30 October 2007

bit feverish

I just took the temperature of the air. I don’t have a normal thermometer, but I have the kind you put in your mouth to see if you have a fever. I held the thermometer out under the porch and waited.

Yesterday I slathered myself with sunscreen and walked ten minutes to a meeting. I was sunburned by the time I got there.

Every day someone tells me that by March it will be “really hot,” too hot to sleep inside. “You’ll be taking your mattress out into the yard and trying to sleep there.”

The air has a fever. Its temperature is 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. In the shade.

This is the “cool season.”


I am force-drinking myself. That’s not a word. But if you can force-feed, why can’t you force-drink? I guess there is no single word for giving a drink to someone. There should be.

Regardless, I’m forcing myself to drink far beyond my body’s normal capacity for containing liquid. It’s all about hydration. The earth is cracking. The air is drying up. The breeze eats at my throat. The harmattan, the dust from the Sahara’s dry season, floats about in the upper atmosphere so that the sky on all its edges looks hazy, looks smoggy, but in a place with fewer than ten cars in a thirty mile radius. The sun is constant and burning. I spend my days fleeing the sun. In the morning, I sit in the shadow on the west side of my tukul. By eleven, I’m under the porch. At four, I have to relocate to the shadow on the east side of the neighboring tukul.

And the whole time, I’m forcing myself to drink liquids. Two glasses of water with breakfast, two bottles of water by lunch, another bottle of water and a juice box at lunch, two more glasses in the afternoon, a mango Vita soda before dinner, more water with dinner. It’s the first time in my life I’ve met the eight glasses/two liters a day recommendation. I’ve figured out why, too. It’s because drinking two liters of water a day requires drinking until you feel full and sick with water. Over and over again, all day long.

Even with all this liquid, I find myself ravenously thirsty. Again, I know that word doesn’t go with liquid, but it should. In this context, it should. It means finishing two bottles of water and feeling too full of liquid to go on, but still being so thirsty I am practically clawing at the fridge for more water. It means drinking more water than I’ve ever drunk before in my life and never having to go to the latrine. It means lying in bed at night dreaming of water, even though I have a bottle right next to me and I’m drinking from it. I have never, never ever, been so thirsty, even once, and now it’s a constant ache. I literally, physically, cannot drink enough to keep from dehydration.

28 October 2007

big brother

I usually never think about all the television shows going on without me. But there are millions of them! There are all these Nigerian shows, and South African shows, and British shows, and I’m sure many others that I don’t even know about. The only one that has been unavoidable here is Big Brother Africa (II). We didn’t watch this at all out here in the middle of nowhere until two colleagues in a row came visiting from another town and both of them were obsessed with it. So we started watching it. It’s better that way, because if you don’t start at the beginning, you need some introduction to the characters, which they could give us.

Four years ago, I watched the beginning of the first Big Brother Africa, the part where they are introduced and they move into the house. I remember the ruckus that was raised by the fact that there are cameras in the shower. Then I lost interest, since I didn’t have a tv and going over to someone else’s house to watch was too much work, and I only know that Gaetano from Uganda won that round. I think I watched the finale.

Now we watch the daily recap much of the time, and we tune in religiously for the evictions on Sunday nights. In fact, we’ve gotten so into it that we have extended conversations about how boring Maureen is, and my colleague and I both voted against her yesterday. He voted by Thuraya and I voted by Skype. And then she was evicted, and although I don’t know if I could have handled watching even the recap of another two hour session of her forcing another housemate to talk about their “connection” and whether or not they were losing it, I felt vaguely guilty for having voted against her.

I don’t know if our two votes really counted for much, but “Rest of Africa,” all the countries who don’t have direct representation in Big Brother Africa, voted against her. “That’s us!” we said excitedly. “Rest of Africa! That’s us!”

one of those moods

I am slowly adjusting to life without Wallace. It’s painful. Yesterday upon talking to my dad online, I made one more attempt to retrieve him, this time using a milk powder can turned bucket with the help of some string, but that was also unsuccessful and resulted in more crying, so I decided that I had better just start the process of getting over it rather than continuing to hope. Anyway, it’s disgusting in there. Too much poking about in that goo will make you barf.

The good news is that my computer is on most of the time and this way I can give up on the headphones, thus irritating the entire compound with my North American music. What-evah. I have been forced to listen to the same one song in some language I can’t even identify over and over since I arrived. My turn. (No, I’m not serious. Yes, I’m listening to music out loud, but no, it’s not loud enough to bother other people. How rude do you think I am? Honestly. It’s like you take me seriously or something. LIKE I WOULD FORCE MY MUSIC ON PEOPLE. Heh.)

THUSLY, I’m not completely without music for the moment. I just will be the next time I have to fly anywhere. Gar. Don’t talk to me. I am going to be the crabby person of the century. And it’s only 2007. There are 93 years to go. At least we’ll get it over with early.

Can I just say that it’s hard to, ehem, use a latrine in which I know that my precious Wallace is buried?

I’m clearly a little slaphappy. This is what happens when you combine extreme heat and dehydration with extreme grief and loss.

Southern Sudan’s heat has forced me to take back yet another of my fashion despisings. I have always despised capris. You know, the short version of jeans/khakis/etc.? (Not the island, obviously, where I have never been.) Hated, hated, hated. I am too tall for normal clothes, you see, and after the strugglings of years and years of searching for clothes with long enough sleeves and long enough legs, I just can’t bring myself to PURPOSEFULLY purchase trousers that are too short. ON PURPOSE. But it’s real hot here. I mean, it’s reh-ally hot. As one might have noticed from my previous comments about the excessive heat. If I want to wear something that’s not a skirt (and, being a good modern girl, I occasionally do), the jean-ace are just too warm. Since I spend most of my time lurking in the coolest place I can find, it would be counter-productive to ruin all that effort of lazing about through wearing of actual clothing. So I compromised. I’m wearing jeans, but I rolled them up. This results in something that is unfortunately all too similar to capris. Just don’t expect me to buy them, people. They are my last option. It’s just that I can only actually wear about four of my skirts here because the other ones, even though they cover my knees and would have been totally FINE in EVERY OTHER PLACE I’VE EVER LIVED, are just too short. I’m sick of those four.

Funny thing, though: I never get sick of wearing jeans. Why is that?

27 October 2007


In the two+ months I've been here in Southern Sudan, I've been trying to write something in this space every day. Or, if I don't have internet access, at least to write something almost every day and put it up here whenever I can. It's been relatively successful, although sometimes I feel like I'm just repeating over and over things like, "Dry cracked earth. Hot. Too hot. Parched. Everything parched."

I intend to continue this effort, at least as long as I am not gainfully employed, so I signed my little self up for NaBloPoMo, which is the silliest name I've ever heard for what is essentially a commitment to blog something every day during the month of November. I can't actually SAY the word, but I can write, I tell you.

This may get iffy given that I'm going to be traveling during approximately one entire week of November. Nonetheless. Will try.

for wallace

My long and beloved friend Wallace has fallen into the depths, from whence there is no return. We labored long to save him, but all efforts were for naught. He has passed beyond this world into a realm where none of us can follow.

In other words, I’m a *&^% idiot who, when heading to the latrine while listening to music, thinks to herself, “Maybe I should take the iPod out of my back pocket. No, it will be fine,” not realizing that the back pocket of jeans, when using a squatting toilet, GET TURNED UPSIDE DOWN. There was a horrible moment of realizing he was falling and watching him bounce and then watching him fall down down down into the depths of the latrine. One would think, having lost TWO phones through dropping into toilets, I would think more clearly now when approaching sources of liquid with electronic devices. One would be wrong.

We tried. We really tried. I could see him standing upright, his shiny little back with the Strawberry Shortcake sticker sticking up out of the goo. Only the very bottom was in the mess. We made a shovel out of a Pringles can and attached it to a long flexible plastic pipe (first we tried a metal pipe, but it was too tall to get into the latrine without bending). We used one more flexible pipe to try to pry it into the shovel. The pipe broke. We tried again, with two pipes, but Wallace just sunk further and further in. Finally, he was almost invisible, and we gave up.

I sat on the floor of the latrine and cried. There are parts of the latrine, like the edge of the hole, that I scorn to touch even with the bottom of my shoes. Now I was sitting in them, and resting my hand on them. The smell of the stirred up hole was terrible. My three colleagues, gathered around to help with the hopeless retrieval, said, “It’s not a person! At least it’s not a person!” and I looked up and said, teary-eyed, “His name is Wallace. We’ve been through a lot together.”

I looked down at him, the tiny remaining visible bit of him, one more time, and then said, “Is there a plane tomorrow? I want to leave.”

Of course I’m not leaving over a lost iPod. But it’s a sore loss. Wallace kept me sane many a night when I couldn’t leave the light on to read because the bugs would swarm. He kept me sane through all the long airport waits.

I cried for a while and then I got into the shower and washed myself thoroughly, including my hair, which I had just washed. I pushed my clothes into a pile and then washed again. I felt dirty from head to toe. But I would have taken Wallace back, for all the filth. I would have washed him carefully and prayed that he would work again.

Now I have only my computer. I am listening to music on it now, trying to be okay with losing Wallace, but I remember again every time I reach down to change the song and there is no lovely little spinning wheel on a shiny little body. There is only my bulky computer.

His last song was World On Fire, by Sarah McLachlan.

I miss him.

26 October 2007

I’m counting days, chanting them off under my breath. At the end is a snowfall, a mint hot chocolate, a game of Scrabble over tea and laughter. At the end are presents wrapped carefully, warm bread coming out of the oven, secrets whispered giggling in the dark when my sister crawls into my bed.

I’m counting days, chanting them off under my breath. I’m counting granola bars and oatmeal packets, matching them to days, eating almonds alone for dinner because the only options are beef with sauce and beef without sauce, eating almonds in the dark alone.

And then I’m walking alone at twilight, watching an open triangle above the setting sun, watching it trail pink across the sky, and then I’m not walking alone, I’m walking holding the sticky little hands of two naked toddler-sized boys smiling up at me, or they are holding my hands, my pinkies, and I’m so thirsty, even though I just drank a bottle of apple soda, and the old driver doesn’t see me in the dark as he drives by, but that’s okay, because it’s twilight in Southern Sudan and I’m not counting the days.

For a few minutes I’m not, until the dark, and the wide full moon so beautiful and clear that I stop to look at it on the way to the latrine, and the scratching sounds in the ceiling, until the heat before I’ve even gotten out of bed, and then I’m counting days again, chanting them off under my breath, knowing that they mark the end of something, of the person I thought I was, and a departure that I’ve never been happy to make. A departure that I may be happy to make, this time.

I’m counting days, chanting them off under my breath, grieving each one as it passes, and delighted that they are almost finished.

25 October 2007


Two days ago, we ran out of toilet paper, and there is no toilet paper for sale in this town. (There is no toilet paper for sale in this town because most people don’t use toilets. They use the great outdoors. In the great outdoors, there are readily available leaves and grasses. No need to pollute the environment with paper.) The nearest reservoir of toilet paper is Bigger Town Three Hours Away, which was not an option at the moment when the toilet paper ran out, because it was 6 p.m. and because the car was needed for other things the next day (yesterday). In the absence of toilet paper, we resorted to the next best thing: old newspapers shipped in from Nairobi. We are currently using the news of August. Circa August 15, actually. It’s not exactly soft huggable Charmin Ultra.

This whole thing reminds me of this one time in high school when our friend D. and her family went to the Henry Ford Museum somewhere in the eastern part of Michigan. When she came back, she announced, as we were sitting around on the floor in front of our lockers of a morning, “The only thing I learned is that people used to wipe their butts with corn cobs.”

23 October 2007


Someone reading this blog while I’m here in Tilt, if they have been reading for long and have seen the way I have written about other places, even other places in this same country, might think to themselves, “Hm, I wonder if she might be experiencing some CULTURE STRESS.” DING-DING-DING! That person is 100% correct and wins a prize! (A prize of nothing, but a prize nonetheless.) The fact is, yes, yes I am experiencing some culture stress here. (This used to be known as culture SHOCK, but for some reason circa 2000 when I took Intercultural Communication, they had renamed it culture STRESS, I think so as to indicate that it was natural and one could survive it. I really prefer SHOCK, because that’s what it feels like, but I will go with the less pejorative term.)

I wasn’t expecting to feel this way here because I have never before felt culture stress in Africa, other than occasionally and transiently and usually related to things that would also stress me out in the US, like having guests in my house for extended periods of time, so it’s hard to tell if it’s just stress or if it’s culturally related. And because I wasn’t expecting it, I think it’s hitting me harder here. This place is different from any place I’ve ever lived. I expected it to feel instantly like home, like East Africa did, like Liberia did, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t feel like home at all.

Part of the reason that it doesn’t feel like home is purely physical: it’s very hot, and very flat. I am a tree girl, and a mountain girl, and a water girl. My favorite house in my life so far was my house in Rwanda, nestled among tall trees between a mountain and a huge clear lake. There are none of those here, not trees, not mountains, not water. There is unending flat, nothing for the eye to catch on, and the water is only dirty puddles large or small that dry slowly, turning into gray marsh between the grasses. Kids play in them and spear fish, but they are not a lake or a river. They don’t flow.

Part of the reason is cultural. I come from farming people. My ancestors were farmers, and although I’m somewhat citified and I can’t keep plants alive, it is farming that we idealize: the fresh corn in the summer, the round ripe tomatoes, the green growing all around. I’ve always lived in at least mostly farming cultures, in the US and abroad. (Except for that horrible stint in New York City. LET’S NOT TALK ABOUT THAT. There is no culture there.) Even in Rwanda, where cow ownership is idealized, most people are farmers by necessity. Cows are a luxury.

This, however, is a cow culture, probably because things don’t grow very well in the heat and the marsh. Cows are everywhere. You cannot drive without long periods of very slow inching through herds of them (you can’t hit one; the owner would demand payment). A wife is purchased with cows. Cow dung covers every path. There are flies everywhere, because they love cow dung.

The problem is that even cows have a hard time surviving here. In the rainy season, they are sickly. In the dry season, they are hungry.

I have a very hard time with the whole thing. I am culturally stressed. I feel mostly at ease about the fact of my culture stress, though, because one of my Sudanese colleagues, who is from near Elsewhere (where there are trees and mountains and rivers, with less heat and few cows), also finds it stressful. He told me yesterday that if anyone ever tried to make him stay in this town for two months straight, he would quit.

It’s not just me.

I was starting to worry that I’d lost it.


(MCM, this bug post is for you.)

I just finished watching a stripey lizard try to eat a bug. Lizards and frogs are fun to watch because they pounce upon bugs and eat them, but sometimes they are even more fun to watch because they pounce upon bugs that are too big, or that sting, and then they have to fight with them, and usually the bug wins. One night, we watched a frog try five or six times to eat a big stinging bug. Every time he tried, he got stung. But he kept coming back. Finally he learned his lesson and retreated sulkily to a corner to watch the bug calmly continue across the floor.

Africa is not a place for people who don’t like bugs. I don’t mean that you have to be a bug lover and want to inspect every bug you see. I just mean that if you are one of those people who completely freaks out about an ant on your counter and screams for someone to come KILL IT, KILL IT, KILL IT, you will struggle here. Oh, you can go to Nairobi, probably, and stay in a nice hotel. That will be fine. I didn’t see bugs at the Intercontinental in Nairobi (the only night I stayed in a really nice hotel there, courtesy of Kenya Airways who routed me with an overnight stop there; normally I’m a guest house or guest of friends sort of girl). In particular, a rural swamp is not a place you want to be if you can’t handle bugs. I have seen some weird bugs here.

I’ve seen black bugs with yellow stripes. I’ve seen brown bugs whose hind section was a bulbous sack of golden liquid.

I’ve seen centipedes the length of my middle finger. I’ve seen moths bigger than my open hand. I’ve seen beetles fatter than my thumb. I’ve seen green bugs so skinny that they get into the mosquito net through the mesh.

I’ve seen bugs that sting. I’ve seen bugs that smell bad when you brush them off your shoulder. I’ve seen bugs whose oil burns your skin when you touch a path they have crossed.

I think I still hate cockroaches the most. I can handle almost any bug but cockroaches. They are deeee-sgusting. (By the way. Not-nice hotels in Nairobi? Are the worst for this. I once LEFT a hotel in Nairobi only moments after checking in because cockroaches were RUNNING OVER OUR FEET from the moment we opened the door of the room. Not okay.)

So anyway, there are bugs. I’m learning to embrace them, all but the cockroaches, the flies, and the green flies in the latrine. And the red ants that bite. Sometimes, if an outdoor meeting gets long, I just lean over and look at the ground. An interesting bug is bound to happen by.

22 October 2007

cow invasion

I’ve run out of things to say. We’re just living here. The same things happen every day: we eat the same food, the ladies who do the wash refuse to wash my pajama shorts (something about not washing underwear – it’s NOT UNDERWEAR), I try more things to get rid of the stomach problem, the sun shines hot and then disappears behind clouds just in time to limit our evening electricity, I work on writing human rights trainings, I learn a bit more Arabic (now featuring “good morning” and “good afternoon”), the cows invade the compound…

Did I mention the part where we now share our compound with cows? When I left for my travels around South Sudan, we were a compound free of livestock, other than the chickens we bought to eat for dinner. When I came back, the fence had fallen in. In numerous places. This is what happens when someone decides to make the fence out of (bizarrely expensive) “local materials” which are actually palm fronds, which don’t actually grow here, they grow a few counties over, and then the budget is blown and when the fence falls in THERE IS NO MONEY LEFT IN THE BUDGET TO FIX IT. I have this to say: buy some freaking chain link. Don’t try to do this local materials thing if you aren’t willing to go out and get new fronds every few weeks like the women here do. (Women are in charge of fencing. This I learned from a workshop discussion of gender roles. Women are also in charge of most everything else, except a few aspects of building houses and the all-important sitting around drinking tea and discussing politics. Oh, and the money from the selling of cows. Women are not in charge of the money, ever.)

Meanwhile, two mother goats with twin kids each have decided that our compound is a lovely sanctuary for eating of the few-and-far-between bits of grass. Herds of cows trample through on a regular basis. There is no experience like stumbling out of your tukul in the morning to head to the latrine and tripping over 1. cow dung or 2. a baby cow. The guards and cooks chase the cows away when they see them but me? When I try to chase cows, even when I throw rocks at them, they don’t move. (Fine, I’m an animal hater. I throw rocks at cows. Everyone throws rocks at them. At least I don’t try to kill the owls for sitting on the top of my tukul or the dogs for howling, which most people do because those two things are supposed to be bad luck. Poor wounded limping dogs that hide in our shower for some shade and protection. I only throw rocks to get the cows OUT. Unsuccessfully. I might be more successful if I actually hit them, but I can't bear to hurt them.)

That’s it, pretty much. That’s what happens. Day in, day out. You’d think it would be more exciting, and obviously there are some more exciting things that happen occasionally, but they aren’t exactly blog fodder unless I want to be fireded. Or worse. So, nada. Maybe something FASCINATING will happen later today. I’ll let you know. More likely, I will just continue working and stewing in the frustration that is having a life plan but being on the wrong continent without phones and mail and therefore unable to take any steps to make the life plan happen and watching the months tick away while you get no closer to the implementation of the life plan. You know, that.

21 October 2007


you know there's a problem when you find yourself telling a doctor, "why didn't wikipedia mention this?"

20 October 2007

the nekkid

It’s hot. I thought it was hot before, you know, when I came. I was wrong. Those were the balmy days of spring. The rain moderates the temperature, etc. Now summer has arrived, with a vengeance, and it’s very hard to do anything but sit sprawled in front of a fan. Naked.

I’m not in any way an expert on South Sudan, but I have a suspicion that clothes are a relatively new introduction. It’s too hot for clothes. I wouldn’t wear clothes if I could help it. Most people wear clothes now, but it doesn’t seem to be even worth remarking on when a man walks naked along the road after fishing or a woman bathes in the ditch next to the road in a skirt but nothing else. I am no one to talk. I grew up in Liberia, in a place where women didn’t wear shirts. (THEN they didn’t wear shirts; they do now. Times have changed.) So I’m not particularly shocked by women nekkid from the waist up. The totally nekkid men is new to me.

(By the way, somewhat or not at all on topic, there are four hens tied up behind me (dinner, anyone?). They are alive. There is also one, loose rooster, who is somewhat forcefully breeding with the tied hens. It seems all wrong to me. And who BLOGS about this? It's life, people.)


Yesterday we drove three hours to the nearest big town. “Big” means essentially that it has one restaurant which serves something other than lentils and rice (in this case, it serves chicken by the half or quarter, or beef, with rice and some soggy chips/fries/whatever you want to call fried potato slices). We went to the bigger town for several reasons, including the fact that I had never been there (I’ve either been gone or otherwise engaged every time a trip was made) and that Visiting Colleague needed a fan (unavailable in the town where he is based) and that we were running low on Pringles (the horror, the horror).

Here at home, we buy our groceries at what we call “the Nakumatt.” Nakumatt is a Kenyan chain that sells everything you can imagine. It’s like a Super Wa.lm.art, but with two floors and more stuff. Like motorbikes. Obviously this is a joke, because our town’s single store is about the size of… well, it’s smaller than a bodega in New York. Think of the store in Little House on the Prairie. Cut it in half, and make two walls open to the outside, so there are only actual products on two walls. Now add lots of boxes and cartons of things like dates in the middle of the floor, and a cooler of soda, and you have our village Nakumatt. You can buy soap and toothpaste and sesame cakes and tea and powdered milk. For anything else – why would you need anything else?

So, Bigger Town. We left late, because the car was needed for things like fetching water (constant, constant struggle). Then we drove and drove and drove. The road is no longer under water like it was a few weeks ago, but there were various other complications that delayed us, and we barely got lunch. Then I asked for tea and they brought me Lipton, when I had seen that they were making the good stuff in the kitchen. Eh. Lipton. Gross. I went back and asked for the real thing and got a little glass of dark tea too hot to pick up in my hand.

We walked through the market in the hot sun, with me muttering about “Stupid blue eyes. What did people do before sunglasses? This is why people my color didn’t survive in Africa. Before sunscreen. Before sunglasses. We just roasted. Burned and shriveled up. I have no DEFENSES.” It’s true. I feel pickled by the sun. I have nothing to keep it from burning me red and sucking the hydration right out of me. Nothing but some sunscreen and the hope of shelter coming soon. I am not at all trying to minimize the problem of racism in the world (which I think is a huge, immeasurable problem), but sometimes I wonder how on earth light-skinned people ever even got into a position in which we had enough power that we COULD be racist. I mean, the sun itself should kill pink-skinned people off in much of the world. We should all be dead, if natural selection had its rightful way. Maybe we will be soon, and the world will be free of a lot of problems. (Although. Most hilarious post I’ve ever read on a blog: Blueberries for Nana – second paragraph, people. Second paragraph. Go read it.)

Moving on.

So, we walked through a never-ending market and picked up some cinnamon bark and a mirror and two dvds for someone else and a shiny silver fan, eventually relying on my foolproof sense of direction which said that the lost vehicle was THAT WAY (pointing over the roofs of the stalls) to re-find our car, while I announced to the world that my MOM not only has a foolproof sense of direction, but she can tell you which way is north WHEREVER YOU ARE. Man, I’m homesick.

At the convenience store at the petrol station (this is what passes for a supermarket), I selected some Sour Cream and Onion Pringles, for a change of pace from the plain ones, and then we drove three hours home.

(Why is there a charter plane landing here right now? The TIME is all wrong.)

We were getting near to home and anticipating arriving in time to get in some internet before it got dark (once it’s dark, no internet, because the solar can’t recharge the batteries anymore) when we came upon a long line of cars blocked from passage by a stuck truck and a stuck bus. Nice. The rain has almost stopped, but it rained here a little bit yesterday, and the top layer of the road got slippery and the sides of the road got soft. There were men hammering away at the ground with shovels, and cars lined up in both directions. We got out and walked past the mess and tried to call for another organization to come and fetch us so we could leave the driver with the car overnight or until someone sorted it all out, but the sat phone wasn't working and soon a minibus decided to chance the narrow gap between the two stuck vehicles. It got stuck itself, and pushed out by dozens of men, and slid around wildly, hitting the stuck bus, but it eventually made it through and there behind it was the high radio antenna of our Land Cruiser, with the old, nearly-blind driver at the wheel, proudly driving straight through without a problem, due to the four-wheel drive.

Agency regulations, like those of most organizations, forbid the taking on of passengers, so we had to leave behind the many, many people who asked us to take them on to town. Sometimes I hate regulations and I long for the Rwanda days, when I made the rules myself and I would have just piled in as many people as could fit and watched the babies jostle the chickens in the rear-view mirror.

It was dark by the time we got home. No internet. And there was no charcoal to make chips/fries/ whatever you want to call fried potato slices with the potatoes we had bought. I ate rice and oatmeal and we watched a movie on the computer.

17 October 2007


Last night, as the sun was setting in all shades of blue and gray and white, I sat in a chair in the middle of the compound looking up at the sky, feeling that happy Africa feeling (which is quite an accomplishment, since I haven’t felt that happy Africa feeling in this town at all before). I was thinking about how living in a rural part of Africa sometimes results in far fewer stories than a city. I was thinking about how it’s sort of boring to write about, actually, and what would you call the color of the sky? Periwinkle, maybe? It was the perfect cloudless blue of day painted over with a transparent, no, semi-transparent layer of gray. Gray that deepened every few minutes. Hm, periwinkle. Such a nice word. Such a nice color. It makes me think of those flowers growing in front of the house that was on the office road in Buchanan, Liberia, the house I rode my bike past every day on the way to school when I was little. Those flowers were periwinkle, and their description was the first time I heard the word.

Then Visiting Colleague came out of his tukul and said, “Why are there no lights?”

“Good question.” I said, “Even if the v-sat turned itself off from lack of power, there should still be power for the lights.”

I got the key and went into the storeroom to the panel of batteries. The charging levels on all the batteries were red. Not even blinking red, which means “Danger! Go to bed soon! We are about to run out of power!” but just solid, empty red.

I looked over at the inverter, which takes the power from the solar panels and stores them in the batteries. It was beeping sadly and a yellow light was blinking. I looked closer. The word underneath the blinking light – I swear I am not making this up (how could I make up something like this?) – read, “DEFEAT.” DEFEAT. Who comes up with something like that? “I know, let’s call the flashing light of no hope the DEFEAT button!”

I considered myself defeated and made the announcement of no power for the evening. (I know. Look how I’ve suddenly become the electricity expert. Yes, I did once wire a building for electricity on a service project in high school, but that was under the direct supervision of an electrician. Now I’m just teaching myself. The guy who usually deals with this stuff is out of town.)

Visiting Colleague said, “This is the worst night of my fourteen months in Southern Sudan. No lights? Ah!” (With that “ah,” you have to imaging a very African sound of disgust in which the -h is so sharp as to be almost a -ch. I love this sound. I’m working on perfecting it myself.)

I went for the little tealights that T sent with me in an almond tin. I brought them to the mess hall and lit them. Visiting Colleague was standing out in the middle of the compound holding high the Thuraya, looking for satellite coverage, hoping to call someone for a generator. Normal Colleague was sitting, as usual, with his radio tuned to BBC, paying no attention to the ruckus of no power. It’s just no power. No big deal.

The generator quest was unsuccessful and we ate by candlelight. At 8 p.m., there was nothing to do but go to bed. “This is the night for crying and wanting to go home. Tonight you should cry and want to go home,” said Visiting Colleague. (Er. Yes, there was a little wanting to go home a few days ago, although I wouldn’t say crying, per se. This wanting to go home had to do with being bored out of my mind. For a whole bunch of reasons, I never had a “what am I going to do here?” meeting. Now I have more to do, ergo, not bored and don’t want to go home.)

“Nope.” I answered, “I love this stuff. I tend to annoy people, because when things go well I get bored and depressed, and when everything goes wrong, I’m the one smiling.”

In desperation for something to do, we raided the office, came up with one laptop that was fully charged, and watched the Bourne Identity on it. (I love that movie so. very. much. I watched it six times in the theater when it first came out.) The battery light started blinking red just as the credits rolled.

In the morning, the computer person from the office came into the mess hall where we were all eating breakfast and stood just inside the door, looking scared. “Is there a problem?”

“Yes,” he said, “a big problem.”

“You are missing a computer.” I said. “I have it, in my room.”

He started breathing again.

16 October 2007

scattered in the brain

People from outside get very nervous when they come to Tilt Town. It’s the internet, I think. We only have internet when there is enough sun to power the v-sat. It makes them nervous not to have constant internet access. People who work in other parts of Southern Sudan (where they have GENERATORS, sometimes, of all things) are used to constant wireless internet, and a break in it makes them antsy. Leaving the internet on for too long makes me antsy. What if we run out of power that night after the sun goes down?

Yesterday, I made the mistake of saying to myself, “Hm, it’s such a nice day. Sunny for the internet and windy so it’s not so hot.” The sky promptly clouded over and I had to go tell the people in the office to turn off the internet so we would have power for the fans and tv in the evening.

HOW MUCH DO I WANT A CUPCAKE? Why don’t they have cupcakes in this part of Sudan? Beautiful little cake and frosting goodness? Who wouldn’t want one? Do they have them anywhere in Sudan? Could I find a cupcake in Khartoum? Could I find a cupcake in Juba? I really want one, but even if they have them in Juba, Juba is as inaccessible as the moon right now.

average, just average

Question: if you kill ONE THOUSAND flies, will there be any fewer to bother you? I’m beginning to doubt it.

I was sitting (surrounded by flies) in front of a tukul earlier, when a reptilian head with a flickering tongue came peeping around the corner. I jumped far, far into the air. (But I didn’t scream. I am not a screamer.) Snakesnakesnakesnakesnake! Or, as it came sneaking around the corner, not a snake. It was a monitor lizard, one of the big lizards that are supposed to scare snakes away. It retreated around the corner and I followed to look at it. It got one look at the human-sized being coming around the corner and ran, in the fastest waddle I’ve ever seen, back to the tall grasses, leaving me behind, laughing.

I thought I saw a snake earlier, too, when there was a black, red and yellow thing under the step of the office. It turned out to be a large centipede-like bug, with spikes. Doesn’t bite, though, which is all I care about.

Back to sitting in front of the tukul: I had a fan blowing on me for fly-avoidance purposes, and it suddenly made a horrible screeching, scraping noise and the blade fell off inside its cage. I couldn’t help laughing. It was just so… strange. I pried open the cage around the blade, which promptly fell onto the ground. Then I worked out how to piece the thing back together, did so, and tried to put the cage back on. It involved all these clicky things, so I hit it to try to get them to click together. The cage fell apart and onto the floor.

I gave up and trudged off for assistance, trailing bits of fan pathetically across the compound. With teamwork and the hind end of a teaspoon, we eventually got it back together, complete with my colleague’s mutterings about “the cheap crap that [insert name of very very large country east of here, west of the US – YOU KNOW WHICH COUNTRY I MEAN] sells in Africa.”

Actually, the top half falls off this floor fan if you pick it up by the top. The stand stays in place. And when you push the “off” button too hard, it gets wedged inside and you have to pry it out in order to turn the fan back on.

I love stuff like that. Life is so boring when everything works like it’s supposed to work.

13 October 2007

my own idiocy

I’m an idiot. I don’t have a medical side effect rash. I have a HEAT RASH from wearing my arm brace all night in extremely hot weather. Eh-hem. Yes, I have a law degree, why do you ask? Now I’m really glad that I didn’t bother the doctor again. But who has a heat rash after the age of, say, three?

People who live here, apparently. It’s too hot to breathe during the day, and again at night. It’s too hot to keep sleeping past 7 a.m., and the solar power doesn’t last all night, so the fans don’t work before 8:30 or nine. People who arrive at our compound at 9 a.m. arrive with droplets of sweat covering their faces. In the middle of the day, you can’t keep your eyes open outside. The sun and the reflection off the earth are just too bright.

I’m fairly, okay, very cold-blooded, and I’m always the first to get cold. It is only here that I’ve discovered why people wear tank-tops. Unfortunately, I’m trying to maintain some modicum of cultural appropriateness, so while I’m desperate to wear them here, I can’t.


12 October 2007

check off one more day

Scorpion in my room ticker count: 2
Snake ticker count: 3 (Why is it always me who sees them?)
Small mouse that lives in my room sightings: 2. This mouse is very cute, by the way. The
funny part of being here is that my perception of which animals are dangerous has totally changed. A year ago in New York, I freaked out when I heard mice in my room. Now I’m positively fond of this one. I am also completely used to bats, which I no longer consider to be any sort of threat.

When I was in (I think) fourth grade, I memorized Shel Silverstein’s poem that starts out:

“I cannot go to school today,”
Said little Peggy Ann McKay…
(blah blah blah)
“I have the measles and the mumps
A rash a gash and purple bumps…”

And many another ailment. But that’s pretty much what I remember, up until the end when she says,

“What? What’s that you say?
You say today is… Saturday?
Goodbye, I’m going out to play.”

I feel approximately the same regarding the multiplicity of physical ailments I could (legitimately) complain about today, but how boring is it to list off all of one’s ailments? Anyway, there is nothing to get out of, because it is a public holiday today and any work I’m doing is all of my own volition.

I shall mention only one, which is the rash that has broken out on my arm. This is a known side effect of metronidazole, the medication I am taking for the amoebas, but my internet sources seem to differ on whether it is “a side effect. eh.” or “a side effect that necessitates immediate medical attention.” Since I am in the middle of nowhere and I already bothered the nice US American doctor two days in a row (once to tell him all about my intestinal issues and once to ask “UM, IS THIS PRESCRIPTION ENOUGH MEDICINE PER DAY, BECAUSE I GOOGLED AND I THINK IT MIGHT NOT BE ENOUGH AND DIDN’T YOU SAY 1.5 GRAMS AND THE PHARMACY ONLY GAVE ME 1200 MILLIGRAMS PER DAY” only to have him tell me that it’s fine, FINE), I think maybe I will keep the little blisters on my arm to myself. I’m sure it will be fine, FINE.

So today is a public holiday. I can’t spell the whole of it, and I have no internet on which to look it up, but it is Eid, the end of Ramadan. I don’t know if it’s sort of cheating to celebrate the end of Ramadan if you aren’t Muslim and you haven’t been fasting, but since I was invited to Eid parties in Rwanda and I really don’t mind if people of other religions celebrate my religion’s holidays, I shall assume not. Therefore, in honor of Eid, I intend to make cinnamon rolls, stove – er, coalpot-top style. We’ll see how this turns out. It is my first attempt at cooking here.

11 October 2007

river water

Southern Sudan is basically all swamp and river. A while ago, I made it down to the river. I realized that this bit of the internet needs more photos, so here they come:

(canoe on the river)

(drying fish in long braids)

(small child; large boat)

(old man; large fish)

(these two boys loved the digital camera. also, what passes for a make-shift riverside fishing tent behind them.)

10 October 2007

we have a verdict, ladies and gentlemen

Entamoeba histolytica. The invasion is a “single-celled parasitic animal, i.e., a protozoa.” Keep in mind that this animal is living INSIDE MY BODY. But not for long.

Also, I love the international organizations that examine me, test me, and give me medicine for free. I might have to give some donations the moment I get a job.

moving backwards

One day in Elsewhere, one of my colleagues was taking photos of himself. This is very common in Africa, and you often end up being given photographs of your friends and neighbors doing things like standing proudly, head thrown back, on a large rock, or giving you a thumbs up from a plastic chair in front of a plastic mountain backdrop, with feet extended toward you so they are larger than his head. This is mostly a male thing (the strange poses, although not the taking pictures of oneself, alone), and I don’t really understand the urge to have photos of oneself, alone, in unnatural poses and places. But this is what we call a cultural difference, I presume, and my colleagues never seem to understand why I don’t want my picture taken all alone and why I push to have the pictures of me taken with other people. It’s a live and let live situation.

Anyway, this colleague, who I didn’t actually know very well because he was sort of a distant colleague, was taking photos of himself. I was sharing around some Nice™ Coconut biscuits, and I offered him one. “Photo!” he said, so his photographer snapped a picture.

A few days later, he gave me the picture of the two of us.

I love this photograph. Not because I’m particularly close to this guy or because I particularly want to remember the mundane moment of sharing the biscuits, but because it looks thirty years old. It is the size and shape of a modern photograph, but it has a white border like an old photograph. The colors are a little faded, as photographs developed on ancient equipment in Africa often are, as old photographs often are. The photograph is of a girl in a golden yellow t-shirt and jeans, with long straight dark-blond hair parted in the middle, offering a box of cookies to a guy with longish hair and a beard who is leaning back in a metal folding chair. (Alternatively, it is of a guy with longish hair and a beard who is leaning back in a metal folding chair, taking a cookie from a box offered by a girl in a golden yellow t-shirt and jeans with long straight dark-blond hair parted in the middle. I suppose that depends on your perspective but, you see, I’m the one writing this, and like most people, I’m the first person I look at in a photograph because you never know when I might look heinous.) The rest of the photo is taken up with a guava tree, the grass, and the brick of the building. Not only does the quality of the photograph look like the 70s, but so do both of us. I have a funny sensation of being in two times at once every time I look at it. I have a funny sensation that the girl in the photograph, despite her hair color, could be my mother.

brave and braver

Two nights ago, the food options were 1. rice. 2. fried fish. 3. fish in sauce. I chose instead option 4. cinnamon roll oatmeal, made possible by a lovely package that had just arrived. I went off to my room and returned with packet of oatmeal to announce, “There was a scorpion in my room.” The colleagues in the mess hall looked up from their meals.


“Yes.” I said, “really.”

“Did you kill it?”

“Of course.” I said. “I couldn’t allow it to LIVE, and probably sting me later.”

The truth is that it was a very small scorpion, sand-colored. I entered the room and we looked at each other for a while, neither sure what to do. I don’t like killing things unnecessarily, but as I looked at that stinger waving in the air, I thought it best to stomp on it a few times. It’s not like I could pick it up and escort it outside.

By the time I went to bed, ants were surrounding it, and by morning it was gone completely. No trace of the corpse remained. I know that I killed it good and dead, though, so I was forced to conclude that nature is weird. Either the ants or something else carried it off. There is definitely a mouse that shares my room with me, so perhaps it was she that ate the scorpion. I don’t know, but I know that I’m feeling all brave since I returned. Last night I actually – get this – went to the latrine in the middle of the night. That, my friends, is progress. When I arrived, I could barely go to the latrine at 8 p.m. when someone had just been in there, let alone 2 a.m. all alone.

And I killed a scorpion. Without screaming for help.

(An overexposed photo of my dead scorpion.)

09 October 2007

more on planes

A few weeks or months before I came to Southern Sudan, I read an article about the hazards faced by pilots flying here. I read it with interest because I love planes and flying, even though I did not yet have plans to come here, but I really thought they might be exaggerating just a bit about the kids building piles of stones for soccer goalposts on the runway. They weren’t. The kids here in Tilt play football on the airstrip every evening beginning around five. Fortunately, they play crossways on the close (sandy) end of this runway, so the goalposts are on the edges of the space the plane needs to land.

Also, the cows use the runway as a route home. The far end of the runway, the hard dirt part, floods every time it rains and then the cows walk over the mud, leaving it extremely bumpy and slippery for car or plane.

Oh, and there are tire tracks all across the airstrip from all of us who use it as a road to get back to our compounds. Like the cows, we also use it when it’s muddy, so the troughs made by our tires are pretty deep.

For the first time, I managed to be on a plane that actually landed here next to our compound. The last time I flew in and then out, we had to go to the bigger, higher airstrip an hour or two away, which is less affected by rain. This time, we were informed that the airstrip here was perfectly dry.

I was sitting behind the pilot but watching all the dials and screens up front during the flight. I was particularly interested in the radar, which he turned on for storms and impending evening. When I saw that we were only a few nautical miles away from our destination, I started looking for the airstrip. The first thing I saw was the road, though, and the town. I pointed it out to the women in the plane with me. The knowledge that we were passing over their very own homes was greeted with exclamations and lots of pointing at various landmarks.

The procedure for landing on an airstrip like this is far more complicated than a simple fly-over. You fly over in one direction, checking for landability (immoveable obstacles, mud). Then you make a sharp 180 degree turn, wing pointed almost straight toward the ground, and buzz the airstrip to chase off the cows and the kids. If you do this right, your passengers should think you are actually planning to land on the horns of the cattle that are loitering on the runway (the kids are smarter and move away more quickly). Hopefully one of the kids will chase the cows away. Make one more tight 180 degree turn at the other end of the runway, and down you go. Ideally, that cow that is venturing back on to the airstrip will not move fast enough to block your way. And that skidding feeling is nothing, nothing really.

We all piled off the plane and the pilot, who had forty minutes to make a fifty minute flight to the nearest town with an airport (where the insurance company allows the plane to park overnight), opened the compartments under the plane, threw out our bags (we helped) and started shouting, “Tell them to move the cows! Can someone please tell them to move the cows? Someone move those cows!” so that he could take off again immediately. A child was sent to move the cows and ambled off to do so, while the pilot jumped in the plane and took off, sans security checklist (again).

(‘Round here, we call this an airstrip. And we land on it. Notice how it, oh, ISN’T STRAIGHT. Seen through the blur of the propeller.)

07 October 2007

nah, nahnahnah

Guess who's back?
Back again?
Shady's back...

oh, right. I'm not Slim Shady.

Two things are back:

1. M y stomach problem is back. This means stool samples and worms, probably. Have I mentioned the pit latrine recently? I don't want to talk about it.

2. I am back in TLT, the name of which on this blog is starting to annoy me, so henceforth I am calling it Tilt. Because that's a real word, and I prefer it to an acronym. Have I mentioned the pit latrine recently? I don't want to talk about it.

06 October 2007

birthday on the moon

“It looks like we’re driving on the moon,” one of my colleagues said, as we drove through Juba in the dark. It did, indeed, although I would have said Mars, because of the red tint of the dirt roads. The truck lurched down into craters and slowly pulled itself back out. We all were thrown about inside. The headlights illuminated a small oval of red earth, with occasional flashes of fire or flashlight beyond.

I found myself expecting, every time we turned a corner, that we would drive up onto pavement. That’s what happens in other African cities. (She thinks to herself in a petulant voice – speaking of inner voices, am I the only one who thinks in narrative? When you think, does your mind automatically add “she thought,” and when someone else speaks, does it add “he said,” or do I just read too many books and therefore have started thinking like one?).

Regardless, in other African cities, of course you drive on dirt roads because dirt is everywhere, but then you get back toward the center and the roads are (however badly) paved again. But I have concluded, based on my expertise after six days of being in this town, ever, that Juba has outgrown itself, like a teenage boy who was 5’ last week and is suddenly 6’5” this week and so gangly that you want to offer him full-cream milk every five minutes. The very center of the center is like a classic small African city of, oh, 50,000 people. There are a few shops, some tree-lined ancient paved roads, and a nice decaying roundabout or two. The problem is that it doesn’t end there. The city is (I hear) now 500,000 people, and the roads have not kept up. I like it. It has a feeling of being on the verge of something.

It also has pizza. (Have I mentioned this before? I have a SNEAKING SUSPICION that I have, several times. I am pizza-obsessed.) Last night, in fact, I ate pizza. Since I had no birthday celebration on Monday, I considered this pizza eating my birthday party, although it wasn’t intended in celebration of my birthday and most people there had no idea that I had a birthday and they are work-people, not friend-people. But I had promised myself pizza in Juba for my birthday. So I ate pizza, and it was good. Then the group sang happy birthday to me, over a lighter, and I blew it out.

And I got some strawberry soft-serve ice cream. I don’t normally eat strawberry ice cream, because it is fruit-flavored, but this strawberry ice cream was one of the nicest treats I’ve ever had. I savored every strawberry bite. In the almost-month that I spent in my Tiny Little Town with no refrigerator, I sometimes sat in the heat trying to remember what it felt like to take a bite of something frozen. When I go back in a day or two for one last stretch of mud, I will probably think back to this strawberry ice cream and do the same.

05 October 2007

an issue, again

I’m filled with writer’s block. I have far too much to say, is the problem. Far too much has happened – and nothing has – since I came down with faux-malaria and drugged myself for days.

I have left Elsewhere for the bustling metropolis of Juba. Metropolis is a relative term. It actually seems that way to me, right now, given that there are buildings with more than one storey, and other such modern inventions. Also food worth eating, and pizza. (Which are not exactly the same thing, although pizza can be a subset of food worth eating.) Much as I love the exact same bland flavor in every single meal, it is nice to taste something different; also vegetarian (dal! aloo! vegetable paneer!). Nobody cares what I had for lunch, according to some blogging guidebook, but I do. And I have to say, it’s nice to have variety.

I traveled here in the vicodin-like haze of the anti-malarials, which was fun, especially in combination with the non-drowsy Dramamine that I took because of a very long bus ride on very bad roads to the airstrip. (Smell of idling bus is the worst everyday smell in the world, I think. Also, the constant, slight motion makes me barfy.) I was drowsy regardless of the non-drowsy label. I vaguely remember a really hot, really long wait next to a little building on an airstrip, and then a very turbulent flight through some storms. Cessnas feel like they are being torn apart by turbulence. The front half of the plane and the back half seem to jostle in different directions.

Conversation with Sudanese Female Colleague (I promise this is the end of the illness saga, unless the illnesses don’t go away. Then all promises about desisting are null and void):

SFC: If you take Coartem for malaria and still have symptoms two months later, you know it’s typhoid and you should take Cipro.
Me: I’m already taking Coartem and Cipro.
SFC: [not having heard first part of sentence, that I already am taking both] No, just see if your symptoms go away before you take Cipro.
Me: No, I’m taking both of them RIGHT NOW.
SFC: Then prepare to know what hell feels like.

But as you know already (WILL I NEVER SHUT UP ABOUT THIS?), I felt fine during the dual-drug days.

Juba is mad hot, and ventilation does not seem to have caught on. Ventilation does not seem to have caught on in Southern Sudan in general, really. It’s 100 plus degrees under a tin roof with no breeze most of the time. One could ask, in this context, why I’m wearing a long-sleeved shirt today. I don’t have an answer. Normally I roll up the sleeves of this shirt, but today I’m too lazy, and it actually seems better this way. No sweaty roll of sleeve above my elbow. (I suppose I should reveal that this very room I am in right now, which is not where I am all the time, is air-conditioned. Obviously that helps as well.)

One thing that I advise you not to do if you are a woman and/or care about things like women’s health, and that I advise you definitely to do if you are a woman and/or care about things like women’s health, is talk to Southern Sudanese women about reproductive health. It makes me irate, and it makes me sad, and it makes me determined to lead a session back in TLT to which women can come and ask whatever they need to know, and if I don’t know the answer, I will ask google.

We sat around, in the presence of a doctor. He was there to talk about the state of reproductive health in Southern Sudan (which is abysmal – more than 1 of every 50 live births results in the death of the mother, and 150 babies per 1000 die at birth). The women listened, for a while, but they already know that the state of reproductive health in Southern Sudan is abysmal: they are dying, and their children and friends and sisters. What they really wanted was to ask questions.

“Why can a nursing mother get pregnant with another baby when the last one is only six or seven months old?”

“When is it possible to get pregnant?”

“What can a woman do if her baby had to be taken by operation [c-section] and her husband refuses to wait the time they are supposed to wait before having another?”

“What kind of family planning can a woman use if her husband refuses to abstain when she can get pregnant?”

The women all know that such a thing as family planning exists, but there is nowhere to get it and their husbands, they say, don’t want it.

Every time the president changes in the US, depending on his party affiliation, he either withdraws or reinstates funding for international family planning organizations that, as I understand it, refuse to decry abortion (only some of which – again, this is my understanding – provide abortion services). It’s very easy, back in the US, to debate about abortion rights or wrongs. (And it is a debate that I do NOT want to get into right now. Too fraught.) Anyone who cares about life and about humanity, however, should be supporting as much funding as possible to reproductive health care in places like Southern Sudan. Far greater numbers of women and of children are dying for lack of care than could possibly die in the (almost certainly very few) abortions that such a program might provide.

03 October 2007

i promise i will not be talking about my stomach all the time for the next six weeks

I just enjoyed a meal. I mean, I was hungry for it, I enjoyed eating it, and my stomach felt happily full when I finished.

I had forgotten that such a thing was possible. Hunger, I know. This miserable parasite has been lots of hungry this last year. But enjoying eating? Feeling full rather than sick afterwards? These are new sensations.

I am maintaining low expectations, but tentatively allowing myself to hope that my stomach problem might be gone come Saturday. Tentatively only, because you never know. And even if the antibiotics work, you never know when my little parasite friend might come back. I live in a swamp in Africa, y’all.

Mostly, I feel pretty good. I was fully prepared to milk the malaria for all the sympathy and bed-rest it could get me. When I got the diagnosis on Monday, in the middle of the day, I asked someone to buy me some water and sodas on the way home that night, and I took the medicine and went to bed. Only… I felt fine. So people keep asking, all concerned, “How are you FEELING?” and I have to say, “Well. Fine.” Often I add a hurried, “But I feel dizzy if I stand up for too long!” which is true but not really necessary. I could just sit down when I feel dizzy, which happens, oh, once a day. Whiner.

It’s just so anti-climactic. First of all, I didn’t even know that I had malaria. I wasn’t sick. I didn’t have a fever. (I know, because I’ve been obsessively checking my temperature morning and evening since I got to Southern Sudan. JUST IN CASE – okay, mostly on account of the stomach thing.) Then I take the malaria medication, which is supposed to wipe a person out, and I feel just fine. Okay, I’m exhausted by four p.m., and I feel a bit shaky. I can’t sleep. But I have nowhere pain, so in that sense I feel better than I did the day before I found out about the alleged malaria. I am just pain-free and sort of weak. I find this to be much better than pain-filled and strong, actually. It’s much more comfortable. I float. It's remarkably similar to the post-wrist surgery vicodin.

And when I compare this to my last bout of malaria, circa 1988, well, there is no comparison. That time, my mom and brother were both in the hospital with malaria that broke through the cloroquine prophylaxis, and on the day that I took my own temperature and found it to be 99.1, my dad started dosing me with quinine. That stuff is trippy. I couldn’t even read a book while on that nonsense. It’s a hallucinogenic drug. You see stuff. You hear stuff. You throw up. And that’s from the drugs, not the disease. This Coartem? It’s like a picnic in a gently sunlit glade in early June.

I feel a bit of a fraud. I make this big malaria announcement, and then I continue on participating in things merrily, while my clinic-visit-mate lies moaning feverishly on a sofa. I almost question my diagnosis. (Okay, her parasite count was 14. Mine was only 8. Still, I should have symptoms at 8.) But how about instead I credit 1. the Larium I was taking as prophylaxis, 2. catching it early, and 3. perhaps some lingering immunity from the malarias of my childhood?

In fact, I think I will.

01 October 2007


In the morning, I heard that there was a car going to the (real) clinic with a somewhat coworker-ish person (another US American). I hopped right in. Finally, an opportunity to deal with the intestinal problem, I thought.

At the front desk, the woman took our complaints and said, “Okay, we will test your blood for malaria, just to be sure, and your stool for parasites.”

Piece of advice: NEVER LAUGH WHEN SOMEONE SUGGESTS THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MALARIA. I think that’s a good general rule for avoidance of fake-irony that isn’t really ironic.

They pricked our fingers. They made the slides for the malaria smear.

We sat around wondering if we were going to be able to produce stool samples. I walked a considerable way to buy some toilet paper and soap, because a pit latrine with intestinal issues and no toilet paper sounded like a terrible idea. Somewhat coworker-ish person slept, sitting up in a chair – she was far more urgently sick than me.

We made a latrine trip, which resulted in a stool sample for her, but none for me. It just wasn’t happening. Plus the latrine smelled terrible, so bad that the smell stayed in my nose for an hour afterwards. It wasn’t conducive to smooth collection.

We returned to the lab, where the technician told us, “You both have malaria.”

What? We looked at the papers. We read the poster on the wall describing the counts per 100 white blood cells. We looked back at the papers. There they still were: positive results, albeit quite low positive results (that Larium dream last night was worth something, after all).

So they prescribed Coartem for both of us for malaria, and Cipro for both of us for diarrhea, even though her stool sample was negative and mine was nonexistent.

It only took three pharmacies to find the Coartem, which is some mixture of an artemisinin substance (the latest malaria wonder drug), and erm, something else. A “synthetic racemic flourene mixture.” My other coworker on the drive-around kept saying, “There’s a pharmacy!” and I kept saying, “That’s a SMALL pharmacy,” and he said, “But it might have it!” and I said, “I’ve just tried two well-stocked small pharmacies. This little one won’t have it.”

I’m not that sick to start with (no malaria symptoms that I can distinguish unless my sore throat is one, and only 8 p. falciparum per 100 white blood cells – some people have thousands), but apparently this medicine is about to knock me over and stomp on my head while I’m down. It’s better if you take it with high-fat foods, and if you drink a lot. NO PROBLEM. I’m drinking copious amounts of tea with full-fat milk powder.

And the Cipro is apparently what I should have tried TWELVE MONTHS AGO for the stomach problems. That parasite stuff, and then this. Between the two, they fix most intestinal problems. I could cry at the thought of having a normal stomach again. (Maybe. Low expectations.)

A maybe normal stomach in, oh, five days. After I finish both the Coartem and the Cipro with all their assorted side effects. For now, I’m going to bed. With lots of water.

Happy Birthday.

Have some malaria.

Oh, that wasn't enough?

Your stomach problem? Here's the cipro.

I'm going back to bed. Antibiotics and antimalarials in one day? Birthdays are overrated.