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Weekly Wrap Up #9 – My Little Malaria

April 30, 2010

No “General Observations and Witty Remarks” this week. Instead, I bring you a delightful little story I like to call “My Little Malaria”….

Once upon a time four days ago, in a land far, far away called Kenya, there lived a mzungu intern named Erin. Our story starts on a Sunday night in April, a Sunday night in which our little mzungu forgot to take her malaria medication, mefloquine. Unfazed, Erin woke up on Monday morning, realized her error, and hastily consumed the 250 mg dose in order to ward off any evil schistisomes that might be lurking. “Not to worry” she thought, “mefloquine works for a week and I only missed my dose by less than 12 hours. Plus, I can’t remember the last time I got bitten by a mosquito.” As the day progressed, Erin started to feel a bit funny – nothing too terrible, just a gurgly stomach and some cramping intestines. The walk home from work was unpleasant and she arrived in a bit of a cold sweat, but besides a headache and dysentery-like problems, there didn’t seem to be anything wrong. Tuesday started off with a lovely night of sleeping in… as he stomach still didn’t feel well, she decided to take the day off. Tuesday was a bit rough, illness wise, because now she had a bit of a low grade fever to accompany the stomach issues, but thankfully the host family was off of school so the company was great. Armed with her $3 thermometer from Wal-Mart, prescription anti-diarrheal drugs and over-the-counter pain pills, Erin was ready to take on any Kenyan germs that dared cross her immune system. After a good sleep on Wednesday, Erin felt some better, but was irked to still have a cramping stomach and low appetite, even though the fever had gone down a lot and the headache was better. Despite the medicines and antibiotics specifically supposed to cure these things, Erin still wasn’t feeling top-notch on Friday, so she told one of her leaders that she’d go into the doctor. Convinced that she probably had something intestinal – bacterial or amoebic, Erin waited patiently to see the doctor, who just so happens to be right across from her office. After a quick chat about symptoms and their timeline, Mr. Doctor did a very thorough check-up… by feeling her forehead and telling her that she had a fever. She was then referred to the lab, where they pricked her finger and drew blood for a malaria test that costs 50 shillings (about 75 cents). Less than 20 minutes later the news was in.. “You have malaria!” Congrats, little mzungu, you thought you could escape us, but nope! We out witted you!

So, at the end of a very long week of feeling not-so-great, I’ve discovered that I have malaria. The stories that I had heard of malaria were violent, fever and chills, body-on-the-floor, can’t move feel awful – this, was not my case. Given the timeline of my illness and the way in which it occurred, I’ve determined that those dear little anopheles mosquitoes must have given me the less common form of malaria parasites, known scientifically as Plasmodium vivax. This type accounts for around 30% of the cases in Kenya, and is less sever but can be longer lasting than it’s cousin, the more prevalent and initially more violent P. falciparum. Because the P. vivax parasites stay in the liver and release over a much longer period of time, a person like me with this type of malaria can have it in their system for up to 4 weeks before experiencing the symptoms. Evidently, those 12 hours without my mefloquine drug allowed the parasites which were already in my body to begin manifesting themselves and reeking havoc on my blood cells. And then, once I had taken the medicine, it was flushed out of my system before being fully absorbed because of the diarrhea complication from the malaria. All this to say, despite my precautions (bednets, bug spray, antimalarial meds) I still managed to get it and I’m thoroughly impressed that it tricked me into thinking it was something else so well.

Anopheles mosquitoes & P. Vivax win Round 1. Nuts.

In case you’re interested, you can see what P. vivax malaria looks like (microscopic blow-up of blood smears) here: http://www.dpd.cdc.gov/dpdx/html/PDF_Files/Pvivax_benchaidV2.pdf

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It’s always the little things in life…

April 27, 2010

Yesterday was all about food cravings…. and then I got a stomach bug (bacterial, viral, parasite – who knows) so today, I’m thinking about all the weird little things about America that you don’t realize you’ll miss when living overseas. This list, like yesterday’s, is definitely NOT exhaustive. So without further ado (mainly because I want to get this typed before my head feels like it’s going to fall off again), here’s my Little List of Little Things:

  • –         Sidewalks
  • –         Fluffy pillows
  • –         American germs – so you  know what you’ve got!
  • –         Spring flowers – especially tulips
  • –         Washing machines
  • –         Constant electricity
  • –         Being paid for work
  • –         Pavement
  • –         An oven
  • –         Sinks with running water for brushing teeth
  • –         Bubble baths
  • –         Clean feet
  • –         Pedestrian right-of-way
  • –         American-style church
  • –         Carpet and hardwood floors
  • –         AC and fans
  • –         Hangers and closets
  • –         Verizon unlimited texting
  • –         Paying by credit card
  • –         Public restrooms
  • –         Clocks
  • –         Mirrors
  • –         Bedside lamps for late night reading

The Tasty Desired Delights of Home

April 26, 2010

 Yes, it’s true, when we Americans/Westerners get together in a foreign country, all we talk about is food. I’m not sure entirely why this is, but I do know that it’s been repeated so often that I can tell what each of the other wazungu I interact with crave: for Nick – it’s a 50 piece bucket of chicken nuggets from McDonalds, for Kirsten – a veggie sub from Subway. Within the first week, I knew this was our downfall as a group – even Damaris pointed it out to us poor white folk. Really, why talk about issues of poverty or the horrible things you see everyday when you can discuss a tasty burger with really crispy french fries from your favorite restaurant.

So with less than 3 weeks left, this post is intended to discuss the finer points of American cuisine in an effort to keep me from thinking about it. In reality, this post will probably only make your mouth water… and hopefully clue my family in to the kinds of food I want to eat when I get back! So, in no particular order other than that which springs to my mind first, I give you the Tasty Desired Delights List: 

  • Salad – in particular, a giant salad with all sorts of fresh veggies out of my sister’s garden, topped with cheddar cheese and my sister’s homemade lemon-garlic salad dressing
  • Bread – fresh baked deliciousness preferably in the form of toasty garlic french bread; can also be topped with cheese
  • Lasagna – mmmmm yummy pasta and sauce and spinach and cheese goodness. Definitely topped with extra cheese
  • Popcorn – the kind you make in the microwave, smothered in parmesan cheese and fresh ground black pepper – an Anne Wallace specialty! (Seriously, cheese is a major component of almost all of my cravings)
  • BACON – any kind, anywhere, right now. 🙂
  • Biscuits – soft fluffy warm Southern delights straight from the oven smothered in honey butter
  • Mexican food – in particular, tortilla chips, salsa, guacamole and cheese – oooo and fajitas. In Nairobi we saw a place with the Taco Bell logo, but it was called “Taco Club” … and it looked kinda sketchy.
  • Lemonade – ICE COLD. Heck, any drink ice cold would be pretty good right now!!
  • Pizza – one that actually has real sauce and real cheese as opposed to the Kenya version. In particular, a family size Papa Murphey’s pepperoni or veggie works. Or Kathy’s pizza – ahhh homemade goodness!
  • Cake – and one that isn’t dry like the sands of the sahara desert. I’ve already specifically requested a caramel cake from my sister, but really, any good cake would do
  • Veggies – the less cooked, the better.
  • Butter – real, cold butter from a cow – not blueband margarine from some processed plant product!
  • Cereal – preferably with 1% milk straight out of the refrigerator and a large glass of juice. Mom, I will never again complain about having to eat cereal for breakfast.
  • Chicken – the kind you can buy at the supermarket – boneless, skinless, white meat chicken breasts that have probably been refrigerated for weeks and don’t have other attached body parts like brains or kidneys. This can be combined with pretty much anything listed above (minus the cake and cereal).
  • Wine – preferably a red in a very large goblet at room temperature. In fact, right after I get off the plane would be a good time for this!

Beware -This is not an exhaustive list and moderate substitutions are allowed

     Things I don’t want to see on my plate for the first two weeks (at least):

  • Rice – unless it’s accompanied by delicious Masman curry from Taste of Thai
  • Cabbage – in any form, even Cabbage Sausage Stuff (although that is tasty)
  • Brown Bread
  • Peanut butter and jelly
  • Water that has stuff floating in it and is room temperature on a good day

To Jessica (who’s wedding I am in less than 2 weeks after I get back from Kenya)– I’m already sorry about the alterations my bridesmaid’s dress will need after I eat all of this stuff. On the plus side, you’ll look fantastic next to me!! 🙂

To all those reading this post from a nation where you can get these items, for me, enjoy a large salad for lunch today and think about all those starving wazungu in Kenya!

Weekly Wrap Up #8

April 24, 2010

  After being here for 8 weeks (and with only having 3 weeks left), life in Kakamega has settled into a mostly normal routine. There are only a few things left that seem to make it on the list. Nevertheless, here are this weeks “General Observations and Witty Remarks (what’s left of them anyway)…”

  1. Tangerines here are perfectly round (smaller than oranges) and green… and super tart!!!
  2. I got to teach the kids how to throw a Frisbee correctly on Tuesday – I knew that Frisbee golf class would come in handy sometime!
  3. There are only 24 letters in the Swahili alphabet (no Q or X)
  4. I’ve gotten so used to Kenyan weather that I can SMELL when it’s raining – weird
  5. In Kenya, carpet is not a warm, fluffy floor covering. Carpet = linoleum
  6. Shoe shopping in Kenya – my version of supporting an underdeveloped economy!

Just for fun – you can order your own version of African diseases on line! Comes in two sizes: http://www.giantmicrobes.com/us/orderform.php

Quote of the Week:

To any men who decide to mess with me, Benlela says “I’ll beat them!!” 🙂

A Real ‘Tea Party’

April 22, 2010

This just makes me giggle. To all of my DC friends – I encourage you to go – Kenyan tea is tasty!!! Thanks to RDM for providing the link.

Masai Mara Madness – The Story!

April 21, 2010

This past weekend I went on an amazing safari trip to Masai (or Maasai depending on how you want to spell it) Mara Game Reserve. The Mara as it is more commonly referred to was absolutely amazing and awe inspiring, as well as a much needed relaxing break from Kakamega.

 The journey began on Thursday night. After rushing home for the third time that day, I packed up my stuff and watched a couple of cartoons with the kids before heading into town for some last minutes supplies at Yako and then getting to the bus station before it got too dark. Despite the fact that our bus didn’t leave until 8 pm, I was in the bus station before 7 pm, as the sun sets completely about this time and it’s highly dangerous for little, white, female me to be walking around on the streets after dark (not to mention the fact that there aren’t many street lights.. So it really is DARK).

 Remember in past posts when I mentioned the “bumpiest bus rides of my life”? Well this trip topped them ALL! Kenyan coach bus on potholed (and partially dirt) roads in the very back seat meant that about every 2 minutes we were jettisoned into the air, even with seatbelts strapped on.  After about an hour of this, Nick had the brilliant idea to see if some of the empty seats farther up the bus were less bumpy. Turns out they were! And so with the help of some lovely Benedryl, I managed to sleep for at least 4 hours despite the cold temperatures and occasional back-breaking bumps. We got into Nairobi around 4:30 am (so about 9ish hour bus ride) and hung out in the bus station until our driver came around 6:30 to pick us up and take us for breakfast. Full of food and excited about the trip ahead, we me with the other passengers on our safari – a guy and girl (both missionaries) that had lived in Nairobi for about a month and a South Korean guy who “works only enough to travel” and was bumping around the African continent until the World Cup games start in South Africa in June. Brandon, Lusia, and DongSung (respectively) plus Nick, I and our driver Nathanial made up the posse that travelled down to the Mara. It’s amazing how close you get to people when you spend 3 days straight in a 9 passenger van with them taking photos of animals. You get to meet some REALLY interesting people when you travel.

 The ride down was pretty uneventful (mostly because I slept the entire way!) Once we got off the main road and headed toward the Mara however, the drive got pretty crazy – there were several times when the ruts in the roads were so bad that the van almost tipped over. Thankfully, Nathanial was a good driver and besides the minor heart attack here and there, we made it through the weekend without flipping over!  We arrived at camp after about 5 hours of van ride from Nairobi to find a lovely little tree-filled campsite with semi-permanent tents complete with built-in bathrooms. Running water and electricity amazingness!!! First real-ish shower like thing in 2 months – so nice!

 We went on three game drives total – one the first day in the afternoon, a full day game drive on the second day (all the way to Tanzania!!) to see the hippos, crocs, and monkeys. Then on Sunday we got up at the buttcrack of dawn to have a sunrise game drive. All in all – amazing animal-ness. It was literally like a Disney dream come true!  There were so many references to animal crackers – seeing the animals in the wild really does make you want some tasty bits to nibble on!! I really didn’t think I would see half of the animals that I did – heck – I didn’t even know some of them (like ostriches) lived in Kenya!  To really get the full view of what my safari was like – check out the 284 pictures online at http://picasaweb.google.com/ewendt2/MaasaiMaraMadnessTheSafariTrip . The only way I can think to quickly describe it is “heavenly”.

 After the game drive on Saturday we went to the Masai Village which was right next to our camp site.  It was so neat to see a group of the Masai men perform a traditional song and dance for us— actually trying to dance with them was highly embarrassing, albeit hilarious! The Masai live in a circular village set up – “gate” of sticks stuck into the ground, followed by a circular arrangement of mud huts (sans windows), then an area for the cows, and finally a group meeting area right in the center of the village. We even got to go inside the Masai houses and meet their children… and their baby cows, which live in the houses with them. The Masai are traditionally herdsmen and of any tribe in Kenya, the Masai stick to their traditions – even making their own clothes out of the wool from their sheep and dyes from the plants on the hillsides of the Mara. It was an eye opening experience to interact with people who we in the west would consider highly primitive and backwards – but who are kind and fun in person! One of the downsides to visiting a village of herdsmen who keep their animals inside the compound at night is that there’s a lot of … shit… everywhere. And, of course, silly me was wearing flip-flops! Needless to say, I managed to get cow poop and dirt up to my ankles, and the bought a pair of Masai tire shoes (yes, shoes made out of tires) so I have something else to wear! I scrubbed my feet twice that night… then hand sanitized them, just to be sure. So far – no negative side effects!!

Nairobi was a cool stopover – I actually kind of like the big city! They are much more used to wazungu there than in KK. The ride back was utterly miserable and I didn’t sleep hardly at all – enough said. Monday was recuperation day – I left work early and slept most of the day! All in all – an amazing experience and well worth the money and lack of sleep!

Masai Mara Madness! Safari Pictures

April 20, 2010

The pictures from my recent safari trip to Masai Mara in Southern Kenya are up and can be accessed at the link below. Warning – the are 284 of them so far, so be sure to devote at least an hour to my amazing, camera-happy photography!! 🙂 Enjoy! Story to accompany the pictures should be posted tomorrow!

Maasai Mara Madness – The Safari Trip!