Archive for November 27th, 2008

How to … (First in a new series on Outpost Living)

November 27, 2008

How to … Organise a Doctor’s appointment for one of your children when you live in an African Outpost.


1. Telephone doctor (when you finally get a dialing tone/decent cell signal and once you have ascertained number which takes several frustrating calls prior to this one) who lives in Nairobi, several hundred miles across border to the north

‘Morning Dr, any chance you can see my son?’ (so pleased to get through you forget to introduce yourself).

Sorry, who is this?

You tell her, you remind her she has seen your son on two

occasions before

What’s the problem?

You describe it.

She says Oh.  She says he would need to see additional physicians and have some tests.

OK, you say.

When can you bring him in?


Monday? This Monday?

Yes please.

How long will you be in Nairobi?

‘For the day?’ (son is disinclined to spend more than the barest minimum of time out of school; he would be for cricket, not for the doctor)

Good gracious. A single day. And such short notice, and so close to Christmas! she admonishes.

You nod apologetically into the phone.

A single day? She repeats, sounding a trifle impatient.

Yes.  Sorry.

Ok. Let’s see what I can do. Get yourselves here and we’ll go from

there.  I’ll find a gap in my schedule.


You say thank you several times. 

2. Telephone travel agent  

Please can you get small daughter and I flights out of Outpost to Arusha on Saturday morning (where you plan to rendezvous with son.)

“Possibly. We hope so.  If airline flies as per schedule”.

(Which is unlikely given reputation of distinctly imprecise Precision Airways).

“Please can I have the telephone numbers for airport operations staff so that I can  find out for myself whether plane is on its way on the morning in question so that if not I have a few hours to try and scramble an alternative plan”.

Reluctantly they provide a number.  And then they tell you smugly that there is not a single other aircraft going in the direction you want to go that day. 

3. telephone long suffering friend

Please can you baby-sit small daughter? And you explain why.   

4. she agrees, with sweet and kind and eternally patient alacrity

5. Telephone son’s school

         ‘Please can I take son out of school for a couple of days? He needs to see a specialist.’


6. They agree; they are quite tired of your anxious phone calls as to state of son’s health.

7. Telephone travel agent again.


Please can you book me flights from Arusha to Nairobi?

We have already booked you a flight from Outpost to Arusha.

I know. Thank you. Please can you book two to Nairobi.

Are you wanting to go to Arusha or Nairobi? (impatiently)


With your daughter?

Only half way, you say.  ‘’Then I shall be travelling with my son’’

This causes significant confusion.


8. They hum and ha quite a lot.

9. And then they say, Sorry, no, there are no seats available on that day. It is full.

10.  This is a problem since you have been foolhardy enough to arrange to see doctor first thing on Monday morning. 



11. “Are you sure? Is it really full?”


12. Yes. (Emphatically). We will waitlist you. 

13. Please don’t (rising panic evident in tone) please get me on the flight. And you explain why. Hoping to elicit some sympathy.


14. They hum and ha again.


15. Please. You begin to beg in humiliating earnest 

16. The waitlist they referred to (the ‘critical, unlikely you will get on that flight one’) eventually miraculously and happily clears in order that requisite two seats can be found.  You imagine this is not on account of sudden benevolence but because they are sick of listening to you and because you are losing them a lot of business as you are hogging the phone line.


17. Say thank you thank you thank you several times. Until receiver at other end clicks.


18. You duly receive e-tickets. You are apparently travelling to Nairobi with a Mr David Roland who you are sure is a very nice man and who may also need to see a doctor but who is decidedly not your son.


19. You call travel agent.  It takes a long time for anybody to answer.  This is probably because your number has been black-listed.


20. ‘I think you’ve made a mistake with the passenger’s name’, you point out when the phone is finally picked up. The receiver is very quickly replaced.


21. And a new e ticket promptly pings into your Inbox.  Almost instantly. You suspect this is not an endorsement of agent’s efficiency rather that they hope never, ever to hear from you again.


22. Telephone sister who lives north of border, ‘please can we come and stay for two nights, son has to have some tests’. 

23. Of course.  


24. Remember belatedly that your son needs to be collected from school and delivered to airport and that you will not be traveling with useful car in your hand baggage.


25. Call school. Again.

 26. Sorry. Me again. Would it please be at all possible to arrange transport for son to airport where I will meet him. Please. They are not terribly thrilled to hear from you. Again. But are very patient. Yes, they say.


27. And – you ask, striking whilst proverbial iron is at best still luke warm – can you collect him on our return since he needs to go in opposite direction (back to school) to you.  

28. Yes, they say. Distinctly less sympathetic now. As if the prospect of another phone call from you fills them with horror.  They would like to remind you that they are not a taxi service but are too polite to do so.

 29. Send 45 emails to confirm and reconfirm assorted plans and appointments and flights. 

30. Cross fingers very, very tightly for next two days that every one of the three planes you are due to board over the weekend is on time.


How to Organise a Doctor’s appointment for one of your children when you are staying with your mother who lives in a village in Northamptonshire in the East Midlands of England.


1. Pick up the telephone, be briefly amazed and delighted at constant and reassuring purr of dialing tone, telephone the Health Centre at Burton Latimer




Morning.  I wondered if it would be possible to make an appointment for my son to see Dr Spencer next week.


Certainly. What’s him name? (Brief silence as appointments books is consulted), ‘How about next Thursday at 11?’


Perfect. Thank you very much.  See you then.