One of major things folks express concern about (besides language learning) is, “All those bugs in Africa. How can you stand it”? “And the snakes”! I think these fears are greater than, “Do you eat that African food”? The answer to the food is, “Yes, I ate it” and thrived. Of course there were a few queasy times – boiled sun-dried fish and sour milk, boiled neck-meat with the skin still attached, “ikubi ya kulondela” (cooked greens [okra?] that follows [itself] because of the slimy trail as it come up to your mouth!). Otherwise, it was delicious and even now my wife (and other Tanzanians) cook up some “ugali” (corn-meal mush) and “mchicha” (chopped greens cooked with tomato, peanuts, milk and … ). Yum!
The bugs were another matter. While living overseas as a child, my mother was certain that scorpions sought her out to sting her. In all my years I was never stung. Even now, years into retirement, I habitually shake my shoes out before I put them on to make sure no creepy crawly was sleeping in there. And in construction, I always carefully turned over a curing cement block before picking it up. Who knows what might be hiding under it?
The other kind of bugs that can mess up your health are, again, another thing. Rain water, collected in galvanized tanks from off the roof, still had to be at least boiled first; filtered also for great purity. During the dry season, when the tanks were empty and we had to get it from ponds (where the cattle drank and people bathed!), then we first put it in 50 gallon drums, added a handful of alum to settle the muck, siphoned off the clear water on the top then both boiled and filtered it. Having added the alum, the taste was awful and we appreciated the packets of KoolAid sent by friends from the USA.
Don’t walk barefooted! Nasty chiggers and parasites can bore into you causing unrelenting problems. Some of the medications for parasites were so bad-tasting that you almost thought the cure was worse than the disease – until you were dragging because you didn’t follow the doctor’s orders.
Children play outside with friends, most often on the ground. One youngster (not one of ours!) had dug a hole and “eating the dirt” – tasting it. I told the parents and their reply was, “It’s clean dirt. We swept the yard this morning”! And that child endured a long session of that anti-intestinal parasite medicine.
Mosquitoes buzzin’ (mosquito nets at night – we used our mainly because of the bats that flew around!), fleas and ticks, to say nothing of possible lice (itching and kerosene soaks for you hair and body searches), bats in the attic (put your cat up above the ceiling boards and listen to the squeaks!). These actions helped.
Swimming in Lake Victoria – forget it. Those little parasites will invade your body. The word was, “Swim where there are no reeds” but that proved faulty logic. And the treatment for bilharzia was awful. And the injections!
AND THOSE SNAKES! Yes, keep a look-out. One of the reasons missionary houses had no lawns and the ground look so well swept was to keep the snakes away. The same goes for the African’s village compound. Snakes usually prefer rocky areas or grass and bushes to hide in (places to find food, too) so that’s where you keep on alert. Once in a while you can have an encounter – like a trip to the “outhouse”, especially at night! – but, like the African mentality, “The only good snake is a dead snake”! My shotgun came in handy as well as a pickaxe handle. And, the Sukuma around where we lived, buried a dead snake deeply. They said even the bones can poison you!
But, more than anything, you recognize that it is the Lord God who protects and preserves. One learned to take care, use common sense and take precautions (anti-malarial against those mosquitoes) and trust that the Lord who called into ministry also cares for you in every circumstance.
Trust. Precautions. Care. Using common sense. After all, our Lord gave us all brains to use!