How To Get A Head In Africa

10 07 2008

Kicheche sunset

What`s that ticking?                                    (Kicheche, Masai Mara, Kenya)

Deceiving customs officials is a serious offence. Not only do you risk having the undeclared items seized, but you are likely to face a hefty fine and possibly even jail time. It is for this reason that I am scrupulously honest when entering any country…except for one occasion when I chose not to mention that I was carrying a small headless tick named Terry in a ziplock bag.


We had enjoyed a dream safari in Kenya’s magnificent Masai Mara Game Reserve. Camping in a small tree-sheltered clearing within the park boundary we were surrounded by rolling hills and endless plains. The evenings had been spent around the campfire listening to the roar of lions and the laugh of hyenas, while by day we had set off on unforgettable game drives.


There is a magic to sleeping under canvas that no amount of luxury can surpass. It is the magic of being part of your surroundings and close to nature. Although occasionally, nature may be just a little closer than you wish!


Stopping in London on our way home, I headed for the shower.


“There’s something in your armpit” my wife advised casually as I dried my hair. “It looks like fluff.”


I contorted my head, spinning around like a dog chasing its tail before moving to the mirror. My wife came forward to investigate.


“It’s an insect…a tick or something” she said, staring intently with evident distaste.


Everyone knows that ticks are high-maintenance creatures that must be lured with designer goods. Any attempt to physically evict one usually results in it burrowing deeper, setting up house and causing an infection. Everyone knows that…except for me that June morning. Instead, I withdrew my Swiss Army Knife from my bag and began diligently cleansing the longest sharpest blade with disinfectant.


“What are you doing?” my long-suffering wife asked incredulously, hands firmly on hips, standing in the bathroom doorway. “I hope you’re not thinking of digging that…that thing out, are you?” she asked.


“Of course not. If it was under my left-arm I would…but I can’t do it under my right so you’ll have to do it for me.” I answered matter-of-factly, while doing my best ER impersonation and continuing to prepare for minor surgery.


If looks could kill, my little passenger would have been the least of my worries.


“If you think I’m going to cut a tick from your armpit…” she roared.


Minutes later, Florence Nightingale hesitantly extended the tip of the blade towards my visitor…who promptly wiggled its bottom in her face.


“It’s moving!!” she shrieked, recoiling. It was at that point I admitted that perhaps a doctor was a better option and we headed to the nearest clinic.


Reclining on the examination table with my arm above my head, the doctor looked at my small companion with almost as much relish as my wife had earlier. She returned from her cabinet armed with disinfectant, cotton wool…and a gleaming scalpel.


Anyone who has ever inadvertently applied deodorant to a small cut knows how sensitive the armpit is. Having someone poke around that un-anaesthetised soft spot with a sharp knife in search of African wildlife is, well, memorable. Being a stoic male, I never ask for directions or exhibit pain, so with the scream internalised I instead turned crimson while my eyes filled with tears.


‘Oh dear.’ The doctor uttered in a less than inspiring manner.


“I got most of it”, she said, holding something in her tweezers “but missed the head. When you get home, it’s probably best if you go to the hospital and give them this” she advised, handing me the headless tick in a small plastic bag. “If you get a fever, best go immediately.”


With that, my wife and I, Terry the Tick in a bag and her head still in my armpit made our way to Heathrow. Once home, I headed to the tropical disease clinic.


“Mmmm” the doctor murmured as he examined our Kenyan pal through a magnifying glass. “Never seen one quite like this before. I’ll have to send it to the lab for examination and identification. Perhaps they’ll even name it after you.” he added with enthusiasm.


I must confess that the thought of Tickus Bloggus Adventurous was very exciting to me and I bounded home with a spring in my step and a lump under my arm. Alas, my jubilation was short-lived.


“I’m very embarrassed to tell you this,” the doctor telephoned a few days later “but I’m afraid I lost your tick. I was having another look at it, prodded it with my pen, and well, there must have been an electro-static charge or something because…well…it just sort of…evaporated. I think it ended up in my bagel.”


Although with Terry`s evaporation I had lost the opportunity for medical and scientific infamy, for once in my life I had at least got a head.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008




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