Those more poetic than I have often suggested, in hyperbolic fashion, that Africa gets under your skin and into your blood.
What they are suggesting – of course – is that once infected with affection for this place, it’s hard to distance yourself – literally or metaphorically.
That’s true. But I think – more correctly – it’s a case of Africa gaining entry to your heart than your blood.
Though – needless to say – she has plenty of opportunity to do that too: get into your blood. She was coursing through my own veins all weekend.
On Saturday after ten days of no appetite (which I put down to sudden and impossibly searing temperatures during the day making it too hot to eat), the odd bout of crippling nausea (which I put down to the fact Africa doesn’t just get under your skin, into your blood and up to your heart, she frequently takes up residence in your bowel where she squats for weeks whilst you make myriad chemical attempts to evict her) and tiredness (attributed to flagging appetite, rising heat and the assumption Africa was in gut) I had had enough and decided there must be some other cause. So I took myself off to the local clinic, with Hat in tow (having sworn on my life that if anybody was going to be subjected to a blood test, it would not be her).
The clinic is full of ranks of patient Africans sitting quietly, reverently almost, on benches lined up in tight rows. Our arrival is monitored by hundreds of pairs of interested eyes, a welcome, if brief, change of tempo to the monotony of waiting. The doctor advises me – because I can clearly afford it unlike the dozens silently observing me- to opt for Fast Track Treatment. This means I will be shunted to the head of the queue, she says. I am. And I pay the requisite amount for the privelige, the equivalent of a dollar.
The lab technician pricks my finger and smears blood onto a slide. Hat winces and looks away. Then he instructs me to wait for the results. I do, whilst I read to Hat to distract her from the howls of distressed babies being subjected to same finger prick as I have been.
Twenty minutes later and I am ushered by a white coated lab assistant into a doctor’s office. The doctor reads my test results, ”Malaria”, he announces.
Malaria? I say (with some degree of outrage given my vigilence to avoid being bitten: I go to bed slippery as an eel with all the repellent I splash on; I burn mosquito coils, our windows are screened, we sleep under nets: how can I have malaria?).
Yes. Malaria, he says pragmatically. This region is endemic: a local person in a normal house (and yours is not normal, he reminds me, you are priveliaged, yours has netting on the windows) can expect up to 300 infected bites a years. Almost one every night.
Why didn’t malaria present as it does characteristically I want to know: fevers and chills and aches and pains.
You’ve had it before?
Your partial immunity alters the symptoms and beside malaria in endemic regions can change it’s guise. It’s very clever.
He tells me what to take.
I do. A dose a day for three days. Whilst flopping about pathetically on my bed alternating between hot crossness that I don’t have the energy to do anything, and crazy dreams in which I am tearing about doing too much. So that I wake exhausted.
Much as I love this place, I’d rather Africa wasn’t in my blood, thanks very much.