Africa, Travel Stories

Thanksgiving & Malaria

I have malaria. I sort of knew it was coming, but sometimes I like to pretend I am invincible and that bad things only happen to other people, and not to me.

I bite my lip and try not to cry at the thought of going to the clinic by myself. Even though I was just there last week, accompanying another unlucky volunteer, the thought of being the one who is now sick just makes me feel worse. I have to admit, I’m not the best patient. It’s true what they say about nurses, we’re sweet and compassionate, strong and capable when caring for others. When the roles are reversed and we have to be taken care of, it becomes a little bit more difficult. DSCN7991The nurses from Hospital Vozandes and I. Ecuador, 2012

Thankfully, another volunteer recognizes my scared expression and decides to go with me. “Don’t worry, we’ll stay as long as we need to until we figure out what you have,” she tells me reassuringly. She stocks up on water and chocolate chip cookies and follows me into the clinic to talk to the doctor and pay for the lab. We’ve only met two days ago, but I am grateful for her presence and her kindness. 

We wait a while longer and they call me back in to see the doctor. “We’ve found malaria parasites in your blood,” he tells me. I shake my head in agreement. I’m glad I came. He writes a prescription for medication and I go in to see the nurses. They ask about my friend who was in last week and I tell them he is feeling better. “I guess it’s my turn now!” They laugh sympathetically and tell me I have to have an injection. I grill them about the drug and ask if it’s really necessary. “Yes, it is,” they insist.

I’m being a pain in the ass and I know it, but can’t help it. I’m trained to take care of others. Exposing my own vulnerability and bare flesh does not come as easily. I’m used to being on the other side of the needle. I pull down my shorts and try not to wiggle as the nurse does her thing. She is not gentle. “Ouch!” I protest. I’m not sure which hurts worse, the shot or my loss of control.

We take a taxi back home and I begrudgingly resume my horizontal position on the floor. I try to sleep and not to think about my own bed or eating gelato ice cream, or calling my Dad just to hear his voice. I hear a knock on my door and it’s a member from my host family, coming in to check on me. I hear another knock and sigh with relief and gratitude as my little sister collects my sweaty clothes and offers to do laundry for me this week, allowing me more time to rest.

My phone rings next to my pillow and it’s another volunteer asking me if I need anything. They’ve already given me an external hard drive full of American movies and a new book by one of my favorite authors, the only things preventing me from going insane with boredom.

I am thousands of miles away from home, sick and missing my family, all at once realizing I have one right here. Last week, before I got ill, I celebrated Thanksgiving with volunteers from Australia and Germany. The five of us took a long taxi ride to a gas station with the best pizza around. We ordered three pizzas and I told them about the significance of this holiday back home. It was late, and we were tired, but they listened patiently, knowing it was an important day for me. When we took turns going around the table and sharing what we were thankful for, I told them I was thankful for them. I was thankful to have someone to share my experiences with in Ghana, thankful for creative cooking sessions, and borrowed mosquito repellent. Thankful for experiencing the community I’d been missing and searching for.TheBarefootBeatCelebrating a successful fundraising campaign! Ghana, 2013

It took being sick and celebrating the holidays away from home for me to realize that family can have more than one meaning, and home can be in more than one place.   Today I am so thankful for my family in Ghana, and grateful for the time I’ve spent here, malaria and all.

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  • Reply Sarah Somewhere December 4, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    Aw, sorry you are sick with malaria! I guess the good thing is that they are very familiar with treating it… Rest up, get well soon.

    • Reply Mariah December 5, 2013 at 6:14 am

      Thank you Sarah! I was worried at first, but after a few days rest I am back to normal! The nurses at the clinic were so kind and I’m lucky I have good people to take care of me, even if I’m resistant at first! Safe and happy travels to you 🙂

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