I sat on the balcony of a nice restaurant having dinner with a Doctor and his wife who were serving a medical mission in Sierra Leone. A large orange sun was slowly sinking into the cool blueness of Freetown bay, and, in spite of the heaviness in the tropical air, I felt a relaxing peace. The blaring horns and raucous city noise below us were quieting. If it wasn’t so hard to get there, I thought, this might be a nice place to come on vacation.
“Did you take your malaria meds?” the Doctor asked me.
I began to notice the tiny whine of mosquitoes joining us for dinner.
“I did. Yes. Of course.” I had to think back to whether or not really I did take my pill that morning. I thought so, yes, maybe.
“When we first arrived, we had over thirty cases of malaria each month, among the missionaries. Now, with better precautions and proper meds, that number is down to only four.”
My skin began to itch. I buttoned the collar of my shirt, even though I was sweating in the heat.
“We no longer allow the missionaries to hang their laundry outside to dry,” the Doctor continued, “because a certain type of fly they have here buries it’s larvae in the wet laundry. When you put your clothes on, the larvae buries into your skin. You develop a sore and then, two-weeks later, the flies come out.”
I looked down. To be honest, I wasn’t even really sure what was on my plate. A few moments ago it had tasted okay, acceptable, good even. Now, I wasn’t hungry.
I looked up at the doctor. “Here,” he said, handing me a packet of pills. “Take these if you start to feel sick. They’ll help. Then, go to the doctor as soon as you get home.”
“Would you excuse me,” I said, “I think I’ll turn in early.”
He smiled. His wife smiled. I rushed from the table as the Doctor said something I couldn’t quite make out.
Later that night, after brushing my teeth with bottled water and taking another malaria pill, just to be sure, I turned out the light and climbed into bed, pulling the mosquito netting close around me. Closing my eyes, I heard it again, that unmistakable tiny whine. That’s when it came to me, what the Doctor had said as I left the table.
“There are many ways to die in Africa.”
As I slowly fell asleep, I was sure there were giant mosquitoes landing on the netting surrounding me. I vowed never to hang my laundry outside to dry. And, I thought that a staycation might be a good idea this year, just as soon as I got home–if I got home.