Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Archive for the tag “Traveling”

‘Cause my heart has found its home

In the past, when I thought of traveling I listened to Dido’s song “Sand in my Shoes.

I’ve still got sand in my shoes
And I can’t shake the thought of you

Now, though, I find myself listening to Dido’s “Look No Further” instead.

I might have been a singer
Who sailed around the world
A gambler who wins millions
And spent it all on girls

I might have been a poet
Who walked upon the moon
A scientist who would tell the world
I discovered something new

I might have loved a king
And been the one to end a war
A criminal who drinks champagne
And never could be caught

But among your books
Among your clothes
Among the noise and fuss
I’ve let it go

I can stop and catch my breath
And look no further for happiness
And I will not turn again
‘Cause my heart has found its home

Everyone I’ll never meet
And the friends I won’t now make
The adventures that they could have been
And the risks I’ll never take

But among your books
Among your clothes
Among your noise and fuss
I’ve let it go

I can stop and catch my breath
And look no further for happiness
And I will not turn again
‘Cause my heart has found its home

Home is home and I don’t want to end up anywhere else.



Pounding plantains to make fufu.

Pounding plantains to make fufu.

Fufu and soup (with orange for desert)

Fufu and soup (with oranges for desert)

The view from my taxi.  How are we going to get out?

A typical day at the taxi yard.  How are we going to get out?

Donkeys on the side of the road

Donkeys on the side of the road

A home-cooked meal by my host family: banku (fermented maize) and red soup.

A home-cooked meal by my host family: banku (fermented maize) and red soup.

Baby goats

Baby goats are EVERYWHERE.  So are adult goats, but they’re not as cute.

Yendi Adventure

Today I had my craziest African experience EVER.

To start, my coworker and I went to Yendi today, which is the municipality about 2 hours south of Tamale.  It started like a normal traveling day in Africa.  I met my colleague at the Tro-Tro (minibus) yard in Tamale at 8am.  We got a Tro-Tro.  It left around 9am.  The ride was a bit slow because it’s rained the past couple days and the roads are bad, so we arrived in Yendi at around 11:15am.  We got a taxi to the Yendi Assembly and arrived around 11:30am. 

We went to meet the Public Relations Officer, who is my point person for All Voices Matter.  He had told my colleague he’d be at the Assembly by 11am, but he didn’t arrive until noon.  We chatted a couple minutes, then he took me around to introduce me to a few other people that I might work with.  By 12:30, my coworker and I were walking back to the “bus station” (covered area with a six rows of wooden benches).

We waited for a while.  I bought some deep-friend yams (more similar to potatoes, so basically some giant French fries) for lunch for 1 cedi [$0.33 CDN]  and read the super nerdy transportation connectivity thesis that I’d brought.  At around 2pm, people started getting agitated.  I don’t know what spurred it, but I guess the ticket guy sat down at the end of my bench and I didn’t notice.  My coworker and I were on the first bench.

All of sudden, people were trying to squish into our bench!  Not sitting on people, but if there was an inch between anyone, they tried to stuff themselves in.  And there weren’t any inches.  But then we all started sliding down to the end where the ticket guy was.  If you were too slow in sliding, someone would sit between you and your neighbor.

It was pandemonium!  People were yelling and trying to pay people so they could get onto the bench.  The insane was that if someone managed to sit down, no one told them to get up.  Once you were on the bench, you were safe.  My colleague and I got to the end and he bought our tickets from the ticket man (#49 and #50), then we jumped up and let other slide down to buy their tickets.

Then we waited another hour for our bus.

I told my coworker that I’d never seen anything like that before.  If he wasn’t here with me, I might actually never be able to leave Yendi!

Hospital Visit

In less than a week, I’ve already experienced a hospital visit in Ghana!

It started innocent enough.  My body got diarrhea – which is typical.

The next morning I woke up at dawn to go for a run, but my stomach hurt so I went back to sleep for a few hours.  I felt exhausted, which is unusual.  I got up again and went to lunch with my colleague to a local assembly member’s house.  As we watched his wife pound plantain and cassava to make fufu (which is apparently super yummy) I started to feel waves of nausea.  I went outside and knelt on the ground, pretty sure I could puke at any moment.

My colleague felt my head and asked about my symptoms.  I felt hot, but I’ve felt too hot since arriving in Ghana so that didn’t mean much.  She decided to take me to hospital to see if I had a fever, in which case I might have malaria.  Our lunch host asked his neighbor to drive us so we didn’t even have to walk to the roadside and hail a taxi.

At the hospital, I paid 5 cedi for an identity card.  Then 2 cedi so they would fill out forms for us.  A nurse weighed me, listened to my pulse, and took my blood pressure.  My colleague asked them to take my temperature as well.  It was 37°C, which we were relieved to see.

After that, my memory is pretty fuzzy.  My colleague and lunch host did most of the talking with staff while I lay on a bench and slept.  I chatted with a doctor and told him my symptoms.  I had a malaria test done, in which a nurse pricked my finger and took two samples of my blood.  After a 30 minute wait, the malaria test results came in negative and I was prescribed some painkillers and UN rehydration salts.

We went back to our host’s house so my colleague and he could eat lunch.  I watched so that I would know the proper way to eat fufu and red soup next time it was offered.  It smelled delicious, but the fish in the soup didn’t my nausea so I lay down on the couch and slept more.  Our host said that he was grateful I started feeling ill before eating and not after, so he didn’t have to worry that it was his wife’s cooking.  We all had a good laugh.

My colleague drove back to my temporary home, I took a Cipro (antibacterial), and slept until 6am the next morning.

I think I most likely got sick from eating raw carrots.  I washed them, but next time I’ll definitely cook them.  The two leftover carrots looked so rotten the next day that I don’t know if I’ll buy carrots again anyways.

At the hospital, I have no idea if I was helped faster because of my skin colour or not.  It didn’t seem like it was super busy – there were about 20 other people there.  Most were adults, but I think there were about 5 children.  To be honest, I’m not really sure.  One child was sleeping and crying and I thought to myself that I really hoped I wasn’t jumping the line in front of him.

In comparison to most other EWBers that I’ve talked to, my first experience of sickness was soooooo easy.  I had my colleague taking care of me, two local friends to chat with hospital staff, and we even got driven around.  Most people are alone and have to find their own transportation to the hospital where they’re then responsible for themselves.  My experience, though, was similar to getting the flu back home: it’s no fun because you feel horrible, but it’s not actually that big of deal.  During Pre-Departure training, a doctor told us that less than 1% of traveling deaths are from diseases.

He then told us that 40% are from motor vehicle accidents.

Don’t worry – I’ve got a helmet.  One hospital visit is enough for me.

Traveling to Tamale

The morning after the laptop incident, I was supposed to take a 12 hour bus to Tamale.  When my driver and I got to the bus station, though, we were told that buses didn’t leave until 4pm.  We went to another station, but by then the morning bus had left and the bus for the next day was full.  In the end, my taxi driver took me back to the house I was staying at (3.5 hours later) so that I could fly to Tamale that afternoon instead.

Welcome to traveling to in Africa!

Leaving on a jet plane

I wrote the following post last week en route to Ghana.  Little did I know that the adventure was barely beginning.  I still had to land in Accra, wait a couple days for my luggage, and make the 12 hour bus ride north to Tamale.  I debated posting this, but decided to eventually because sometimes traveling isn’t that much fun.  Sometimes it’s a hassle – like when security in Heathrow took my toothpaste or there aren’t any vegetarian options for me to eat on the airplane.  I don’t want everyone back home thinking this is all one big glamorous stint in Ghana.

That being said, the adventure is totally worth it.



I’m so over flying.

I hate it.  I wish I was never getting on a plane again in my entire life.

Unfortunately, however, I’m writing this during my flight from Toronto to London.  I still have another flight to Cairo and a fourth to Accra.

Yesterday, I flew from Vancouver to Toronto and landed at 9pm.  My flight this morning was at 9am.  There is very little public transit in Toronto on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

The experience wasn’t too terrible, though.  Luckily one of my friends is driving around Ontario right now so I stashed my luggage at his hotel and went dancing with him and his boyfriend last night.  Pulled an all-nighter, fell asleep on the cab ride to the airport at 5am, woke up totally disoriented and somehow left my phone in the cab.  (I’m so dumb it makes me ill sometimes.)  Passed out sprawled on the airport chairs and slept most of my flight to London.  Now I’m all refreshed and ready for many more hours of flying and a 5 hour layover.

I lied.  I’m not ready at all.  Flying sucks.

Someone please invent a teleporter.

Beam me up, Scotty.

Until Next Time

I am writing this post with mixed feelings.  On the one hand, I’m super excited to move back home and see my friends and family again.  At the same time, however, I’m incredibly sad at the thought of leaving my friends (some who have become like family) in Jozi.

For the past two months, my coworker has asked me every couple days, “You’re coming back to SA, right?”

“Don’t worry.  I’m already plotting my return,” I’ve laughed.

I think almost every day in May she said, “I’m going to miss you.”

“Don’t start,” I’ve warned.  “You know I’m going to miss you too and I don’t want to start crying in the office.”

I’ve been extremely lucky with the amazing people I’ve met here as well as the wonderful opportunities I’ve had to travel and experience this country.

In all honesty, though, the more I travel the more I realize that all those marvelous experiences aren’t really that remarkable after all.  Please don’t get me wrong – I loved hiking the Drakensberg and swimming in Lake Malawi.  But it doesn’t matter how many indigenous forests I explore or pristine beaches I suntan on: it’s the people that are important.

Yeah this is cool…

Yeah this is cool…

...but this is what I'll remember.

…but this is what I’ll remember.

The more I travel, the more grateful I become for the people in my life.

Whether it’s my dad sending me Kyusho Jitsu video clips.

Or my mom’s daily email.

Or my sister’s scolding messages (“Be Be, you shouldn’t drink so much.”)

Or a phone call from a new acquaintance, “Want to hang out tonight?”

Or keeping in touch with friends who are becoming increasingly scattered all over the world.

These people mean way more to me than swimming with tiger sharks or any mountain view.

So thank you, World.  Thank you, Humanity.  Thanks for being awesome!

Thanks for being awesome everywhere.

The Warm Heart of Africa

Malawi’s advertising tagline is “The warm heart of Africa.” My friends who visited two months ago told me, “It’s true! Everyone is friendly for the sake of being friendly. It’s not like everywhere else in Africa where people are constantly asking you for money. If you’re going to go anywhere in southern Africa, go to Malawi.”

Although the country is beautiful and the people were indeed friendly, unfortunately I still found that people were constantly asking me for money or “donations.”

Despite the relentless requests, however, I would still recommend Malawi to anyone!

I arrived on a Sunday afternoon in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city. The hostel I had booked (Mabuya Camp) arranged for a taxi to pick me up at the airport: it was exciting to walk off the plane and see someone holding a sign that said “Bethany” – it made me feel kind of like someone important!

In my hostel room I met two women from New Zealand who were traveling around Africa together for 5 months. We chatted a bit and they said they were planning on going to Cape Maclear the next day. Excellent! That was my destination too! We agreed to travel together and, assuming they would handle the arrangements – they seemed very responsible – I went to bed. At 4pm. It had been a hectic weekend and I had barely slept for 2 days.

I slept straight through to 5:30am when the three of us got up to take a taxi to the bus station. We had been told to arrive by 6am and that the bus would leave around 7am. In very few African countries, however, do things like buses have a fixed schedule. I think South Africa might be the only one! The bus arrived around 6:30am and we climbed on. Then we waited. One girl took a nap for an hour, woke up, looked around, and was extremely disappointed that we were still in the parking lot.

You see, in Africa, the bus leaves when it’s full. We left at 9:50am.

Once upon a time, waiting for almost 4 hours might have bothered me. But I’ve finally accomplished a Zen attitude while traveling – although unfortunately it doesn’t carry over to the rest of my life. Those 4 hours didn’t affect me at all. I had a book to read. There were interesting people to watch. Maybe it was because I’d just slept for over 12 hours, but my brain went into standby mode.

Once the bus started moving, it wasn’t too long of a drive to Monkey Bay. We arrived around 4pm I think. Unprepared as usual, I hadn’t brought any food with me for the trip. Whenever the bus stopped, however, locals would rush to window and offer bottled drinks, deep fried dough balls, roasted peanuts, homemade samosas, fresh apples, fried fish on a stick, and other foods.

Thank goodness! The only meal I’d had on Saturday was lunch served on the plane.

On the bus we met another backpacker: a young woman from Canada. As soon as the four of us disembarked the bus in Monkey Bay, locals swarmed us to offer their services. We negotiated a taxi ride for the final half hour to Cape Maclear and set off.

Despite the bilharzia worms, Cape Maclear is absolutely stunning. The four of us booked a dorm room together at Fat Monkeys and enjoyed three gorgeous days at the lake.

The first morning, the two kiwis and I hired a local guide to hike up the mountain. It took us about 2 hours to get to the top, but we stopped and took lots of photos along the way. If you visit Cape Maclear, however, you don’t need to hire anyone: there’s only one path and it’s quite clear. At the top one of my new friend’s pointed to the closest island and said, “Bet you could swim there.”

“Let’s do it!” I exclaimed.

Our guide, Hastings, said that he’d swum to the island before. He said it was only 2.5km away.

“That’s what we’re doing tomorrow,” I declared.

The island we swam to

The island we swam to


Hastings also took us to Otter Point where two of us swam in the lake – very refreshing after hiking up a steep trail in the sun! Lastly he showed us the National Park education centre which once held tanks of different species of lakes, but is now falling apart and decrepit. The information on the walls, however, was still intact so we read a bit about the history of Lake Malawi and Cape Maclear.

For lunch we went to one of the local restaurants. I ordered a chocolate milkshake, one girl wanted a frozen banana smoothie, and another a regular banana smoothie: we were all given frozen banana smoothies. Although not what I had ordered, it was delicious nonetheless.

The next morning we met an American man who is currently living in Addis, Ethiopia. He was visiting Cape Maclear for a holiday. He decided to join us on our search for snorkels, masks, and flippers for swim to the island.

By the time we had walked to Kayak Africa, which rented snorkel gear, the whole town knew our plan. One local, Quinton, offered to rent us gear for 1000 kwacha/mask and 1000 kwacha/flippers. We also negotiated the use of a life jacket to tow behind us – just in case.

Quinton then went one better. He and his friend offered to canoe to the island and cook us lunch. For another 5000 kwacha, he agreed to cook two freshly caught fish meals and two vegetarian.

We swam to the island in no time at all. Once we arrived, the other three got out of the water and sunbathed while I continued snorkeling around the rocks. The fish were beautiful! Blue and orange and white. I’ve never liked fish that much, never seen the point of having an aquarium, but they were like jewels among the rocks.

Eventually I got out of the water too and sat on the rocks with my friends. Quinton and his friend already had a fire going in the rocks. They made a huge pot of rice and fresh tomato sauce in pots of the fire. They smoked a batch of freshly caught fish on the coals. It took over an hour, but it was worth the wait!

My vegetarian meal got a huge handful of sliced cabbage on the side instead of fish. I know that doesn’t sound as exciting, but with the tomato sauce it was delicious. We all ate more rice than we had imagined we would and lazed around on the rocks for another hour or so. Quinton took us out in his canoe and his friend showed us how they caught fish with leftover rice.

Once we no longer felt painfully full, we jumped in the lake and swam back to the mainland. Quinton and his friend followed us in their canoe. Maybe they thought we’d eaten too much and were afraid we’d drown!

They offered to cook us fresh banana pancakes on the beach for dinner, but we were much to full for a big dinner as well. Instead we meandered back to Fat Monkeys, ordered drinks, and watched the sunset while chatting with other travelers.

After Cape Maclear, we decided to go to Senga Bay next. The other 3 backpackers were traveling north to Nkhata Bay and Senga Bay was on the way.

We awoke at 4am to the taxi we’d booked the previous night at 4:30am. It didn’t show up so we had to call someone else. We finally got a taxi at 5:30am and made it to Monkey Bay around 6am. Our bus was already there, about to leave. I think the taxi driver might have phoned ahead and told the driver we were coming.

It was surprising to get on the bus and have it leave right away! We arrived in Salima by 10am and took a minibus to Senga Bay.

I had thought Cape Maclear was isolated, but I was wrong. Senga Bay was really, really isolated. We were the only four white people in town and there were only four restaurants: two at hostels and two tiny local ones. Even though I had visited Zambia and Mozambique, I had only gone to the tourist-y towns. This felt like “real Africa” – whatever that means. I finally understand why people say South Africa isn’t really “Africa.” ZA is very westernized compared to these dirt roads and laughing children dressed in rags.

We wandered around the village, followed by a troupe of kids, and I bought supplies to make dinner: a green leafy vegetable with a similar taste to gai lon, tomatoes, eggplant, onion, eggs, a small packet of oil, and coals for the oven pit. I don’t like to barter, especially when everything is already super cheap, but I bartered for the green leafy vegetable. I asked the man, “How much?” and he said, “650 kwacha each.”

“In the last village they were only 100 kwacha for a pack of leaves.” I had bought a pack of 3 leaves but never had the opportunity to cook them.

“Ok 100,” he agreed. Then he gave me a huge bunch!

I’m not sure how well the locals understood English or numbers. The Canadian girl tried to buy bananas and the man asked for 200 kwacha for 3. “In Cape Maclear they were only 2o kwacha each,” the woman said. “100 for 3?”

But the man was adamant for 200 kwacha. Then his friend came over and demanded 250 for 3. “You’re going up! That’s the wrong way!” I laughed.

The Canadian became frustrated with them and said, “Forget it.”

That evening the two kiwis went to the other hostel for dinner while I cooked my food and the Canadian ate some things she’d bought at the market. She was impressed watching me cook over the coals! I’d never used coal before, but it couldn’t be that hard – right? I collected a bunch of dry grass and sticks started a fire over the coals. Then I let them burn while I chopped my veggies. Luckily we had a plug-in kettle which I used to boil water to cook the leaves and eggplant in a big pot – it would’ve taken forever to boil anything over those coals. I fried the tomatoes and onion in a frying pan, added the eggs, then drained the leaves and eggplant and added those two. I “borrowed” ketchup and peri peri sauce from the hostel’s restaurant and ate dinner with leftovers for the next day too.

After one night the kiwis and Canadian departed to continue on their journey north. I decided to stay in Senga Bay another night before going back to Lilongwe for a day and then my flight back to South Africa.

On my own again, I rented a kayak from my hostel and kayaked to island about 3km away. I pulled the kayak up on the rocks and swam around the tiny island. It probably had a circumference of about 800m. Then I climbed back in my kayak and rowed to my hostel.

That evening, two young German girls and a group of American missionaries arrived at my hostel. I chatted with the Americans a bit then decided to go to the other hostel for dinner. It also had a guest: an entrepreneur from England who was attending a telecommunications conference in Malawi the following weekend. We talked over dinner and learned how to play Kharbage, a game kinda of like checkers, from the bartender. (I won.) He wanted to go out to the local bar afterwards, but we were facing east on the lake and I wanted to get up early and watch sunrise again. After all, I can party whenever I want but when do I have time (and such a gorgeous view) to watch dawn?

I said good night and watched 400m along the beach back to my hostel. The stars were out and it was a perfect night to be alone with the sky.

As soon as it began to light in the morning, I rolled out of bed and ran down to the water to watch the sun rise.

After a perfect morning, I gathered my stuff and walked to the street to find a minibus taxi to take me back to Salima. I jumped in a minibus right away, but then it drove up and down the street for 20 minutes, trying to find more passengers. Once we were finally on our way, it sputtered out and stopped on the side of the road. “Out of gas,” muttered the driver.

The other passengers and I all got out and stood on the roadside until a truck both by. Even though its back was already full of people, the 6 of us climbed in too. One man was kind enough to give up the truck’s side and he stood the whole way with nothing to hold onto. We crammed 21 people in the back of that truck along with bags and boxes.

Luckily we were only 10 minutes away from the bus station. Once we arrived, I was told the bus to Lilongwe had already left but there was a minibus taxi I could take for 1200 kwacha. I’m not sure if the bus story was true or not, but at least this minibus didn’t run out of gas on the way.

As we waited for enough passengers to leave – which funny enough eventually included the two girls from my hostel – I bought a bag of local berries from a woman carrying a large bucket of them on her head. The man collecting fares for my minibus wanted to buy them for me, but I declined.

He sat beside me on the minibus and chatted to the other passengers in Chichewa, Malawi’s local language. As we neared Lilongwe, he started to ask me about myself. When I told him I was from Canada he asked me to take him with me. I laughed awkwardly and looked away.

Then he asked something I didn’t understand through his accent.

“Pardon?” I said.

He repeated himself. I caught the word “beautiful” and assumed he was complimenting me.

“Sorry, could you please repeat it once more?” I asked.

“Am I beautiful?” he smiled.

“You?” I was surprised.

“Yes. Am I handsome?”

I laughed again – I couldn’t help it! What sort of pick-up line is that? – and looked away again.

When we arrived in Lilongwe and I got off the minibus, a man came up to offer a taxi. “No, she’s with me,” the fare man said.

I waited for the German girls to get off then asked, “Where are you going now?”

“Mama Mia’s. It’s a restaurant.”

“Can I join you? Can we share a cab?” I was starving too.

They agreed and we shared a cab to Mama Mia’s where they were meeting friends. I sat on my own and ordered an appetizer of grilled halmoui cheese, eggplant, zucchini, and sundried tomatoes on polenta. After not eating cheese for a few days, it was delicious.

I then walked around, bought some homemade ice cream from another Italian restaurant, and stood in line for awhile an ATM. Once I had money again, I decided to walk to my hostel even though it was half an hour away. As I walked along the road, men kept stopping and offering rides for only 1000 kwacha, but I declined. After sitting in a bus all morning, it was nice to walk.

Back at my hostel I put away my stuff, ordered a drink, and chatted with the other locals. I am constantly amazed by backpackers’ stories. They’re so cool! Part of me would love to drop everything and backpack for 5 months or so. I don’t think I could do it for a whole year: it’s exhausting to constantly be on the move. Maybe even 5 months would be too much. I love hostels, but I also love having my own shower.

Interestingly, the majority of the travelers I met were women. Moreover, they told me that most of the other backpackers they had met were also women. Most of them were volunteering for at least a month during their journeys. Maybe that’s why Africa attracts women more than men. Not that I’m making any gender-based generalizations!

The next day I flew back to South Africa. Even though I knew I was only going to Jozi for a week before heading to Canada, it felt like I was going home.

I enjoyed Malawi, but – oh my word – I’ve fallen in love with South Africa. It’s going to be tough to leave here.

Lake Malawi

It was worth getting bilharzia.

The fishing village of Cape Maclear

The fishing village of Cape Maclear

Sunset at Cape Maclear

Sunset at Cape Maclear

Fishing boats in Salima

Fishing boats at Senga Bay


Locals at the lake

Locals at the lake


Not Malaria

Oh my word, yesterday I was sicker than I’ve been for years.

I knew something was wrong as soon as I got out of bed.  I stood up and immediately felt dizzy.  My head hurt and my eyes ached.  My stomach felt nauseous.  I staggered to the bathroom and had to hold onto the walls to steady myself.  As I stared at my spinning reflection the mirror, I tried to convince myself that I could make it to work.  It was my last Monday, after all.  All I would have to do is sit at my desk and write my final report.  It’s not like I have to walk around or perform any labour-intensive tasks.

As I washed my face, however, I knew I wasn’t going to make it.  I didn’t even have the energy to brush my teeth.  Instead I lurched back to my bedroom, hunched over like Quasimodo, and collapsed into bed.  I sent a text to my coworker that I was too sick to make it to the office and fell back asleep.

I slept straight to noon with weird, feverish dreams.  I dreamt that I was trying to scoop ice cream from its tub into a bowl, but I’d lost my eyesight and couldn’t do it.  I was surrounded by family and friends who didn’t believe I was ill and were laughing at my efforts.  If you know how much I love ice cream, you’ll understand that this was truly a nightmare indeed!  It was extra horrible yesterday because my body felt like it was burning up from the inside out.

At noon I tried to eat some oatmeal and barely got through half a bowl.  As I lay back in bed, still burning up and nauseous, I tried to reason out my game plan.  My biggest fear was that I’d caught malaria in Malawi.  At least I knew it wasn’t the bad/potentially fatal strain since that one usually sends its victims straight to unconsciousness.  Also they get muscle spasms that wrack their entire body.  I was still conscious and my body didn’t’ have the energy to turn over, let alone convulse!

Whether or not it was malaria, however, I knew I couldn’t miss another day of work and get everything finished that I needed to.  I decided that if I didn’t feel better the next day, I’d send an email to Rooftops Canada and ask them to push my flights back a week.

I spent the entire day sleeping, waking up periodically to drink water or rush to the bathroom.  I tried to be thankful that at least I was home and not going through this in a hostel.  My second night in Malawi I’d gotten food poisoning and spent a considerable amount of time in the bathroom, puking up stomach acid.  As a result, I’d gotten tons of mosquito bites on the soles of my feet – one of the reasons I was so worried about malaria.

I don’t have the internet at home so I sent a text to one of my friends and asked him to look up how long it takes malaria to show itself.  Usually 8-14 days.  That was good, right?  I was going to ask him the symptoms too, but decided not to.  I should’ve, though.  I wouldn’t have been as worried.

According to Wikipedia, malarial symptoms may include

  • headache
  • fever
  • shivering
  • joint pain
  • vomiting
  • hemolytic anemia
  • jaundice
  • homeglobin in the urin
  • retinal damage
  • convulsions

That’s not what I had.  I had a headache and fever, but those go along with most flu.  I was nauseous, but not vomiting.  Instead I had diarrhea.

(Is this too much detail?)

As I lay in bed, I tried to figure out how I could’ve caught something so bad.  The plane food?  Those weird berries I’d bought from a woman on the side of the road?  The stranger I’d kissed two nights ago?

One of the travelers I’d met in Malawi was super careful about everything she did.  She refused to eat anything that wasn’t cooked.  She brushed her teeth using bottled water.  She wouldn’t even go near Lake Malawi, which is crawling with bilharzia, a parasitic worm that buries into your skin and breeds in your body.  They spread through snail poo and you can see the snails in the water, as if waiting to infect you.  If you crawl on the rocks, you can actually watch the little worms wiggle into body.

It’s super gross.

But the lake was so beautiful and inviting: how could I not jump in?

My hostel sold the antidote for bilharzia.  It’s a super strong antibiotic that you take 6 weeks after your last swim in the lake.  Unfortunately it doesn’t kill the babies, so you have to wait for all the little worms to grow up before taking the pill.

Honestly, though, I think I enjoyed my visit to Lake Malawi more than the other girl.  I may have to deal with some wickedly terrible consequences, but I’ll survive.  Hopefully.

And, despite how awfuI felt yesterday, I still think all my risk-taking was worth it.  I had an amazing time swimming, kayaking, and snorkeling with tropical fish

At around 2am this morning my fever finally broke and I woke up again at 6am feeling much better.  Furthermore, my digs mate texted me that she’d caught my bug.  Although I felt sorry for her because I know how horrible this sickness is, part of me rejoiced since it was contagious and definitely not malaria.

I’m sharing this story for two reasons.  Mostly, I want sympathy for my suffering.  At the same time, though, I want to warn travelers that sometimes it is better to err on the side of caution.  You know yourself.  If being sick doesn’t bother you too much, don’t hold back.  If extreme pain and discomfort would ruin your trip, however, maybe it’s better to avoid the riskier foods and activities.  You can still travel Africa: I met a girl who also ate an apple from a man at the side of the road, yet she’d gone for 5 months without getting as severely sick or as often as I did in a week!

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