Don’t drink the water. I mean…seriously, no matter how filtered they tell you the water spigot is, just don’t do it. Take it from the girl who was diagnosed with Typhoid and Malaria by the Kenyan doctors. I found out later that I actually had a nasty bout of parasites called Giardia Lamblia, but it really did still feel like I was dying of the plague.
Looking back on everything now, the series of events surrounding the acquisition of my little parasitic friend, Gary, is actually quite comical. Our major team of 30 had been divided by then into two groups of 15, and my herd was staying at a host home in a little town called Chesta. it was actually one of the nicer places we were able to visit, and the family had a borehole that connected to a filtered faucet which they drank from repeatedly. I, of course, not even thinking twice, quickly filled up my camelback and quenched my thirst. I did this over and over and over throughout my stay there…this is important to note.
Three days later, we had a day off! So a handful of people, including my very best friend K and I, decided to hike Mt. Koh. Now mind you, here I am picturing an adventure much like the ones that I was used to in Los Angeles: distinctly marked dirt trails, alternating uphill and downhill slow gradients, and a leisurely pace. This was definitely not the case. Not only was there no path and pretty much a direct uphill route, our guide was just about running the whole time.
We finally make it to this plateau where a beautiful waterfall was trickling down over giant, flat rocks, and our guide said we were only about halfway to the real scenic area he was so set on reaching. But I would have no more of it; we had already been trekking for 4 hours! Thankfully, K was just as winded as I was and volunteered to stay with me in this little oasis we had discovered. So the rest of the group journeyed on, and K and I sprawled out in the cool shade with our feet dipped in the water. After about an hour of relaxing, though, things started to take a turn for the worse. I suddenly had the most excruciating stomach pain and became violently ill. There was no way we could head back on our own, so I was stuck on the side of the mountain when Gary first came into my life.
Some hour or so later the group finally returned. Turns out they were too tired to make it to the top and turned back (luckily for me). So here I am, super sick, and I still had to find my way down the mountain. Needless to say, I fell on my butt a good 12 times, but I made it! By then, my stomach had settled down to a small rumble, so I thought I was in the clear. Again, I was greatly mistaken.
By the time we reached the next town, Kitale, I was experiencing the same severe stomach pains but this time coupled with intense body aches and chills. Kitale was at least 100 degrees outside, and I was zipped up in my mummy sleeping bag all the way, still shaking like a leaf. Then, every 30 minutes or so I had to run down the road, past the aggressive donkey, to the outhouse. Man, was I a mess. Finally, one of my group leaders decided it was time for me to see a doctor, which was not the easiest feat. We had to take a piki-piki (motorcycle) to the main road then hop on a matatu (mini van taxi thing filled with people) just to get to the main town. It was an hour or more trip one way.
Now, let me describe the doctor’s office for you. The front of the building is a little convenience store that sells household items such as rat poison and traps, disinfectant, and other miscellaneous goods. I had to walk through this foyer into a tiny back room where the doctor did an initial check up and took down my symptoms. He then sent me next door for blood work. The lab was a dark little shack that fit two people, myself and the technician, with one microscope and hundreds of little glass panels with drops of blood in them. He quickly pricked me and sent me back to the doctor. After waiting what only felt like 2 minutes, the main physician declared that I definitely had Typhoid and Highland Malaria (which was supposedly resistant to the medication I was taking that was meant to prevent this exact situation). The treatment? One intravenous cycle of medication and one shot right in the buttox. I looked at my mentor nervously, but she seemed confident in the diagnosis, so I agreed to the prescription. Once that was over, I was sent back with about a weeks worth of Ciproxin.
To be honest, I didn’t feel much better even after taking the Cipro. I knew I wasn’t going to be 100% again until I was able to get proper treatment back at home in California. So I had to make a choice: do I stay in Kenya and finish out the last month I had? or do I go home early to get some relief?
I stayed. I knew in my gut that I would forever regret leaving early, and I only had a few more weeks left. I could do it..no, I WOULD do it. So I did. I was diligent about my medication, then took on a more naturalistic remedy of tea and filtered (for sure this time) water, and I survived! But I wouldn’t recommend it.
So here is another lesson from Kenya: unless you were blessed with the stomach and immune system of a native, think twice before you drink the water. Trust me, you don’t want Gary knocking on your door. But even if he does come to visit, know that it will be ok! You will survive. You will get through it. And you will have the most amazing story to share. I know I do.
A Gary-Free Freedom