So obviously I have already told everyone, but I have malaria again. It is the third time in my life that I have gotten malaria and I blame malaria (and Catherine) for my grey hair. It is right above my right ear and I am certain it wasn’t there until after my first bout with malaria. Malaria is an interesting sickness. It is certainly the worst sickness that I have ever had, but I have become accustomed to noticing its symptoms. I was quite certain of my most recent infection for about two weeks. I mentioned to a friend a week before I was ever diagnosed that I felt “off”, my stomach was swollen and I was tired. I figured that I had malaria again, but was too busy to go to the hospital and most of all I didn’t want to start the treatment. Malaria gets a whole lot worse the moment you take the medicine and your body becomes truly depleted. The symptoms are physical as well as mental. I know you all can google malaria and read about it so I won’t get too detailed. The symptoms are a bit like combining the flu with mononucleosis, and then making the symptoms more severe and last for even longer. Some of the more unique symptoms are night terrors, loss of consciousness, and abnormal behavior. The parasites will infect every part of your body that uses blood, so it is pretty rough. For example, in the one drop of my blood the nurse took, she recorded 4 parasites living happily and infecting my red blood cells. It’s because of this that malaria is the deadliest infectious disease in the world.
Let me be clear that I am certain that I will recover fully. I am a healthy enough young man with enough money (in this case $8) to pay for my malaria treatment. I have also been infected before so I understand the symptoms as well as have some experience with this sickness. So thank you so much for the outpouring of support in emails and messages, but honestly I will be fine. I will write a bit about what it is like teaching while being sick with malaria next time, but I wanted to go back to my birthday weekend.
On the Sunday of my birthday weekend I went over to the children’s mass as was usual. I then made my way to Catherine and Stivin’s home for lunch. When I arrived their grandfather, Baba Makundi wanted to take me with to visit a sick grandmother. He told me that her granddaughter was a little younger than me and was trying to take care of the grandmother, but was struggling because she was sick too. So we walked for about 30 minutes to their home. Since I had already started my medicine for malaria and it was so hot, I was a bit tired already when I arrived at the home. My head was cloudy at best and I couldn’t quite remember all the details of why we were there other than to greet them. So we sat down together me, Baba Makundi, Catherine, and the grandmother. In the typical Tanzanian fashion they welcomed me with a gift to thank me for visiting them (they gave me a fresh piece of sugar cane). So we were all sitting together and a young woman carrying a tiny baby joined us. She sat down next to me on a bench, smiled and then immediately put her baby in my arms and relaxed against the wall behind us. It was the smallest baby I had ever seen but she smiled beautifully as she looked up at me smiling down at her. She opened her mouth and made a small squeaking noise that made us Catherine and I laugh as we played with her. Her mother was a bit younger than me, but strikingly attractive. God has truly blessed the people of Tanzania with beauty and this woman was even more beautiful than most. The young woman and I talked for a little while and I learned her baby was 2 months old and I was the first “mzungu” (white person) that her baby had seen. I was also the first white person to enter their home which tends to be the case with most people I visit from Mailisita.
We talked for a while about the project in Mailisita, and continually thanked me for my work. After, they explained their hardships, but expressed hope that they would be healthy again soon. Then after praying together for a short while (the grandmother is too sick to go to church but wanted to pray with someone) we said our goodbyes and promised to see each other again soon. I gave the young woman her baby who was fast asleep in my arms and told her that I looked forward to talking to her again. It was a rather normal home visit, as it was one of three that day, but during our walk to another friend’s home Baba Makundi filled me in on more of their story. The beautiful young woman I met was the grandmother’s granddaughter, she was 21, and had HIV. So did her beautiful young baby that I was holding in my arms.
I realized very quickly that every second I spent feeling sorry for myself about losing my muscles, being tired, having a fever and aching with malaria I had forgotten about my neighbors. I forgot how people in our village were dealing with the same illness without medication or inferior medication. I forgot how people in our village were dealing with far more serious illnesses, ones without cures. I forgot most of all that there are children and babies born with illnesses that leave them little hope or chance to survive. I had my moment of self-pity washed away from the realization that the beautiful young woman and her child who I fell in love with and connected with, were both afflicted with HIV.
This is our reality and these are our neighbors. This is where our students come from and the reason for our school. This is why we all come here to help and serve and why every day is a gift, because no matter what the situation we must find a reason to smile. We may never know what that smile will mean to another person or what sharing a smile may represent. For that baby her smile will always remind me of hope. I have seen it in my sleep and I think of it every day, and when I saw Catherine smile looking down on that baby, saying hello and speaking English to that baby I realized she is the embodiment of that hope. She is hope in form, because Catherine and all children are our future and their intelligence and compassion will lead us forward.