September 24, 2009
Still writing this early in the morning on the 25th. Yesterday, I woke up feeling absolutely awful. You know the kind of abdominal pain and stomach ache where you feel like one of the creatures from the alien movies is literally trying to claw its way out of your abdomen and all you want to do it lay down and cry? Yeah, that kind of awful.
But I made myself get up and finish packing and was trying to joke around with Rachel about how at least a sick mzungu wouldn’t get any proposals of marriage, but she was kind of looking at me like I’d sprouted an additional head or something equally frightening just because I was attempting to be up and about at all. I forced myself to eat again – bread and a banana and gross as this sounds was honestly hoping that if I had something more in my stomach I would be able to throw up and then feel better. Alas, no luck in that department.
Most of the guys ended up getting really sick last night too – the majority of them were vomiting the night away and poor Miles ended up so dehydrated and unable to keep anything down that even when he came down to say goodbye to the group he had to bring his bucket with him (and use it). Wete’s Dr. ended up having to come and prescribe him an anti-emetic – poor Miles!
Sam and Miles decided to stay in Wete. Michael and Kai had managed to avoid the sickness, Anton and Heather were feeling better and Zach and I despite looking and feeling rather green were determined to make it to Tumbe. We all piled into “dola dolas” – trucks with two benches facing each other in the bed of the truck and a canopy over the top. Zach and I were thoughtfully quarantined at the back of the dola dola given our sickliness. The quick glimpses of scenery that I caught were some of the most beautiful I have ever seen in my life, but mostly I just kept my eyes closed, my head down, clung to the seat of the dola dola with one hand and wrapped my other arm around my alien-infested stomach and focused on making it to Tumbe without vomiting on my fellow dola dola passengers.
Side note – its 4:20 am and I’m hearing the before sunrise call to prayer in Wete. Kind of cool.
After about an hour’s drive (Pemba is a much bigger island than we’d all initially envisioned), we arrived in Tumbe village. We realized we’d also made a mistake in assuming that Tumbe village would be a little village – it’s a BIG village, with at least as many as (probably more than 600 families). We all crowded into a small room to meet the village wazee (elders) and chiefs (one for east Tumbe, one for West tumbe) and the imam (a funny man with a only a few, crooked teeth and a moto bike) and be introduced to our host brothers and sisters who would take us to our homes.
I was one of the first people to be introduced to my host sibling, a guy a year or two younger than me by the name of the Hassan. We grabbed my bag, bottles of water and the packages of salt, sugar and flour we were to bring as gifts for the family and set off for Hassan’s house. He introduced me to his mama, his younger brother and his younger sister. He also inquired repeatedly if I had any interest in being his “husband-to-be” but I explained that I already had a husband-to-be in America (ok, so it was a total lie, but much easier than explaining why I don’t have one/want one) so any proposals were successfully averted. Prof. Sperling had tried to tell him that I was feeling sick to my stomach, but Hassan had thought that he was saying that I had a toothache. With use of my Swahili dictionary (and much pointing at my stomach and saying “mbaya, mbaya” (bad, bad)), I was able to explain that I didn’t feel well. Hassan, delighted to use his school learned English informed me that I should take a short resti and then we would go out.
He showed me into the room where I would be staying and then left to go chat with his mama. I changed out of my bui bui, because despite being freezing cold, I had managed to sweat through both the tank top and skirt I was wearing underneath it and the bui bui itself. I put on the warmest thing I had with me, my long green cotton dress and a long sleeved t-shirt over it. I added the black head scarf back on top of that and was almost warm. I rummaged around in my big bag o’ pills for the appropriate fever reducing and stomach calming items and as I was taking them, Hassan wandered back in and said “Oh good, you have taken your treatments – we will go now”, so I followed him.
We spent an hour walking around meeting all of his relatives – older sisters with homes, husbands and children of their own; aunts; uncles; cousins; grandmother; his “other mother” (his father’s second wife) and his many teachers. I wanted so badly to try to speak with them in Swahili, but I was feeling so sick and feverish and cold that I literally was having trouble answering the questions he asked me in English. He kept looking at me and getting really angry at me and demanding “Why do you not know this?” when I couldn’t remember the answer to a question in English (or sometimes, couldn’t even remember this question itself) and I felt so bad. Then even when I tried to speak in Kiswahili he got really angry with me because he wanted to practice English. I told him that he could speak English to me and I would speak Kiswahili in return, but he said no that he wished to practice English so I must speak English too. He also wouldn’t let me talk to any of his friends unless we all spoke in English.
Somewhere in the conversation, it had come out that I really liked animals, so Hassan decided that I should meet his cow. He told me that I would want to marry him when I met his cow! And asked me if I had a cow at home. I said no that I had a really good horse and a dog who was like my best friend. He told me that horses were no good (oxen are clearly better) and that I was stupid for having a dog as a friend because I never know when it is going to turn around and bite me at anytime. I wanted to say that my dog doesn’t drag me out walking for hours when I feel sick and constantly propose, but clearly I didn’t say that. We walked around looking for the damn cow for at least two hours before he gave up. At this point, walking was starting to feel rather difficult as I was still freezing cold, but sweating as I have never before sweat in my life in the muggy heat of midday on the island. As we walked he was introducing me to all of his friends from school and they were all saying I was “mrembo sana” or “mrembo kabisa” (very beautiful or very, very beautiful) and I’m hard pressed to come up with a time in my life when I have felt less beautiful, actually.
He eventually gave up looking for the cow and I tried to explain again that I really felt sick and that I needed to go and see one if one of my walimu (teachers) was still nearby or go see Alexi (what Swahili speaking people call Alex, the student leader). Hassan thought that we should go visit the historical site of some ruins outside of Tumbe and then we could go see Alexi, but at this point I was done wandering around in the sun and all but started stamping my feet and demanding that I needed to go to Alexi right that moment. I am so glad I was so insistent because I later found out that the round trip walk to the ruins is about 2 or 3 km total! Luckily, mere moments later, the moto bike riding imam came by and I greeted him respectfully and then asked if he could tell me where Alexi lived because I was feeling sick. He told Hassan and I were she was staying and then told Hassan to take me there.
We got there and I felt so bad for interrupting Alex’s time with her family because she looked like she was having a good time talking to them. She took me to her room there and had me lay down the bed and made me take of my head scarf and be under a fan because she said that even though I felt cold and had taken Aleve, I still had a fever. She also pretty much forced me to drink water, for which I am very grateful. Despite a barely functioning cell phone, she also managed to get a text message sent to Prof. Sperling and Lisa Clifton, telling them that I needed to go back to Wete. She went with Hassan to pick up my things and found Zach on the way who was in similarly bad shape (he’d gone on a rather lengthy excursion down to the beach).
I stayed on Alex’s bed, mostly not quite asleep, but not quite awake either in that weird, zoned out kind of detached state you go into when your body feels so bad you just kind of want to distance yourself from it. Little kids kept sneaking into the room and shaking my bed or poking at my feet or hair when they could sneak away from the adults, but I didn’t even open my eyes. I was too worn out to give a damn by that point in time.
After Prof. Sperling and Lisa arrived, we spent some unsuccessful time in the car searching for Heather in case she was sick too. Prof. Sperling though that if she were feeling sick she would have found a way to contact them or still be in her family’s home and Zach and I explained about our respective cow and beach adventures and that no we didn’t really know enough Swahili to explain that we were feeling sick and didn’t want to appear rude by not allowing ourselves to be dragged around outside in the hot sun.
Side note – Its now 11 am. I had to take a break earlier this morning to go back to sleep.
So we left without Heather – I really hope she is feeling ok because I can’t imagine having to stay feeling that miserable. We made the 50 minute drive back to Wete, Zach and Prof. Sperling in the front seat and Lisa and I in the back. I was pretty much clinging to the door and clutching my stomach exactly as I had on the dola dola not even twelve hours earlier.
We made it back to the hotel and Zach went back to the annex where we had all stayed to go stay with the other sick guys and I ended up at the main hotel because I’m the only sick girl right now, so Lisa had me go in Alex’s old room (that also has all the luggage everyone didn’t take) so I would be just across the hall from her in case something seriously started to go wrong. I took a shower and went to sleep around 6:30, though I kept waking up at night as whatever is making me sick worked hard at leaving my body through whatever means possible.