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 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!

#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 few things happen

I’ve discovered that a few things happen to me when I am in Africa.

1. My tan comes back.

I don’t know when, but apparently I’ve been in the sun long enough for a bit of my tan to come back. The only reason I can tell is that I have a white band around my wrist from where my headbands are kept. But maybe I’m not scrubbing all the dirt off when I shower.

2. The calluses reappear on the top of my feet.

I sit on the floor in India. I sit on the floor everywhere actually. But for some reason, the calluses that I have on the tops of my feet have reappeared with a vengeance.  I’ll have to go back to India and scrub them away quickly before I go to America.

3. My hair falls out so much that I get a bit worried about losing all of my hair.

I’m losing my hair at an alarming rate. This happened to me while I lived in Zambia and it has started again here in Ghana. I looked down at the floor around me and there is long pink hair EVERYWHERE!!! I’m the only one with long and pink hair here, so obviously it is mine.

But all in all, I’m having a pretty good time. Today we went out on a visit to STAR-Ghana that gives money to CBOs (Community Based Organizations) and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations). We also visited an organization called Gender Centre that was started by a group of women lawyers and works on empowering women to stop the violence. They had 2 interns from Canada and a VSO volunteer there. The group is doing amazing work and really shared a lot about how they go about fund raising and applying for grant money with the participants in the event. I chatted really briefly with the 2 Canadian interns while everyone was getting on the bus. If only we had more time, I could have fully explained the Stop the Violence campaign!! I only had time to tell them to check out the website and give them my business card!!!!

Shop Rite

3 days in Ghana and I’ve stepped back into the surreal world of Africa!

The training centre where we are staying is absolutely fantastic. They are just finishing up the upgrade and the place is new and clean and very comfortable. I have my own room and my own bathroom!

The first day, no electricity. Fine, no worries, I’m used to it (although it was a bit annoying that we couldn’t just put the generator on). Second day, no water. Still waiting for that to come back. But I do have a working air conditioner and internet that appears to be faster than the fast line at Sangam.

Needless to say, I’ve been keeping myself busy on the world wide web.

This morning we went out to Shop Rite at the mall. I was with Gloria, one of the young ladies who is looking after us, and Marie-Paule, the Fifth World Centre Project Manager. What a trip it was.

First, it was the nicest Shop Rite I have ever been in. There also wasn’t many people, despite being in Accra’s biggest mall. I suppose everything looks empty when you are coming from India.

As I walked through the aisles, it was strange not to be buying a ton of things to stock up on and haul back to the village. When I walked past the Yum Yum peanut butter, I didn’t automatically put 3 bottles in the cart and contemplate a 4th. When I walked past the cream crackers though? I couldn’t resist and bought a pack. Shop Rite still has the same crazy plastic toys and even the same hair brush I bought when I lived in Zambia. Apparently, Shop Rite doesn’t change.

We walked around a bit more and I bought a Strawberry Fanta from Game. I can’t even remember the last time I had a deliciously fantastic Strawberry Fanta. Probably sometime in Zambia!!

The tiny bit I have seen of Accra shows a much more developed country than I was expecting. The roads are huge and I haven’t seen sign of a pot hole yet, granted I’ve only been on one road so far. There are a lot more foreigners around and most of them are businessmen in suits.

Today is a bit of a day off for us. Yesterday we had a big meeting with a few of the ladies from Ghana Girl Guides Association and we gave them a lot to think about. Tomorrow we’ll get back into working on preparation for the meeting and hopefully they’ll ask for assistance.

 

Coping

It has been 6 days since I drank coffee.
David Sedaris talked about quitting smoking in his last book. I remember he wrote that the first transoceanic flight he took after he quit, he didn’t know what to do when he landed. He would always rush out of the airport to smoke. When he didn’t have (or get) to do that, flying was a bit anti-climatic.
Every morning is anti-climatic for me. I don’t know what to do with myself. I wake up and nothing. (Coffee was my reason to get up 7 days ago, and all the days before that.) So I lay in bed, watching a movie, until I really have to get up to get dressed and go to work.
When I was drinking coffee, it never messed with my sleeping patterns. I could drink coffee in the morning, take an afternoon nap, and go to bed at 10pm. Yesterday I went to bed at 9pm and slept solid until 8am. If anything, coffee was keeping my sleeping habits closer to what is deemed socially acceptable.
I’m sure if I looked up symptoms of addiction, my coffee drinking would be classified as one. It is why I don’t look it up AND why I’m fasting from all forms of caffeine for these 9 days. I’m proving that I can quit anytime I want (oh wait…). It isn’t like it is bad for me (Oh no…). It’s not illegal, Starbucks are everywhere (Oh Crap…). I’m going to stop typing now, my excuses are not helping.
So far, the only positive thing about this whole experiment is that my liver and kidneys are probably very happy with me right now. (Did I mention no alcohol as well?) I’ve been drinking water non-stop since I started my fast on Friday.
Coffee keeps me sane. It reminds me of home. It reminds me of the village. It is my coping crutch. Now, let’s see what happens without it…

Oh Zambia!

I left Zambia over 2 months ago and I still think about it all the time. I feel like I should still be going back there. Like I’m just on vacation and I’ll be going back to resume my village life again. But alas, I am done with Peace Corps and on to the next adventure! Which I’ll get to in a minute. I’m also in the process of uploading a few more videos to YouTube so you can check those out soon. The internet is a bit slow here so be patient, they should be up sometime today. You can find them by clicking on the video clips on the left hand side of the page.

Now, on to my next adventure! I’m in India!!!!! (Yes, I know what you are thinking, “Don’t you like being in the States?” And the answer is yes I do, very much, it’s just that it gets boring after a few weeks. Taco Bell isn’t as good if you can have it any time you want.) What am I doing here? Good question. It all started while I was still in Zambia…

I had left the village and was living at the Peace Corps office in Choma finishing paperwork and packing up all of my stuff that I had accumulated over the last 2 years when I got an email from my Mom. It was a link to a job at Sangam World Centre (it is the same place that I was volunteering at before) so I checked it out. Unfortunately, the job application deadline had already passed so I was just cruising around their website and found an internship working with the Community Volunteer Programme. It looked really interesting but then I found out when the deadline was. In 2 days.

Now, 2 days in America is no problem. But 2 days in Zambia? A whole other story.

I had to finish the application, questions, and 3 recommendations. It was the 3 recommendations that had me worried. All of my references were in different time zones. I immediately emailed everyone I could think of who would be willing to complete a reference for me. Long story short, I finished my application and questions and all of my references finished the recommendations!

I traveled home and after being in America for one week, I found out that I got the internship! But then I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take it or not. I mean, I was having a really great time in America-land, and I didn’t really want to leave. My Dad finally said something to me that made my decision very easy.

“If you don’t take this internship, I’m not going to let you lay around the house all summer. You are going to have to get a job.”

Alright. I’ll take the internship!

After a few months of waiting for paperwork for my employment visa, I finally had my visa and was able to buy my plane ticket. A week later, I was out!

Now, I’m in India as Sangam World Centre’s Community Relations Intern. I’m really excited about this opportunity. I’ll be working with the Community Volunteer Programme and will also be working in building the programme to support more volunteers. So for the next year I will be living and working here in India!

I’ll be keeping my blog up to date, so check back! You can also follow me on Facebook or email me if you have any questions! Internet here is more reliable than Zambia but less reliable than America, so keep that in mind.

christa

 

Baking Birthdays

In the village, birthdays aren’t celebrated. There usually isn’t the money to make anything special, much less to buy gifts. I learned this when I first arrived to the village. We were eating dinner one night (just like every other night) when my bamaama mentioned it was Sandra’s birthday. But how could this be a birthday? It’s just like every other dinner, every other day. Where is the fun? The excitement? I LOVE birthdays! I feel like everyone should have a day to feel really special, especially in Zambia. I started to devise my plan.

I didn’t want to buy everyone something for their birthday. That would get expensive since there are 15 of us. I also wanted to do something that the family could continue after I left.

The next birthday, Sitemba’s, was right around the corner and I still had no idea what to do. So I went to the tuck shops in the village to buy cookies and juice for him. That night after we ate nshima and relish, I gave Sitemba his birthday treat. He shared with everyone even though their wasn’t enough cookies for everyone to have one full one! I had seen the communal way families live here-sharing relish and mealie meal and cooking oil when another family doesn’t have food to eat, sharing plows and ox carts for field work, and sharing what little a family has to help a neighbor in need. What I hadn’t expected or experienced yet was a 6 year old boy sharing his birthday cookies and juice with his entire family. Obviously I needed to devise yet another plan.

My bamaama, who is the best cook I have ever met in Zambia, said she knew how to bake cakes. She just didn’t have the ingredients. Well, I have the basics of any American kitchen: flour, sugar, butter, milk, and eggs. “I could bring them over and you could show me how to bake a cake,” I told her. And that is what we did for the next birthday.

My bamaama’s oven is brilliant. It’s a hole in the ground. She builds the fire in the hole to heat up the ground. Then when the wood becomes coals they are taken out of the hole and placed on an iron sheet. The pan is put into the hole and the iron sheet is placed on top. Presto! An oven in born!

It was a bigger hit than the cookies and juice. A tradition was born!

For every birthday since, my sister Jacqueline and I have baked birthday cake. I even have my very own oven that a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer made for me. It’s made of mud bricks for the sides and the back of the oven with an iron sheet for the top and a piece of metal for the door. My bataata even found some scrap pieces of metal rods that act as the shelf inside the oven. And boy is it AMESOME!!!!!!

The kids look forward to every birthday now. As soon as I wake up on a birthday, the kids are at my house excitedly asking, “Kupanga birthday? Kupanga birthday?” Which means in English, “Baking birthday? Baking birthday?” And I’ll tell them yes, which they already knew, and they get even more excited. Running around my house screaming and yelling while I try to put water on to boil for coffee.

Every birthday person gets to choose what kind of cake they want. Jacqueline and I have also added brownies and more recently Toll House Cookies (minus the chocolate chips) to our repertoire of birthday choices. With 15 birthdays a year, Jacqueline and I have become professional bakers!

My hope is that when I leave, the family will continue to celebrate birthdays by baking cakes. I also hope that long after I’m gone, the kids will remember all the fun we had baking birthdays.