Category: this is africa

malaria? typhoid?

With the rainy season in Africa comes sickness, apparently. When we started our directed research writeups over half the staff disappeared. At first I assumed they had days off, but then I realized most of them were in the local hospital due to one ailment or another.

One morning while cooking breakfast, I asked our older cook, Esau, how the other cooks Patricia and Resti were doing. He told me they were staying at the local “medics,” which is a place where people can go for medicine and lay-ins but that doesn’t house any certified specialists. (It is not the clinic we, as students, go to if we are sick). Then he asked when I was going to visit them – not if, when. Flustered, I almost offered work as an excuse to not go, then I stopped myself and boldly stated, “this afternoon.”

I convinced two friends to go with me and we made our way to the medics, near the church. Patricia and Resti lay in neighboring beds in one of the patient rooms. The room had six beds, three of which were held by children. They were beyond touched that we had come to visit and I silently thanked Esau for demanding the obvious. We asked Patricia and Resti what they had. Patricia said the doctors told her she has allergies, Resti had “some kind of flu.” It didn’t seem very conclusive, but they said they would be home within two days. We sat and chatted for a few minutes, a woman randomly handed Shealyn her baby which entertained us for a bit. Then the priest came to pray for each person in the room individually and we decided it was best to leave.

That night in the dinner line I was chatting with the student managar about all the sick staff members. “What did they say they had?” She asked cynically, “Malaria? Typhoid?” I told her what we had learned and she laughed, “Yeah, the clinic isn’t very conclusive. It is always  malaria or typhoid, or sometimes just ‘the change in weather’.”

A few days later I was sitting in my room when I spotted Martha through the window. I jumped up and raced out to see her, she had been to the hospital for what I think is migraines. We greeted with a handshake and a headbump and I asked her how she was. “Eh, niko sawa,” she replied, I’m okay.

I asked where she’d been and she told me the hospital, then she laughed, “Daktari kicha,” The doctor is crazy.

“Kwa nini?” Why?

Then she went into a long, and slow (for my benefit), story of what the doctor had told her, with a lot of pantomiming involved. Apparently, she arrived at the doctors, told him she had headaches and was told to wait. After a long wait they drew some blood and made her wait more. The results came back negative – no malaria, no typhoid, no HIV. However, apparently they revealed she has too much blood, and that’s why she’s getting headaches. The doctor told her she should have her blood drawn to get rid of some of it.

Daktari kicha sana. 

I will never take the American health care system for granted again.

ants in my pants.

Wadudu make mosquitoes look like butterflies.

The first night we spent in Arusha national park was relatively uneventful… for most of us. Zack came to breakfast with red eyes and a frown and complained that he hadn’t gotten any sleep because of some ants in his sleeping bag. Our Professor Yohana found the ant hill by the boy’s tent and poured salt on it as he’d been instructed to. But the other staff mostly shrugged it off, that’ll happen, this is Africa. No one stopped to consider that Zack was sleeping to the north in the tent that was furthest north in a line of many others…

When we were headed to bed that night the boys found a lovely surprise, their tent door was covered in a blanket of little red ants. They didn’t stay near their tent for long. See, when these little red ants bite, it burns. And when they bite they release pheromones telling all the other little ants you’re there. Martha and Yuri started whacking away at the wadudu on the tent with suppressed chuckles as the boys ran in circles, ripping their clothes off and swatting their bodies screaming, “this is bullsh*t, we can’t sleep in there!”

A new tent was constructed for the boys and everything seemed to be peachy until one of the students yelled from the edge of camp, “they’re moving!” Sure enough a long thick line of ants was headed out of their salted home… and straight into camp. My tentmates and I bolted into our tent. We were the next tent in the line of fire.

“What are we going to do!?” Molly cried as we zipped ourselves inside. We looked helplessly at the small hole where the vertical and horizontal zippers to our tent came together. She peered through the window with her flashlight. “Oh my god… they’re coming!” We stuffed a towel and a few books in front of the hole and prayed that they would pass us by.

That night I woke promptly at two with a strong urge to go to the bathroom… well, crap. I unzipped from the safety of my sleeping bag and shown my light at the door. The ants were marching into the tent, up the pile of books, and then back out again. I got back in my sleeping bag – there was no way I was opening that floodgate.

At four in the morning we awoke to Martha and Yuri slapping our tent door. Lainey groaned sleepily from her bag and Molly and I sat up. “Mambo,” Martha whispered from outside.

“Martha save us,” Molly pleaded. We could see Yuri pouring salt outside our door. After peering towards their light Molly squeaked out a barely suppressed cry, “Oh my god they’re in the tent.”

At this point Kelsey sat up in her sleeping bag . “What’s going on?” she yawned sleepily. She surveyed the situation, stiffened and quietly echoed, “Oh my god.”

I was stuffed in the far corner of the tent, unable to assess the situation. Suddenly, both of them started whacking the floor with whatever they could grab, screaming “Get them!” and “Why is this happening?” After about 20 minutes of this we were relatively convinced we had killed most what had gotten inside. We got back in our sleeping bags and tried to sleep, but I was having some difficulties, considering I still hadn’t gone to the bathroom.

Then they started biting. No matter how hard I wrapped myself in my sleeping bag every ten minutes or so I’d be wriggling in pain. At 5:30 I could hear a few students outside the tent. Assuming this meant I no longer needed permission from the askaris to leave my tent, and I really couldn’t wait a second longer to go to the bathroom, I vaulted myself out of my sleeping bag. I grabbed my pants from the top of my bag and hesitated… just for a second… before throwing caution into the wind and pulling them on.

Stupid. Immediately the insides of my legs started burning. I jumped up, trying not to step on anyone or scream, and frantically looked for my shoes. My bare feet hit the floor and immediately I began hopping as if on hot stones. They were everywhere. I threw on my sandals and bolted out of the tent, flailing and slapping myself like I was on fire. At the sight of me Martha burst into laughter and Yuri ran forward to help me unzip my pant legs off.
That day Martha and Yuri worked hard to remove all the ants from our tents. But that night, while the students slept peacefully, the ant army moved to attack the staff. They woke up tired and cranky complaining of wadudu in their tents. One of my professors explained how there were “ants in his pants” through a little improve dance. But we were headed out of camp that day, so we were escaping… or so we thought.

I was standing in line for breakfast when I happened to look down at my foot. I said alarmingly to a friend, “WHAT. Is that?” And watched, stunned, as the biggest ant I’ve ever seen crawled up my foot and under my sandal strap… “SH*T.” I screamed, ungracefully, as the thing bit me. I flailed out of line and swatted at the ant which refused to let go of my skin. I literally had to pry it off like it was a tick. A couple of the drivers laughed at me – until the Safari ants started biting them too. They were everywhere. People were jumping up and down to get to the food and back out again. I ripped off my sweatshirt when one bit me viciously on the arm.

Then the bees came. They came all at once, hundreds, attacking our honey and hot chocolate containers. Needless to say, we booked it out of Arusha.

Lessons learned: (1) Don’t put your tent on an ant hill, (2) Don’t camp where mother nature obviously doesn’t want you to, and (3) Never assume things can’t get worse. Because they always can. I mean c’mon, this is Africa.

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