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Struck down.

Okay, this is what all those prior hints about being part of something that I had constantly been eluding to. Now that I think back, there were so many of them I might have to read through all those prior entries to see that I don’t miss any. What is all the hub bub about? I got sick. Oh boo hoo you say, Steve got a cold. What a big whiney boy he is. Well you know what. That may be true, but I know when I am just whining for attention and when things are not good. This is a story of not good. I am sure my Mom just loves reading about these part where her long lost son gets Malaria or Dengue or worms start popping out of his head. Every mother’s biggest wish I bet. Well, Mom, you might not want to read about this one. Maybe just go back and read about my adventures in, I don’t know, Swaziland maybe, where I stayed in a million dollar mansion with a pool and I played with their dogs for two days. Okay, back to my misery. I am also sure as much as my Mom probably doesn’t like to know about this stuff that there are people out there who are happier than hell that my free wheeling life of adventures and not working has come crashing into a wall of misery. Since I am pandering to everybody now, well, just imagine this is all for you.

To get a full grasp of my downfall, you have to start in the beginning, and I do mean the beginning, of Ethiopia I mean. First factor, the food. I have already gone into detail about my initial, make that pre-love of Ethiopian food starting back when I was living in the Bay area. Crossing into Ethiopia and getting the real thing was a dream come true. Four weeks in a row eating Injeera and meat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner quickly changed that into a nightmare. After four weeks, even when I was healthy, it was a forced feed for nutrition and definitely not for want.

Next, was Omorate. Now, we had a great time there with all the tribes and villages, the Oasis, and the river. Well, if you factor in the heat, the no clean water (the abundance of dirty river water), the poor cooking conditions, and our little foray deep into the bush with the water wasters, we both ended up a little rough for wear after we left Omorate. When I got sick, Juan diagnosed it right off that he thought I had gotten dehydrated as he went through the same thing in Burma, Malaysia and got laid up for two weeks recovering. In that regards, I do believe it was a factor as we weren’t drinking much water as bottled water cost more than soda and there was no way that I was drinking that many bottles when we were there.

Alrighty, we get to Turmi and get settled into our tourist villa. Okay, the normal person would probably see the place as a shit hole and wouldn’t even consider staying there, but after a month in some pretty dingy places, comparatively it was really nice. As soon as we arrived I took a shower and then jumped into bed. I contributed it to five days of sleeping like crap as why I was so tired. After the nap I was feeling okay, so we headed down to the river to do laundry (no naked women). We headed straight for the pump and ended up pumping water for a couple hours straight as we were fooling around with the locals as well as doing our laundry. On the way home I started feeling a bit wiped out, but again I contributed it to a busy prior five days and then the couple hour work out. It was evening time and I definitely wasn’t hungry for injeera, so I passed on dinner and we just had a lazy evening. I ended up calling it an early night and passing out in bed.

The next day I woke up feeling like shit. Headache, my bones ached, and my body was sore and achy. I remembered the work out from the day before, but it just felt a little too much for just being out of shape. I decided a couple of Paracetamol tablets would fix me up so I went out to find some. The only place to buy drugs were at the local clinic, so I headed over to pick some up. It was a unique experience waiting in line with a bunch of people in animal skins. Anyway, I had to see a doctor first so I told him what I thought it was. He said that he would prescribe the Paracetamol but if I didn’t feel better the next day he wanted to start me on a malaria remedy. The lab tech wasn’t there so they were unable to do testing (add that to the down fall.) I agreed and took my pills and headed back. I ended up spending the rest of the day in bed feeling a bit shitty but not incredibly bad. The pills knocked out the headache, but I felt exhausted and had no energy to get up and about.

That night was terrible. I couldn’t sleep and I started getting visions every time I shut my eyes. I remember distinctly what it was. First, I saw the face of a little African boy. Then it changed into an impression like his face was stamped into a sheet of thin aluminum just like they did when they encased that guy in Star Wars. Then it turned into a framed piece almost square. Next, from the sides, identical panels opened up just like the shudders on a window with the same exact frame of the kids face. That repeated until it covered my entire peripheral vision. Next, the same frames popped up on the top and bottom of the original and then the sides of those opened up. It basically started just filling up my entire vision. Once my entire vision was covered, it seemed to back up so there was more room for other panels and all of them got smaller and smaller and more and more popped up. This went on until my brain overloaded and my eyes would pop open from the data overload. It was like that every time I shut my eyes. I had to sleep with the light on and when they shut off the generator, I had to leave my flash light on so I could stare at the wall. It also got impossible to lay down for too long as it was difficult to breath and I would get to point where I would have to kick off the sheets and sit up or get up and pace until my breathing recovered. About this time the fevers started hitting. Then I knew something was wrong. I got my wash rag out and just kept trying to keep the fever down by patting my forehead, neck, and chest with the cool towel. Finally, morning came and I made my way down to the clinic. When the doctor saw me, he knew things hadn’t got better. I gave him a quick run down of the problems and he automatically got me a prescription for Malaria. One thing that I do remember is that while he was writing the prescription he asked me if I was having back pains. I thought that was odd, but I told him that my whole body ached, and he didn’t follow up with that answer. Another piece to the puzzle.

The prescription he gave me was for a new Malarial prescription that was just introduced in Ethiopia. The pill pack consisted of 24 pills of Artemether and Lumefantrine. He also prescribed an old remedy, 12 pills of Chloroquine. This was a three day mix, so it ended up being 36 pills for the Malaria and I was taking two 200mgs of Paracetamal every 2 hours for the pain. I was also substituting Cold tabs at night time as they were 500mg of Paracetamol as well as sleep enhancing drugs as the doctor was only prescribing ten Paracetamols at a time. That added up to about 52 pills in three days I was popping for this illness, and it was all on an empty stomach as I wasn’t eating anything.

That day I ended up laying out on the porch as there was no air circulation in the rooms and the beds had foam mattresses which just magnified the heat wherever your skin touched. Really great when you have a fever as sometimes you wake up feeling like you are about ready to burst into flames. The people were very understanding as I was looking like hell because they saw me lying on the ground and they brought me a thatch mat and a pillow to lie on. Juan was looking to leave but he was a bit worried about me. I told him not to worry as it was just Malaria and I have had it two times before and I knew exactly step by step what was going to happen. I was going to get really sick that night and the following day, but after that I would start getting better and in around three days I would be good to travel. He still suggested I get to Arba Minch the first main town with a hospital, but I explained that the ride would kill me as I was about to get really sick. He tried a couple of times to get me to go, but I kept telling it was alright, so he ended up getting a ride and heading to Jinka since he had not done that route yet.

That night, just like I thought I got really sick with my stomach acting up and the headaches clamping down. I kept expecting to puke, which was the normal sign that I had peaked out and would start getting better, but I just couldn’t throw up. I just felt constantly sick. The Manager was worried about me and kept checking up on me. After the bar was closed up he noticed I was still up and walking around my room. He came in and tried to help, but when I am sick like that the only thing I could do is focus on just breathing and walking. He was honestly trying to be nice even though I kept telling him that I was alright. Finally, he just said that he had to help as it was the Ethiopian culture. I was feeling like shit and my temper got to me because I told him in a king of angry way that “I am not Ethiopian.” He left, but with his kind nature, he wasn’t mad. I ended up staying up that whole night going outside and lying down, soaking myself from the hand washing tank, pacing in my room, and trying to shut my eyes. The same visions kept coming back and it got so frustrating as I was exhausted. I looked so forward to the morning with the sunlight and my next chance to take more of the drugs.

The next morning I happily took the Malaria drugs. The first set of pills went down no problem. The Chloroquine on the other hand were not coated so they instantly put that bitter medicine taste in your mouth. That set it off and I puked and puked. There was nothing in my stomach so I was just wretching air and the two pills. I was kind of happy as that was the sign I was looking for. It was a bit late, but psychologically I was on my way to recovery. I still spent the rest of the day lying out on the porch with people starting to gather to look at me as I was in a daze, dirty, sprawled out, and groaning. I guess this is a good enough place to add the part about the flies. Everybody has seen those pictures of the starving and sick babies or malnourished people lying on the ground covered in flies, and you wonder how can they stand it with flies eating out of their eyes, mouth and nose. Well, you know why they allow that to happen, because they are so sick that that fly discomfort ranks about number 57. At first I would brush them away as they are disgusting. But you get to a point that you are so sick and tired that you can’t. You don’t even notice it anymore as you have so many other problems that feel so much worse. In fact, I started to enjoy it when a fly would land on my back or my stomach and then start walking around. It was a bit ticklish, but it felt good, a bit of pleasure. It’s like someone running a feather up and down your skin, it is tingly but it feels good. Now I understand.

That evening, Honey, one of the prostitutes working at the hotel started coming in and looking after me. I can honestly say that she really helped save me. In fact she was a key to my recovery, and no not in the way that you are thinking. She would come in and fill my water bottles, wipe me down with the damp towel, pick up all my crap that was scattered around the room, and then even sweep the floor. She was my substitute mom. That night the stomach sickness came again and I had another altercation with the manager and Honey. They were trying to look after me, but I was getting really sick and I had to focus to stay straight. The only way I could keep in control was by staring at the wall and breathing. From the outside it probably didn’t look good as I am laboring to breath and my eyes are rolling from staring at the wall. I finally did like the night before and got kind of angry and told them they had to leave me alone and that I had to be alone. I feel really shitty looking back at it, but I did make amends when I left. Shortly after that I started dry heaving again. That in itself almost put me in shock as I have never puked twice before when I was sick. That was the first time what I really got scared. This wasn’t normal puking as I was dry heaving so much that my breathing set it off and it tapered off to the point I was throwing up but it was like a burp.

The sun finally rose and I thought that I had to start getting better or something else was wrong. I was looking pretty shitty as all the people starting getting really worried and not sure what to do with me. They started to try to arrange transport for me, but there was no way that I could make it stuck in the back of a truck for 14 hours while I am puking and shitting out liquids that I have no clue where they were coming from as it was the fourth day that I had not eaten anything and was barely getting any water down. Secretly, I was trying to figure out how in the hell I was getting out of there and to a hospital as I needed to be air lifted out as even a Land Cruiser would take ten hours bouncing all over the place. There was no air strip around so I figured it had to be a helicopter. I just wasn’t sure if Ethiopia has helicopters. I had insurance, so I didn’t give a shit. A few NGO and Road people came by for lunch at the hotel and they were notified of my condition. When they saw me and checked my condition, they all started pointing to the fact that I was dehydrated and suffering from malnutrition. One guy pointed out that my toes were just skin and bones and the skin was turning white like when your feet get wet while your wearing shoes. My fingers were also getting numb and the skin was losing the elasticity. My stomach had also become distended as Honey was making fun of me for having such a beer belly. After a month of hard travels, I had lost all my gut and was in pretty hard shape, especially after the meat and injeera diet. Those pictures of the malnourished kids walking around with their fat bellies, now I know about that too. It is gases that form from the acid building up in your stomach. Later, when I started eating, my stomach would decrease as I would get huge burps that would hit after I ate. After I started eating again, I got to the point where my ribs were sticking out and I had stretch marks around my stomach. Some of the people were very generous. Some of the managers of the company that is building the bridge over the Omo river, were so concerned that they left me frozen bottles of water, sodas, cookies and chips, and bread. They all came to the same conclusion, I had to eat. What they didn’t understand was that I could not eat injeera and meat. There was just no way. I was resigned to the fact that if left with the choice of eating injeera and meat or dying, I would be fine with dying as eating that stuff would be more torture and would make me even more sick. I had the cookies, but sweets and sugars were the only thing I was trying to eat and I couldn’t do it as it was just straight sugar and nasty. I needed a banana or juice, but in South Omo, there was none except on Market days where a truck might come with a stash of bananas from Jinka and a tribal person might bring in a sack of Mangoes from the trees along the river. I was going down.

That night I hit bottom. I didn’t even have a doubt about it, the next day they had to take me to the clinic and they had to put me on an IV and get some fluids in me. Then a helicopter had to be called as waiting for a Land Cruiser to be sent down from Arba Minch would take ten hours and then another ten hours to get back. I wouldn’t make it that long. I ended up in my room alternating between puking up yellow slime, lying in my bed blinking and my head shaking as I couldn’t control my sight. The manager found me the next morning hunched up in the middle of the parking lot with a blanket over my head, staring at the ground, and mumbling. I remember that I had to see the stars and I went out to look at them, but I couldn’t keep looking up and I ended up looking down as it was easier and I just got stuck. I don’t even know how long I was there. He was up around 5am every morning to head down to the pumps to get water for the complex so he got Honey and they took me back to the room. I was lying down on the side of the bed so that my skin wouldn’t touch the foam mattress, my hands were sticking out as they were shaking and I couldn’t make them stop. My head was bouncing around as it was trying to follow my eyes which were not able to focus on the wall. It was the sixth day without food and Honey was determined that I was going to eat. The manager came back and said the same thing I had to eat. I told them that there was no way they could make me eat injeera and meat. I remember apologizing and apologizing that it was my fault because I was a Farenji and that the food was fine. He went and talked to the cook staff and they suggested eggs. I figured I would give scrambled eggs a try, but I told him just eggs nothing else as the usual Ethiopian thing was to stuff it full with different things. I actually started looking forward to it, until I saw it. He brought me the plate of eggs, but they had poured a bunch of oily meat juice all over it. It was swimming in it. I started crying. No shit, tears. Honey wouldn’t have any of it. She poured out the juice and scooped up a pile. At first, I told her I couldn’t do it, but she started getting aggressive to the point I think she was going to hold my nose. I took a bite and it was actually good. It was like eggs with bacon juice. I couldn’t swallow though so I had to chew it until it became liquid. The manager came back with some juice concentrate and he mixed up some juice with water. Juan had looked for rehydration packs for me but they did not have any. He told the manager about salt and sugar so they got some salt and added that to the juice. Honey spoon fed me for a half an hour until I finished the whole thing. When I was done it was such a huge triumph. I laid back with the first feelings of being okay, at least mentally. They took me outside to my bed on the porch and I laid out there sipping juice. People were wandering over, checking my fever and then my pulse, and then walking away shaking their head and talking in Ahmeric. The owner of the hotel came by and saw that I was really sick. One of the guides was there and he knew the doctor at the clinic and said that he would bring him for me. I also asked him if there was any way that he could find me a banana or a mango somewhere in town. The owner heard that and sent one of the girls to her house and she came back with a chilled banana and a mango. Oh god, I had not been that happy since I lost my virginity. I ate the banana straight away, but saved the Mango until my stomach settled a bit. The doctor came and went over me with their usual ineffectiveness. He saw that I was dehydrated and since I was telling him that I was puking and not eating for the last six days, he went back and the guide brought me back two plastic ampules of liquid glucose. He had me drink those straight down with water. I immediately started feeling better and was able to get up and take a cold shower that shocked my system into circulating again. Except for the fevers, the fatigue, and the body aches, I was feeling much better. Some more NGO people came and they told me that with Malaria the key was eating and drinking. They said that it was almost more important than the drugs itself, good to know. They ended up buying me a couple bottles of Fanta and some bread and ordered me to eat and drink it all. I obliged and nibbled one whole piece of bread and one bottle of Fanta.

That night was still rough, but I woke up to sunshine, so I had to have slept. When I went out to my sleep place on the porch, one of the girls came over with another plate of bananas and a mango. I was really touched. I ate those and took another of the glucose packs. I was feeling much better. I was no longer throwing up and the aches and pains had started to decrease. The only thing that was really giving me problems was the fever. As soon as I started moving about the fever would hit and it would make lie down or at least rest for a while. Still, I was feeling better and had some spaghetti for breakfast. The manager had found a truck for me and suggested I get up to Arba Minch as soon as possible and go to the hospital. I was feeling good enough to travel so I agreed. Before I left, I was so touched by the way all the people took care of me that I had to do something. I ended up giving the manager $100US to split between him, Honey, and the rest of the staff with him and Honey getting the majority of it. The people were so touched that they all came over and gave me hugs and kisses. If I had been stuck in a less hospitable place I don’t know what would have happened. I shudder to think about it.

Now, just to show how sketchy these people can be down in Omo when it comes to screwing over tourists, when the first truck heard that I had given the staff all that money, they jacked up the price five times the going farenji rate and wouldn’t budge even though they were fully aware of my condition. The manager was furious as these were supposed to be his friends. A truck driver was eating there at the time and he heard the story and asked if I would like to go with him. I was touched with that as well and understood it wasn’t everybody that was horrible down there. He had one of the huge rigs with a sleeper cabin and air cushioned seats. He put his wife in the back and gave me the passenger seat. It was a luxurious ride except for the three hours where we were stuck only five kilometers from town. There is one tough river crossing that is difficult not because of the river itself, but because on the far side it is a steep rock bank and the rig could not get enough traction to pull it and the trailer up the bank. We ended up trying a few times throwing rocks for traction. Then we tried using their long wood poles for traction but no luck. We then unhitched the second trailer and got the truck to the top. Then they unstrapped the cable that holds all the sides from shaking about and tried to tow the trailer up the side. That snapped. They tied it together and it snapped again in a different spot. They had to unwind another cable and tie the two together. Finally, after three hours we got the trailer pulled up the other side, hooked up and we were ready to go. I was trying to help, but the fevers were wiping me out. It definitely made me think that I should just give up and walk back to town and stay there until I was totally better. Finally, we were on the road and 11 hours later we pulled into Konso.

Konso was the second place that I stayed and it was an okay layover. I remembered they had the people that sold bananas and mangoes every morning in front of the hotel. I figured that I would stay in bed until I was fully recovered even though I could have caught a ride with the same truck, although they were leaving at 6am in the morning. In the morning I would have a few bananas, mango, and a coke to wash it down with and hop on one of the three buses that made their way up to Arba Minch. Since we arrived so late, there was nothing open except the main restaurants and they only served Injeera and meat. I had bought a jar of orange marmalade and had one roll with me so I ate that to ward off the hunger pains. I ended up sleeping good enough to know that I was getting better.

The next morning I was up pretty early as I was craving a banana and a mango. I headed out the door and walked smack into a bus that was just about to leave for Arba Minch. I about cried. I needed food, but I also have learned that in Omo, you do not pass up transportation as you never know when the next one might be. I asked the driver when he was leaving and he said right now. Crap, I ran inside, grabbed my bag and hopped on the bus. I could see the ladies spreading out the bananas and oh it hurt so much.

The ride to Arba was hell. They used corrugated roads for that section so it was one continual vibration that only stopped when we had to cross over boulders since some of the bridges had been washed away. An amazing thing did happen though, about half way there we stopped and we were rushed by all these people selling bananas. I hung a birr out the door and was handed eight bananas. I was being blessed by someone. We went down the road some more, pulled over and a bunch of people selling mangoes came out. I didn’t want any mangoes as there was no way to eat them on the bus, but one of the passengers gave me two just as a nice gesture. Later, we also stopped for Chat, but I didn’t get any of that even though I was offered a bunch. Three hours later we pulled into Arba Minch. I thought I was saved. I was not.



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