It’s more than malaria gets in the blood
in Africa: its red-soiled, potholed towns,
jungles of car parts, sewing machines,
mended T-shirts from Leeds and Seattle,
herdsmen lean as their cows.

We were asked out as honoured guests.
In the village where we stopped on the way
for yams and cooking oil, every other roof
an advert for Omo or Blueband,
an ancestral tableau of gossiping women
gathered by the standpipe with plastic demijohns,
and far from the cities young boys
begged to be photographed.

And if we hadn’t turned up when we did
to hoik Emile’s father’s barrow up
alongside the spare fuel on the LandRover
he’d have strapped it on the next bus up the mountain
squashing someone’s mangoes
and their chickens too, probably.

If you catch it you ache in places
you didn’t know you had
but the local medics know their stuff,
and not till you’re back home,
years later maybe,
does it grip you again, the fever.

in Women Who Dye Their Hair