The chances are that anyone who went to Sudan as an English teacher in the seventies and eighties will already be overwhelmed with nostalgia just reading the title of this posting. This was a book that did what it said on the cover, listing all the symptoms of all the ailments you were likely to suffer in remote corners of the world Where There Is No Doctor.
I can remember spending many happy evenings poring over this tome with fellow teachers, generally off our heads, detailing symptoms to one another and gleefully exclaiming, "I got that!" If half our claims had been correct, the Hospital for Tropical Diseases would have been busy for the next ten years. But this wasn't simple hypochondria. Often, we really were sick. Just not with what we'd pinpointed in Where There Is No Doctor.
Maladies varied according to where one was posted, but basically anyone who spent a year in Sudan without suffering at one stage or another some mystery fever and enduring several bouts of diarrhoea, simply wasn’t playing the game. I won’t go into the details of all the tummy upsets, but they were sufficiently prevalent that, when I inadvertently broke wind in front of a class during a bout of giardia, the front row leapt up to open the windows and everyone else fell about laughing, fully aware of what was happening. As far as the Sudanese were concerned, foreigners were walking bags of wind.
Come the end of the year, I went home with salmonella, bilharzia, and hepatitis, the last of which the Sudanese had urgently wanted to cure by branding the inside of my forearm with two bicycle spokes. We were sick, all right. In fact, it was a miracle that we weren’t sicker. But it has to be said that, despite both our best efforts and the remarkable, half-imagined correspondence of our own symptoms with those in Where There Is No Doctor, very few of us came down with cholera, typhoid, anthrax and . . . . well, you name it, we ‘had’ it and didn’t have it all.
Some books become indelibly associated with place. Where There Is No Doctor is perhaps not the best example of this as it is unlikely that we would have acquired a copy of it, let alone a passion for it, had we been gathered together in South London. Other books are best dissociated from place, something I explore in my latest novel. But whether they are localized or not, it is nice to imagine they have a life of their own. When I left Sudan, I gave everything away, mainly to colleagues, but also to students and to a few street kids, too. At his request, I left Where There Is No Doctor with Hassan, our headmaster. The book has probably disintegrated since then, but I’d like to think it survived awhile and alarmed a few more readers.
Postcard from the Past #1 On Your Bike
Postcard from the Past #2 Dismal Self
Postcard from the Past #3 Do Not Photograph This Wall
Postcard from the Past #4 Befuddeled
Postcard from the Past #5 An Island In The Desert
Postcard from the Past #6 Oh, My Darling.
Postcard from the Past #7 Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? And what the fuck are we doing here?
Next week, drugs and rock 'n' roll.
Causes Charles Davis Supports
Oxfam, Amnesty International, Greenpeace