The day starts with a cup of instant coffee in the hopes of shaking the feeling of “I shouldn’t have stayed up reading last night but I probably will again tonight.” Honestly, the coffee should be a decent pot of French pressed African brew, but I have taken to waking up at the last possible moment. (I used to be better: it was yoga, a Psalm and a proper breakfast; but alas, no more.) Still, I do not actually wake up until I am driving through the heart of Pretoria threading my Renault between a taxi and a Putco bus. If Highveld radio is cooperating, they have finished their Jo’burg traffic reports and are pumping LMFAO. Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.
My mornings consist of waiting for clients and performing neurological assessments. The clients are a strange mix, some appearing as if they just came from the farm and others stylishly dressed complete with heels and dangly earrings dangerously within the grasp of a one-year-old. The babies are equally diverse, if more in demeanour than appearance. Kids come loaded with a personality at a very young age. Some babies are scared of everything that isn’t there mother’s boob—It’s a block, kid; I promise it won’t hurt you—and others leap at me and start tearing into the toys. Block in face, sqeaky-toy down, crayon in mouth, time to jump off the table. They even respond to the needle-prick differently. One kid started bawling, waving her hand around and flinging blood everywhere. I ended up wiping the blood out of her hair with an alcohol swab. I have baby blood on my hands. Another little girl cried for the entire assessment until I stuck her finger; then she was calm and cool.
On a good day, I finish with my assessments by one. Then it is lunch in Kalafong’s Klinikala courtyard, the patient-free safe-haven of Pretorian medical students. Lunch is, occasionally, surprisingly tasty. Though, perhaps three months of my own subpar cooking have lowered my standards. South African medical students are on summer break now, so lunch is usually accompanied some reading of a decidedly non-medical sort. Why read yet another article about HIV-associated whatever, when you could read about futuristic California, ancient Chinese military history, or, well, anything else.
I pass the afternoons with data entry and reading those neglected articles on HIV-associated whatever. The Fugees and Thelonius Monk make this ritual bearable. I am home between four and five, after round two of death-defying feats of automobile aggression. Only driving in Boston is more fun than this.
Then, there is usually a run, the above-mentioned subpar cooking, a Black Label or Windhoek and, finally, recording a few of the day’s events in Afrikaans. Ek wil baie ‘n Boston bier kry, maar ek kan nie. Jammer. Some nights I get to rock climb, and, like I said, I used to do yoga. Other nights I hang around the district hospital emergency department, sifting through charts for lacerations and deftly avoiding cases of full-body pain and epilepsy. Those nights are fun, if exhausting. The casualty ward is one of the places in South Africa where race is moot, at least among the staff. Besides, every now and then a Mozambican finds his way in and I get to butcher yet another language, whilst sewing a bloody hand. My suturing, thankfully, is far superior to my foreign language abilities.
Later, if the mosquitoes stay away from my ears, I sleep like a baby, and dream about babies, and wake up to more babies.