Kisangani, June 17, 2003 — Malaria!

I hate Mosquitoes! 

They told me when I got here that no matter how many prophylactics I take I will still get malaria.  Everybody gets it and more than once.”  They said there are four strains of malaria in the Congo, each nastier than the other.  I was told that “the only thing the prophylactics would accomplish is hide the malaria from the test” when I get it.

Well, I did test negative but the Moroccan Army doctor, who recognizes malaria when he sees it, told me “the anti-malaria pills also decapitated the full effects.”  Thank God.

Malaria.  You are so cold your fingers become numb and you shiver only to sweat out more water than you thought your body contained a few minutes later.  I was in the North Pole mode when I arrived at the Moroccan Army level II field hospital and asked the orderlies to put my bed in the Hammam.  That was shortly before I lost consciousness.

Your entrails decide to empty everything in liquid form from both ends at the same time without stop.  Every joint in your body hurts, including the joints you don’t have.  I call these phantom joints.  My favorite phantom joint is halfway up the thigh.  Even the testicles hurt. Your head throbs with pain.  There are visions of people coming and going when you think you have your eyes open but you cannot be sure.  You lose complete sense of time.

For a couple of days your eyes feel like they are popping out of your head.  It is hard to walk straight and keep your balance.  I, being a man, which means being a big baby when I am ill, wanted Sonja to be there to hold my hand.  I would have even settled for my mother.  Come to think of it, those are probably the only two women I would have accepted.  Imagine that, my Mom?

I had been suffering the symptoms for eight days but had tested negative.  If I had seen this Moroccan doctor at first, I may have been able to avoid some of the discomfort over the previous week.  The Doctor, a tall, graying, officer with a handsome youthful face and a very aristocratic air about him, runs what they call a level II hospital.  To give you an idea, a level I hospital is a tent on the battlefield.  This hospital has a couple of rooms in prefabricated trailer like boxes, two large plastic-canvas tents with beds and a few shipping containers added on.  It is equipped with AC and running hot water when there is electricity and is clean.

The orderlies and nurses, all male soldiers, are very nice and the food is good, believe it or not.  I even had grapes!  They must have been flown in from South Africa by the Monuc for the contingents.

One reason the orderlies and nurses are nice to me is I saved four of them from punishment over the weekend.  They flagged me down in town and asked me to drive them back to base but not stop at the Moroccan checkpoint.  They were slightly AWOL.  So, I drove them to the hospital, past the Moroccan guards, and left them with the Uruguayan contingent, which allowed them to sneak back into their side of the camp unnoticed.  I told them I expected a mechoui and a tangine for the service.  Two days later, they were caring for me like the royal baby.

Nevertheless, like the child-soldiers who brutally hack their victims to pieces with machetes in free-license blood-orgies, the mosquitoes tormented me right into my hospital bed.

After the slight taste of the disease, which kills the most in the world, I now believe the statistics put forward by the British NGO, Merlin: five hundred thousand people die in the Congo every year from Malaria. 

I get pumped up with 12 pints of a glucose and quinine cocktail.  The Congolese sit in their village with nothing, not even aspirin.  This is one thing the Congolese cannot be blamed for.  I suppose it can be likened to the plague epidemics in Europe in the Middle Ages, except the Congolese are generally clean, which the Europeans were definitely not.  This deserves clarification because the Congolese know little about personal hygiene, which leads to many other complications but they do keep their immediate environment swept and litter free.

The Congolese are masters at fatalism.  Everything is God’s doing, from babies to premature death. An Okapi journalist in Kindu told me “it is not a problem so many die from Malaria in the Congo, because we have more than enough children to make up for them.”  Quite right, if you are into Malthusian logic and, if you are, then the Congo is the best laboratory you could hope for to prove your theories.  Many years ago, an aging French mercenary with an unhealthy agenda tried to convince me it is wrong to vaccinate the Africans.  You allow them to live and they over populate, then even more die off than before.  You just upset the balance and make things worse.”

At the very least, one should expect this bout with Malaria to bring me closer to the Congolese.  I now share something with them.  I have a little bit of the Congo flowing in my veins and perhaps for the rest of my life, but, unlike many whites, I do not have a bit of the Congo lining my pockets or filling my bank account.  Maybe, as Plekanov wrote, I just don’t know my arithmetic.

 

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