to say that her stint here wasn't fraught with its fair share of glitches, one of the most memorable being the household flood that greeted us one Friday morning a week or so back.

Funnily enough, there is a severe water shortage in the Seychelles, the result of which is that the water is turned off at 6pm and resumes at 6am. On the Friday morning in question, we'd had a booze fuelled night before. As usual, I had to wake up early to go and do my mosquito thing with Simon and the team. Upon being roused by my alarm I spotted a crisp, red, 100 rupee note floating across the body of water that had filled our room. This was no mini 'oops I've left my bath on and theres a wee puddle kind of flood', you know the sh*ts hit the fan when stuff is floating. We had all our electricals, phones, dissertation material, clothes, you name it floating or immersed in water. The look on Davinias face when I woke her up suddenly was priceless - she it was slightly crazed and wide eyed. It was hilarious. When I actually broke the news that there was a flood she froze and then proceeded to do a root cause analysis of how it happened.

Im no emergency disaster relief expert but my strategy to just 'get the water out' seemed quite logical to me. I did wonder what planet she was on when she suggested 'sorting things out' before my cousin Claude woke up, considering the whole flat was submerged in a good few inches of water.

On the Sunday after the flood crisis we had a family party for Davinias' birthday. It was quite fun indeed. The DJ's selection of 'pti man' music didn't go down well with the old folks, but once he wacked on some sega (traditional music) it was like a scene from that film 'cocoon'. The old timers got a new lease of life. Even the tee totallers within the family threw caution to the wind and were knocking back punch and seybrew :-) We danced loads and finally had to call it a day when it got a bit later and a mysterious beam of light shone danced from face to face. It was Titante. Apart from wanting to know who was still there and doing what of course, she also suggested it was time to call it a day.

The day before Davinias departure we took a trip to La Digue, one of the inner islands. It has a totally different feel to Mahe, with its small population of 3000 and travel mostly restricted to oxcart and bicycle, the mini isle oozes tranquility. It also has some of the most stunning landscape. We stayed with family friends who typically of the seychellois were very hospitable. Our host Ronny made a barbecue from scratch, before chucking on some 'bourzwa', and making chicken, octopus curry, various chutneys and salads. It was lovely. Within Seychellois culture, the men learn to cook from a young age, and cook bloody well. It is one of the most appealing facets of the lifestyle here. I do wonder how I'm going to cope when I go back to the UK, I might actually pay attention when my mum cooks for once and try to learn how to cook the staples, Kari coco, pwason griye and la dob...

A small mishap with tickets led to us being stranded on the island, and with Davinias flight the next day, we were a tad bit distressed. My friend Ronny was going to take us over to another island with his boat, but luckily we managed to hitch a ride on the 'Praslin Dolphin' a cargo boat destined for Mahe. It turned out to be a blessing. We had great seats aboard the top deck and a view to die for. The sea was calm as we sailed while the sun was setting. The crew were very kind, giving us sugar cane and guava to munch on (Davinia ate the sugar cane like a bush girl from the amazon but it was a nightmare for me so had to chuck it in the sea when I thought the captain wasnt looking).

Just a quick update on my doggy Bush: - We had a bit of a scare a couple of weeks back when he was very poorly. We'd just returned form my cousin Ruths birthday and she had decided to escort us the 5 metres from her house to ours so that she could give Titante some cake. We were greeted by Bush looking lacklustre and weak, and he seemed to be struggling to breathe. Ruth works for the SSPCA (kind of the like the RSPCA) so she is used to assisting with vet like duties. Upon seeing little Bushie distressed I whimpered 'Ruth do something!' and on cue, Ruth does her thing and tends to Bush, force feeding him salt water then giving him sugars, which promptly made him regurgitate something I don't ever wish to recall in my memory again. He's back to his normal self and stinks like hell but we're all happy. I can't help but tickle his tummy and shake his little paw when I see him. Today he said good morning (with his tail) and I even didnt mind the jumping on me and licking of my legs. I think I'm converted! (to cute little dogs, not the feral beast with scary gnasher types...

It's my last day here, and I'm running around like mad (well picking up the phone every so often and asking for favours) trying to get my last bits of data. For me this jaunt to the motherland is only the beginning. I've had a wonderful time, made some true friends and have fallen in love with my liquorice allsort family, warts and all. Everyone tells me they think I'll be back soon. I think they may be right. In the meanwhile, look out for my forthcoming peer-reviewed paper on the status of Aedes albopictus within Seychelles, it should be published in the Lancet next year. NOT!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sesel mon kontan ou...

My cousin David is young, fed up and restless. He told me that I’d have enough after 2 months in Seychelles. I’m nearing that amount of time here and although it has been trying on all fronts, I could never get fed up of being with my family and learning more about my roots, history and culture. Day by day I grow to understand why my mum and the family that emigrated abroad will always feel like fish out of water outside of their home, why the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow can never make up for being away from what makes up the essence of your being.
The mosquito surveys are going ok, although I’ve become a bit worried about the research that I’m conducting, mostly because it has dawned on me that I’m not entirely sure what the hell my main aims are. I have a wealth of information, it’s just knowing what to do with it. To top things off, my tutor at Kings has declined my request for an extension until November. When I read this news in my email today I almost lost the will to carry on, but after a pep talk from Danny, the Director, and his offer of a Smirnoff ice coupled with a data gathering exercise, I was motivated to carry on.

Davinia has been here over a week now and although we are having a great time, her arrival signifies the end of my time here and the thought of leaving does make me feel a bit sad. My family have taken her in and have simply amazed me at how wonderful they really are at making her feel welcomed. They simply want her to have a great time and are already looking forward to her return. I don’t get to see them often and this time spent with them has been ‘pli bon’ as we say in creole or simply lovely.

Davinias’ easy going nature works for me during this time of immense stress with the project. Today my friend come tour guide Terence took us to a beach at North east point after work and we sat on the rocks watching the waves crash and sun go down while teasing each other. By day we count mosquito eggs, by night we visit and chat (or on occasion dance) with various family members and friends, ending up with dinner at Drinas and drinks at Cocos. Tomorrow Davinia will be going jet skiing and I’ll be doing the mosquito survey thing (one more survey to go, woohoo!).

Her birthday is on Monday, and from her scrappy knowledge of GCSE French, my family giving her daily creole lessons, and my cousin Jimmys crap secret keeping skills, she managed to decipher our surprise birthday plans for her. What we’ve organised is a party on my cousin Coco’s verandah this coming Sunday.

There’ll be a barbecue and we’ve managed to get the best musicians on the island to attend including the famous Kevin Rat. Apparently he was the most famous singer this island ever turned out, but after much womanising and 30 kids later, alcohol got the better of him. I simply cannot imagine him as a heart-throb, I even think he takes after his name and has a rattish look to him. Kevin Rat a lothario?! -but that’s how everyone describes how he was back in the day. He’s a thin wisp of a man with wild shoulder length hair and an unruly beard who can just about walk straight. Although I do wonder how much of it is an act for sympathy (one day I saw him on crutches, the next day he was walking fine along the mountainous terrain). He still does a few impromptu performances on demand (providing the drinks are flowing of course). Titante smacks her lips whenever she talks about his voice and considering she doesn’t dish out compliments too easily he must be very good indeed. I can’t wait to hear him perform. I’ve also convinced my uncle Lewis (the best bassist on the island wouldn’t you know) to find a guitar and play for me, he laid down his guitar 38 years ago so I feel quite honoured.

We’ve also got a well known musician Joel performing and I think we are going to have a sega dancing competition, Davinias learned the hip swaying quite quick, but I’m still going to take the title. It should be pretty damn great (

My little dog Bush is doing well. He walked me to the shops today and tried to follow Davinia and I to town. I’m a bit paranoid about him running around so free as my Uncle Gabbys dog ‘Tiny’ died recently. Tiny had eaten poison left out for stray dogs a couple of weeks ago. Another family dog Rocky also nearly died, but after being force fed milk and some tender loving care from my aunty Marlene, he survived. As you can imagine everyone was pretty sad at Tinys demise. When I first met Tiny, I had to sit through the whole story of when he was born and how cute he was etc. For me there is-or was should I say a line of demarcation between humans and animals.

I gave platitudes while rolling my eyes at the time but now I’m understanding where all that animal love is coming from. My cousin Ruth told me that it was there deep inside, in my blood as all my family are obsessed (she’s a vet) and I just needed to tap into it somehow. Now I think I’ve found my dog mojo. I don’t think I’d ever have one in the UK though. Compared to over here, dogs are babied and treated like silly creatures and it seems to reflect in their behaviour so it just wouldn’t be the same. I can’t even walk myself, let alone a dog, anyhow.

My great uncle Ro-Ro had the most amazing dog ever, Kristoff. From birth he trained Kristoff well. Uncle Ro-Ro used to put money in Kristoffs mouth and send him to the shop for beer, he’d have the money in his mouth, the shop keeper would exchange it for beer and that’s how it was.

Uncle Ro-Ro was locked up in jail once (for hijacking a police dog show and making Kristoff wow the crowds with his amazing tricks thus embarrassing the police). Kristoff came home, and from his erratic behaviour, my grandma knew something was was wrong and she followed Kristoff who led her to the jail where uncle Ro-Ro was. After a lot of talk and the police being scared of Kristoff uncle Ro-Ro was released. I was pretty impressed with that story, and there are many more like that. The day after Uncle Ro-Ro died, so did Kristoff. I’m not quite at that level of canine love yet, but I’d be devastated if anything happened to Bush. Even Davinia-who’s reflex is to run when she hears anything resembling a bark, loves that little cutie.

While I should be figuring out how to set up a BG sentinel (mosquito) trap, I’m writing this blog. I find it quite cathartic. I should really focus on my work but it’s my last weekend, and I think I’m going to enjoy it to the max damn it – if I muck up this project, maybe I can write my memoirs. Anyway Praslin and La Digue await me…. mon pe vini!!!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Encore en fwa!

I’ve been here for over a month now and I’ve slipped quite well into a routine. My grandmas sister 'Titante' wakes up at 6am without fail everyday and puts her radio on to listen to ‘dimoun ti’n mor’ or people that have passed away. Even though she is 85 and can only walk a few metres before getting breathless, she washes the clothes, and cooks curry, with rice, salad and satini (chutney) all before 7am. She then sits on the verandah, saying ‘salaam’ to everyone that walks by. She tracks peoples movements more tightly than a CIA agent. She can tell you, who’s dating who, where they’ve been and what they ate for supper last night. Even though her kids range from 45 to 62, with grandchildren of their own, she still tries to impose curfews on them. Her behaviour is the subject of many amusing conversations and impressions. Since my grandmother and their other sister 'tante' passed away, she is the last true matriarch of the family, and she rather relishes being in charge of all the young 'uns.

Every night she briefs me on the latest goings on in Mont Buxton before we watch the news and then she gives me a creole lesson. She tells me not to let on that I know creole so that I can let people divulge information on the downlow. It’s been quite cool actually. I found out some very interesting stuff in the staff hospital while pretending to read a newspaper in the staff common room a couple of weeks back. The lady gossiping stopped and said to someone ‘I pa comprwa mwa, li?’ which means ‘she cant understand me, can she?’ someonethen said the equivalent of ‘hell no’ before they returned back to their character assassination of a very close colleague...

I usually wake up late (around 7.30am) realising there is a meeting I have to go to and run down the mountain to get a taxi or on those few occasions I'm on time, I walk to the hospital. I say hello to the familiar faces that I meet on the way. Half of them seem to be relatives, close family friends or ex's of my brother who apparently dated the entire population when he lived here.
Whenever I tell people I live in Mont Buxton and I walk to and from the hospital every day, they always says ‘its good for you’ after a quick glance down at my thighs.

Over the last couple of weeks our monitoring and collections have been going ok, I’ve been a bit behind with counting my eggs (I haven’t counted any). I’m starting to know Mahe and know it a lot better than most of my family now. What has been quite annoying is that some of my traps have been turned upside down, stolen or knocked over, so results from some areas are missing. I did get rather excited last week though when I spotted some Culex egg rafts in one of my traps. I cant wait to identify those little beauties. Of interest also is a suspected imported case of Malaria by an Indian worker who has travelled in. I’d be interested to see how that is dealt with and also whether any competent vectors are around as I suspect perhaps they may be. My Italian supervisor has been quite supportive, almost ringing me on a daily basis to give me pep talks as well as new tasks to do for the EMCA conference next year. (Quick plug – any budding entomologists or public health people please sign up at!)

On the animal front, I’m also starting to deal with the dog situation. I’ve learned that if you are going into uncharted territory you need to carry a big stick or a few stones to chuck. I’ve also shouted ‘alle!’ at dogs and they’ve strangely obeyed a couple of times. I always hate it when my cousin gives me food to carry home. I might aswell walk around in a cat suit on all fours. I walk home in fear of being ambushed by beasts whilst dodgy the hazardous driving up a mountain with no lights or barriers to stop you falling 10 ft into a ditch. It's all an adventure I suppose.

Bush (Titantes adopted dog) is my darling. I never thought I’d ever say that about a dog, but he really loves me. I went to the shop the other day and he warned all the big scary dogs off, waited for me and then took me back home. He gets happy when I come home and wags his tail feverishly. He knows I’m not down with the licking yet, so he senses my discomfort and holds back bless him. Hopefully Davinia will come with the flea collar Titante requested as her way of trying to de-flea him (spraying him with bug spray for cockroaches) doesn’t really work funnily enough.

There are other animals a plenty and I’m not so keen on them. I woke up the other night to here some rustling only to find a 20 by 2cm long centipede crawling all over my bag in snake like fashion. I had to kill it, then pick it up with some lab tweezers and take a picture of it, it was phenomenal. There are cockroaches and spiders galore, not to mention geckos, lizards and every night you hear the bats screaming in the mango trees. Bat is a delicacy here. Perish the thought. I hear that if you don’t remove the glands properly you get the taste of BO. Nice. I think Titante summed it up nicely when I asked her if she ate bat, she replied ‘urgh! I can never eat bat! Its like eating a little person – they have periods!’ -I told you she was hilarious.

My friend Davinia arrives tomorrow. I’m quite excited about her arriving, this first month here has seen me immersed in family events, barbecues, beach parties and drinking on the verandah every night. I wonder how she’ll take to life in Seychelles. She’ll definitely fall in love with the surroundings and the people too. They are eccentric but warm and generous. Having said that for the average Seychellois, life is difficult. The backlash from the global economic crisis is taking its toll, and with almost everything being imported, life is expensive here, more so than the UK. People wrangle for foreign exchange and the blackmarket economy is rife. There are often food shortages over here, last week there was no salt in the shops, a couple of weeks before that no oil, there are often fights in supermarkets as people try to stockpile goods. One year there was no toilet paper! (and before you ask, I hear people used kitchen towel).

On this lazy Sunday morning, Im getting ready for another family get together. My cousin Denise the queen of socialites is leaving for America next weekend so I expect a bonanza of party.

I can hear Bush barking outside and Titante ordering him to come and say ‘Bonzour to mama’. Little does she know, Bush has a new mama in town :-)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Comsi, Comsa

Well folks, my intrepid adventures on the 'Pearl of the Indian Ocean' continue. Thanks for your feedback so far, its been great :-)
Time is flying. I've been here almost 3 weeks, and I don't really feel that I've achieved as much as I should have. The first spanner in the works occured when Simon (the ONLY person on this fair island that knows anything about mosquitoes) texted me on Monday morning to say he had come down with chickenpox. Upon reflection he did look terrible on the Friday, but I assumed that was because of the amount of booze he was knocking back at a fellow staff members leaving party. As always, he told me to chill (he used to be a rasta man) and that he'd arrange for someone to drive me around on the Wednesday. I was quite geared up for monitoring the traps on the Monday as it had been raining so hard over the weekend I thought I'd need to start gathering animals two by two.
Yesterday we set off and I felt ill prepared. Resources are so scarce here that I had to improvise. That fact that I'd never seen an Aedes albopictus egg out in the field and yet I had to start counting them terrified me. In the beginning I scraped up every bit of crap from the ovitraps onto filter paper just in case it was an egg.
I almost wanted to strangle Louisanne (one of the assistants) when we were trying to transfer some eggs to filter paper and in the process she crushed the eggs and smeared the remnants all over the place thinking that she had made a successful transfer?!?!?!?!?!
As the day progressed, I became familiar with the eggs and also could see an abundance of larvae. Most sites were positive. I've got lots of samples in my office which I will either try to identify as larvae or breed to adults and identify then. To identify larvae involves counting the number of hairs, looking at the length of the siphon and all kinds of tedious stuff I dont know how Im going to cope. Oh yeah my good friend Davinia is coming to join me in a few weeks :-)
Other than the daily improv that I have to conduct with these experiments, things are good here. Even though they don't know how to queue up or have a sense of urgency when it comes to work, the Seychellois are kind, hospitable and incredibly considerate. Family life centres around the verandah, the kitchen and food (especially fish) is discussed here like the British talk about weather. What's good about staying at Mont Buxton is that by mums' house we have mango, breadfruit, banana, jackfruit, golden apple and pawpaw trees. Titante orders an uncle or cousin to break fruit for me everyday, and there is always some sort of delicious 'satini' (chutney) or salad to be made for me to eat.
Last weekend I went out clubbing twice in a row, once with the older generation and then with my younger cousin Tracy. I was a wreck. My cousin Drina had to dowse my head in orange water and her partner Thomas gave me some gastric pill which miraculously fixed me up. I try to reject going out but I'm cajoled into doing it every day. I'm glad I do go though, it's always fun. I like the fact here that there are no taboos around socialising here. I think it has something to do with the fact that Seychelles is still only a couple of hundred years old, the joyous 'we've been liberated, lets have a damned good time' mentality of the freed slaves that built this nation permeates everything. Didi (my grandma) used to force her nieces and nephews to take her out clubbing right into her late 70's and if she couldn't be bothered to do that then she'd invite a band to her house and charge on the door.
I'm seeing a different side to life I suppose, one that is less serious and embraces the here and now. I'd like to strike a happy medium in time, I cannot maintain this hedonistic lifestyle long term without some repercussions somewhere (i.e FAIL for my project). I keep everything in check by reminding myself that I've committed myself to presenting this data in Turin next year in front of the worlds best in the field of entomology. Aint no room for egg on my face at an international conference so I better get back to my mosquito hunting.
I just found out that an obituary was published last week chronicaling the life of my hero and mentor Chris Curtis: By some fluke I've been chosen to chair the young researchers session at the European Mosquito Control Association conference next year, I know Chris would have been really happy about that. It was a chat with him that started the research in Seychelles and the link to EMCA which provided me with so many opportunities. Catching that article today was well timed and has reminded me that even with the glitches, what I'm doing is worthwhile :-)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Apwe de semen...

As promised, here is a blog from yours truly. I figure those who actually wish to keep up with my exploits would take the time to actively read about them, as opposed to skimming through a blanket email that invades your inbox, which may be missed at times.

I have been in Seychelles a total of 13 days. The flight was one of the worst experiences ever - apart from being transported in conditions that veal would turn their noses up at and trying to get rid of the constant worry of contracting Deep Vein Thrombosis, the flight was simply too long. The journey was eased by the fact that I was travelling with 3 cousins, 2 family friends and an old school mate that I had not laid eyes on in 13 years. Bumping into Jovan was quite surreal I must say. I challenge anyone to step off the plane, out of the airport and not smile. I might be slightly biased but Seychelles is just simply stunning.

The variety of flora and fauna that greets you as you scan in the horizon is amazing. David Bellamy wouldn't be able to contain himself. The first week was spent getting accustomed to life here, the ridiculous heat and Seychellois ways (i.e booze, food, drink, food, animated discussion and even more booze). Even though most of the family live on the same plot of land up on Mont Buxton and are practically neighbours, it was a challenge dragging myself away from one set, onto another and most of my time was taken up with my great aunt 'Titante' (little aunty). Most people in Seychelles have nicknames and thats how they are known, especially the older generation. It took a while for me to find out my grandma was called Anne because the island simply knew her as Didi which I think is quite cute.

We commenced field work on Monday, which entailed Simon (head entomologist) and I travelling to each and every district on Mahe Island setting down ovitraps. I was quite upset with myself when I discovered on monday morning that I had lost 150 of the 200 ovitraps that I was supposed to lay. Cue lots of phonecalls to england and much stressing out. Simon eventually told me to 'chill' and that everything would be fine. Although Mahe is really small, it is very mountainous and some of the terrain can be quite a challenge. We decided to set a trap outside Titantes house and it tooks a couple of attempts to get to her house on the top of a little hill after sliding backwards. We even passed a guy who had driven his truck into a ditch. He said he was ok and waved us along. The team I am working with is great. Three lively women who we call teh 3 musketeers. They constantly sing and dance while all hunched up in the back of the car, Simon laughs along while blasting his sega music at full volume. Even though it can be quite difficult working in the intense heat, its never dull and always full of laughs. Without them I'd never be able to do this field work on my own, each house in Seychelles has a guard dog and they guard their territory well. Some are chained up, others are not.

I like the way they treat their dogs here, the seychellois actually have a lot of respect for them. They are treated like people with 4 legs. They get good food, poisson, curry and rice, lentils, a bowl of milk. Bush, a dog that has befriended me, refuses to eat bread without butter and jam on it.

We've also been greated by rats, drunken folk and a man whose house was enclosed in a swarm of flies. In between trips we stop off for a local snack, eat lunch by the beach or if its towards the end of the day, have a beer. There has not been much rain here and so I await the results of our first trap monitoring exercise next week. At an orphanage we happen to find a container with literally thousands of larvae, a mixture of Aedes and Culex mosquitoes which we are breeding to adulthood (by the way the lab here consists of one on its last legs light microscope and 3 mosquito cages in the staff canteen).

I'm off to the Regatta this weekend with my cousin Jimmy, the Regatta is a beach festival at Beau Vallon beach. It will be interesting to see how that is. I think I'll be in for a good time as he won big on roulette last night. The shower of rupees which adorned my pillowcase come 3am was most welcome I must say :-)