Malaria and Social Distance
We had a four day weekend. Friday, October 3, was German Reunification Day (and Hannah’s school celebrates all local and German holidays), and the following Monday was a Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha. And I got a fever, headache, body ache and some nausea. I feared I had contracted malaria. Fortunately the fever lasted only one day, and my other symptoms were gone after two, so I am not likely to have contracted malaria (yet?). Here is part of why:
“At bedtime my hosts pushed me inside, worried that I, like most whites, was as fragile as an egg and would be bitten by a mosquito and die of malaria.” (Palmer, 2010, pp. Kindle Locations 2038-2039)
This is how, apparently, the US State Department handles us. We were advised to take antimalarial medication, an antibiotic, for our entire stay in Ghana. Our holistic physician in Indiana was not happy with the continuous killing of all the flora in our guts, knowing that a happy gut is one of the keys to good health. The effects of taking malarone long term are not known. We followed the State Department’s advice, got initial prescriptions filled to cover a couple of months, and we were off on our adventure. Then, long before we ran out, I went to the doctor to refill my prescription. We went to the clinic that the US Embassy recommended. It costs 140 Ghana Cedis (about $38.00) to see the physician. He looked into my eyes and said, “I will write a two month supply for you, but, you know, you would do better to not take this, and to treat malaria only if you get it, like everyone else does” (my italics). Who is “everyone else?” There are so many ways that my lifestyle, like that of other North Americans and Western Europeans are not like “everyone else” here in Ghana. This conversation became a signifier for the post and neo-colonial heritage that my physician’s and my relationship represented at this moment. My sense of cultural distance felt vast; this is a challenge. I want to shrink that gap. So, was this the African doctor finding the obruni (Twi for the stranger, not from here) to be ridiculous, to be treated better (or more ridiculously) than the native people, or was this really part of the American habit of taking a pill for everything, regardless the negative consequences? Was it both or maybe something else?
Part of the context is that I am reading Fannon’s Wretched of the Earth (Fanon, 2004 (1961 French original version)) about the resistance to the colonists with a deep psychoanalytic and Marxist frame. That physician I saw was not making much compared to his American counterpart. I am drinking in Fannon’s work and considering how to update the insights into this neocolonial era. Consider the tone of this work:
“The gaze that the colonized subject casts at the colonist’s sector is a look of lust, a look of envy. Dreams of possession. Every type of possession: of sitting at the colonist’s table and sleeping in his bed, preferably with his wife. The colonized man is an envious man. The colonist is aware of this as he catches the furtive glance, and constantly on his guard, realizes bitterly that: “They want to take our place.” And it’s true there is not one colonized subject who at least once a day does not dream of taking the place of the colonist.” (Fanon, 2004 (1961 French original version), pp. Kindle Locations 898-902)
I am also reading Ama Ata Aidoo, an African Feminist whose narrative voice I hear echoing in me about ownership of self and family, to whom we, our thoughts, our longings, our knowledge of right and wrong belong:
“’I was born before your mother and now that she is dead, I’m your mother! Besides, when she was alive I could scold her when she was wrong, and now I say you are a fool. For seven years you have struggled to look after a child. Whether he had cloth or not did not concern any other person. When Kwesi was a child he had no father. When he nearly died of measles, no grandmother looked in. As for aunts, he began getting them when he started going to school. And now you are allowing them to take him away from you. Now that he is grown enough to be counted among the living, a father knows he has got a son.’” (Aidoo, 1969, p. 84)
Am I now among the living in Africa, having become so as I approach sixty years of age? I am reading Alice and Staughton Lynd (Lynd & Lynd, 2009) on Accompanying as a way of social change and Richard Wright’s Native Son (Wright, 1940) about the dispossessed in the USA as well and could add to your burden of learning my reading context, but perhaps you catch my drift: I am working on how does one compassionately engage another culture with integrity? How can I follow the truth as I know it into the truths of Ghanaians and Ghanaian Africa and do so honestly. I learn, I try, I stumble, I learn, and over and over again. I wear a hat to shield my pale flesh from the intensity of the equatorial sun, a hat made by a craftsman from the northern region of Ghana, Bolgatanga, near Burkina Faso. I wear shirts made here, but my sandals are of a sturdy German variety. I drink bottled water for fear of cholera or worse. I drink German coffee and eat croissants in the school mornings. I cannot speak Twi, Ewe, or Ga. I can’t even speak German or French. I feel my cultural distance, and own it. I will live into more connection with the more common experience here.
Another context, the Quaker testimonies on simplicity, integrity, community, truth-telling, peacemaking, and equality, squarely challenge another level of my unconscious/becoming conscious privilege with an opportunity for more conscious living. The working of working these disciplines, imperfectly practiced, is never easy at decision points like this. I open myself to conversation with others and to individual and corporate meditative presence about the concern. I can occupy my time in queues (in lines for my American readers) waiting and delving into my center to listen to the Inner Guide, to allow new connections to emerge, to be present with the struggle inside me, reminding myself to hold this all in Light and Love. So, I went to a pharmacy to buy some more antimalarial medication, malarone. My jaw dropped when trying to buy a two month’s supply for both Hannah and me. The cost was 1,500 Ghana Cedis (about $500.00).
After calling my beloved to help me form my opinion of what to do, I bought two weeks’ worth to buy a little time in discerning what to do. I reported my dilemma to the mostly expatriate parents who gather at the Swiss club for good German coffee and pastries after dropping off the children at the German Swiss International School. The Swiss Club is connected to the School in a number of ways, geographically our children can order food through the sparse wall or slide under if a hug is needed from a parent. Some of the parents work for foundations of different German political parties; they offer training to Ghanaian politicians on good governance (of course, my dear anarcho-syndacalist and Marxist friends, this is only their good but misguided intent; and, of course, mine Deutschland freunde, I remind you that we must love Ghanaians and Ghana if we want to help them and it). I like them. Married to one of them is a Turk turned German, a guitar maker who shares many stories of his years in Ghana. He, along with others at the table, were shocked that the US recommends that one take these medications continuously. They echoed the Ghanaian doctor’s advice, adding how easy it is to get tested if one suspects malaria and how easy and inexpensive it is to treat it if the test is positive. Others had warned me about the cerebral type of malaria, a rare event, adding something about how the power of anecdote (the weakest form of valid evidence) affects us all. That did it. Regardless of what Monica might decide for herself and Hannah, I was going off the malarone. (This is a relative sentence, because I would jump into a vat of boiling oil if she my beloved asked—so I give her veto power over me.) I want to be a bit more connected to the experience of my African brothers and sisters. I will live life and deal with malaria when I need to. I will let my gut’s flora rebound and flourish. I, and more importantly, Hannah, will avoid whatever as yet undetermined long term effects of malarone may present. Monica agreed with my decision and now all three of us are malarone free! Please remind me that this was a good idea after one of us gets that special mosquito bite and one of us feels like that fragile egg. Remind me that this was a good idea when I worry whenever each of us three gets a fever.
Aidoo, A. A. (1969). No Sweetness Here; Short Stories by Ama Ata Aidoo (Anchor Books ed.). Garden City, New York, USA: Doubleday & Company, Inc.
Fanon, F. (2004 (1961 French original version)). The Wretched of the Earth (English Translation). (R. Philcox, Trans.) New York, New York: Grove Press.
Lynd, A., & Lynd, S. (2009). Stepping Stones: Memoir of a Life Together. Lanham, Maryland, USA: Lexington Books.
Palmer, K. (2010). Spellbound: Inside West Africa’s Witch Camps (Kindle Edition ed.). Free Press. Wright, R. (1940). Native Son (Restored Text 1993 ed.). (L. o. Congress, Ed.) USA: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.