Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Don’t touch your friends

Below is part of an email that I recently sent my mum:

This week I’ve gotten a bunch of messages from friends about Ebola, so the news stories back home must be extra dramatic right now.  If a single case hits Ghana, everyone from Amplify will be pulled out.  Even the Ghanaians.  It’s a terrifying disease, but I don’t know how to describe it to people back home: Ebola could never devastate a developed country the way it has destroyed Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.  We have too much health infrastructure.  Moreover, we all have basic knowledge of how the body works.

Most people with Ebola die of dehydration.  It’s so easy to die of dehydration in Africa, especially in remote communities where you have to walk long distances of water.  I think it’s sadder that children here still regularly die from diarrhea or that there’s no vaccine for malaria.

When I was sick yesterday (stupid salad from a western restaurant), I was incredibly thankful that my host-family has a toilet.  I couldn’t imagine having uncontrollable diarrhea and having to go outside and squat in a bush.  I was thankful for a pot to vomit in that I could easily flush down the toilet afterwards (even if it went to the open gutter that lines the house).  I knew that I had to keep forcing down water and juice, even though both made my stomach gurgle painfully.

Imagine that experience in a mud hut with no windows or doors.  My feet are always dirty here, no matter how often I clean them.  There are ants everywhere.  However, in my bed net and under a ceiling fan, I feel relatively hygienic.

I know that nothing I say will assuage people’s fears back home.  But, honestly, I’m taking care of myself.  Being in Ghana is like being anywhere else in the world: right now its home.

When I wrote that, I thought I had food poisoning.  It ended up being Typhoid, which is similar.  Sort of like food poisoning to the max, since you only get it from eating food contaminated with feces.

Ugh how gross is that?

Instead of a 24 hour bug, I was sick for days.  It wasn’t the worst pain I’ve ever experienced, but it was still awful.

A few days after the symptoms started, I went to a private clinic.*  The doctor told me to continue taking Cipro (a strong antibiotic) and also prescribed an anti-diarrhea medicine to swallow and an anti-nausea suppository.  Except he didn’t tell me it would be a suppository so when the pharmacist said, “Don’t swallow this.  You take it in the anus” I responded, “WHAT?”

“In the anus,” he repeated. “Do you need me to write it?”

“No, no, I get it,” I said.

FYI, a suppository is actually super easy to take.  It’s a much better experience than puking up your pills, which once happened it South Africa.  I puked up the last of my ibuprofen, which I NEEDED in my body.  So I picked up out, rinsed it off, and swallowed it again.

Yep, that happened.

I’m sharing this gross story because, frankly, it’s insulting that some people seem to think that I don’t take my health and well-being seriously.  I am very, very aware of my vulnerability here.

This is in awful taste, but to lighten the mood here’s a song: “Ebola in town!  Don’t touch your friends!”


*Anyone who’s sick in Tamale, I highly recommend the Habana Medical Clinic!


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