I had just had a cup of tea for breakfast, so I was starving hungry by lunchtime. The clinic staff suggested going up the hill and turning left to Fedic’s cafeteria for a meal or turning right to the local strip mall for a bag of chips (french fries). I plumped for the healthy option and went left. The cafeteria didn’t have any tables and chairs outside. It just served food in polystyrene boxes to take away. I peered through the glass cabinet to see what was on offer. The serving lady was very helpful. When I pointed to a dish, she would show me a ladle-full and dribble it back into the pot. Chicken stew and chicken broth both looked tempting, then a cook brought in a tray of miscellaneous cuts of pork which had been barbecued. We are talking nose-to-tail eating here. I ordered maize porridge (just like polenta) with chicken stew and salad, which cost me just over a pound. The serving lady wrapped the box in clingfilm, trapping a plastic spoon, a toothpick and a paper napkin within it.

I walked back to the clinic to have lunch in the staff room. Everyone else was eating their packed lunches, brought from home. Money is tight for the staff, with another week to go before payday. One of the male nurses noticed I was eating porridge and asked if I knew what it was. I said, “It is nshima. I used to eat it in Zambia. Or sadza if you are from Zimbabwe.”

He seemed to be impressed with my local knowledge and said, “We call it pap. Do you like eating local fruits? Have you eaten marula?” When I told him I hadn’t, he suggested that next week, he would bring me a drink made from marula. “Amarula?” I asked.

“No, just the fruit juice.” From my right, I felt some eyes on me, watching for my reaction. I felt I was being set up.

“Is it fermented? I can’t drink alcohol when I am on duty,” I told him.

“It will give you power,” he sniggered.

“I don’t need power to do anything,” I said. “I’m a single old man.”

The other nurses sitting around the table guffawed with laughter at this remark. I then made a comment about the recent newspaper article about “Male harlots on the prowl in Manzini”. All the nurses had read the article and they began to discuss it fervently.

“These men should stick to other men, and not bother us women.”

“What price were they charging?”

“Fifty emalangeni, but the man said that once the lady had … she would definitely pay more.”

“But how long would fifty emalangeni get you?”

“Ah, this is easy for men. They just pay for the session.”

“But for women it should be for as long as it takes!”

“Eh, if it was me, I would fall asleep.”

At this, I burst out laughing, but then realised no one else seemed to find it funny. Perhaps she was serious?

By Dr Alfred Prunesquallor

Maverick doctor with 40 years experience, I reduced my NHS commitment in 2013. I am now enjoying being free lance, working where I am needed overseas. Now I am working in the UK helping with the current coronavirus pandemic.

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