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

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.

28 Responses to “How to … (First in a new series on Outpost Living)”

  1. NolaGringa Says:

    Ah, spot on! Entertaining and oh so true.

    When I lived in an Eskimo village, it was quite easy to make a dentist appointment and fly out one day for that. What nobody told me my first time was that frequently it gets too cold for airplanes to fly … so I was stuck away from home for about a week, waiting for it to warm up enough for motors to run – wishing I’d thought to pack, well, ANYTHING besides my health insurance information. I thought it was a simple task, but it turned out to be much more like the Outpost version.

    It’s little comfort that we appreciate more what we do not get easily.

    But, it’s Thanksgiving here in the States, so thankfulness for a doctor’s appointment at all is in order?

    Best wishes on getting in and getting good treatment!

  2. nappy valley girl Says:

    Oh you poor thing. What a nightmare.
    I hope that it worked out all right in the end and that your boy is OK. By the way, if you ever need any remote medical opinions, I can ask The Doctor for you!

  3. Mud Says:

    Wow – what a mission! You sound fully qualified to coordinate vast armies of troops over multiple continents!

    I will have my fingers crossed for you and your flights.

  4. guineapigmum Says:

    Look on the bright side – things of this sort must surely conspire to fill your days. You’d never have time for an OU course. On the other hand, with this type of training and the organisational skills you must surely have developed, you could probably run an OU course.

  5. The boisterous Butterfly Says:

    You could be a head coordinator in any sort of planning facility, delivering any sort of goods all over the world, including human cargo. Because you know how to plead well and make a pest of yourself, mountains will be moved for you and planes will fly when others are grounded due to dire circumstances. I can see a whole career for you as a planning supervisor of a large shipping company. Armies of employees will do as you wish all over the world and your command will be theirs to fulfill. Good luck in your new career, memsahib.

  6. grit Says:

    i am in awe at this example of true grit in the face of adversity. inspiring does not do you justice.

  7. Iota Says:

    I think this could be a fantastic opener for a detective thriller or mystery. I mean, David Roland. Who is he? Where is coming from? Where is he going? Are you going to sit next to him on the flight? Is he going to be the murder victim? Or is he the murderer?

    I’m all agog.

  8. Roberta Says:

    God how frustrating! I hope he (your son) is okay! You didn’t say what the problem was!

    At least you found a doctor. Ours quit and sold the business. Now our HMO doesn’t know where to send us!

  9. Says:

    My goodness, and I thought life was difficult sometimes over here in France. I read your blog to remind me how easy my life is, as well as to be hugely entertained. I do hope he doesn’t need any follow up appointments

  10. Tessa Says:

    Oho! So familiar! Really make me chuckle in recognition – which, of course, doesn’t make it any less frustrating for you. (I do so hope it all goes well, eventually.) Do they also do that very, very, VERY polite Ugandan thing where, before you are allowed to get to the heart of the matter, they enquire about the health and well-being of every member of your family and all your dearly departed ancestors?

  11. Hadriana Says:

    This makes me smile! (probably not for you RM!) but it was similar in Hurghada (Red Sea, Egypt). Admittedly we had more flights etc. but for some weird reason you could only use “charter” flights if you were a tourist. I think they were hoping to redirect business via Cairo. (So bookings had to be done sneakily always at the risk of being thrown off the flight!!)

    Booking a doctor was another matter. Either you had to make an appointment with a doctor (and they were always away in Cairo) or wait several hours waiting to see the doctor (at night)…and there were ways of speeding up the process but we didn’t like to use them!

    Either which way….still a lot easier than your process. Often people moan about life in the UK but when you have to live life without a working internet, speaking (much) Arabic or having the handy yellow pages (at all)….it does seem like a doddle living over here.

    Hope it all worked out well and that your son is OK. Like a few others have said…there is definitely novel material here….

  12. Expat Mum Says:

    What – no prior authorisation from a health insurance company? No idiotic bureaucrat on the other end trying to make you go the cheapest way, by cart if necessary? No humming and haa-ing as to whether the doctor you want to see is actually “in network”? Oh, sorry that would be the USA. Silly me.

  13. Maggie May Says:

    Well, we have a lot to be thankful for here. (In that sense) Not many others…….
    Sounded horrendous.Hope he got fixed up in the end.

  14. Mr Farty Says:

    I’ll never complain about the NHS again. Until I do.

  15. R. Sherman Says:

    And we Americans complain about a thirty minute wait at the doctor’s office when they’ve squeezed us in at 4:30 PM when we called for the appointment at 9:00 AM the same morning.


    Cheers, dear.

  16. Dumdad Says:

    I must remember this when I sit fuming in the waiting room for AN HOUR AND A HALF to see the doctor!

  17. Hadriana Says:

    P.S. You’ve been tagged (not sure if you do these things…) Hx

  18. rosiero Says:

    Oh gosh, after reading what you have to go through, I shall never complain again when I can’t get an appointment with my GP for the same day! You must feel permanently in dread of anyone going down with the slightest temperature or spots.

  19. French Fancy Says:

    I just love your blog and i suppose you get sick of people mentioning Karen Blixen to you.

  20. kitschen pink Says:

    Perhaps you should buy an Autogyro – could you use that to tootle about Africa instead of relying on public transport? We live near to Wing Co. Wallis designer of the original James Bond Autogyro. He tootles around all over the place in one! And there is a two seater – you could probably build one from a ceiling fan and an old vacuum cleaner! t.x

  21. How To … (Second in a new series …) « Reluctant Memsahib Says:

    […] Reluctant Memsahib the diary of wife, mother and failed domestic goddess in Africa « How to … (First in a new series on Outpost Living) […]

  22. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you all. very much. but as you will discover, the nightmare continued. we are still here. stil trying to get out.

    NolaGringa, thanks for that: i cannot believe my services alienate me more in Africa that you were in an ESKIMO VILLAGE for God’s sake! Crazy.

    I have yet to see nappy, and that is a very kind offer which i may take you up on …

    absolutley GPM, it does all conspire to keep me occupied. btw, i have tried to post comments on yours but i keep being rejected by a virus watch?! can i mail to you in future instead? X

    Butterfly: united nations in Africa should hire me, i’d organise the mess it presently mostly is, especially laughably named war crimes tribunal for rwanda and burundi which makes an expensive mockery of justice and human rights.

  23. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Mud. I would be. Now. How’s cyber love life? makings of marvellously gripping series there …

    thank you grit, and for dropping by.

    Iota; alas i never got to find out since missed all my connections and am still outpost bound. as to murderers though, i was definately on the brink …

    thanks Roberta, i am sure he will be. we hope to see doc next week …

    thanks for dropping by forty. so do I: hope he doesn’t need followups; the primary one is proving enough of a mission!

  24. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Tessa, thank you. Yes. mr abdallah’s manners remained beautifully intact whilst mine were falling apart at the seams very fast.

    thank you very much Hadriana, other people’s tales of similar are reassuring! and thanks for the tag too. i shall get to that: it’s a very interesting one!

    hiya expat, no, my insurers won’t pay. they say i have adequate provision for what i want to do here. they need to come see before making such lofty assumptions …

  25. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you maggie may.

    Mr Farty. and if i get to where i need to go on effing precision air next week i shall never complain about them again. until i do. wonder who’ll have cause to complain first?

    Thanks Mr S. but without such a yard stick, i’d complain too. everything’s relative.

    Thanks for dropping by DumDad: and i waited 1 1/2 hours to be told i could not even get past first base. Buggers!

  26. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    i do rosiero, i live on a knife edge. except that i do have an air evacuation plan that would pluck us out in a medical emergency. Not, however, when i need to make a rendezvous …

    Thank you for dropping in French. Nope. Nobody has ever said that. Even though i can say ”i had a farm in aaaaaaaaaafrica”!

    that is SO what i need Kitschen. Wonder what air traffic control at outpost would make of that: me skittering down the dust strip under power of ceiling fan and Hat howling, ”faster, mum, faster”!

  27. nuttycow Says:

    A little bit late (and just about to read an update) but what a nightmare!

    Hope your son is feeling a bit better 😦

  28. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thanks nutty … you read what happened next! x

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