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Bed Buggers

     I’d just finished cleaning up from dinnertime activities.  This consisted of two spilled cups of milk, a trail of noodles from the kitchen to the bathroom (potty emergency during dinner), and spaghetti sauce hand prints on the light fixture from my 8yr old son scaring his little sisters in the dark while I was tending to the child with the potty emergency.  My eldest daughter volunteered to clean the dishes.  She’s only 5, so I would be recleaning them shortly after.  Bless her heart for even trying. 
     We were eating late because after a long trying morning with my girls at the free clinic, I was in no mood to be conscious for several hours.  So after my “sunnah nap” plus a bit more, I awoke, prayed, hurriedly straightened up the normal scatterings that occur when Mommy is asleep and began dinner preparations when I realised I’d forgotten to buy the tomato sauce for the spaghetti. 
     After waiting an hour for my son to bring me a simple can of tomato sauce from the market (a ten minute task at best), I scolded him for taking my change and going to the sweets shop where he refused to leave until he ate all evidence of his transgression.  I like to have dinner ready right after Asr prayer so that my son’s who come home from classes at that time can eat before going back for evening classes.  I don’t like for us to eat late at night.  Now that plan was ruined as the boys were on their way out the door to evening classes as the first splinter of pasta hit the pot of boiling water.
     I thought I had slept off the rage from my morning trials at the clinic, but now I could feel a tickle of grumpiness coming back.  “Must push through,” I told myself.  The girls helped with the sauce by fighting over who got to add which ingredients to the pot.  My middle girl said that I needed to put more garlic in the sauce and my eldest girl argued that “No, it just needs a little more salt and oregano.” Masha’Allah, my girls will become great cooks one day, insha Allah.  My youngest, age 2 simply wanted to taste each ingredient before we added it.  I found out that strangely, she likes the taste of thyme.  I’d give her some to shake into the sauce and she kept shaking it into her mouth.  Masha’Allah she will become a great taste tester one day, insha Allah. 
     Bedtime came shortly after clean-up.  The girls were in their pajamas and tucked snugly into their tents (my kids like to sleep in tents) by the time I came into the bedroom.  “Mommy read us a story!” the 5 yr old said.  Alright, I got a book off the shelf and waited for silence so that I could begin the story.  But of course, silence is subject to several different interpretations in our home.  So at the turn of each page someone yelled out, “I didn’t see the picture!”  And in the middle of every other sentence, a child cried that she’d been hit or pushed by one of her sisters. 
     This continued for 6 or 7 pages (just how long is this book?) before I was ready to give up and say goodnight.  I threatened to stop reading if they couldn’t be quiet.  Of course they agreed in vain to comply.  I was getting annoyed and could think of nothing but a hot cup of tea in a room full of slumbering girls.  “Shush!” I tell them.  Not because I can’t take anymore of their fussing ( I probably could’ve taken a few more minutes before loosing my mind) but because I think I heard a noise in the other room. 
     Our home is located on a quiet cul-de-sac.  Our house is situated far back on a plot of land so that we are hardly visible (and barely audible) from the street.  It’s nice for privacy but not so nice if something goes bump in the night.  There are too many dark and empty places surrounding us for someone with bad intentions to hide. 
     The girls are now bickering about who sleeps where in the tent.  “Be quiet,” I whisper angrily.  They see the urgency on my face and quiet for a moment.  I stare at the door and the darkness beneath it, waiting to hear that sound, the tap I thought I’d heard a moment ago.  “Clink!” coming from the kitchen.  Kayso, I’m pretty sure I locked the door in the kitchen but not so sure about locking the metal gate.  I was preoccupied with complaining to my son about following my directions instead of his own agenda. Am I imagining this? Maybe it’s nothing.  I’m always jumpy here at night.  Like I said, we are a bit too far out of sight for my comfort.  No one would even know if we were back here being burglarised, or murdered! 
     The noise level in the room rises again just as I think I hear the clinking noise again.  Darn it! “Could you shut up PLEASE?’ I breathe at the girls with flames of frustration and anxiety nearly singeing their eyebrows. “But Mommy, she is sooo annoying,” 5 yr old says about 4 yr old.    “Annoying? You want to know what is sooo annoying,” my voice rising with each syllable.  “What’s ANNOYING is that I’ve asked you several times to be quiet and you refuse.”  I take a breath but my temper has been ignited.  “…annoying is the fact that I keep hearing a noise from the kitchen and I think someone has broken into our house….annoying is that I’m trying to figure out if there is a killer on the other side of this door (slapping several times on the door) waiting to murder us, but you people won’t be quiet long enough for me to save your lives!!!”   The girls are now staring at me frightfully.  I’m not sure if the fear is for unknown on the other side of the door or for the ranting lunatic inside with them.  I continue, “I only hope there is someone in our house because at this point, I want a reason to hurt something.  Give me a reason to spill some blood tonight!  Let me be justified in severing the limbs of a stranger in my house!  I can taste the metallic copper of his blood on my lips already!...”   I’m shouting now and I decide I am not imagining this and there actually is someone in the kitchen.  I grab the only weapon I can find in the girls’ bedroom, a heater that has been on for half an hour.  I will burn the face off of some unfortunate idiot who has chosen to break into a mad woman’s house.   I hear the kitchen door gently close.  Just how many are in there?  Oh well, I have to protect my babies so they can live another day to drive me insane.  “La Ilaha Il Allah!” I rip the bedroom door open and charge the kitchen, the orange glow of the heater leading the way like a sword.  I reach the kitchen.  There is no one there.  But just as I suspected, there had been.  The metal gate is now wide open.  I know I at least shut it earlier.  I grab a knife from the drawer and clear the rest of the house… Nobody.  Back in the kitchen, I lock the doors.  Keeping the lights off, I glare out the window to see if I can catch a glimpse of my intruder.  I see nothing but darkness.
     The urgency of the situation is subsiding and now my hands are shaking from the fear I should have felt earlier if I wasn’t so angry.  As I turn to go back and comfort the girls, I notice a piece of paper on the kitchen sink.  Something is written on it in scratchy block letters.  I reluctantly reach for it (as if the paper can do more damage than blindly charging a room to attack an intruder with a space heater).  The burglar’s note reads: “Azaadville Free Clinic has Mental Health Counselling daily.”  …Whatever.

A Visit to the Clinic: Prelude to Bed Buggers
It’s 9 am and we, my 3 girls and I are walking in the crisp morning air to Azaadville’s free clinic. My 5 yr old (the hypochondriac) says it hurts when she pees so I’m guessing a UTI (urinary tract infection). When she told me this, I immediately began to recount how much (or how little) water I’d given her to drink recently. Maybe I should’ve given her more; we don’t drink soft drinks so that couldn’t be the guilty party. Whatever the case, I couldn’t think of a home remedy for this so here we are.

As I enter the bldg, there’s a great big sign on the door of the clinic, “We are closed due to bad weather.” Yet, the door is cracked open just a tad so I decide the sign must have been left on the door since last Wednesday, when the weather was a bit nippier than most days. The idea of things closing for this weather reminds me of Maryland and the precausionary “snow days,” when schools shut down behind the “threat” of a snowstorm approaching.

Upon entering, yep I was right, they’re open and FULL of sick folk. LHWLQIB (la hawla wa la quwatta illah Billah)! We are going to be here all day. As the comedian Kat Williams said: I got s*** to DO later (sorry for this brief digression). There are no signs instructing one on how the clinic protocol works; no sign in sheet at the counter. So I approach the counter and wait…and wait…and—Oh here she is. “My daughter is feeling pain when”—I’m cut off. “What is her name?” Etc…

Kayso, the receptionist hands me the file she has just filled with my daughter’s information and says nothing more. I ask, “So how does this work, will her name be called…?” “Have a seat and fdlfkjdfkjlal…” This is what I heard from her. Mind you that here in South Africa, English is not the primary language of the majority. And I don’t want to trouble this busy woman anymore with my obviously silly questions. So we sit. There are 2 seats open in the second row and we squeeze ourselves into them. Waiting indefinitely, I begin to absorb my surroundings. There are posters about HIV councelling, HIV prevention and a Condoman Condom dispenser on the wall near the entrance. The few other posters are scattered about with examples of a balanced meal for diabetics (sponsored by Equal Sugar Substitute) and illustrations explaining how to wash your hands properly in order to prevent the spread of disease (brought to you by Dettol). Right now I just wish my girls were wearing a nikab like me because the child next to us is coughing something awful in our direction and a face mask would at least put me a bit more at ease. Just then I spot the poster explaining the symptoms of Tuberculosis…great.

Okay the lady in the front row just got up and moved to a chair in the hallway. I didn’t hear anyone call out a name. Hmmmm. Everyone in the front row of chairs has just stood up and shifted one seat to the right. Ohhhhh, I get it. It’s a seat rotation line. Wow, who would’ve thunk it? I’m a bit slow on the uptake sometimes but as I realise what the game is, I stand to shift but my girls are oblivious. So their delay causes an enthusiastic sicky to jump from behind my row and take my spot. Alright, no problem, I know how to handle this. I won’t make a scene or even get annoyed. Its all good. I put my 2yr old off my lap. On your marks! The row rotation goes left from my row. I don’t move. People begin to go around me like I’m just retarded, excuse me, mentally challenged. Get set! I stare at a poster on birth control (too late for that, I’m already the old lady who lives in a shoe). Five minutes pass. The row continues to shift until “Sicky the line cutter” is in the first seat before the hallway. The hallway seat opens up—GO! I leap from the right and plop my behind in the hallway chair with a loud “clunk.” I have left my girls sitting in the second row still trying to figure out what to do. I motion to them to come. They didn’t need me to tell them twice, the 2yr old is back on my lap and Mr. Ambitious Sicky is stuck on stupid.

It has been at least 2 hours now and we still are sitting in these seats; what the flagnog? There is no apparent order to this system. A nurse emerges and asks which of my children is sick I tell her the 5yr old and she turns to the coughing baby and mom 2 seats behind us and calls them into her examining room. Okay, she must only do babies. Keeping my sabr (patience) in check I dismiss this. But hold up! Now she’s calling in “auntie” who’s 4 seats behind me! I know I don’t speak the language so maybe they have some arrangement that I don’t understand. I look to the person in the front of the line and she’s not upset so I guess I should just sit on it, and sit and sit and sit.

The girls are now whiny, fussy and wiggly. It’s becoming unbearable. One is pulling my nikab down everytime she presses her head against my chin. The middle child is sulking because her older sister hasn’t left her any room to sit on the chair they are supposed to be sharing. And “Miss reason we are even here” is now hungry and is begging me for food as if she saw me pack a picnic basket or something. Are they KIDDING ME? I tell my kids that I’m going to beat them if they don’t chill. But I say it in Yoruba so that nobody but my kids understands me. I’m starting to feel like I need a time out and if I don’t get one soon others will suffer.

Finally, we are in the receiving seat. The door opens and the last patient exits. No one calls us in but the door is left open and the women sitting next to me is tapping the heck outta me to get me to go in. Alright already. C’mon girls. We go in. there’s a man (doctor, nurse, dunno) sitting at the desk writing what looks to be his memoirs by the depth of concentration he’s putting into it. He doesn’t acknowledge our presence. I sit my daughter in the patient seat in front of him. He still doesn’t budge. “Give him your papers sweety,” I tell her. She places her papers just as I knew she would, right on top of his writing. Good girl. Oh look, he can see us! No greetings, nothing. Just, “what’s hurting her?” I explain, suspected bladder infection, painful urination, blah blah blah. He tells me to go to the room next door to give a urine sample and after they’ve tested it, come back to him and give him the results. I reaffirm exactly what he said, go to the room next door, pointing in the direction. He confirms. Ooookaaay.

The nurse is no longer in the room. Her car keys are on her desk so she cant be far, right? The medicine closet is left wide open for any sticky fingers to pillage through. So we wait, again. We wait so long that eventually the tapping lady who was next after me has also entered the room and is now waiting. She abruptly leaves after several minutes and returns with a cup looking more like a cocktail glass rather than the urine sample cup that it obviously is, since she has already filled it. “Where did you get that,” I ask. She looks at me confused. Now I get why she was tapping me. She doesn’t speak English. I guess I’ll get no help from her.

Finally the nurse returns to the room. Again, there is no acknowledgment of our presence. Can we say void of bedside manners here??? She walks over to the lady holding the urine and dips a pee strip into her cup. See, I should’ve had a cup of pee to poke in her face too. Because I don’t, she’s ignoring us. The tapper leaves the room and the nurse glances our way. I explain that we’ve been sent to give a urine sample. She tells me to go to the toilet and bring the sample back to her. Where is the toilet? “Go down the hall and turn right and then turn left and then go straight and then go through the doors and turn left.” Off we go.

The hallway is narrow with people seated on both sides facing each other. We clumsily make our way through, leaving a minimal amount of casualties (smashed toes). Ahh the toilet! We have arrived. I was beginning to think she sent me on a wild goose chase, hoping I’d give up and leave. But wait, where are the urine sample cups? Ugggghhhh! “Stay here girls,” I say. I treck back to ask the cup question. I’m extremely annoyed now. I do nothing to try and hide this annoyance as I get to her door and it’s closed. I knock sharply. There is no answer. This is RIDICULOUS. I open the door. She shouts with her back to the door “Can I get some privacy!” “Can I get a cup to piss in,” I shout right back. She turns to me with a look of disgust, just as an older matronly nurse approaches the scene. She kindly explains that there is a bucket on the right, just before entering the toilets, where I can retrieve a cup. I should rinse it first and then collect the urine and bring it to her. THANK YOU. I have met someone who can give clear instructions.

Back at the toilets I see said bucket on the right. It’s filled with a clear liquid and about 8 of those cocktail glasses/urine collection cups. Eew, do I just stick my hand in this liquid and grab one? By this time, I’m less patient than I am squeamish. So I suck it up and dip my left hand into the bucket and grab. Rushing over to the sink to rinse the cup and my hand, I turn on the faucet and the water pressure is so high that water shoot 5 feet out of the sink. Good, maybe that crappy nurse will slip trip and fall in it. Ok, that wasn’t nice, I know. Astagfirallah (Allah forgive me). See, I really need that time out.

Urine has been collected, and we are walking back to the nurse. Seeing the cup of pee in my hand, the hallway sitters move their feet just a bit more out of my way. They surely don’t want to be the cause of my tripping and showering them with pee this morning. I stand guard outside her office while she finishes with a patient. She immediately approaches and dips the test strip in the urine and writes her “findings” as she calls it, on our papers. Now I’m to take the pee back to the toilet to dump it. I am trusted to rinse out the cup and replace it into the same bucket filled with clear liquid. I’m even more grossed out by the thought of how many people failed to clean out the urine before tossing the cup back into the bucket. Just how much disease IS floating in this bucket? I wash my hands with the vigor, and detail of a surgeon about to go into the operating room.

Oh it’s not over yet. We still have to go back to the original guy to show him our results. Of course, there are even more people in the clinic now and they all are looking at us like we are trying to cut them in line to see the doctor. I don’t care what they think. It’s been 3 hours now and as soon as his door opens and the patient walks out, I’m in there. Uncle in the chair next to the door will just have to deal with it. I can tell he’s edging his behind on his chair for maximum leverage in order to beat me into this office. Oh it’s like that, Uncle? No problem, let’s go. I’m beginning to hear the whistling theme of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, right before the gun battle. Did I just hear spurs? No, that’s someone’s keys. Focus, I tell myself. the door opens with a squeak. The patient hobbles out and just my luck, she blocks my entry. Uncle springs up and practically falls into the room. But the doctor tells him to step aside so he can read my results. Ha-Ha! I’m taking back all of the mean things I said about the doctor and also all of the mean things I thought but didn’t say (for the lack of descent synonyms for such profanity).

We’re outside the clinic now. My daughter is holding a plastic bottle of Paracetomal in one hand and liquid Multivitamins in the other. Apparently she has no bladder infection. Alhamdulillah. My “after the clinic” plans will need to be postponed because now the adhan for Zhur salah (midday prayer) is being called. We’re going home to pray and get food ready for the boys who will be coming home on lunch break from class after the salah. I’m too worn out for anymore public interaction anyway. Once I get the food prepared, I’m taking a nap; my well deserved time out.