Sunday, October 5, 2008

Irony and Typhoid

Because so many of my new friends here practice the Muslim religion, I decided to give myself a challenge. Near the end of Ramadan, I told myself I wanted to try and experience what it felt like to fast for an entire day. Remember, they fast all day every day, for 30 days during Ramadan. I have never tried this before and I didn't know how I would fare. So, I didn't tell anyone I was attempting it in case I didn't make it through the end of the day. To be true to your fast, in the Muslim faith you cannot have anything to eat or drink from sun up to sun down. I knew I would not be able to make it without water, so I allowed myself small sips of water in the morning. I had to work all day at the Embassy, and I had to have some sort of energy level. The reason the Muslims fast is to remind them of the poor people who are less fortunate and have to live without food lots of times. They are reminded to pray for the poor and keep themselves holy so they can appreciate what they have the rest of the year. (at least that's how I understand it) It was quite an experience for me. The whole day, I found myself watching the many more hours until 7:15 pm when I could "break the fast" and eat again? I really noticed a drop in my energy level and attention span. I felt what it was like to not have any food in me and what it must be like to be poor and feel like that on a regular basis. I had a difficult time staying focused on complex tasks. My Muslim friends say you get used to the feeling of being hungry and they can function pretty well. They all get tired during the day and I felt this to be true also. By the end of the day, I was counting the minutes until I could eat again. I planned a special meal and ate by myself. Usually, Muslim friends will gather together and break fast together, but by chance I was alone. That chicken never tasted so good. I ate until I was completely full and never even cared if I over indulged. It was a good learning experience and I was proud of myself for doing it.

Fasting was Monday Sept 29. Tuesday was the official "ending of the fast" and I went out with friends that evening to celebrate. The next day, Wednesday, was an official national holiday; a "Day of Prayer" so we had the day off from work. Unfortunately, something happened Tuesday evening at the celebration dinner. I went to a restaurant that I have been to several times and ate the same food as everyone else at our table. But the next morning, I was violently ill. Those of you who have experienced "violently ill" will know what I mean so I will not describe it here. Just know that I have never been that sick in all my life. Four hours in the bathroom wishing for death and that was just the beginning. Unhappily for me, I spent my entire day off from work being sick. The next day I managed to drag myself to work at 1pm in the afternoon; mostly because the Foreign Service Health Practitioner convinced me to come in for lab work to see if I had anything serious. I also was hosting a cocktail party for my boss that evening and I had to make the final arrangements for the cake, the staff, and the food. My blood tested positive for typhoid. The FSHP said sometimes the test gives a false positive, but there is no other lab in Freetown to do any other tests on me, so typhoid is the likely diagnosis. Oh joy. Somehow I dragged myself through the cocktail party (it helps to wear a pretty black dress) but I could not sample any of the food I had ordered, including the sinfully perfect chocolate cake. I went home and collapsed. My boss was so appreciative of the party preparations (and I think he noticed how tired I looked) and practically begged me to take Friday off. I did. I never take days off work! I have to be near death! (I was) Friday, Saturday, Sunday...I ate nothing or next to nothing except for Gatorade and a tiny bit of white rice. I was finally feeling a little better on Saturday afternoon so I tried eating a few morsels of dinner. Mistake! Sick again all day Sunday. Now I'm totally avoiding food and I am really beginning to tire of Gatorade. I am also tired of lying on the sofa reading (I read 250 pages today) and watching tv. I WANT MY LIFE BACK! But I guess this typhoid is a bacterial infection and my stomach is being held hostage. The FSHP tells me to be patient, to wait and things will get better. I have already lost weight, so I guess that's better. The irony is that I spent Monday fasting and watching the clock for my next meal, and then I spent the next 5 days not eating at all!!! Life sure is crazy sometimes. Seriously, I'm really sick. Yes, I did have the typhoid vaccine before I came to Africa, but it's not always a guarantee. Welcome to Africa.

Here is a quick note I sent to my FS classmates regarding the quality of tv available on AFN (All Forces Network). Some may find it humorous.

Take care of yourselves!

That was the most funny email I have read in a while! It almost made being sick worth it!! Just kidding. I have watched some horrible tv since I've been sick. Our only offering here is AFN. They have limited programming choices and I found myself trying to find something worth watching. There was a ridiculous show I came across called "Beauty and the Geek" or "Beauty and Freaks" or some such nonsense. Apparently Ashton Kutcher is not being serviced enough by Demi Moore these days, because he is the executive producer. The premise of the show is to pair up 10 couples; one Beauty and one Geek (or Nerd or whatever PC term they use these days), throw them all in a mansion in some unlikely place like Malibu and see which couples roll their eyes the most or die off from lack of understanding each other. I mean, what's the sense in pairing up the top Hooters waitress with a MIT student when in real life they would never even meet each other! Somehow, there is kissing because all the beauties hook up and sneak around while the Geeks discuss logarithms and global warming trends. A real winner of a show, I can assure you.