Monday, June 13, 2011

T is for Typhoid

A friend emailed me the other day and mentioned that I've been quiet lately, not something which I hear often (or to which I aspire). The reason for my lack noise is I've had typhoid, and it stops me cold for a bit. It's almost over, Yesterday I walked down the hall without bouncing off the walls, always a plus. So I am better, and silent no longer.

I had typhoid in 2003, in Ghana, and yes, I took the shot before leaving the US. Then before the next trip, I took oral prophylaxis, as I heard it was more effective. So now I'm here to tell you, neither one did me any good. I've been told that prophylaxis ensures a milder, less mortal experience and I'm willing to concede the point, but in the end...

I woke up the other morning with a sore throat, a red flag because the last sore throat I had was in Ghana (see above). But as I work with kids, and they've been exceptionally drippy lately, I just figured I'd picked up one of the platoon of germs that live so happily on a 6 year old. Take your pick.

During math I started getting chills, and while still optimistic about the kid germs, something in the back of my mind was screaming Salmonella typhi. After school I went to see the doc, because, by happy coincidence, I live across the dirt road from Berega Hospital. In Ghana I was treated for malaria for 5 days before we discovered it was typhoid (they present similarly and most fevers are malarial so that's how we treat). Good to live near a hospital.

I went to the lab and had a blood test. Not to quibble but the best time to swab is before a draw and not after, but who's counting. I was sitting on the balcony waiting for my results, looking at the mountains on the right and a group of Massai on the left and decided this is a fine place to be sick.

Went on a long walk last Sunday, alone, 
looking for some quiet time, reflection, all that.
Decided to walk down the river, since there's no water in it,
 and just check out the water situation.

I hope I never get used to living around Massai. Growing up, Massai WERE the National Geographic for me, and now I see them everywhere, herding cows on the road, on pikipikis, at the store.

Being sick is probably the only time I miss TV. Nothing like turning on a Law and Order marathon when you're too weak to leave the house. You can watch or doze, hamna shida. Absent the TV, I spent a lot of time on the porch, another fine place to be sick.

I'm a great sick person, don't bother anyone, don't whine or moan. But I do prefer to be left alone, which brings me to hodi. Hodi (emphasis on ho) is Kiswahili for "I'm outside and want to come in".  It's the required preamble to any visit. The traditional, and apparently only response is Karibu (welcome). I did ask my friend Isaac if it's permissible to NOT say karibu and he said: 'Ahh, no.'
I looked back and realized there would be
 no quiet time, no reflection.

I was hodied off and on for the duration of my confinement because in village life everyone knows everyone's business, and folks stop by to say 'pole.' It's only polite, and Africans are, as a rule, unfailingly polite. After karibu is karibu chai (hows about some tea?). You can't not say it and apparently you can't refuse it either.

These roots are from a mango tree, and last
 year the water was up to the grass. 
This year, no such luck. 

My hiking buddies found this guava tree

They bagged about 30 of these
and washed them in this water before they ate them.
one of the drier parts of the river

Isaac and the Bishop stopped by to say pole, and pray over me.These are the sweetest people in the world, and they take good care of me, sick or no.
I have British housemates, a couple. Ann is the UK answer to June Cleaver and every time someone arrived she offered to put the kettle on.

Local butchery. Just go tell him how many kilos
 you want and he'll hack it off for you
and weigh it on a little scale. 
Flies included in the weight but they don't weigh that much. 

All in all it was some good typhoid, as typhoid goes. Plus, I am now forever banned from commercial food service work. Always a silver lining.
It's my way to make light of things, it's how I cope. But typhoid is a terrible disease, and endemic to this area. There's a little girl in the hospital right now who's been sick for 6 weeks, in hospital for 4. She got sick out in the village, ended up with a perforated bowel, and had to have surgery. She's been doing well, but the hospital has since run out of the IV antibiotic she needs, and it must be sent from Dar. David thinks she'll be alright on oral meds. People die from this, especially kids and old people, and I respect that. 

Truthfully, it's only funny in retrospect.
In America we have our yearly flu, hypertension, diabetes... lots of ways to get sick. In Africa it's typhoid, malaria, infections and stomach bugs. Simple as that. You take medicine, we take medicine. At least we do if we 1) can get it and 2) can afford it. I can so I'm fine.

It's not easy to stay healthy here, there's so many bugs, and intestinal stuff is rampant. I drink filtered water and generally do my best but short of coating my intestines with plastic or having my body hermetically sealed for the next two years, I can count on some snags.
John is gone. He finished last week and is in Dar es Salaam now. He did a beautiful job, the mural is his best so far, and we've been using it to teach verbs, pronouns and prepositions. He fixed some of the stuff I flubbed, and all is lovely now. I have some touch ups to do, covering splatters, repainting the blackboards...
I mentioned a while ago that the Anglican Bishop of Southern Sudan has invited me up to do some walls and teach the teachers. Sudan is splitting into North and South in July, which is when I had planned to go. It would be great to be there for it, but on the other hand sometimes things like this can turn ugly. Recall the elections a few years ago in Kenya. So I'm mulling it over and hopefully the Bishop will give me some useful input. As much as I want to go, being chased down the street by a panga wielding member of the opposition doesn't sound like such a vacation. We'll see.Tanzania is a very peaceful place, but it's surrounded by places that occasionally go up in flames.

A baby cane rat, so the kids tell me. You can't eat them.
The ringworm is going away, asante Mungu. The kids are all doing fine, learning to read a few words, doing some adding, improving their English. There are a lot of Brits here, I'm definitely in the minority. I speak English like an American, and this is how I teach it. Some British words sneak in, though, and while I try to be fair to all, when a 6 year old needs an eraser, he should ask for an eraser. It's an eerie thing to have a cute little kid walk up to you and say, "Teacher, may I have a rubber?" I'm seldom speechless (or quiet for that matter) but all I could do was sputter and blink. It's now on the top of my TO TEACH list, above sikisteen and Long Live Rock and Roll. Priorities.
Update, the little girl with the perforated bowel is doing well. Asante Mungu. On oral antibiotics, and eating.
Another update. Got an email from the Bishop who said he's hoping for a peaceful split. While I appreciate his optimism, I think I'll go to Arusha instead. I heard they have some good restaurants and I want to eat something besides what I've been eating. Just about anything will do, but hoping for a Chinese restaurant. There are no Mexican food places here, but there's some great Indian places so between that and the Chinese places I'll be fine. So far that's most of my holiday plan, I've learned over the years to plan loosely here, anything else is a waste of time. So I will eat and read and have fun for 4 weeks, and fill in the gaps as I go along.

Got tired on the way home so hitched a ride on this tractor, 
sat on the wheel cover and bounced all the way home. 
Life is good.

Sad irony is this woman crosses the mostly dry
riverbed on her way to find water.