Malaria and Chocolate Chips

Pattye Snyder Health Guide
  • A new "wrinkle" occurred in my African adventure last week. I suddenly felt I was getting a bad chest cold last Saturday, and was miserable with a headache, high fever, and a barky cough. At the recommendation of a couple of friends, I went to my first African hospital last Sunday for a blood test for malaria (we've had a major outbreak in this area lately due to unseasonable rains and extra cool temperatures).

    Much to my dismay, my count was Level 8, a rather high count, and began my first of 5 daily shots. With my continuing high fever, the doctor added a strong regimen of Amoxycillin, pain pills, and a prescription for Pectylin-C, an expectorant. It would probably have been a far more interesting experience if I hadn't been so ill!!

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    The clinic was a very small place, several miles from my homebase. Each part, i.e. Laboratory, business office, pharmacy, surgery, Xray, etc. was in a separate building. NO medical history was taken, and they didn't even know my name until the doctor asked me to write it on a paper. I was then sent to the billing office (by the way, the same person that accepts bill payments also leaves that building to go to a different one to "change hats" and becomes the pharmacist! I then went to the lab (yes, another building) for a test. The lady in the lab was very nice and gentle, but I was somewhat surprised to see a large bandage on her hand, no surgical gloves, and of course, just a needle to draw blood -- hmm!


    "Drug Stores" Don't Really Exist Here

    Last week, I was only able to leave my little room to get another shot daily, and was kept home from work for the entire week. In addition to the fevers, cough, and headaches, I was also very nauseous (a lovely side effect from the malaria!) Primo, our head chef, kept bringing me flasks (thermoses) of very hot, spicy herbal tea made with honey, limes (from our trees), grated raw ginger (to break up the congestion), and other ingredients I'm afraid to even ask about! You don't realize how spoiled we are in America, until you live in an area like this. In Illinois, my home state, it's incredibly easy to walk into a drugstore and buy anything from hair color and candy to "OTC" medications.


    In Africa, where I'm living, I only know of one tiny "drugstore" that MAY carry "plasters" (band aids) and a VERY limited supply of OTC items like aspirin (from India) -- IF and WHEN you can find the store open! I was well-prepared for sinus-type problems (remember, I'm from Illinois), and skin rashes when I arrived, but have been unable to find "cough drops," tissues, or any other soothing aids. I DO know that if something SEVERE develops, I can be flown to a bigger medical facility in Nairobi, but it was a touch scary in the meantime! Just an additional note about "medical care" in this area -- although it has proven to be quite satisfactory, all "luxuries" such as food, drinking water, towels, bathsoap, must be provided by friends or family of the patient. So the next time you're "stuck" with hospital food, it may not taste so bad after all!


    In the midst of my bout with malaria, a friend said "What are you craving? Let me get you a treat." For the first time in my life, NO FOOD sounded good, but that's probably not the ideal way to lose weight! I forgot to mention, in addition to Primo's ginger tea, he made me several soups, including his pureed vegetable, pumpkin, and a truly African Green Banana soup, which I'll admit sounds gruesome, but looks and tastes exactly like cream of potato soup!


    Friday, I felt almost human again and remembered to ask the housekeeper "mbili karatasi ya chooni" correctly for once ("May I have 2 rolls of toilet paper"). She laughed, kissed me, and handed them to me. When our accountant saw me "outside" for the first time in a week, he asked if something was wrong. I just repeated the phrase, and held up my prize as he walked away laughing!

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    Who's ever heard of Chocolate "Chips?"

    I'm normally not a sweet-eater, but I craved chocolate (not often available here) after my final malaria test that said I was CLEAR! To celebrate, I talked my driver into taking me into a grocery store to find the ingredients to make brownies for everyone. I had to keep remembering, this is Africa -- squares of baking chocolate are not available here. They've never heard of anything as bizarre as chocolate chips (even when I drew them a picture). I FINALLY found cocoa without sugar, baking flour, their form of sugar which is VERY granular, cream, dusting sugar (powdered sugar), eggs (only come in a tray of 30), and of course no pecans or walnuts. Most of these baking ingredients are imported, but I was still surprised to find my bill was 27,000Tschillings (about $24)!!!


    After a good night's sleep (for a change), I went into the kitchen to cook. I had the ingredients all out on a tray, my apron on, the oven was pre-heating, and THEN I asked our cook for a measuring cup. He gave me a totally blank look and had no clue what I was talking about (they don't measure things I guess-)! Alrighty -- so I used a coffee cup, and hoped that if I kept the proportions right, we'd be OK!!! (I didn't even bother to ask about such bizarre things as rubber spatulas or electric mixers. After all, I had a huge bowl and a big wooden spoon)! I kneaded the butter and sugar together, stirred in eggs and added the flour, then started adding ladle after ladle of cocoa powder until it "looked right." After we added the rest of the ingredients, including some finely chopped caramels I'd found, we scraped the batter into a pan, put it in the oven and checked the time on my watch (Oh, and lifted up a quick prayer that these would be good)!

    After that, we cleaned the dishes and the counters (of course). It's amazing how quickly the "chocolate brownies" news spread throughout our compound! I was puzzled at first that no one was "diving in" as would happen in America, until an African friend explained that it's tradition here, that noone takes anything unless it's offered by the person who cooked it. Hmmm, as much as I like to cook (and share), I could be quite powerful around here!


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    My malaria finally over---the brownies were awesome---I returned to work at the prison today with a new and competent assistant and the guys were thrilled I was back---

    I KNOW I'm where I need to be----I AM making positive differences in people's lives!!!

    Kwa Heri
    Mama Pati


Published On: August 06, 2008