And then there was Illness

I spent about one day in the east of Congo, in Bukavu in perfect health. After the flight from the west, I was just mainly tired, but excited to see this other side of the country with its beautiful Lake Kivu, mountains and much fresher air. Bukavu is at 1,500 meters (about 5,000 feet in metric-so-scary-land) which makes for a number of changes. For one, the climate is much cooler, which means a lot fewer mosquitoes. The constant sweating and thick air that is so hard to breath in Kinshasa just isn’t there. While the air isn’t incredibly pure due to all the trash being burned all the time, it is much more enjoyable. The other thing is that life is much slower in Bukavu. The throngs of people wandering around all the time are severely lessened. There are still a lot of folks though, since Bukavu sits right on the border with Rwanda and there is a lot of commerce traffic because of this.
It was our first day after a good night’s sleep that we headed out to watch a march by the journalists of the town in support of World Press Freedom Day, a holiday that doesn’t get a lot of attention in the US or Europe, but is quite important in DR Congo where journalists are killed simply for digging just a touch too deep on an issue.
It was quite a warm day for the march and we were photographing it without bringing along any water. At first this wasn’t a big deal, but then we were out under the sun in the peak of the day, waiting for two hours to see the governor of the South Kivu province come out and address this march that was waiting in front of his office. Of course, as is typical with Congolese politicians, he never showed, leaving us dismayed and also dehydrated.
After lunch, I started to feel a lot less than fantastic. My head started throbbing like nothing I’ve ever felt before and I was having trouble seeing straight. We headed back to a friend’s house and the symptoms only got worse. I decided to call it an early day and go to sleep while drinking a great deal of ORS to try and correct what was appearing to be a severe case of dehydration.
Overnight, nothing really got better and I woke up the next day feeling just as dizzy and completely out of it, barely able to walk a few steps without wanting to collapse. We called up some friends who came over and had me take some malaria medication just to be sure I wasn’t coming down with that. Then it was back to bed to sleep some more, only to wake up in the afternoon and throw up all the food I had tried to eat previously, but at the same time keep drinking water. It was also at this point that some lovely intestinal disorder started up that had me running to the toilet about every hour. The next day was much the same, although I started to feel a bit better by the end of it after more vomiting.
On the third day of this, I really did start feeling better. Chatting with a friend of ours we realized that I had either gotten sunstroke and some of the lovely intestinal amoebas that are around, or it was just the amoebas. I don’t really know what the case was, but I got well enough to fly back to Kinshasa and then pick up some medicine for the possible amoebas which seemed to cure that as well and was quite a steal at $10 compared to what digestive antibiotics would cost back in the US. Naturally, while in Kinshasa I got some kind of weird rash on my arm that is just starting to go away as well.
On the crappy side of all this, I missed out on getting to see the gorillas in Kahuzi-Biega Park, which was a real bummer, since it’s one of the few “affordable” ($300) places to see gorillas in the wild. On the plus side, I lost about eight kilograms (15 pounds in metric-so-scary-land) but of course gained a good deal of it back once able to hold on to solid food.
It’s amazing all the crap that’s waiting for people in the jungles of Africa and it explains why I spent the ridiculous amount of $500 on vaccinations before going. It’s just ironic that I got taken down by something so basic as the sun and it’s taught me an important lesson to always drink plenty of water. You fuck with the sun and you will indeed get burnt, like the top of my head was.
And then there was Illness