Wednesday, September 29, 2010



So, aside from the many things we haven’t done (perhaps showing immigration officials our “Zambia Shoes” and Panda’s “African Cut-Off Safari-Style Shorts” will suffice in lieu of actual visas?), here’s our first progress update:

Today we actually walked into a travel agent. Good for us. Panda insisted on trying the tiny, family-owned Greece specialist agency first, as franchise travel agencies “freak him out.” I have no idea why, but this is probably one of those cute idiosyncratic things that are going to cause his death from Pig-Explosion whilst overseas. So we went in for a quote. Now, not to judge by appearances or anything, and I don’t believe this to be the case, but the agency in question looked like a front for something nefarious and infinitely more interesting than a travel agency. It’s often full of elderly people returning to Greece (this is not why it looks like a front) but today it was empty of clients but un-reassuringly full of haphazard piles of paper. All over the floor, against the walls, on desks. Our agent favoured a strong sartorial palette from the ‘purple’ section of the colour wheel, and when she leaned over to use the computer I was utterly compelled by the site of her fuchsia-encased bosom resting solidly on her desk as she typed. None of these factors actually diminish the possibility of good service, and distracting yet well-rested bosom aside, there is a good chance she will get us a quote. Sometime soon. We hope. And wait.

Piggy Panda Origami

Meanwhile, I dragged Panda into a certain student-friendly franchise office down the road, where the agent actually looked at flights on his computer while we talked. His computer was most definitely hooked up to the internets (no offence lovely aubergine lady, but this is comforting). Granted, the décor does lean towards neo-minimal, primary coloured, Ikea nightmare, and Panda took an amusing few seconds to work out the seating, which was comprised of a row of bright blue, yellow and red square leather poofs packed tightly together in a row like children’s building blocks. But otherwise, much progress was made mapping out our itinerary and we now have a solid quote to work with. However, the complexity of our journey was a bit of nightmare, for us and for the agent. We’re not following the pattern of a typical ‘round-the-world’ ticket so our itinerary is a bit of mess, with add-on flights, numerous stopovers in strange places and weird backtracking flight routes. I do so hate stopovers. I feel like I’m being taunted. Ever dreamed of seeing Istanbul? Well, you can! For four hours. In the airport. How about Frankfurt? There it is! There is goes! But of course it’s more cost effective, so I said yes to pretty much everything. 

Our only condition was to fly on airlines that were reasonably reputable. There was one flight which was cheaper than another, but on my asking what the airline was the like, the agent replied, “Ah… well, I’ve never heard of it.” Not reassuring. Plus the stopover was in a country (this is embarrassing) that I knew absolutely nothing about (oh my god, I am Eurocentric). I tried to sneak a look at the gigantic map of the world on the wall behind me, but Panda caught me out and helpfully stood up to point it out to me. He reminded me of those exasperated American high school teachers who realise none of their class can point out ‘the Iraq’ on a map (it was not Iraq. I know where Iraq is). He also took a moment to point at me—Body Snatchers style—and gasp, “Oh my god, Islamaphobia!” I took a moment to reclaim my authority by explaining to Panda that flying with an airline a travel agent had not even heard of was possibly not the best move (Piggy wins, but in the eyes of the people in the travel agency, perhaps we both lose).

It was a few minutes after this that I noticed Panda’s attention start to wander. The agent and I continued to talk and plan and compare, but somewhere in the midst of making these incredibly important decisions Panda decided to cease participating. I’ve known him for a long time now, so I was expecting something like this to happen. Living with Panda is, at times, very similar to living with a particularly precocious 5ft 10in kitten. He’ll be entirely focused on the task at hand one minute, then the next he’ll be wandering around the travel agent, flicking through brochures, showing me photos of pretty men in the travel guides whilst making growling noises, meandering outside, asking for a cigarette, running off to buy more cigarettes, coming back, lying across several poof/building block chairs like they were a chaise lounge, standing back up, interrupting the travel guide, interrupting me… And then, it gets worse. I become the focus of his undivided, fidgety attention. Sometimes it feels like he considers my body little more than a child’s activity centre, designed to alleviate his boredom. He’ll pinch my nose, touch the underside of my chin (which he calls my ‘gib’), accompanied by a triumphant cry of “Gib Touch!” (because it annoys me more than anything else), gently squeeze my side belly so I look like a crazy twitching nutbag, and slide his fingers into my armpit (“Pit Play!”). Sometimes he rubs my belly whilst wishing for chocolate, and he has been known to vibrate the underside of my boob, making it dance. And this is what he does in public (I’d also like to note that Panda is 42 years old). 

As with most people you love, the things that infuriate are often the things you truly love. I love that Panda refuses to be bored and will wilfully include others in his attempt to entertain himself. I love that he absolutely refuses, as much as he can, to participate in other people’s expectations and that he will not accede to other’s demands on his time and energy. Actually, it is more like he refuses to listen to internal, paternal guidance that somehow gets planted in all of our heads: the voices that push and prod and tell us what is acceptable behaviour. He needs to run on passion and interest and if he doesn’t have it, he doesn’t fake it for the benefit of looking respectable, adult or even sane. I sometimes wish he wouldn’t knead my arm fat like a happy cat in public, but I’m sure I would miss it terribly if he stopped.   

We May Already Be Dead

So obviously we need a lot of shots to travel to some of the places we’re going. If you search, for example, for ‘travel to Nigeria’ online, many sites are succinct: “Don’t.” Here’s a rundown of diseases that are currently swishing around my body in an attempt to protect me from harm later on: hep A, hep B, measles, mumps, rubella, typhoid, polio, various kinds of flu (including the farmyard varieties), tetanus, whooping cough and yellow fever. First of all, I am terrified of needles. Or, rather syringes, as needles for piercing sensitive bits of my body and tattoo needles do not scare me at all. I love them. This is pure, irrational phobia operating at the level of the unconscious. A friend tried to help me conquer my phobia once by bringing over a few syringes for me to ‘play with,’ in the hope that familiarising myself with the object of my fear would desensitize me. I remember when another friend decided to “help” me conquer my phobia of spiders in much the same way. She caught one in a jar and made me hold it. It was the most traumatic spider experience of my life (and I have had some really terrible spider experiences), probably because I could not believe a loved one would do this to me on purpose. That friend, after seeing my reaction (I was actually a bit scared of jars for a while) has since recanted her belief in the power of this form of therapy. I can only hope syringe-friend realises her mistake too (and I don’t want to talk about what happened).

So the thought of getting so many of the bloody things was not pleasant. Panda was there to hold my hand the whole time, and while there was a level of mocking (from him) and crying (from me) we have now had the requisite amount of jabbing trauma to get us safely around Africa. So skipping over the part of the story where I emotionally shut down, burst into tears, hyperventilate, irrationally hate Panda, the nurse, the doctor, and historical figure Edward Jenner (I think he invented vaccination), there are a few things I’d like to discuss.

1.       I might get Rabies: I did ask about the rabies vaccination, but instead received this nugget of wisdom from my doctor: “Don’t get bitten by a monkey.” So all my monkey biting plans are out the window then. He also kindly pointed out that if I do get bitten by a monkey it will most likely be a rabid monkey, because rabies makes them want to bite you. So I might be getting rabies. Good to know.

2.       Panda does not care about vaginas: There are three options for malaria medication. The first can cause psychosis, hallucinations and “psychiatric problems.” And we all know there are much better drugs available to court those kinds of side effects. The other is extremely effective and has zero side effects, but is massively expensive. Each pill (one pill per day) costs almost $8.00. The last option is much cheaper but has several possible side effects. Upon hearing this, Panda’s first instinct was to go for the expensive, but side effect free, pills as he heard the doctor mention ‘nausea’ as one of the potential side effects of the other variety. He was all-go for spending over $500.00 to avoid feeling a bit queasy. Then the doctor advised that taking the pill with food can mediate the nausea, so Panda started to swing to cheap-town, just as the doctor continued listing the other potential hazards of, well, being cheap.

Doctor: “…so they can include vaginal thrush…”
Panda: “Well, that sounds great. I think we should…”
Piggy: “Whoa now, hold on, I’d like to hear more about the thrush please.”

Upon which Panda was completely dismissive of my VERY LEGITIMATE vag concerns. What followed was a brief, sharp little conversation between Panda and I, in front of the bemused doctor, which can be translated as such:

Panda: “I do not believe your vaginal health merits spending $500 dollars.”
Piggy: “I believe it does. I believe that my opinion matters slightly more than yours on this issue.”
Panda: “I do not agree, and am going to dismiss your vagina with a wave of my hand and powerful financial rhetoric.”
Piggy: “I feel cowed and will stop talking about my vagina now, but will mutter in a vaguely threatening way that you will not at all enjoy my company when I have thrush in Africa.”
Panda: “I am unmoved.”
Piggy: “I am worried that my previous comment has sexual undertones and am now concerned that the doctor has read our relationship as heterosexual. I am now trying to look more gay.”

3.       By the time you read this, one or both of us could be dead: Do you know why? Because to protect you from yellow fever, they inject you with a “live virus.” Thank you Edward Jenner (or possible Pasteur). Though it is statistically unlikely, some people basically contract actual yellow fever from the vaccination. And they die. Do you know why? Because yellow fever is bloody fatal, that’s why. There was a rather precious moment in the travel doctor’s office when this information finally sunk in (after a couple of, “So you really die, then?” “You can’t do anything?” questions), when Panda asked if it was possible to guarantee a peaceful death. The doctor promised much morphine. That was nice of her.

So basically there is a ten day waiting period, where if you develop any symptoms you’re dead. If you make it through the next ten days, hurrah, you get to live (and you won’t get yellow fever and die of that).

A word on psychosomatic symptoms: there’s a very good reason why it includes the word ‘psycho’.

On the sweet side of brushes with mortality, Panda made me promise, and he promised in return, that if either of us die, the other will continue with the travel plans, and make it to all the places we have promised to experience together. Looking back, I’m starting to think my attribution of ‘sweet’ was a little hasty. Knowing Panda as I do, I suspect the pact has to do with more than a loving memorial to his lost Piggy. I think there may have been an element of not wanting to waste the life-threatening vaccine spending the summer in Sydney.  


  1. oh dear. what have I got myself into?

  2. Just to increase the scare. My friend Barry had a bad reaction to his yellow fever inocculation. He had a temperature of 44°, hallucinated, and tried to go to work wearing ONLY his police issue gun belt.
    Loving the blog, miss you guys!