09 July 2014

Kay goes on a Big Adventure (or how her Mum nearly has a nervous breakdown)

I'm sitting here at my laptop at stupid o'clock too tired to function but too wound-up to sleep. The last few days and the last 24 hours in particular have been the stuff of a Mr Bean movie crossed with an edge-of-seat thriller. You didn't know whether to laugh, cry, vomit or shoot yourself. I've just been checking flight departures and a few hours ago my daughter Kay's flight took off on the first leg of her journey. She's got three flights in all and is going on a Big Adventure, but it almost didn't happen at all.

Her last of four end-of-fourth-year-medicine exams was a week ago on Monday morning. On Monday afternoon, she and her housemates moved house.  You can imagine the weeks of swotting had paid a heavy toll on the state of her room with books, clothes and other items strewn all over the place. The return home with the euphoria of the last exam was quickly replaced with having to pack up everything for the move, particularly as the new incumbents were already moving in at the same time. It was manic. She stayed another day to put her new digs into some kind of shape and work out what to leave behind and what to take with her, before driving the five hours down to London, arriving home shortly after 1 am on Tuesday into Wednesday morning last week. From then on, it has been crazy. Our front door has been an eternal revolving door with comings and goings of all sorts to sort out her trip.

It has been planned for months.  Called "an elective" , it is part of her medical studies and involves working for six weeks in another hospital of her choice, particularly in a department of her choice. The medical students tend to choose somewhere abroad for their electives to make it more exciting, as the elective dates fall within the summer vacation. Kay has always wanted to go to Africa and Tanzania in particular, since reading Michael Morpurgo's "The Wreck of Zanzibar" at the age of eight. She looked up where Zanzibar was and has always had a yen to go there. Thus it was that she has arranged to work for six weeks in a hospital in the north of Tanzania and then add on 4 weeks (two either side of the hospital placement) for touristy things. Although it has been planned for months (in theory) she has had little time to get down to the nitty gritty, as there was just so much to revise over months for the exams, and it all fell to this week to finalise things. To say we were up against the wall right up to the last minute is an understatement.

In the two weeks before the hospital placement, she plans to climb Kilimanjaro, so there was all sorts to arrange (and pack) for that. Although Tanzania is now in their winter, the temperatures are equivalent to the best of our summers, but high up on Kili there is still ice on the peaks, so temperatures at base camps get very cold, so clothes needed to be packed or bought for that, not to mention the best walking boots money could buy!  The hospital placement itself requires her to bring her own scrubs, a white coat and a stethoscope, plus if possible any equipment or supplies to donate to the hospital (a cardiac monitoring machine was one suggested  gift item on the list, although suffice it to say, we weren't going to supply that - the adventure has cost more than a proverbial arm and a leg already!), so the rucksack was already beginning to bulge a little. The general advice is for girls to wear clothes that amply cover chest and shoulders, as well as reach below knee, so as not to attract angry insults from the local woman or ardent attention from the men, but in the medical hostel you can wear UK-acceptable clothes. Zanzibar at the end of the trip requires beachwear, as she intends to go deep-sea diving, so swimsuits and sarongs added to the list, with more cover-up stuff so as not to offend the locals. The pile of clothes alone was beginning to grow as high as Kilimanjaro itself. Not to mention 65 malaria tablets, two months' supply of shampoo, sun lotion (Kay burns at the wink of an eye), makeup, cameras, phones, guidebooks, Swahili phrasebook (including medical terms - and yes, we looked up the smutty words first!) Oh, and I almost forgot, her hospital placement also includes one week staying in a Maasai warrior village helping out at their dispensary, as well as being taught various skills by the Maasai women in Swahilli! Accommodation there is in one of their mudhuts. What to wear and take for that?
Hmmm, I hope Kay is not expected to follow this exact dress code!

There was travel insurance to fix, a professional insurance to cover her in the hospital, a safari to book, hostels to book for the touristy parts of the holiday, money to order, malaria tablets to buy (at £170 - gulp, and that was the cheapest - one chemist quoted £288),  more clothes and toiletries to buy, not to mention setting up utilities for the new house she'd just moved into up north, buying a new camera, a Kindle, celebrating her birthday a week early. The list of "to do's" got longer and longer. All within 6 days. It's been manic.

We were up till 2am last night, trying to pack a gallon into a pint pot. Kay was effectively packing for 4 different holidays (mountain, beach, hospital and leisure) and for a period of ten weeks. In despair we went to bed and then started afresh this morning. We were due to leave for the airport at 16.30, but by 16.00 it was evident that she still had a lot to pack or throw out or maybe include, music to download, set up her new camera etc. At 17.15 I was revving the car engine as she was tying up the last cords and catches of her rucksacks- an enormous one to go on her back (complete with bedding and mosquito nets for Kili)  and a smaller one as hand luggage.)

After such a fraught day and even fraughter departure from the house, we arrived at the airport, fortunately with some time to spare after check-in, so went to have a leisurely last few minutes together at a cafe, before saying a tearful goodbye. She's gone for ten weeks and neither of us wanted to be the first to say goodbye. She gets very emotional as we are very close and it was hard to walk in opposite directions. I was three quarters of the way home, when I got the first phone call to alert me all was not well.

She had gone through security, having had to extract various things from her hand luggage to be x-rayed separately (particularly as security is quite high at the moment), then had gone through the airside shopping mall and finally ended up in the boarding gate lounge. It was then (with 15 minutes left to embarking) that she realised she had not retrieved her toiletry bag (full of important stuff) from the x-ray conveyor belt. Now to menfolk it might not seem a disaster but for girls this is a major catastrophe. She begged and pleaded with an airhostess who allowed her to leg it back along corridors, shopping malls and back to the security to retrieve it, then return like a marathon runner at the last 100 metres of the race, just as the passengers were boarding her flight. The last message I got, was that she was bright red, hot, exhausted and sat right by the toilets on a 7-hour journey to Dubai. She also has a feeling she has forgotten something, but doesn't know what.

I'm sitting here at my laptop at stupid o'clock too tired to function but too wound-up to sleep. It's easy to see why, isn't it? Suffice to say, I'm counting the days until her return.
Elusive sleep finally catches me unawares!


elsy said...

try and relax now....she will have the trip of a lifetime and you can enjoy the feedback and pictures!i was in bits when youngest went to the other side of the world travelling in her gap year but what an adventure. youre a fantastic mum, treat yourself for all your contribution yesterday

Flowerpot said...

I'm exhausted just reading about all that Addy! What an amazing time she will have. ust keep yourself busy and try and relax till she comes home! x

Furtheron said...

I hope she has a great time - I'm sure she will...

My son decided to go to Svalbard for 6 months as part of his masters last year. Where? Start at the North Pole come south - yep the most northerly inhabited town over 1000 permanent occupants... or some thing like that. Studying the Northern Lights... so you have to go in the winter - 24 hour darkness and -50°C... oh yes polar bears outnumber people on the island about 5:1... First day there, rifle training and issuing! He had a great time in the end.

K Ville said...

Ecky Thump Addy. Sit down before you fall down! I bet there will be a few 'OMGs' along the trip but it will be alls well that ends well and you might have just got your sanity back by the time the whirlwind arrives at your front door again! Oh the energy of youth!!

Ellen said...

What a hectic time you both had - Kay is very lucky to have such a lovely and supportive Mum like you to help get her on her way! I'm sure Kay will have the most wonderful and momorable time on her 'Big Adventure' and I hope all goes well. Maybe its time for you to have a little adventure of your own while she is away, if only to keep your mind off things?

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, that was an exhausting post to read! A massive amount of planning has gone into the trip and it sounds like it will go just fine once she's out there. I would imagine our medical teams are well looked after on foreign shores.

I'd be just as worried and anxious though, so I completely understand how you feel.

Take care
CJ x