Getting Sick in Africa.

Author:Baker, Bob
Position:Foreign Service Life

April 2016

Malaria was like having a pain X-ray of all your bones, but after a fever bout, shaking chills diverted attention from your aching bones. I had taken all the anti-malaria pills but had evidently bumped into a new strain upcountry in Mali, West Africa. Catching bugs was also easy in Liberia, and Congo.

All night, I intermittently came to, out of my fever and watched the big overhead fan lazily swirl around and around. Then chills came so hard, I feebly pulled the blanket over me again but could not stop shaking and hurting. Night dragged on and on in our big barn of a house in Bamako, Mali, 1968.

At last, streams of brilliant white broke through thin openings in the scarlet bedroom curtains. Then the chills came back, so I pulled the blankets over me again. Then came the sweats, off with blankets, but no relief from the bone aches. The attack lasted a couple days but lots of chloroquine finally stopped the "blossoming" of the malaria bugs in my blood. The symptoms declined, then finally went away.

A month or so later, the same attacks began but again went away after a couple days with chloroquine treatment. The Peace Corps Director in my previous post, Kampala, Uganda, had to be evacuated home with brain malaria and almost died. Malaria never quite dies out totally in your body, but luckily, I've not had another outbreak.

Instead, years later, I got another bug in Africa. I dutifully poured a glass of water from the shiny clean, bronze colored plastic jug on the washbasin at the Monrovia Hilton in Liberia, West Africa. I was there on an inspection trip in 1981 when I was Policy Officer for Africa in the U.S. Information Agency.

A shiny little brass plaque screwed into the wall over the sink said Do Not Drink Water from The Faucet, Drink Water Only from the Jug Provided. Many African politicians had grabbed money from the municipal sinking funds that were meant to pay for new pipes after the old ones became rusty or began to leak. No new pipes for a half century meant sewage pipes leaked into water pipes: "Do Not Drink Water From the Faucet!".

I obeyed and did not drink the water from the faucet. I did, however, continue to breathe the air in my room, careless of me. A thick yellow shag carpet, two luxurious inches deep, covered my bedroom floor. Monrovia often has 95% humidity with 90F weather for months on end. My room stank of mildew as did the hallways laden with the same mildew world carpet. After my week's work in Monrovia, I...

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