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?

History.

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.

Malaria.

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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a letter: 2 april 2009

peace corps journaling kept me sane. i was journaling a lot. i was also writing TONS of letters. my mom and dad (and even a few friends) kept them for me. and they returned them when i came back to the us. i am reading them for the first time since writing them!

enjoy this letter from me to my mom and dad!

mom and dad!

so i’m back in my village, in MY house! i’m glad i’m back. and i haven’t died yet, so it’s good news all around.

my house is getting allergy-proofed. which is hilarious because it is made of grass and dirt. but i’m giving it a go.

i really just wanted to go home but i have a much better attitude about things now. and it has also helped that i haven’t been really sick. only one morning was rough when i woke up and couldn’t breathe all that well. but it had rained 2 whole days prior to that.

i’ve been working on finishing the planning and preparations for your trip. i think we are going to have a lot of fun and i’m really looking forward to you guys coming!

and work is looking up for me too.

i’m working with the gama cuulu club. it means ‘always speak the truth.’ which is an awesome name for an aids action club. the kids came up with it themselves. i’m just excited to actually be teaching the kids real information about hiv and aids.

girl guides is getting a slower start but the girls are really excited about it and i think next term we will really get going. last week i taught them the friendship circle and then gave them those early bird patches. they were pretty excited about it. i’m hoping that they will be reminded and want to come every week.

i took jacqueline to prenatal at the clinic last week. she is doing well and her hiv test came back negative – this time. so i was really relieved about that. i’m not sure if i’m supposed to be telling people that but i did ask her if i could see her results and she said it was ok.

i barge in on people getting tested at the clinic all the time. the ministry of health has made it mandatory testing for all women coming for prenatal. i go to prenatal every week so i see a lot of women being tested. i actually got tested myself a couple weeks earlier with a grade 9 girl who is pregnant.

but i still haven’t seen anyone give birth yet. i have, however, weighed babies! so when i see a birth, my peace corps experience will be complete!

yesterday the choma high school choir came and sang at church. it was really cool. plus it gave me something to do, other than read. but they made me stand up to be acknowledged, right after the headman, which was embarrassing.

i was just glad that they didn’t make me speak tonga. which in large crowds, i find it best to not let anyone know that i know some tonga and understand a lot more than people think. even my own family.

i planted a field of maize. popcorn actually. and let’s be honest, when i say ‘i’ i mean i gave my family a kg of popcorn and they planted it for me. it isn’t doing well because i refused to buy any sort of fertilizer. and i’m too lazy to make a compost pile. because there is a reason i’m not an agriculture volunteer! so my venture into farming was a bust.

but i did plant and manage to grow some very beautiful flowers.

well i think that’s it from me. hope things are going well for you all. don’t work too hard! and start thinking of where you want to go for my birthday celebration! miss you both TONS!

love,

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a journal entry: 16 & 17 oct 2008

This is just a ‘regular’ day in the village. I’m going to write longer blog posts about a few things that I’ve mentioned in this journal entry. But until then, enjoy a little picture of village life!

16 and 17 Oct 2008

So back from vacation. Amazing. Got a new tattoo! It’s perfect. My welcome back to the village was watching a cobra (I saw it’s big head) slither past my front door. 2 bats living in my house. A giant beetle trying to come in. And a poisonous spider that tried to crawl up my leg. And termites have started to eat up my wall. Literally overnight. We celebrated Patricia’s 4th birthday with cupcakes. Cemented junza [my new porch]. Still no furniture. And looking forward to my birthday celebration. Got a box from Mom. It had fitted sheets (has changed my world). And SEASON 4!!!!! So tomorrow Choma here I come! (to have a meeting first.) I’m pulling an all nighter for sure!

a journal entry: 24 sept 2008

It took a few months to really settle into my mud hut and make it a home.

In Zambia, most people have their house and chikuta, the kitchen, separately. I had a house, a chikuta (about 20 yards from my house), a pit latrine and a shower area (about 5 yards from my house).

When I arrived to my house, my shower area wasn’t built. So I spent the afternoon watching my BaTaata build it. It was made sticks and grass. Nothing much to look at, but it did the job. And by that I simply mean that no one could see me when I took my bucket bath. I wanted a brick and cement shower. But knew that it was going to be a bit expensive and I didn’t know who could do it for me.

After a few more months of settling in, I also realized that I liked hanging out right outside of my house, not in my chikuta. I didn’t like having random villagers who would come to visit me in my house. So I decided that what I needed was a porch. I could sit outside my house and not get wet on my way to the chikuta during rainy season. I could also hosts visitors in my porch, and not in my house. Win-win.

I brought my ideas up to my BaTaata to see who could do this for me. And he said he and the older boys could! Eric, my oldest host brother, was looking to raise some money to pay for high school. I was more than happy to oblige!

Brick making began and construction quickly started! And boy did it turn out amazing! It was exactly what I needed to make a house a home.

24 Sept 2008: 7 months in Zambia yesterday!

It’s 9am and I’m hot already. Good thing I’m leaving on vacation and won’t be here for most of the hot season. So much has happened, I don’t know where to start. I journaled for the first 2 weeks of my month away from home and I taped it on the next page.

What else… Some neighbor has been setting fires on BaWesley’s land so the other night I went out and watched him and the kids put out a fire. It was crazy.

My porch is perfect! It’s going to make being in the village AMAZING! It still needs to be roofed and also cemented. But BaWesley seems to be on top of it so I’m not worried. And I now have a brick bathing shelter. Which is also super nice. So I think that’s it for new things. I’m sure I’ll think of more but for now I’ll just write some letters.

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!

A Windy Distraction

I hadn’t done much except stare at my computer today when I realized I needed a distraction. So instead of watering the garden, I decided to go for a walk. South Dakota winter is right around the corner (I can feel it in my waters) and that usually brings well below zero windchills and feet upon feet of snow. The weather has been warming up again (and is forecasted to continue over the course of the week) so I need to enjoy them while they are here! I grabbed my phone and headphones and off I went!

It was the middle of the afternoon on a traditional work day, I only passed 3 people while I was walking for over an hour. 1 lady even said hello. It was windy and gusty at times, but the perfect temperature for a leisurely walk. Not too hot, not too cold – but just right! While I was walking, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to write about today. I didn’t come up with any grand ideas, so I’ll leave you with a picture I took of a tree. If you can’t go for a walk today, you can envision yourself on a walk here:

#plasticfreelife, with 42 plastic bags

Let’s make reusing fun!

I really enjoy crocheting and creating with my hands. So when my aunt cleared out her apartment last fall, she found herself with an entire garbage bag FULL of plastic bags. She could have just recycled them, but instead asked if I wanted them. Enthusiastically, I said YES!

Why?

Because with a little bit of work, I can turn these wasteful single use plastic bags into cute and useful items! By cutting the plastic bags into strips and then making ‘yarn’ with those strips, you can crochet away!

This week, I decided to crochet a desk ‘box’ for my books and notebooks that I always keep on my desk. It didn’t take me long to crochet it, and there is approximately 42 single use plastic bags in it.

42 single use plastic bags that only had a lifetime use of 17 minutes. 42 single use plastic bags that might have ended up in the landfill. 42 single use plastic bags that might have been flown to the other side of the world. 42 single use plastic bags that we didn’t need to be used in the first place.

These 42 single use plastic bags have a new life!

Where have all the plastic bags gone?

I tried to do some research about what actually happens to a plastic bag when you recycle it. And there is surprisingly little concrete information about what actually happens when you put your plastic bag in the recycling. I’m lucky that you can recycle plastic and plastic bags in Sioux Falls (you just need to make sure you put it all into 1 plastic bag). Most cities require you to take your plastics to the grocery store and they recycle it (which is what I did when I was at jen’s house in Tasmania).

But what actually happens to those plastic bags? In the US, most plastic bags are recycled into timber composite (so a combination of recycled wood pellets and recycled plastics). Or they are just recycled into more plastic bags. A huge majority just gets sent to the landfill. Recycling plastics is still expensive, and it is usually cheaper to create new products with new materials. Plus, recyclers have to ensure that the plastics aren’t tainted and dirty, and you can imagine how challenging that can be!

While I was in Australia, I watched War on Waste. Craig tried to trace where the plastic bags end up after you take them to the grocery store by putting gps trackers into the bag of plastic bags. Over the course of the season, he updates us on where the gps trackers are. 1 ends up in a landfill, 1 ends up at some sort of recycling facility in Australia and just sits there, and the other ends up overseas.

Frequent Flier Miles of Waste

Countries and businesses have been buying and selling trash, much like they do for every other commodity, for decades. I had no idea that this was happening until a few years ago. I was having dinner at a friend’s house in India and one of his nephews was visiting from the US. I asked what he did, and learned that companies buy and sell TRASH, and that is what he did. He bought and sold used paper to companies between the US and India. Turns out that companies could buy recycled paper on the cheap in India, and then make and sell recycled paper in the US. I was FASCINATED!!!!

China has been buying TONS of trash from the world, for decades. In 2016, they processed over HALF of the world’s exports of waste plastic, paper and metals. China was willing to take it, it was cheaper for them to process and recycle these materials, and environmental regulations are generally less stringent there than in other countries (and recycling some of these materials can be super dirty to our environment). In that same year, the US alone sent over U$5 billion of waste materials to China. But at the beginning of this year, China said they weren’t going to take any more waste.

Countries around the globe have been swimming in their own waste ever since. No one knows what to do with their waste!

Think next time!

So next time you are at the grocery store and think that getting 1 plastic bag isn’t a big deal, think about where that plastic bag might end up. Will it end up in a landfill? Will it end up sitting in storage because China won’t buy it? Or will it end up being incinerated? Or will it end up in one of my crocheted projects?

I hope you are inspired to just keep it at the grocery store!

it’s september

the days are getting shorter. it’s dark at 8pm. the leaves are starting to change color. everyone is settled back into their school routines. my tomatoes are finally ready. pumpkin spice is everywhere!

and i still have no idea what i’m doing with my life. for some reason i thought that i would have something exciting to look forward to in september. it doesn’t really look like it’s working out that way.

i do know that i’m going to kenya in november to have a reunion with my peace corps friends! i’m really excited about this, and can’t wait to get on that plane!

but until then? just trying to hustle flight money, keeping positive, eating healthy and hanging out with the neighborhood kids. yesterday, they left me a nature art installation on the front step. most wouldn’t appreciate this, but i super loved and appreciated their creativity! they built it themselves and even found a cicada shell to put on top!

i’ll be working on getting my blog consistent, thorough and in depth. i’m going to be posting on my tuesdays and fridays (which might not always be those days for you, depending on where you live in the world!). i hope that you like what i’m learning, reading, reflecting and writing about. feel free to leave comments or even suggestions on what you would like to read about. you can comment here or send me an email! you can even stay up to date by signing up to my email list and getting exclusive content twice a month!

have a great start to september and happy reading!

a journal entry: 31 aug 2008

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, I served in Southern Province, Zambia. This usually doesn’t mean much when you tell someone where you served. BUT, if I told you it’s where Victoria Falls is, then you might have an idea of where I was. And if you can’t locate it on a map, you have probably seen pictures.

To get from my house in the village to Victoria Falls was pretty easy, in relative terms. I got a truck into town. This was anywhere from 40 minutes to 4 hours. Then it was a simple 4 hour bus ride down the paved road! Quick and easy! 😉 If any of us needed a get together or a mental health break from the village, we were usually there! And we only paid the local entry rate, so we got to see a natural wonder of the world for about 25 cents.

I’ve seen the full monsoon Zambezi roaring over the edge. I’ve swam in the Devil’s Pool, a terrifying yet amazing experience right at the top of the Falls.I’ve stood across from the Falls and gotten soaked from head to toe from the mist. I’ve hung out at the bottom watching tourists bungee jump and kayak. I even bungee jumped myself! Every time I visited, it was a completely different experience. But every time was completely breathtaking.

31 Aug 08: Hiked down to the Boiling Pot at Vic Falls. It was amazing! Totally worth the hike. It was hot and we didn’t have any water so that was bad but everything else was great. And we (and by ‘we’ I mean me, Deb and Karen) went to the Bridge and watched people bungee jump. Which was really cool. I can’t wait to do it on my b-day. Can’t wait!!

And I didn’t mention before I finally talked to Mom and Dad the other night in Choma. We talked for 3 hours. And it was pretty great. And it sounds like they are coming next year – with Grandma and Grandpa which is going to be AMAZING! I can wait for that either!

I wish I had my iPod – I left it in my hut…I hope! And I’m covered in mosquito bites so I’ll probably be suffering from malaria in 2 weeks. We’ll see if Doxy really works! But I like Jollyboys so much, I’ll gladly keep coming back even if it means malaria!

Eat Food, Mostly Plants, Not Too Much

I’m a big fan of documentaries, especially those about where our food comes from. Most of these documentaries have the same basic information: we eat too much processed food, people in low income communities don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and corporations make the money while farmers can barely make a living.

I watched In Defense of Food this week. ‘Eat food, mostly plants, not too much’ is Michael Pollan’s takeaway from the documentary based on his book of the same name. This documentary had much of the same information as others I’ve watched, but it did bring up some ideas that I hadn’t thought about…

Eating Trends or In Season

Avocados are the cool it food. Avocado toast. Guacamole. Sliced avocado salad. Peak hipster problem: we love avocados SO much that we now have ‘avocado hand.’ (Which I fully believe is the result of your own dumb behavior. If you are slicing into your hand while cutting your avocado, your avocado isn’t ready to eat anyway.) But why are avocados the cool it food?

There is a Portlandia episode where they follow a celery salesman who has to make a deal with the devil, ie the bacon salesman, to get people to buy and eat more celery.

While it is a hilarious tale of a man trying to get the public to consume something they don’t like, it also highlights how we consume ‘the next big thing’ without thinking for ourselves. The general public eats based on what the current trend is, not what food is currently ‘in season.’

While living in India and Zambia, I didn’t realize how used to eating ‘in season’ I was. If the tomato plant was giving tomatoes, you had tomatoes in everything. If the sweet potatoes were just harvested, that’s what you ate 3 meals a day for a week. I wasn’t eating food choices because of trends, I was eating (or not eating) because of Mother Nature’s influence.

When I moved back to the US, I was overwhelmed by the amount of food in the grocery store. There is an entire aisle of cereal choices (Lucky Charms is always my pick!). There is always tons of meat, from every animal. And there is always a huge, and Instagram-worthy, selection of fruits and vegetables. Even if it is the middle of winter. Even in South Dakota.

But the majority of those selections are based on food trends. 7 years ago, you couldn’t find hummus to save your life in Sioux Falls. Now there is an entire section right up front next to the fresh vegetables, full of all sorts of flavored hummus. You can even buy brownie batter hummus. Hummus is trendy now! So I guess I’ll have to wait until marinated feta becomes ‘trendy’ in the US, so I can get my fix here instead of eating all the marinated feta while in Australia.

Why do we have food trends?

Marketing

Marketing campaigns can convince us things are bad for us, so we shouldn’t consume them. Marketing can also convince us that things are GOOD for us, so we SHOULD consume them. Usually this happens without providing any sort of education to us, the consumer. We blindly trust and believe that what a large multi-billion dollar industry is telling us, is the truth.

In the documentary, Pollan explores how the food industry in America revolutionized food manufacturing processes to make the shelf life of their products longer. Every packaged food today has their roots in these initially processes that started almost 100 years ago. This created the entire middle section of a grocery store today. Flour, pasta, chips, cookies. All of those things that come in packets are packed with chemicals to make them taste better and, more importantly, last longer.

These companies turn to marketing to convince consumers to buy their products. Products are ‘fortified’ with ‘essential nutrients’ and contain ‘vitamins.’ But these aren’t the natural state of products. The food industry is taking the naturally occurring nutrients out of food, then replacing them with nutrients to make us stronger. Then they make commercials to convince consumers that this product is better than others!

Why does food need defense?

Marketing and trends and big business has made the public forget what we really do need to do. We need to eat. And we need to eat, FOOD. Food that doesn’t come in a packet, that doesn’t come with a thousand claims to make your life longer or better or healthier or stronger. Just plain food, like stalks of celery (just think of that poor celery salesman when you buy some!!!!). Tv is filled with fast and packaged food commercials, but you rarely see commercials for plain celery. FOOD needs some defense.

Like every good ‘fad’ diet, Pollan created a list of rules to follow. The premise is ‘Eat Food, Mostly Plants, Not Too Much.’ If you take this basic and simple guideline, you’ll immediately start to eat simpler (and in my case, healthier). This isn’t a fad diet. Pollan isn’t telling you that you will lose 20 pounds in 6 weeks or that you’ll lower your cholesterol in 3 weeks. In fact, he isn’t telling you to do it at all. He is simply sharing the take-aways that he has pulled together over the course of researching and learning about food.

Chemicals…

Usually when I watch a documentary, I think about how or what I can do to change things in my daily life to make the world a better place. After watching In Defense of Food, I’ve decided to focus on chemicals.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to eat healthy. I’ve been eating vegetables and eating a lot less red meat. When I’m eating super healthy, I study food labels to see what they actually have inside. Most things have sugar, or some sort of sugar byproduct that has a long chemical name. Most things contain corn, or some sort of corn byproduct – again, that has a super long chemical name. If I can’t pronounce what’s in the food, should I really be eating it?! No, probably not.

I love flavoring and spices, and in America (as with everything else), there are thousands of choices. I work hard to read the labels and try to eliminate things like ‘caking agent’ (if it’s making the seasoning not stick together in the bottle, what does it do to your stomach?) and long chemical names that are made from corn. And after watching this documentary, I’m going to work hard to eliminate using these packaged seasonings that are filled with chemicals.

Balance

I’m going to be honest with you. While I have just pledged to myself (and put it out there into the Universe) to eliminate using packaged seasonings, I do still have 2 bottles of ranch dressing seasoning and 1 bottle of Frank’s hot sauce seasoning in the cupboard. I hate food waste more than I hate chemicals, so after I finish these bottles, I won’t be buying new ones.

This leads me to balance. I’m not very good about balance in my own life. I’m either on or off. There really isn’t a lot in-between for me. So when I’m healthy, I’m super healthy. When I’m eating poorly, I’m eating ALL the junk food. But I’m trying to have better balance and more love for myself when things don’t go my way. If I feel like a beer at the end of the day, it’s ok to have a beer. If I want some chips for a snack, this is ok. Things in balance are best, and we should all aim to be in balance.

I’ll leave you with my favorite piece of advice from Pollan in In Defense of Food:

Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

Photo credit:

Kevin McCutcheon