Martin drove us through cavernous ditches, dusty roads with no cars for miles, crowded unpaved streets where all the drivers had the game of playing chicken down to a terrifying art, and the widest African plane you’ve ever dreamed of, peppered with elephants, giraffes, zebras, and antelope.
Shotgun was the coveted seat when in the van with Martin because when you sat in the front with him, you not only saw Africa through your own eyes, but heard Africa through his stories. He talked and he listened.
The stories are true about Coca-Cola. You really can use it when you’ve got car trouble. For what, I do not know. But I saw Martin pull over when then van started smoking to grab the refreshing beverage out of a little cooler he had in the back seat and pour it all over whatever it was that was acting up underneath the hood. And off we went, just like that!
He held out for one of the soccer balls we had brought to share with children on our trip so that he could give it to his son. He answered my questions about his culture. He tasted some of the beef jerky we had stashed in our suitcases from home. He took photographs as professionally as he drove. He ate breakfast with us. He worshiped with us.
I’ll never forget the story he told us about one of the many times he had Malaria. He was driving home and it struck him out of the blue. He pulled up in the middle of his yard, but could do nothing more than sit in the drivers’ seat, paralyzed because the terrible disease had reared its ugly head in his own. His family noticed he was there after a good deal of time and came running out to greet him, only to have to turn the car off and carry his stiff body inside, where he lay in a coma for days.
A lot of my African friends have stories like this. In fact, many of them just embrace it as normal…like a cold. But it can be so much more deadly than a cold. And there are simple treatments available to help. Yet, over 90% of all malaria deaths happen in Africa because people do not have the resources necessary to purchase the help they need.
While I rode in the front seat with Martin, I saw all sorts of people selling sugar cane by the side of the road. I mentioned that someday, I’d like to try it. Now, by someday, I meant someday in my life, not someday on this trip. But Martin decided that I needed to try this delicacy. When he pulled suddenly to the side of the road, I was sitting in the far back of the van next to one of the teenagers in our youth group. His mother had put me (the only female on this trip from our church) in charge of keeping an eye on him. I’ve travelled all over the world and I know better than this, but I took the sugar cane that Martin had purchased with his own money for my benefit and snapped in pieces for all of us to be able to gnaw on when he handed it to me. Apparently, Andrew- the teenager I was supposed to be looking out for- and I both contracted the same parasite from our pieces which were broken apart from each other. Everyone else had pretended to eat it, while we went to town trying the local, raw “treat.” By the middle of the night, we were both deathly ill with various stomach issues. We were supposed to get up the next morning for a six hour trip to go on a safari. (You know…the adventure of a life time.) But let me just tell you something about a six hour trip in Africa…it’s awful. Your body takes a beating as you bounce up and down, back and forth all over the unpaved “roads.” Even on a good day, you feel queasy. I insisted that I could not travel in this condition and that my husband would just have to leave me there. But our group leader, Phil, would not allow it. Begrudgingly, I staggered out, trying to hold my issues together. Then I found out poor Andrew was sick too. I felt doubly awful. Fortunately, Phil had some extra heavier strength medication on hand than I did. And Gatorade packets. But when we took the medication, we started getting a whole new set of stomach issues. Phil instructed Martin to stop anytime we said we had to.
Well, we stopped many times. But the first stop, I was sitting on the front row of the back seat closest to the sliding door. “I’ve got to get out!” Andrew exclaimed. Knowing the urgency of the situation quite personally, I slammed open the sliding door to make way for his exit, all while trying to compose myself. But then I heard, “OH! MY HEAD!!!!!!” Turns out Andrew had been sticking his head out the back window about to toss his cookies when I slammed that sliding door to the back and I.NEARLY.DECAPATATED.THE.BOY.I.WAS.IN.CHARGE.OF.LOOKING.AFTER. Um. It gets worse. There was a group of the most adorable African children you’ve ever seen standing across the ditch by which we had pulled over WHO WITNESSED THE WHOLE THING and started yelling, “Mizungoo!Mizungoo!” (which translates as “White Person! White Person!”) all while laughing and pointing. It was not one of my finer moments. Or Andrew’s. We made it to the place we stayed for the safari, though, by George. Andrew and I both had to skip the evening animal watch because we were so drugged up all we could do was sleep and try to survive. We still both felt puny the next day, but the sights on that drive with Martin behind the wheel are among the top ten moments of my entire life. I’ll remember coming to the horizon of those African skies with elephants walking majestically from where the sky met the earth on my dying day.
I thought about Martin while I lay there trying to get my wits about me. I was violently ill with a parasite. I couldn’t imagine what desperation must have run through Martin’s family’s mind while trying to get him well from the disease known to claim so many lives on their continent. Martin’s family was able to get him help. I was able to get help. But so many don’t have any way to get help.
It’s been 4 years since I’ve been to Africa. I still chat frequently with my friends who live there. Many of them have easier access to FaceBook than they do to getting proper protection for this horrible disease.
So here I am in the present. I have my stories I collected along those unpaved roads with Martin in Africa. But what can I do now?
If you’ve been following my blog for awhile now, you know that one of my callings is to use my voice for the voiceless. One way I like to do that is by partnering with a team of fellow writers at WorldHelp Bloggers.
This year, April 25th is World Malaria Day. I’d like to use my voice to ask you to consider doing something from your present to help someone else’s future. Will you think about Martin? Will you think about Martin’s son? Will you think about those who don’t have parents? As you laugh about my story of my parasite sickness, will you think about those children beside the road laughing and pointing at Andrew and me? Will you choose at least one of these areas to help with?
- · Mosquito nets are the most effective defense against malaria, and for only $25, they’re the most cost-effective defense yet. >>
- · Operation Baby Rescue provides restoration to gravely malnourished children. >>
- · Immunizations are the answer for the 20 million children who are living completely unprotected from preventable diseases. >>
- · World Help’s Medical Emergency Fund covers the cost of emergency care or surgery for children whose families are simply unable to afford treatment. >>
Safiri Salama, my friend. Journey Well.