Black Water Fever: My good story to tell

exactly 10 years ago today, i wrote and posted this blog post about me getting malaria for the very first time! i don’t recommend getting malaria, it sucks, a lot. but at least with malaria, you can take some pills that will make you feel better and increase your chances of survival. (dengue-not so much… but that’s a story for another day!)

enjoy reading all about my ‘good story to tell!’

When I lived in India I quit taking my malaria prophylaxis. We had it good. Everything would get sprayed once a week and I slept in my mosquito net every night. Wait. I take that back. Sometimes on the really hot nights I would flip the net off of the bed because I thought somehow the mesh of the mosquito net was blocking the cool air from getting to me. Anyway. I never really got bite so I never worried about getting malaria. Thus I quit taking my medicine. Like an idiot.

Fast forward 4 months.

After 2 days in Zambia, I was scared into religiously taking my malaria prophylaxis. Not only is malaria a terrible disease where blood parasites are put into your body by mosquitoes, but over 1 million people die every year from the disease. Along with headache, fever, chills, body aches and shakes, you feel like you are going to die. I wanted nothing to do with it. I hate being sick. I’m a firm believer in the flu shot. There is nothing I hate more in this world than throwing up. That was enough incentive for me to take my medicine everyday.

Unfortunately, you can still get malaria even if you take a prophylaxis. It just won’t be as severe because the parasite count isn’t allowed to reach dangerously high levels. But I wasn’t going to risk it, I was going to do everything humanly possible to NOT get malaria. I take my medicine everyday. Everyday.

I also had 2 other methods to protect myself against malaria.

1) The power of positive thinking (coupled with getting into my mosquito net before 9pm every night)

If you say you won’t get malaria, you won’t get malaria. It’s like when I was in school and I would say, “Uuugggh. I’m going to fail this test.” Then my dad would say, “Well, of course, you are going to fail it if you say you are going to fail it.” I’m sending positive anti-malarial vibes out in to the universe! Plus female mosquitoes are the ones that carry the malaria parasites and they only come out between the hours of 9pm and 6am. Fun fact: they are also silent. The male mosquitoes are the ones that buzz.

And 2) The Kim Burns Anti-Malarial Treatment

Drink a gin and tonic everyday. Why g&t’s?


When the Europeans, like David Livingstone, were wandering around Africa ‘discovering’ things, they were dying of Black Water Fever (malaria). The only thing the explorers found that would work against the Fever was taking quinine. Which is found in tonic water. And you can’t have tonic without the gin!

I was adhering to all 3 of these things and then I woke up one morning in town, with mosquito bites all over my hands and arms. Fatal step #1. I forgot to close the mosquito net before I went to bed. Fatal step #2. I said jokingly to Kim, “I’ll probably be back in town in 7-10 days with malaria!”

So I headed back to the village. I was hanging out getting back into the swing of things, and cleaning my house. School started and I was feeling perfectly fine. Then I went to bed. It is hot season so I took the blankets off my bed already. I was cold. I had to dig out my blankets and a sweatshirt. Then as I was trying to fall asleep I got the chills and shakes. This is when I thought something was up. I fell asleep hoping it would go away. No such luck. I woke up the next morning sweating beyond belief. And my head was killing me. I got up to pee and had to come back in my house to sit down and rest. I dug out the extra strength ibuprofen and took 2 to start. I found the strength to go and get fire so I could make coffee and told my bamaama that I thought I was getting sick. I told her my symptoms. She immediately said it was probably malaria.

Of course.


Then things got bad and a little fuzzy. The high fever, chills, the confusion. I finally started to write down what time I took what medicines because I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t eat anything but my bamaama forced me to eat nshima, which cures everything, as well as being the staple food of Zambia. My family finally insisted I go to the clinic. Zambians hate seeing me sick so instead of putting up a fight, I went with my sister Sandra. The clinical officer was pretty sure it was malaria but didn’t have the reagents to test my blood to make a positive diagnosis. I went back home and called Peace Corps Medical. Yup. It sounds like malaria. Start taking Coartem (it gets rid of the parasite), go to town, and take the blood test.

I went to town the next day and what a ride that was. It was the second worst transport ride of my life, and that is saying something because I’ve have some pretty awful rides. It seemed to take forever to get there but I finally made it. I took the blood test. It came back negative but that is normal because I was taking the prophylaxis and I already started the Coartem. No doubt about it. I had malaria.

It was like the worst flu you have every had multiplied by a million.

But I survived and was back home less than a week later.

I was at school talking to some of the teachers about it. They asked me if it was my first time having malaria. I told them yes. To which they said, “At least you have a good story to tell when people ask you about living in Africa.”

I will have malaria parasites living in my liver for the rest of my life forever making me more susceptible to getting malaria. But at least I have a good story to tell?

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don’t forget your self-care

i met annabel years ago at sangam. (well actually, we first met on email because she won a scholarship to come to a sangam event!) annabel is a long time supporter of girl guiding and girl scouting, both local and global. over the years, the guiding world has brought us together in several locations: india, uganda, madagascar. most recently, we were at sangam together in april. working on the archive, having fun at easter with all of the sangam local staff and exploring good restaurants in pune!

a few weeks ago, annabel’s doctors discovered she has stage 4 ovarian cancer. today she is having round 2 of chemo.

when you hear ‘stage 4,’ you think, surely there must have been signs? but that’s the tricky thing about ovarian cancer. she was just feeling tired after work, but shrugged it off (as many of us do). but then the bloating started and, as a nurse, annabel knew she couldn’t shrug this off. the doctors did an ultrasound to find 5.1 litres (1.4 gallons) of fluid. that fluid revealed the ovarian cancer.

annabel’s life has completely changed, but things are looking up!

what you can do!

even if you don’t know annabel, the first thing that goes through your mind is ‘oh my goodness, what can i do to support her?’ well that is a very good question and one that annabel has some answers to!

“there is nothing people can do for me – support is wonderful and much appreciated but this is my battle.”


i know this quote from annabel sounds a bit harsh when you first read it. you instinctively say, well that’s not true. of course i can support and help annabel! but as you ponder it, you realize that in fact, we can’t do anything for annabel. we are (probably) not her doctors. we can’t do the chemo treatments for her. we can’t keep her hair from falling out. we all want to support and help annabel, but this is her personal battle.


annabel has a few suggestions of changes and actions we can do in our everyday lives that will make her journey and battle have an even stronger purpose.

step 1: listen to your body

we all know when our body is talking to us. sometimes it’s good (wow! thanks for that yoga practice, i feel incredible!). and sometimes it’s warning us (hey christa, stop eating all this oily food because you are making that gallstone bigger!). we feel those aches and pains. but do you take a moment to reflect upon what those aches and pains mean?

do you need to go to a doctor? do you need to exercise? do you need to eat a healthy meal?

annabel has been sharing her story and struggles with cancer in hopes that this will encourage at least ONE other person in this world to listen to their bodies and get checked out.

when was the last time you went for a physical? when was the last time you got that pap smear? when was the last time that you got that mammogram?

preventative medicine can go a long way, so don’t delay! if you have been procrastinating that check up, just GO!

“this is why i think, as a nurse and a guide leader, i’m in a position to try and help women stop and think about themselves and to get checked out. maybe this will stop someone else going through this trauma.”


step 2: support kusafiri

“i’ve lost a lot through this diagnosis – work, being a guide leader, my flat and my independence. but i refuse to allow cancer to remove my passion for travel and world experiences.”


annabel is an incredible advocate for kusafiri world centre (the world association of girl guides and girl scouts’ world centre in the africa region). and cancer is not stopping that! it’s time to step it up! let’s all become friends of kusafiri to support annabel!

you can become a friend of kusafiri with a simple, one-time donation of GBP40/US$50. the time to donate is now! because there is an anonymous, generous friend out there in the world who is going to match donations up to US$10,000!!!!!!!!!

ready to donate? follow this link and you’ll learn everything you need to know!

so remember…

  • let’s all support annabel by getting our regular check ups
  • take time for your self-care routine
  • encourage a friend to take time for their self-care routine
  • and let’s ensure that annabel’s passion for travel and world experiences stays strong and resilient – become a friend of kusafiri!

a journal entry: 11 may 2009

my parents and grandparents are about to come for a visit! most people would be super excited, and i was! but i was also really nervous about how they might react to zambia and me.

livingstone. waiting. no movies (it’s closed on monday). no internet (in the entire town). the ice cream tasted like cream. now my phone keeps doing weird things. something about ‘out of memory.’ kind of how i feel!

well the parents are coming tomorrow! i’m kinda freaking out! kim thought i was crazy for dreading it but josh agreed. i’m dreading it because i’m afraid to find out how much i’ve changed. we have all changed together and i haven’t seen them in a while. i’ve already realized that i’m crazy when chris [josh’s brother] came. i can only imagine what they are going to think. i guess only time will tell.

i finally had to buy new sandals. my blue ones had holes worn through the balls of my feet, then the toe part broke so i tied it back together with a pony tail. i thought it was pretty ingenious. but i finally just got sick of them today and bought a new pair at pep for 4,900 kwacha.

i didn’t want to have to buy a new pair because i have 2 at my house and mom is bringing me more. but then i realized that mom is coming and i’ll never hear the end of it if she finds me with shoes like that when they get off the plane. so i broke down and just bought a new pair. i took the blue ones off and threw them away. right outside the shop.

it poured rain in choma on saturday. no one knows if this is the end of rainy season or the beginning of another. the rain flooded the yard and it was raining so hard that the roof was leaking. it was bizarre. even more so because it’s mid-may. last year it only rained once, in early march i think, we were still in training. so this is really weird, not just for me, for everyone. as long as it doesn’t rain anymore!!

i can’t believe the movie theatre is closed on mondays. of all the luck!

in photos: may and june 2009

may and june in the village were AMAZING!!!!!! i was back in my own house after having to move because i was sick. PLUS my parents and grandparents came for a visit!

below is a video that my mom took when we were visiting binashy, the best old lady in the entire village! i used to hang out with her and her old lady friends. they had their own group and i would go for their meetings. which was just them gossiping, me trying to understand the fast tonga that they were speaking and me telling them how to bake cupcakes. even from this short video, you’ll discover how amazing binashy is!

when the family arrived, we rented a camping truck so we could drive to my village and we would all have a place to stay! and right after we picked up the truck, we saw elephants! i had never seen elephants in my entire time in zambia – so the trip was out to a good start for sure! they were just on the side of the road! we were just driving into livingstone to go eat dinner! honestly, it was mesmerizing to see elephants like i would see deer in south dakota.
they were just on the side of the road! we were just driving into livingstone to go eat dinner! honestly, it was mesmerizing to see elephants like i would see deer in south dakota.
this is my all time favorite picture of jeannie. my mom took this one.
and then i took this one because it sums up my family’s visit in one great photo. my host family staring at my bio family to see if they might act different or interesting or do something funny.
zambia has a cold season! for a few weeks, tops. but staying warmed up in the house in the evenings was a necessity. maybe not the safest way to keep warm, but i managed to stay alive.
cooking inside! safety first, i moved my brazier off the plastic mat.
i remember one of the older girls coming over for help with math homework. which turned into everyone coming over to do their homework.

a journal entry: 11-13 april 2009

easter is almost here, and you’ll wanna stick around for the hilarious cultural fun we had in the village! a lot of things happen in these journal entries, and a few require a bit of background that i haven’t written about before.

i got ringworm! me, kim and brittany went to the mission in kalomo, stay overnight, drink good coffee and volunteer in the orphanage. and i suspect one of the very cute kids there gave me ringworm. i can’t be 100% certain, but i’m 98% sure that’s where it came from.

during my time as a peace corps volunteer, i became good penpals with josh’s mom, mrs. patty vetter. we all call her mrs. pv. and the amazingness of mrs. pv really shines in these journal entries!

and while i know that it isn’t 11-13 april, i wanted to share these journal entries with you since it is easter this weekend!

11 april 2009

back in the village! regina took me back on thursday morning. my house was finished! well, most of the way. still waiting on one window, but the cement is done and i put up plastic yesterday. been painting a bit. i painted one wall in my bedroom, but i’m gonna run out so i just stuck to the one. maybe i’ll lime the others. i’m not sure if that would work or not. i want it to look nice for the family since they are the ones getting the house, not another volunteer.

my chalkboard project is also coming along. i’m gonna paint the black today i think. i hope i have enough paint. i only bough a liter. it was expensive. and i’m still trying to save money. i really need to try and start a budget. one that doesn’t include 8 million trips to livingstone. anyway, i digress.

my house is looking nice. and as it turns out, they did knock down a whole wall when they were putting in the windows. but they managed to put it all back together. so i was right! i knew that my house would fall apart!!! (i was just expecting to come back to a pile of rubble.)

the kids killed a small snake in my cikuta [kitchen] this morning. it’s getting to be that time of year again. cold season is here and the snakes are trying to warm up. as long as they aren’t in MY house, i’ll be ok.

i gave sitemba ringworm on his head. but luckily, they found the cream and his seems to be going away a lot faster than mine. but then again, i’m not really all that good about putting on the cream ALL the time.


tomorrow i’ve having an easter egg hunt with the kids. i boiled 45 eggs with jacqueline yesterday. today, we are coloring them. tomorrow we will try to have an easter egg hunt. we’ll see how it goes. they all thought it was hilarious when i explained it to them!

saw a kid flying a kite made out of a plastic bag the other day on the way back to the village. just a few days after i talked to mom about it. i had never seen it here before, she was asking if i want her to bring kites, i laughed at her. then 3 days later, i see kids flying kites. crazy!

mrs. pv

i don’t think i talked about this yet, but mrs pv sent me a box! well, for me, kim, kapree and deb! it was packed full with food, candy, lotion, chapstick and the easter egg coloring kit (which gave me the idea to bring an american easter to my village). she is WAY too sweet. and like i told josh, she just wanted a daughter! so all of us girls decided we would gladly be her honorary peace corps daughters.

she also sent funfetti cupcakes with the frosting, sprinkles and even the paper cupcake holders!! i made them right away and we had them when we were all at the house for a meeting. i saved a bunch for josh and chris [josh’s brother] to have when i went down to livingstone the next day. unfortunately, the frosting melted ALL over the place, including my book bag. but they still tasted the same. needless to say, mrs pv is the nicest lady that i have ever become pen pals with!

13 april 2009

the easter egg hunt was really fun! i made the kids all stay in my house while me and jacqueline hid the eggs. i decided it was best to hide only ONE egg per kid, so we hid the eggs that they decorated like people the day before.

the kids were all so excited when they ran out of my house to go and hut. they all started running around like crazy people. sonia found the first one, then they all seemed to get the idea and they all found one at about the same time! except patricia, winnie and jeannie. so i helped them all find one.

i took pictures too. and because this was a typical american easter, joy was screaming and crying in ALL of the pictures!

then we all ate eggs. who knew 39,000 kwacha worth of eggs and a coloring kit from america could give such a good time! and since eric is home from school break, i got a family picture of everyone!


later that day, winnie came and told me, in tonga, that there was a snake at her house. it was in the roof! creepy! i watched them try and knock it out with rocks. then i got on my bike to go up to the mission and i came across a snake in the path eating a frog. or trying to. it was kinda funny to watch since the frog was trying to jump around to get away.

i drank a coke at ms kamuti’s shop and was bothered by some drunk guy. but ms betty [who works at the shop] told him to leave (which is something you don’t see everyday!).

biking home the long way, i stopped at david’s place and chated with him for a while. they (all the kids adopted by ms peyton [the woman who founded the school]) are having a memorial service for her at the end of the month. apparently, kaonde, the first president of zambia, is coming. and even the us ambassador to zambia. it’s going to be way bigger than i thought, so i should really try and get there!

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2 years and 2 months

it has been 2 years and 2 months since i was in india. it doesn’t actually seem like it has been that long. but it has actually been 2 years and 2 months. (i looked it up!)

even though i finished working and living at sangam almost 3 years ago now, the flights and airports are still regular. the path from one plane to the next is muscle memory. the flights between sioux falls and mumbai are the same. and the flights usually leave from the same gates.

nothing much has changed in those 2 years and 2 months…

i’m still job searching. still trying to figure out some sort of life direction. but i think this is regular for everyone. no one knows what they are doing really. we are all just faking it until we make it!

i have gone lots of places and done lots of things. kenya (a few times), uganda, australia. i saw mountain gorillas, wombats and SO MANY echidnas. i even had my gall bladder removed.

while i’m at sangam, i’ll do much the same things that i did while i lived and worked there. i’ll swim. eat mangoes. go to the sweet shop every afternoon for wada pav. work in the archives. it will also be regular.

but 1 thing won’t be regular.

jen has finished her time working at sangam! i don’t want to say ‘it’s the end of an era’ even though that is probably the best way to explain it. i can’t wait to share and celebrate all that jen has done!

i’m not sure when i’ll be able to get back to india again, so i’m making the most of this trip for sure! but i can’t wait to see what awaits sangam’s next 2 years and 2 months!

don’t worry! you haven’t missed out!

you can still join my hiking club as a day hiker for us$10! sign up now cause you won’t wanna miss out!

5 weeks…

once again, i’m the proud owner of several airline tickets! a round trip ticket to india and flights to nepal! my countdown has begun: i have 5 weeks left until i depart for india!

this upcoming trip is going to be special for a few different reasons.

i have to go into official trip physical training! i’ve never ever trained for a trip. i barely even pack for trips. and i don’t exercise. so this is going to be a whole new experience! why do i need to train? well, i’m going hiking. in the himalayas! you can read more about my trip to nepal and how you can join me here! it’s going to be an amazing challenge and, as scary as it seems to me now, i can’t wait to experience the himalayas in this unique way!

i’m gonna hang out at sangam! which i haven’t done for SO long. i was last there in january 2017! which is unbelievable. i feel like it was just last year. but it’s been over 2 years! butter chicken, garlic naan, wada pav, pani puri, pulse candy, onion bhajia and the sangam staff are calling my name!!!

while at sangam, we will be celebrating jen’s time as programme manager and world centre manager because she is finishing. ;( but gwen and bron will also be coming to hang out (yea!!!!) and we’ll be doing all of jen’s favorite pune and india things!

it won’t be all fun and games. i’ll be volunteering in sangam’s archives. jen and i need to come up with a plan, along with the current archive ladies, to figure out what to do next and how. there are still SO MANY boxes that need to be sorted. imagine what we will find in there!!!!!!

i’ll be gone for 6 weeks and while that may seem like a long time, i know that it will go SO fast. before i leave, i need to really think about what i would like to accomplish and experience while i’m there. and then when i’m there, make it happen!

let the countdown begin!

you can join me virtually on my himalaya hiking adventure!

a $7 starfish adventure

a few months ago, i was in kenya. we had a 10 year peace corps reunion. it was the first time that we had all been together since we left zambia and was an amazing get-together. over the american thanksgiving weekend, tim found us an airbnb on the beach in mombassa. so off we went!

while we were chilling by our pool (yea, it was an AWWEEESOME airbnb), eating lunch a guy came around to offer us a tour of starfish and snorkeling. he didn’t really give an exciting introduction, and i wasn’t super into it at first. but everyone else was going to go, so i would too! we set everything up so that we would go the next morning at 10am.

the next morning comes around, and we are all ready to go on our adventure. but i’ve already hit a snag. i don’t own shoes. and we needed shoes because there are sea urchins and if you step on them? well, you are in trouble. so our tour guide was going to village-style twine tie my flip flops to my feet. which i was ok with! but then tim offered up his converse so i could wear those instead. (which probably was the much safer option because there were TONS of sea urchins everywhere!)

off we go to see the star fish!

we all had the impression that we were on a leisurely walk to see some starfish in nature. that was half true. we were on a walk. and we would see some starfish, but we would also be taking a MILLION photos along the way.

we get out to where the starfish are and it is really cool! so many colors and different versions. but then we were given a task. we need to collect 50 starfish. ummm, okay?

so after me, kim and kapree picked up a few, we were done (as you can see in the above photo!). we didn’t come on a tour to be given tasks to do. so we just sat down and watched the starfish flip themselves over (which is super interesting and cool!). tim and our tour guide were diligently collecting starfish still. and then out of nowhere, some random fisherman also dumped a bunch of starfish right in my lap. clearly, this is a regular occurrence.

why were we collecting starfish? for a photoshoot. of which none us asked for. but our tour guide was well-prepared with lots of photoshoot options.

after about the 60th photo, tim said we had enough and wanted to go snorkeling. now at this point, i have lost the desire to go snorkeling. the tide had gone out, so we were in anywhere from 2 inches to waist high water. that’s it. that and sea urchins around? sounds like a disaster waiting to happen to me. plus it didn’t appear that there was anything super interesting available to see. we were already playing with starfish.

everyone else geared up for the snorkeling portion of the tour, and i stayed with the bags. tim and kapree were swimming and snorkeling around. and then kim, 3 feet away from them, stood up. the water was knee high.

i burst out laughing. this was just too much!

at this point, kapree was a bit annoyed because the snorkeling wasn’t great. not even good. in kenya’s defense, she had last snorkeled in the great barrier reef (which no where else in the world can really compare). we all just wanted to get back and start drinking. but then something amazing happened.

our tour guide jumped into the very shallow water and started kicking and flailing his arms and legs around. the splashing was comically large for such shallow water. it lasted for about 10 seconds. and we all stopped what we were doing to watch him.

he then stood up and said, ‘i won many awards for freestyle swimming in school.’

freestyle swimming indeed.

we finally made it back and went to the bar next to our airbnb. we thought we had been out for half of the day. it had only been 2 hours since we left and was nothing like we had imagined. but then again…

we only paid $7.

join me on my himalaya hiking adventure!

a journal entry: 10 and 11 oct 2008

This time 10 years ago, I was on an incredible vacation to South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.

While on this trip, it really made me realize how small my life in the Zambian village had gotten. I had no place to go out for good coffee. I had no movie theatres to go to. I had no fast food to grab if I didn’t feel like cooking. But all of this happened and I didn’t even realize.

UNTIL I had a slice of vacation life and remembered how great and amazing convenience can be! Next time you enjoy a little convenience in your life, take a moment to be thankful for it.

Enjoy what I was doing on 10 and 11 October 2008!

10 Oct 2008

So yesterday I went to see the X-Files, The Mummy and Zohan. It was a FAB day at the movies. Really. It made me miss home. And pop culture.

We drove a ways up the Skeleton Coast. Saw a few ship wrecks. And desert. And some seals. And some seal bones. Came back. Deb and I bought a 6 pack, snuck it in (no outside alcohol allowed!), drank, ate pizza and played uno. Then we went out dancing. It was fun! Until we went to the second place. It was lame so we went back to the room and went to bed.

11 Oct 2008: TODAY!

Drove down to Walvis Bay to see pelicans, flamingos and sand! We went to play on the famous dune 7. It was HUGE! I made it halfway up before I gave up on going all the way up. And all day long I drank coffee! It was also fabulous. I’m going to miss real coffee when I go back to Zambia for sure! (But I did buy some from Mugg&Bean!)

What else today? I bought a cool bracelet from the bay from traditional tribal ladies. They were really nice. And they had the cutest kids! (Always a good selling tactic in my book!)\

6 weeks to go!!!

I am the proud owner of a plane ticket to Kenya!

Owning a plane ticket is my favorite thing. Some people own a house, get married or have a kid. I buy plane tickets. They are pure happiness for me.

I don’t like sticking around the same place for very long, especially if snow is in the foreseeable future. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I grew up moving from place to place? Maybe I simply like experiencing new places and meeting new people? Maybe I just like to see what’s on offer on Netflix in other countries? I’m not sure.

But when I get a plane ticket for the next place, I immediately go into countdown mode. It’s better than waiting for Ganapati, my birthday or Christmas. You never know what might happen on this trip! It’ll be a new routine for the few weeks while you are away! You’ll come back a new person!

So for the next 6 weeks, I’ll be dreaming of what this next trip will bring. And it might be amazing, I’ve got a few things that could possibly happen (or maybe they don’t and I just come home early), we’ll just wait and see what happens during my countdown!