In October 2007 I travelled for 9 days to Kenya, then returned back to Sydney. Three weeks later I travelled via the UK to Ghana for a whopping 3 days. Then in January 2008 I started getting night sweats and not feeling 100%. In February I got pain from what I thought was appendicitis, which abruptly stopped at 2pm. Nothing much for the remainder of the year except this sharp pain in my right side.
The doctor couldn’t put it down to anything in particular.
About a year later I was eating a chocolate Tim Tam biscuit and my belly swelled up to what made me look 6 months pregnant. Pete thought it was hilarious. After having tubes put in both ends of my body the doctors told me I was a coeliac. I didn’t even know what it was. It was a harsh blow to find out that I wasn’t allowed to eat anything with wheat in it. There went 50% of my diet.
A few months later the ‘could it be appendicitis’ pain struck at 6 in the morning. Pete took me to hospital, they took the appendix out and then told me the pain wasn’t because of that. The appendix was fine. However, since then the pain in my right side which dogged me for years disappeared. It was the caecum that was causing all the problem, which was connected to me being allergic to gluten.
So here I am in Kenya, a coeliac, with about zero people knowing about it.
I’ve had an interesting 19 months trying to figure out what I can eat and what to avoid. The food labelling here is useless. It might say vinegar but not which type (I can’t have malt/brown vinegar). You ask someone at a restaurant about whether it has flour or gluten in it and you get a blank look.
One of the hardest things is when you go to someones house. The last thing I want to do is offend someone who has gone out of their way to prepare a meal for you to tell them that you can’t eat it. Once I ate a couple of sandwiches and it made me sick for 2 weeks. Bread is a big thing here, usually what someone has for breakfast. A few weeks ago we went to a co-workers house for ‘tea’, but it’s never just a cup of tea here, it’s a full meal. People go out of their way to make your stay nice. These guys had even borrowed from their neighbours a table and couch for us to sit on.
I’ve smartened up a lot and now take a ziplock bag of goodies with me. I also tell Pete to eat ‘for me’ so that it looks good. On Thursdays we travel an hour to a training farm for former streetboys. We have a staffroom and I usually make scrambled eggs for lunch.
Like I said, the hardest thing is the lack of labelling. Even herbs and spices have gluten in them. You only find out when you have to spend a lot of time on the toilet or have intense pain in your stomach to figure out not to get that brand.
We do have some health food shops in Nairobi called HealthyU. Because everything is imported, it’s really expensive. While today they might have gluten free bread mix, tomorrow there might be none. So, I buy multiples of what I need to get. Liz travels back to Australia every few months so she brings me back things I can’t get here.
The big one is chocolate. There is absolutely no chocolate here in the supermarket that doesn’t have gluten in it, not a bar. It’s a tragedy.
I get to miss out on chapatis (divine taste), bread, sweets, chocolate and mandazis. However, there is lots of fruit, veges, rice and meat I do get to eat. Yes, it’s hard when people in the office are cooking toast and that lovely baked bread smell goes through the room. However, I get to bring in home baked goodies that our guys have never seen.
I do a lot of home baking. When someone from Aussie comes to visit I always ask them to bring me gluten free flour. I use that for everything instead of normal flour. I just have to add Xanthum Gum and sometimes an extra egg to give it the fluffiness. I can buy gluten free cornflour here so use that for thickening things. And I always, always have a packet of Edmonds Custard Powder in the cupboard.
While it’s tough, it’s not life threatening. Much nicer to be healthy and feeling great.