Friday, May 27, 2011


(Here my story begins to come out of order and here is a picture or a coconut)

The day Rebecca left I didn’t do much but hang around the Raza. Derick and I went to see a movie. The movie theatre is in the basement of the somewhat sketchy Chinese casino. The second night in Freetown the shared taxi we were riding in dropped off a tiny East Asian woman there. She was glittery and in heals. On the way to the basement with the movie theatre was a jazz club. The movie theatre had popcorn and sodas and softserve. It has movie theatre seats but the projection is the type that you would use for a PowerPoint presentation. We watch RED and occasionally words at the bottom of the screen warned us that we’d see a watermark in order to reduce pirating.

I went to work the next day, but I felt a little off. I went to the clinic with Jessica and started to feel weird. When I got back to the office in the afternoon it got worse. I was so tired, had no energy, I was sweating and achy. I didn’t want to eat. Then Cordelia asked how I felt, and I admitted not so well. “It’s in your eyes” she said. Then Ambrose came in and said, “Do you have malaria?” To which I though “no!” Malaria! It just sounds so scary at the face of it. “I don’t want to have malaria. I’m just a little sick,” I thought. I also knew that almost any sickness in Sierra Leone is likely to be called malaria. As I went around the office telling people that I was leaving, other stories of malaria emerged. Others on doxy (an antimalarial prophylactic) reported getting mild cases.

I spent the rest of that day and next day lounging in bed. I watched TV on my computer. That’s about all the energy, I had. I was even limited to the shows that I could watch. I tried Deadwood, but even that was too taxing. Occasionally, I’d try to read or write emails, but I’d quickly become covered in a layer of sweat. I ate little, and the little I got down didn’t agree with me.

So many supportive calls and emails came my way as news filtered out that I was sick and that it was likely malaria. I was really touched. Some people at the office here called me several times a day to check in. I got emails from back home wishing me well. My boss back in Cambridge even called me. It was so nice.

The morning after my full day in bed, I tried to get ready for the day, but when I got Cordelia’s call asking how I was I realized I couldn’t make it in. I still felt exhausted and achy. She told me she’d come pick me up later in the day to go to the clinic. When she came, she brought James and Ambrose with her.

The clinic was down a dirt road near to the office and waiting area was often filled with tired looking women. I checked in and sat to wait. James stayed with me and we talked. We read the several years old cooking and health magazines, which all seemed to have an exorbitant number of advertisements for American states. “Visit Louisiana!” “See Historic Sites of the Civil War!” Strange things for a Sierra Leonean audience.

Eventually, I was taken back with the nurse so that she could note my symptoms. As I told her, she also entertained an almost constant stream of questions from her fellow nurses. She used the bed behind her to write on as she took notes. A bible lay open on the bed as well as a pile of papers.

After another short wait, I was taken into the lab for blood and stool tests. The syringe was fresh, but all the medical tools seemed to be haphazardly stored in a random assortment of plastic containers.

As I waited for the results, I began to worry, “What if I don’t have malaria?” I wasn’t worrying because of what it could be if it wasn’t malaria. I was more worrying, because by this point I had become “a development worker who caught malaria in Africa.” I hadn’t realized that catching malaria was actually on my list of things to do in my lifetime, but over the past few days it had been added to that list. It had become a story to tell in the future. Sitting around a table drinking wine telling stories, I now had a new story to tell about the summer I spent in Sierra Leone. “One time, I spent a summer in Sierra Leone and two weeks after I got there I came down with malaria. It must have been the first damn mosquito in to bite me!” I didn’t want my story to disappear.

As luck would have it, when I described my symptoms to the doctor he made my story a true one saying in his deep voice, “It is malaria.” He sat behind a large desk and happily laughing at my utter lack of understanding Krio. The doctor was very casual and laidback, especially when taking my vitals. He prescribed a handful of medicines that I began taking immediately.

Initially, I was very surprised at how quickly I felt better. By the next morning I was absolutely ready to go into the office. I’ve heard stories that if you manage to take malaria with you back to the States you can be in no end of trouble. In Sierra Leone, they have malaria medicine available in a way that it isn’t so back home. Another reason to feel luckily that I caught malaria in Freetown.

1 comment:

  1. So glad you are safely returned to health and have such good folks to look out for you. Good to catch a tropical illness in the tropics! You are such a great writer too, Ben! I love the details you pick out to share, like the oddly placed magazine adds...