Date: 17th October 2013
My words are few as I brace myself against the task of the next 24 hours – making it home: in one piece.
Last night I met up with Gary, my project manager and a seasoned missionary in Africa, and Dr James, who has spent the last 8 years in the south. I listen to them argue about test results and treatments, bewildered at how I’m ever supposed to know what to do. A negative Malaria smear does not conclusively mean a negative. A positive Typhoid smear does not conclusively mean a positive. This I already know. The problem is that there is zero option to rule either one out as many symptoms are the same in both sicknesses, and both are dangerous to leave untreated even for the next 24 hours. And so we treat for everything.
This means that alongside my standard “cleanup” kit of meds as I leave the country, I will continue on treatment for Typhoid, and start treatment for Malaria on top of that. To avoid the risk of relapsing after arriving home, it’s straight onto the hard stuff – one final course of Quinine.
My stomach turns and twists and cramps and objects to even the simplest of foods, and I pray that my meds stay down. I recall only one occasion in all my time here of feeling this bad, and that with necessary bed-rest and care. But today I travel with The Great Physician beside me and trust that He will see me through to the other side.
Friends, family, and faithful blog-followers, this will be my final post from this side of the border. So bid farewell with me to the land that has taught deeper trust, greater faith, and born many dreams and desires. To the dirty feet and the dusty roads, the tear-streaked cheeks, and the creased lines of smiling faces, the hopeful eyes and bursting hearts, the starriest sky and the quietest nights; to the simplest of lives and the weathered survivors of Africa; to the corrupt and honest alike; to the world of want and striving; farewell.
Date: 15th October 2013
The day begins before the sun starts its voyage across the empty sky. One last coffee with the guards as they change shifts. One last look at my empty room. One last prayer before I leave. And the tears start to fall, suddenly overwhelming me after their conspicuous absence over the last few days. It sinks in that I am leaving these walls, these dirt tracks, and these people.
I bravely accept my Ceftriaxone needle prick in the forearm, and start the first leg of the journey by bike, accompanied by Frazert. “You can be my Clandoman one last time”, he tells me, and hops on the back. The road has dried up much since the last time we passed this way by car, but we still negotiate copious amounts of mud as we traverse expanses of unknown water. You cannot tell, unless you wait and watch, how deep the water goes, or what you might find in the middle of it. It takes 90 minutes to travel the 40 km. The last few kilometres are the worst, as water stretches out before us endlessly. I watch a lady carrying a platter of bananas through each section, her skirt pulled up to her thighs and the water reaching just as deep. I follow cautiously, praying not to stall out as water swallows the bike to above my own knees, knowing that if my revs drop for even a moment, my exhaust will flood, and I will be pushing my bike through the rest.
We find the bus, packed and ready to go, but always willing to squeeze one more in. I pay for my ticket and wriggle my way to the allocated, and somehow always the same, spot in the back row. The sun beats down relentlessly, even though it’s only half past nine. And the voyage begins.
The bus rocks wildly to the left, then to the right, repeating the motion over and over again as the road ahead swings just as drastically through the windscreen view, first to the right, then to the left, with each glimpse from the back seat as we negotiate the craters that consume much of the precious tarmac. Progress is slow as our somewhat undedicated driver stops and starts at his every whim, leaving a bus full of frustrated passengers eager to get to the other side. We should arrive by 3pm, but as the day wears on, it becomes more and more apparent that this is never going to happen. Instead we alternate between speeding and stopping, waiting, wondering, and watching.
A trickle of fear ripples through me as the minibus starts to bounce rhythmically as we speed over the corrugated road surface. I’ve heard about this, and I’ve seen the overturned busses on the other side of them. For the hundredth time I utter a whispered prayer of safety. I’m so close. So close. “Father, protect me.”
Gradually my “feeling fine” dissipates. My body aches. First my calves and my ankles, then my wrists, my hips, my eyes, my skin, my throat, my everywhere and everything. The waves of nausea pass, and my fever steadies, as I start to feel the heat press against me once again instead of the comfortable warmth from sitting in the back row above the hot and leaking exhaust in the sunshine in an overcrowded vehicle. I will be ok. I will be ok. Because there is nothing I can do anyway. I have three hours of this torture left.
We’re stopped at a roadblock. The doors open and everyone starts filing out. My heart starts to race. I am without my passport – it’s already in N’Djamena. Suddenly there’s a sound of grating metal, screeching brakes, and people everywhere. A biker collides, wedging himself between us and a passing sand truck. The officers divert their attention as everything erupts in confusion. People hover halfway between their seats and the door, unsure of where to go or what to do. I stay firmly rooted to my spot, wishing my pale skin to blend in with everyone else’s. More shouting, and the direction of movement changes, the doors close, and we move on. “Father, thank you” I breathe in relief.
The sun drops lower and lower towards the dusty horizon. The speed at which we travel increases proportionately. Another whispered prayer. We can’t be far. Please let us not be far. I feel progressively worse and my body screams for freedom from this moving prison. I don’t know enough about Typhoid Fever not to worry. I don’t know how I should be feeling. I don’t know how or when to know when I’m no longer ok. Another whispered prayer. And then we find people. Cement. Buildings. Bikes, cars and clando’s. The turn in the road, the bridge over water, and we cross into the city at last. My prayer is more than a whisper as relief floods over me.
The moon hangs over the water like a Christmas decoration waiting for darkness to fall to show its splendour. Tonight I won’t be sleeping beneath its rays to the sound of silence. Instead I forever trade it for cars and planes and people and persistent pollution.
Or do I?
Date: 14th October 2013
I wake at 5:12 without any prompting. I am wide awake. I lie under my mosquito net and stare hazily around me. Today will be my last day.
By 5.30 the first of many has arrived to bid farewell, and by 9am it feels like it should already be noon. But this is right, it should be so today. It should take its time and let me soak it all in, do as I like, and take the time I need, all for the last time.
A lingering headache reminds me that my unexpected, and most unwanted, fever, chills, body aches and nausea from last night need to be investigated – before I leave. I head to the hospital to get my finger pricked, and instead they draw a vial of blood. I am 85% sure I have malaria – this is exactly how I felt the last time I got sick. I don’t wait for the results, continuing the plans for drinking sweet tea and eating local gateaux one last time with my famous five – the faithful few who have been working my by side each day in the rush of the last 4 weeks to successfully complete everything I wanted to before leaving. We made it – 5pm Friday afternoon. I feel the finality of the last screw securing screening as the labours of the last 2 years draw to a close.
I’m called back in to the hospital – my results are up. After a much-amusing consultation of temperature checks, weighing, pulse counts, and blood pressure taking, the Head Consult decided to test me for Malaria and Typhoid – a repeat of the last time I was here a month ago. My GE is negative. No Malaria. My Typhoid though, this time, is most definitely not. My last souvenir of Tchad. I hope. A few days of Ceftriaxone shots leading up to my flight on Thursday and a full course of Cipro is on the cards, and given the travels and tasks of the next 3 days, I’m grateful that it’s not Quinine.
The last goodbyes are said, the last conversations had. It still feels so surreal. It still feels like I will be coming back. This is not forever. I know that all the best intentions in the world may still leave this statement untrue, but I cannot help but feel that this will be different. I cannot help but pray.
I cannot help but wonder what the future will hold. I keep myself from getting hung-up on knowing it all now by reminding myself that it has been God, in His timing, who has brought me to this moment, and that He holds my future in His hands. He has given me a dream to dream and a passion to pursue. Day by day He is showing Himself true to His promises by opening doors and directing my steps as I commit each decision to Him, watching, smiling, as all my ducks waddle into a row.