For the past 4 months we have been in malaria zones and take our Malarone pills every morning. We sleep under a mosquito net most nights and routinely lather up with Ultrathon. The boys love the mosquito nets so much so — it’s like a fort — I offered to buy one for their beds at home.
Talk to any aid worker or missionary and many have been hit with this mosquito-carrying infection. Some consider it a badge of honor and feel they are true “missionaries” once inflicted. I don’t need that badge.
Malaria symptoms are similar to the flu including headache, fever, chills, and fatigue. So when Colin complained of a headache, looked a bit pale, and had a fever that came on quickly, we took it seriously. Normally I am hesitant to go to the doctor unless blood is spurting or a bone is visible. ‘Wait and See‘ is not the best approach with Malaria as it can lead to death if ignored. Fortunately, if caught early it is very curable and we carry the treatment.
This all transpired while we were sitting in the US Embassy talking to the Chief Consular waiting to hear the Ambassador speak. Of all the places for this sickness to appear, this was the ideal location. I praised Colin for his timing.
Prior to leaving, I signed up for the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) which provides travel advisories to people visiting a specific country. Given that our passport will be stamped 27 times in countries with varying degrees of political and economic stability, this program helps me stay abreast of key issues that could impact us.
Anytime there is a new alert or message from the embassy or consulate, I get an email. The US State Department recently did a major overhaul of their website so it is easy to find visa requirements, vaccine recommendations, Embassy and Consulate locations, and advisory notices. It is an invaluable source of information and one I highly recommend if traveling beyond the US border. Along with announcing travel warnings, they also send updates about demonstrations in the area, natural disasters, and events going on at the Embassy.
So, last week when I got a notice that our Embassy in Rwanda would have a town hall where US citizens could meet the Ambassador and Chief Consular, buy lunch from local vendors, talk to other Americans or play on a bouncy house (for the kids), I figured we should check it out. I have spent a lot of time in other countries’ embassies and consulates and thought I should see ours. Also, it would be a good opportunity for the Colin and Decker to play with other kids which is something they greatly miss.
We arrived and the boys immediately took off and were playing with new friends when the Chief Consular, Brook Kidd, came over to welcome us. A few minutes later Colin came back and said that he wasn’t feeling well. Since food solves most problems, we grabbed a bite to eat and found a table. I immediately knew there was a problem when he put his head down and pushed his hot dog and fries away. Plus, his fever came on quickly and he looked pale.
Fearing malaria, I walked over to Brooke and asked if she knew any doctors in town. She quickly talked to a colleague, found a clinic that was open, called the doctor, then arranged for a taxi. As we waited for the taxi to arrive, she found a US-trained doctor, Melissa, who happened to be at the embassy and could assess our situation. Realizing that we needed a Malaria test, Melissa suggested a different clinic.
We arrived at the local clinic and to say that we were the minority would be an understatement. While I was comforted to know we were sent here by embassy staff and a highly recommended US doctor, it was still a clinic in Rwanda – a country not known for its medical advancements. Fortunately the technician had sterile needles, put on rubber gloves, and wore a white lab coat. Well, mostly white. We paid our 6,000 Rwandan Francs ($7.20), did the test, and waited 30 minutes for the results.
We have had to deal with flat tires in the middle of nowhere, baboons raiding our tent, trains that didn’t show up in Zimbabwe, and now possibly malaria. In each of these situations someone has come to the rescue and helped us out. While I read about some crazy things going on in our government right now, I am comforted that people like Brooke and Melissa are dedicated to helping folks living or traveling abroad. They demonstrate what is best about our country and are representing us well. The role of the Consular is to look after the citizens who are living or traveling abroad. We could not have been treated better.
In what turned out to be a positive, the results were negative.