LOUD WHISPERS: Clarity In Confusion
In September 1988, I came down with a severe case of malaria fever in London. I had just arrived London from Nigeria and after two weeks of the sharp autumn cold my body’s defence mechanisms gave way. I was admitted to the London School of Tropical Diseases where I was their guest for a week. On my first evening in the hospital, I woke up to see a number of doctors hovering on both sides of my bed. They were all white and in white coats, and in my fevered state, they looked unearthly. I thought to myself perhaps I am dead. The lead Doctor spoke to them while they all peered at me and took notes. Then the Doctor leant over me and asked me how I was feeling. ‘Not very well’ I responded. I was alone in London. My parents were back in Nigeria. My boyfriend (my future husband) was also in Nigeria. I was scared. Tears welled in my eyes. I looked at the other Doctors again and had a feeling of dread. If I was not dead yet, then perhaps I might be soon. I asked the Doctor what was wrong with me. He pulled himself up and with all seriousness pronounced, ‘You have malaria fever’. I stared at him, waiting for what was to follow. Nothing else came. I asked him, ‘Is that all?’ He was very surprised to see that this was not an earth shattering moment for me. ’Yes, that is all. Have you had malaria fever before?’ He asked. ‘Yes, many times,’ I told him. Right up to that point, I had malaria at least twice a year. There was no long ceremony to it. You were given a Quinine injection, a Novalgin injection and if you were lucky some Phenergan too for the side effects of the medication. It also helped you sleep. After being treated at the London School of Tropical Diseases all those years ago, I have not had full blown malaria ever since. Till last week.
On Monday 22nd August, I left Lagos to attend an African Women Leaders Symposium in Nairobi, Kenya, hosted by OXFAM International. My plan was to arrive on the evening of the 22nd, and spend the 23rd with my good friend Zeedah. She lives in Zurich, but she also has a farm just outside Nairobi, and I have been promising her for years that I would visit. We had arranged to have lunch together on the farm, and I was going to eat grilled chicken and basmati rice with the delicious hot sauce Zeedah makes. By the time I got off the plane in Nairobi on the night of the 22nd, I knew this plan was in trouble. I was running a temperature and I felt as if I had been beaten. I said a silent prayer of thanks that I had not landed at Hong Kong International Airport, where they have sensors to detect your body temperature. I was so grateful to see Ivy, the young lady who had been sent to receive me that I almost collapsed into her arms. I thought I was coming down with a cold, and since it is a viral infection, I was not unduly alarmed. Bad colds can be very uncomfortable, but not life threatening. The next day, instead of going out to the farm, I stayed in my hotel room to rest. I started feeling a bit better, and was prepared for my presentation the next day. The following morning, I was feeling pretty awful, with a hundred bells ringing in my head. I made it to the conference room and managed to give my presentation. After the photographs with other speakers on the opening plenary, I was taken to the clinic. Apparently I had become so dehydrated I needed two drips. After tests had been run the Doctor confirmed a diagnosis of ‘Acute Malaria’. Considering the fact that I had not felt this ill in 28 years, I could understand the ‘acute’ diagnosis. The female Doctor then went on to tell Ivy who had accompanied me that she needed to take good care of me, and that I might act confused. I asked her why I would act confused, was it because of the medication I would be taking? She said no, because of the malaria. The next two days were just a blur. I would slip in and out of sleep, too weak to do much of anything, by this time the bells my head had become a full orchestra. I missed the rest of the conference. I did not become confused, but I had a series of confusing dream sequences. There was however one that stood out. I was running through a tunnel, I don’t know where. As I was running on my part of the tunnel, a little girl was running towards me, laughing, her face all alive. When she saw me, she ran towards me and I stopped to scoop her up in my arms. We both held on tight to each other. And then I knew who the girl was. She was me. That is when I woke up. My fevered brain at first could not make sense of this, but with time, I had some clarity. Perhaps I was in the tunnel running my life’s race, and I met myself, many years ago. A little girl full of hopes and dreams, running through life without a care in the world. And here I was, still full of life, with some dreams come true, aspirations met and goals accomplished, yet running ahead to do more. If I could talk to that little girl now, what would I say to her? I would tell her to keep running. Run because you need to get ahead, not because you are afraid. Run because time waits for no one. Life is scary. Dreams are scary. But keep running little girl. Be strong. Even when you find yourself all alone in a hospital bed in a strange country surrounded by doctors, don’t be scared, keep running. And I would tell her, keep loving. That is the fuel for your race through life. Never stop giving your time, talent or treasure. Always seek out your friends and spend time with them. And never stop laughing. So what do I tell the adult me? Well, I tell myself to be thankful to God for the gift of life and health. I tell myself to keep running literally and metaphorically. I tell myself there is still so much to do and because the world has become a dark and dangerous place, my part in it has to include working with others to look out for the innocent and vulnerable. I tell myself I am thankful for moments of clarity in the midst of confusion.
Many thanks to my sisters in Nairobi for taking such good care of me. I did get to eat Zeedah’s pepper sauce. It is the only way to get any food through my lips, everything else tastes like sawdust. Keep running dear brothers and sisters. Have a great week.
Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com