Malaria…!

Been there, done that,…now.  As of this morning, I’ve recovered from my first bout with the dreaded bug.  Turns out my jet-lag was more than just a misaligned biological clock and my previous post, “Home,…safe and sound”, was a bit premature.  Three days of the illness itself and then three days coming down off the remedy inflicted a severe pounding on my body, but I’m feeling mostly normal today [sigh of relief].

Not that I would ever go looking to be deliberately infected with a potentially crippling and possibly lethal infection, but I consider it a privilege to have had this experience.  It’s one of the risks we take, it kinda comes with the territory, like they say.  I’m pleased that I can now relate to my African friends on another level.

By no means do I seek to diminish the severity of this brutal disease.  According to the WHO, there were an estimated 627 000 deaths due to malaria in 2012, 90% of which occurred in sub-Saharan Africa.  DR Congo is in a list of six African countries where infections are most prevalent.  Globally, 77% of deaths from malaria are among children under 5 years old.  Thus, one child died from malaria almost every minute.

So, easy for me to say that having malaria is a privilege, right?  I endured my case propped up for two nights on a comfortable bed in a modern hospital, nurses stations in both directions, private bathroom with safe running water, flushing toilet, hot shower, meals on order, and medications galore.  Contrast that with crowded, run-down hospitals without adequate supplies, no indoor plumbing, and no food service.  I’m told that the malaria cure in DR Congo costs less than $5 – many people can’t afford it and the government does nothing to help (2012 Malaria Report, DR Congo).

Therefore, part of the privilege is in my perspective, being so recently in the poorest country in the world and then promptly finding myself in the midst of North American prosperity.  I found myself in tears one night this week, thinking about the conditions that people endure,…and the affluence that we have come to expect for ourselves.  I continue to get deeper glimpses into the realities of life in Congo each time I go.  The crazy thing:  I can just hop on a plane and fly away from it all.

I don’t presume to think that we should lower our standard of living to match that of those who suffer most.  Hardly.  My biggest point is this:  I haven’t decided if we have only little or absolutely nothing to complain about as Canadians. Frankly, I have little tolerance for it these days, though it’s easy to do.  Here’s my philosophy lately concerning things that seem worth complaining about:  Deal with it, or do something about it.

Complaining is infectious negativity.  Of course there’s a balance in talking about the things of life that are difficult.  This can be productive and even freeing, but I think out-and-out complaining is neither.  We have SO MUCH to be thankful for.  Oh, and something else I was reminded of this week:  The most important things are not things,…they’re RELATIONSHIPS.

Tandala, DR Congo

Though severely jetlagged and after a short episode of food poisoning in-country, I am home following a very successful visit to our fish farming project in DR Congo.  The impact of our support for aquaculture in Equateur Province was clear from our first interactions with leaders in the area.  The enthusiasm for aquaculture, increased productivity, and thus greater contribution it makes to lives is admittedly not just more than I expected from our work, but even more than I had hoped for.  Many new ponds have sprung up, some owned by people who have not farmed fish before now.  Other ponds that have laid idle for fifteen years have been refurbished and are now growing fish for household use and sale.  Over coming weeks, I will relay stories of individuals and groups who have benefitted from the training, tools, and encouragement offered through our work.
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Fish farmers group, Tandala, Equateur Province, DR Congo.

 


The fish farming group in Tandala was the first area we visited on our arrival in Equateur Province.  Anticipating our (myself and Emmanuel Dole) arrival, people had come from as far as 40 km to hear from us.  I spent part of one evening, hovered over a stainless steel bowl of fish they had brought as a gift, and some example predators (insects, frog), surrounded by fish farmers, discussing their challenges and learning from them.  They have made great advancements and are enthusiastic, but still face several obstacles in increasing pond output–the most notable being theft, unfortunately.

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The next day, we walked just down the hill to visit a set of ponds owned by 100 people.  All of these individuals had received the seminar training, but only two received the $25 tool subsidy.  With $50 in tools (a mixture of 8-10 shovels, machetes, or hoes) and whatever other tools they already had among them, they constructed or refurbished 133 ponds!  I had to clarify several times to be sure something wasn’t getting screwed up in translation–133 ponds! with $50 in tools!  That’s crazy.

We had a meeting with this fish farming group that day to hear their challenges and bring encouragement.  It was the first time it hit me that, sure, I am part of the reason that this has happened, but it has been the leadership of Emmanuel Dole and the motivation of the fish farmers themselves that has brought this success.  I’m thrilled to be a part of a solution, but glad that I’m not the driving force.  …They are.