Settling in with the Saints

Within an hour of leaving the boat, I had dropped off my luggage at my studio flat, then been taken up to Jamestown Hospital to complete the necessary paperwork and meet the people I will be working with.  Jamestown lies along a steep valley that runs
down from a narrow gorge that bites well into the centre of the island, all the
way to the ocean.  At its widest, the valley cannot be more than 250 metres across with high menacing – looking rocky slopes rising up far higher than the valley is wide.  The rock formation is very unstable with frequent rock falls of various sizes onto the roads and buildings below.  In the past year, much of the town end of the
valley sides has been covered with thick metal mesh as well as strong fencing
jutting out of the slopes to contain the slippages.

Evening view from my window towards St James and the Atlantic Ocean

The hospital is at the top end of town.  My little flat is near the bottom but
accessed up a side road leading out of town. It has everything I need for my short term stay and is bright and airy with views to three sides: down to the ocean, straight to the other side of the valley (so a ‘stone wall’ literally!) and up towards the hospital.  I can see the tower of St James, the oldest Anglican church in the Southern Hemisphere to the ocean side, and the Baptist Church (damaged in a rockslide in the recent past) to the upper end of town.

The owners of my flat were, coincidentally, sitting at the same dinner table as me on the RMS St Helena. It was good to know who they are and I am being well looked after and
trusted.  As the building where the flat is situated was once a store house for the family business (producing twine from locally grown flax for the Royal Mail), there are double garage type doors to the front that open out two floors above a small courtyard at the back of Thorpe’s Grocery Store (also owned by the same family).

The 'garage doors' - come- washing line from my sitting room

Two nylon washing lines have been hooked onto the doors so that when opened and latched back, washing can be hung up to dry.  This tells me that the temperature is pretty constantly warm here as I cannot imagine that system working in either Edinburgh or Kosovo!

I measured the walk to the hospital one day.  It is almost exactly a kilometre and uphill
all the way!  I turned down the offer of a rental car.  Why pay £10 a day to drive
to and from work?  I’ve not regretted the decision once, even when I’ve been caught in sudden downpours that appear from nowhere, usually accompanied by whirling gusty wind

Can you see the ‘garage doors’? That’s where I live!

tumbling down to the sea from the high interior.

At night, in my flat, the five sash        windows in their frames rattle noisily and the rain bounces off the tin roof during the unsettled weather. I was spoilt for the first ten days as St Helena basked in the best of
British summer weather: not too hot, sunny with a nice breeze.  Then ‘winter’ arrived and many of the days that followed were blustery and wet.  The locals complain about it being cold (around 17C!) but still go around in flip flops and light clothing.  I did need to
find extra bed covers but have not felt cold (like I know how to!) since arriving.

St John's Villa - now the Community Health Clinic.

My consulting room is part of the Community Health Clinic, situated in a house at the back of the hospital.  I’ve recently discovered that it was called St John’s Villa in yesteryear and was the home of Matron of the hospital.  There is no hot running water in the building. Indeed, only the theatres, delivery room and next door bathroom have this luxury. The patients have electric showers in their bathrooms.  I met someone here on a DFID project to refurbish all the government property and commented on the lack of hot water, stating that I hoped that this would be addressed in the hospital upgrade.  Teasingly (I hope!) he exclaimed ‘But what do you want hot water for?’.  Sometimes it’s a bit too much like the downside of Kosovo here!

As I’m writing, I’m reminded to share about my near neighbours who come and visit me every dawn and dusk for half an hour of ‘chat’.  To be honest, they are a bit of a nuisance at time.  We can thank an English lady from a couple of centuries ago for the arrival of the first ancestors of the current incumbents.

"The trees are alive with the sound of mynah birds"

The Indian mynah birds are widespread around the island and, like starlings and rooks in the UK and the black birds in Kosovo, gather in trees to communicate noisily and at length with each other.  I was asked if they are noisier than the seagulls in Morningside and had to say that although they may
not be individually, once in their hundreds (or more) in a handful of trees outside one’s home, they most definitely are. Someone commented that they are like noisy mice a thousand times amplified.  Indeed they are…  This noise I will not miss as it goes on for
a good half hour at six pm and am.

Eating and drinking is easy here; well as long as you remember that ALL the shops are shut on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, and all day Sunday. There are many ‘mini-markets’ a la Kosovo-style but the shelves are not filled with the abundance of sweets and savoury snacks found in Kosovo, but rather Tesco tinned and frozen products, baking goods, South African wine and cider (YES – and it’s quite drinkable too) and on the days after the ship has been in, fresh fruit and vegetables from afar. As it’s winter, there is not much local produce in just now though I did find a few tomatoes one day.  I’ve never
seen potatoes in the shops but have been given home grown sweet potatoes by Ruth, the lovely local nurse I’m working closely with.  They come from her parents who live in Sandy Bay on the south side of the island.  I’ve also enjoyed bananas and eggs from the same source.  The bananas are so tiny – and much more flavoursome that the ones at home.

The ‘Saints’ (as locals are known) certainly know how to enjoy themselves despite their isolation in global geographical terms.  I’ve been to a Blues session, a tea dance, a dinner dance, an Indian buffet night (hosted by the Attorney General of the island!), a hospital night out and line-dancing classes over the past few weeks.  Who would have ever thought they might see me toe-heeling and grape-vining along to Boogie-woogie Sherriff
or Reggae Cowboy?  There’s a virtual sight to finish on for now!!

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