22 March 2010

malaria city

I was looking through my cupboard (trying to find the non-drowsy anti-motion sickness medication that a professor named Harold gave me in Vietnam, if you must know) and happened upon some mefloquine left over from Sudan. Hm. I thought. Hm. I should take this. That would be so responsible of me. I had just enough, you see, to cover my trip to Honduras, and I am going to the Bay Islands, where there are mosquitoes galore. It would be prudent to take an anti-malarial in that context.

The mere fact that I have mefloquine left over from Sudan should tell you that I am something less than reliable about taking it. On most trips, I don't. I only took it in Sudan because my organization required it (not that it kept me from getting malaria). I took it for a few weeks in Liberia and then gave up on it. I did not take it in East Africa at all, after a few, again, weeks at the beginning.

I sat down all ready to take the first pill with dinner yesterday - how convenient is it that I found it on a Sunday! I am perfectly on schedule! - and then took a look at it. Yeah, it expired a year ago. I googled "expired mefloquine" but came up with nothing.

So much for that healthful intention. I guess I'm going malaria prophylaxis free again.

21 March 2010


I am packing for Honduras, making sure that everything fits in 3.4 ounce (100 mL) bottles so as to get through the TSA checkpoints, except that my contact lens solution claims to be TSA compliant despite its 4 ounce (118 mL) size. So I am risking two 4 ounce bottles and hoping that they don't get confiscated, because I will die without my lotion. (Even though I am exaggerating, I am not being girly and annoying. It is scentless Cetaphil, but I am prone to eczema and after swimming in the ocean, I will need it.)

I am really excited about this trip, but I am really unexcited about the process of getting down to Honduras. It is going to take me four flights on three airlines plus an overnight in San Pedro Sula to get to Tegucigalpa. I like flying, usually, but there are just too many incredibly early mornings between now and Friday. 6 am is starting to look like a positive luxury.

And I hate carrying all of my luggage with me onto planes. I like to check in as much of my crap as possible, especially on international flights for which it is usually free (I am also a silver member on D3lta now, so a bag is free), but on the crappy budget airline that charges to check a bag in, I refuse. So I'll be lugging all of my TSA compliant bottles through five airports.

It is true that I have traveled enough to know what I'm doing. The woman at the store today, as I was checking out, said, "Yeah, I don't think I've flown since they started limiting liquids," which was almost four years ago, a span of time that I cannot imagine existing without flying. (Hello there, privilege! I've been in, um, eight countries since then. And I am not including this country or Canada or the two countries - Belgium and Japan - that I flew through without leaving the airport.) So I know all about this liquid limiting. I know what to pack. I know what I will use and what I won't.

You know what, though? Even though friends and coworkers seem to think that I am the sort of person who just jets off to other countries (and I guess the evidence would support that hypothesis), I still get excited and nervous every single time. International travel never gets boring.

20 March 2010


I never had a cell phone until I moved to Rwanda. About a week after I got there, J. and E. took me to the MTN Rwandacell office (there were not yet all the stores that later sprang up, although there might have been one or two) and bought me a sturdy little M0toro1a. I liked it. I put the language on Spanish, which was helpful because it meant that no one but me could figure out how to unlock it. Not that it mattered if anyone else could unlock it. I had no friends, at that point, to do anything crazy with my phone. I had been in the country for a week and the only people I had met were J. and E. (who were leaving in three weeks) and two coworkers who, while they were nice, had families and kids and stuff. It's not like we were hanging on the weekends.

I've had a cell phone ever since. A SIM card is the first thing I pick up in most countries - Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Liberia - anywhere I am going to be for more than a week or two. I usually walk directly to a kiosk in the Arrivals Hall of the airport and throw down the cash. I have become accustomed to the idea of being able to call someone to check in - "Ok, I'm at the restaurant. Are you already inside, or should I get a table?"

The only place, since 2002, where I have been without a cell phone for a significant period of time was Southern Sudan, and that felt strange and vulnerable. When I first arrived at the big airstrip an hour and a half from Tiny Little Town, no one came to pick me up. I stood there in the 100+ degree heat for a few minutes, looking around at the options. There were soldiers (and only soldiers) lounging about in the single hanger. There were a couple of white mercenaries in khakis and white t-shirts who rolled up in an unmarked Land Cruiser, jumped into helicopters, and took off. There were fellow passengers loading into NGO-marked Land Cruisers. And there was me, alone, with no phone. Fortunately, the other NGO-type people had satellite phones and were willing to share them (despite the $1/minute cost). Still more fortunately, the pimped-out minibus with the paper pineapples dangling from the rear-view mirror, the one that my organization had hired after our Land Cruiser broke down, arrived just before I hitched a ride to Bigger Town Three Hours Away. If I had a cell phone, though, I think I would have been much more comfortable waiting there with the soldiers and mercenaries.

I spent my whole three months in Southern Sudan watching the progress on the cell phone tower that was, in theory, being built. I didn't see it completed, but I got a text from a friend there a few months later: cell phone coverage finally reached TLT at the beginning of 2008. It is virtually everywhere in the world now.

This is how ubiquitous cell phones have become: when I turned on my US phone in Vietnam, it had network.

I can't imagine, anymore, a world without cell phones. I feel lost when I forget mine, or when I travel without one.

I will be arriving in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Wednesday morning, and my sister is supposed to pick me up from the airport. I am so dependent on cell phones now that it makes me a little nervous to know that I won't be able to turn on my phone and call her from the airport. And yet, when I lived in Honduras before, none of us had cell phones. We simply had to meet where we said we would meet. Imagine that.

17 March 2010


Yesterday morning, stepping off the train downtown, the air smelled like Africa, so strongly that I was disoriented for a moment. Oh, I thought, wrong continent.

"What does Africa smell like?" my colleague asked.

"It smells like wood fires on clean morning air," I said.


On the beach, M. and S. played volleyball. I begged off, pointing out that the last thing my crippled wrists need is to spike a volleyball. I sat on a sand bank and laid my head down amidst the sharp, golden beach grass. It smelled sweet and dry, like hay.

16 March 2010


I am possibly going to have to move to the coast, because when I go there, I cannot leave. I stand on the shore, mesmerized by the waves and the light, until it gets dark and I freeze right through and everyone else is pacing at the car waiting for me.

I have concluded that there are two types of beach people: the walkers and the sitters. I am a walker through and through. I get itchy when I leave the house with a group of people and fifty meters down the beach they want to sit and, and, I don't know. What do they do? They just sit there. Meanwhile, I will walk until I run out of beach.

Everyone at the beach this weekend was a sitter except S. and me, so we left them sitting on a driftwood tree and went off walking to the end of the beach ourselves. It was a good move, because, man, we are hilarious. Surely we are funnier than those other people sitting on their silly log somewhere back on the beach.

We raced each other like five-year-olds to get to the white backs of shells sticking out of the sand, a game that S.'s mom thought up last summer on the church campout.

"I can't crush them," S. complained.

"You have to look for more rounded ones," I said. "Find the ones that stick further out of the ground. They crush better."

"I think I just don't weigh enough," she said.

"Are you saying that I'm fat?" I asked, and I shoved her into the ocean. As if we were back in college, back when everything was unbearably funny, we bent over and laughed until our stomachs were sore.

09 March 2010

isn't spring beautiful?

My life's prevailing characteristic right now is exhaustion. It got to the point of being alarming, a week or two ago, how I could get more than enough sleep and still not find the energy to so much as get off my couch, except to get to bed early. I had my annual physical last week and I asked the doctor to check my iron and thyroid, because this just cannot be normal.

(My doctor, by the way, thinks that I am something of a hypochondriac, largely because I am, also because I save up every ailment all year long in a list in my planner and when I get to the annual physical I spew them all out in a breathless litany, leading her last year to say, after I detailed my frequent headaches and how sometimes I feel like I can't enunciate clearly anymore and I probably have a brain tumor, don't I? "Maybe you should try speaking more slowly." It's a good thing that she also likes to travel, giving us something to talk about other than my pretend diseases.)

After the lab stuck a needle into my arm to check the iron and thyroid, of course, I remembered that I get this tired at this time every year. It's the allergies, stupid. This is the first time I've managed to time my visit to the doctor with the worst of the allergy season (starts March 1st around here, like someone wrote it in the planner), and she took one look in my nose and said, "Hm. Do you have trouble breathing sometimes? Because your nasal passages are really swollen."

(Side note the second: do not ask someone if they have trouble breathing sometimes, due to a physically documentable symptom. It will result in the person periodically feeling like s/he can't breathe, whether or not said feeling is justified. I can breathe. It's just that now, sometimes, since she asked, I wonder if maybe I can't, and that's not a good path to be trodding.)

Until she said that, I kinda sorta thought I had made up the allergies, all symptoms aside. I was exposed to plenty of diseases growing up: malaria, parasites, worms, bacteria... come on. I grew up in Liberia. I played in rivers and I ate dirt. I was exposed to enough diseases to last me a lifetime. Isn't that supposed to prevent your immune system from going bonkers and attacking innocent pollen? But the miserable fact is that Gone West makes me sicker than Liberia and Sudan put together. And I speak as someone who allegedly had malaria in Sudan.

Regardless, apparently allergies are real. I really don't know that I believed in them, but my pounding head every time I venture outside this time of year convinces me otherwise (not that it stops me from going outside).

So the doctor gave me some nasal spray that is supposed to help, after a week or two of buildup, but even then it's an experiment! And if it doesn't work we'll try something else!

You won't tell that I'm supplementing with over-the-counter allergy meds, right? A little fake Zyrtec takes the edge right off the headache.

Nasal spray. Puh-lease.

07 March 2010

happy people

The bus driver on my bus last night was possibly the happiest person I have ever encountered. It was almost eerie, how happy she was.

She was happy through the drunken guy swearing at the young woman who dared to call him out for his lecherous staring. ("I'm not hating, ya'll. This is my least favorite part of my job. But you cannot use that kind of language. It makes other people uncomfortable.")

She was happy through helping some incompetent woman flip down the bike rack and load her bike on it. ("I love showing people how to do this! Praise the Lord!")

She was happy through finding an old woman sitting forlornly on a bench at a bus stop and calling her to come on to the bus without fare. ("Are you ***? Praise the Lord! Someone loves you. They've had us all looking for you. You don't need any money. Just get on the bus. Here's a day pass. Praise the Lord!" [Getting on the radio.] "I found ***! Yes, ma'am, praise the Lord, she was sitting at my bus stop. I found her. She is on my bus.")

Sometimes, it's just nice to be around happy people.

02 March 2010

total panic

Just as a general rule, in the future, I need to remember to check my bank balance before I, oh, BUY A PLANE TICKET TO HONDURAS. Um, oops? I am now slightly panicking about the fact that my bills will take up the entirety of what is left in my bank account this month. Ok, really panicking. Draining of savings account will occur. Not good. Not good.

The stupidest part is that I just found out today that I actually could have gone in April. I could have waited to buy the ticket. But that didn't occur to me when I booked the ticket just now, did it? Dumb, dumb, dumb. The ticket is nonrefundable.


I feel sick.