OMGSomething creepy happened to me while I was innocently living the expat life in Moldova a few years ago. Yes, Moldova is a country. The capital is Chișinau (I thought you might want to know.) It’s not at all a creepy country, just to be clear. I was quite happy there. Lots of good wine, for one thing. It was just what happened that was, well . . . read on and I’ll tell you the story.

OMG! What is this?

After my nightly shower in my lovely Italian bathroom here in Moldova I make an unpleasant discovery: A tiny dark alien thing has taken up residence at the top of my left leg, in the groin area. There’s not supposed to be anything dark and alien sitting there, and certainly not after a shower. I try to brush it away, but it doesn’t budge and to my utter disgust I see it’s a bug, and it’s stuck, and yes, it’s a black tick.

In that place? How in the world did it get there? I did not dally in any forests lately, naked or otherwise.

Dallying in the forest, or The Dream by Henri Rousseau

I did not leave the centru of Chișinau, where I live. I did not even sit on the patio today because it was too hot. And no, I do not dry my clothes by spreading them out on the ground or on bushes.

At my wails of dismay, my prince, already in bed, leaps to may aid. He checks out the creature with the magnifier, and yes, it’s a tick, wiggly legs and all. Time for the computer. We Google Moldova and ticks and it’s not pretty what comes up. You should try it. Ever heard of Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever? Symptoms include fever, vomiting, bleeding on the roof of the mouth, stuff like that.

Now, I am a writer and have a fertile imagination and I am sure you can imagine the scenarios going through my head, so I won’t elaborate on them. I won’t even look for photos on the subject. I may never sleep again.

NOTE: Yes, I know, ticks are everywhere, and being impaled by one is not necessarily a typical expat experience, but bear with me.

We find instructions on how to remove a tick, also on the computer. (Have a look, it’s charming.) We hunt down some tweezers, but I have no alcohol or other disinfectant stuff, because I didn’t ship them when we moved to Moldova, thinking I’d buy them when I got there. Then I didn’t buy them. But we do have a bottle of vodka left by the landlord, so we splash that on my private area (a new experience for me), and wipe the tweezers with it.

Then my man goes in for the kill, or rather the extraction of the varmint. Unfortunately, despite following graphic instructions on the computer screen, the tick won’t let go and ends up being ripped in half. After plucking more bits and pieces of the rest of the corpse from my skin, we have to give up. The head is still in there. It is 11 in the evening and we decide to wait till morning to see if we’ll need an ambulance and then go from there.

Somehow I manage to sleep and in the morning the scene of the crisis still looks the same and I decide to avail myself of the services of Medpark, a brand new international hospital. I taxi over there and present myself at the desk. I show the cheery young woman behind it the decapitated tick corpse resting on a piece of cotton that I had sequestered in a plastic baggy. She speaks lovely English, and takes charge of me.

Not the skirt I was wearing, but this one made a better picture.

Within ten minutes I am in an examining room with two non-English speaking doctors in green surgery garb. Yes, two, not one. They are good-looking types, like you see on TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, or ER, which is always reassuring, don’t you think? I hike up my skirt and show them my groin, feeling so elegant and delicate doing this.

I’m asked where I got this thing. Had I been in the woods or out in the countryside? They are amazed when I tell them nu! No, I’ve only been here in the centru of town.

I am told it is good that I came because the head should be removed. I am instructed to lie down on the examining table. One of the docs disappears and is replaced by a nurse. Miss English is still with me, gently assuring me all will be fine and the operation won’t take long, and am I feeling all right? I tell her I am fine, I am very tough.

The team gets ready with the usual operating stuff, all proper and sterile and so forth, which is to be expected in a super nice clean brand new hospital. Miss English keeps reassuring me as if I am a frightened child. I will be fine. It will be over soon. The handsome doc is joking with her and she tells me he is a cardiovascular surgeon and this is his operation of the century. Apparently he was running loose doing nothing and was roped in to tend to me.

He has plucked the head of the tick corpse out in no time and I get a bandage, but no further instructions. Nothing to worry about. I ask if it is not dangerous, thinking of vomiting and bleeding on the roof of the mouth.

“Oh, no,” says Miss English, “not in Moldova. In Russia, yes! You can die!” (From Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever perchance?)

I thank the doc for his operating expertise and he grins and takes off. Miss English takes me to the office and another lovely person gets my bill ready. It comes rolling out of the printer with two items on it: One for what I can figure out means “dressing,” the other for the actual procedure. The total is the equivalent of $ 8.50 or € 6. Actually this is the charge for the “dressing” only because the procedure is listed as costing 0 as in zero. Apparently the cardiovascular surgeon considered it below his dignity to charge for extracting a tick head from my, well, you know where.

You just gotta love this.

* * *

Surely you have tales of greater horrors than this, about alien invaders like guinea worm or hook worm. Or perhaps you have an interesting doctor story to share. Make my day!



CeremonyWhen you’re living the good life abroad, let’s say in Ghana, West Africa, your expat friends there often have fascinating stories to tell. Here’s a pearl of a tale my friend Natalie entertained me with one steamy tropical evening when my prince and I lived in Ghana.

Both Americans, Natalie and her hunky husband Max had recently been married in a traditional Ghanaian wedding ceremony. This was much fun for all, but read what happened after the wedding was over. (If only someone had video taped it!)



The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline
of wonder. — Ralph W. Sockman

Natalie and Max come by for drinks on Friday, returning some items they’d borrowed for the wedding festivities. My eye catches the white bandage wrapped around Natalie’s left knee.

“What did you do to your knee?” I ask.

“I fell off my bike. It’s a long story.” She settles herself on the sofa. “I went out to buy a sheep yesterday.”

“You bought a sheep?

“For Bobo, who emceed the wedding, remember? It’s customary here to give a present of a live sheep to the person who presides over your wedding ceremony.” She rubs her bandaged knee. “So, since we had a traditional ceremony, we thought we should keep to the custom.”

My mate pours us drinks and we get ready to hear the tale. Natalie and Max always have such good stories.

It was interesting to shop for a live animal, Natalie tells us, she, a lawyer’s daughter from the American suburbs. “It was definitely a new experience for me,” she says in that calm voice of hers. Now that the wedding is over, she has lost the spaced-out look. She’s her normal insouciant self again, for which I am grateful.

Ghana sheep by the road

“How do you shop for a sheep?” I ask, thinking of all these filthy, malodorous, creatures scavenging by the side of the road everywhere. “What do you look for?”

“It’s all in the testicles,” she says, sounding like someone who knows.

It’s not the answer I had expected. Apparently the ram’s testicles are an indication of the animal’s quality, and are therefore displayed and palpated for the potential buyer. Here she was, a lapsed Lutheran female in a smelly animal market being shown a variety of sheep’s scrotums by long-robed male Muslim traders.

“I felt a little odd,” says Natalie.

No kidding.

“But I learned a lot.”

“Like what?” I fortify myself with a swallow of wine.

“Both testicles have to be there,” she states. “And they’ve got to be heavy, dense and solid. Especially heavy is important.”

I didn’t know this. “And this makes the meat taste better?” I ask.

My mate gives me a look (you can probably imagine what kind). “That’s for breeding purposes,” he enlightens me.

Natalie goes on with her story, how she looked over all these filthy rams, listened to all these friendly Muslim traders, the stench all around, the sweltering heat. She thought she might pass out, but the location seemed less than ideal.

Finally, having made her choice, she hailed a taxi to go home.

Relax, God is in control. Except maybe this time.

“You took that sheep home in a taxi?

“They tied him up and stuffed him in the trunk.”

“That’s terrible!” I say. (Let it not be said Miss Footloose approves of cramming live animals into car trunks.)

“Oh, he had his revenge,” says Natalie. “He left a generous deposit. Fragrant, too. You should have heard the taxi driver, shouting there was an extra charge for sheep shitting in his taxi. It cost me dearly.”

I feel sorry for the animal, but am in awe of Natalie who will voluntarily go out and buy livestock, and then cart the creature home in the back of a decrepit taxi. I am so impressed.

“Oh, this isn’t even the story,” says Natalie laconically, and I’m feeling a growing sense of doom. Oh, no, what now? What about that bleeding knee?

Picture this:

Once at the house, the animal is released in the back yard where it seems happy to find grass to eat. Nana-the-hyperactive-dog is fascinated, racing around in circles, barking frantically. Natalie is at the open gate, talking to an itinerant vegetable vendor about cucumbers. Somehow, unexpectedly, the ram sees an opportunity and tears into the street, chased by Nana-the-hyperactive-dog who thinks this is great stuff, man.

In a moment they are out of sight and Natalie despairs as she thinks of the waste of all that money, the waste of a sweltering afternoon fondling sheep scrotums. She will have to find the beast.

Chasing on foot does not look like a practical solution so Natalie hops on her bike and goes in search of the animals and finds them racing across the open terrain bordered by the main road. Busy traffic – big, overloaded tro-tros, taxis, speeding cars. Quelle panique!

The animals are heading straight for the road and visions of blood, gore and worse come easily to mind. Natalie is trying to cut them off, careening on the rough, unpaved surface and manages to get ahead of them. Before she can come to a proper, dignified stop, she falls off the bike and with her left knee bleeding she goes for the sheep, grabs it, but it slips away. It’s tearing along the side of the road now, with Natalie, on foot, in hot pursuit.

Cars stop. Lorries stop. This is better than the movies – an obruni woman chasing a sheep!

“You should have seen the audience I had,” says Natalie. “People got out of their cars and stood there watching me and laughing their heads off.”

Finally a true gentleman comes to the rescue. “Do not worry, Madame,” he says, “I will catch the sheep for you.” And so he does. After which he slings the animal across his manly shoulders and hauls it back to the house. I visualize Jesus with a pretty white woolly lamb, like we see in children’s Bible story pictures. Only this savior is black and the sheep is a filthy beast with a ragged, stringy coat that does not inspire thoughts of soft sweaters. Still, his testicles are in great shape.

With the animal back in the yard and the gate closed, Natalie staggers up to her bedroom with her bleeding knee. In the bedroom is Max, just waking up from an after-work nap. He takes in the sorry sight of his exhausted bride with blood running down her leg.

He yawns. “What’ve you been doing?” asks he.

* * *
Do you have an animal tale to share? Go on, entertain me!

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