I’m back in Cairo after a week in the western desert, and I found a beauty of an email in my inbox. Some guy thought I was a little too nonchalant in my “Why malaria wasn’t that bad” post. I’ve published his email and my response below, for your enjoyment.
His email [8/12/12]:
So I came across your blog post while trying to find out how long the after effects of malaria would last, because like you I also had the misfortune of experiencing malaria. Needless to say, your blog post struck quite a nerve with me.
I’m extremely glad that you didn’t think the cost of a $44 USD, hospital stay was wallet breaking, but I’d like you to put it in a little context. That amount is almost 10% of an average Ugandan’s annual income based on the country’s GDP per capita figures. The actual poverty line figure of $1.25 also reflects the reality of approximately 35% of the country’s population. Compound this with the fact that between 70 – 100,000 child deaths occur annually due to this disease, and I don’t really think it isn’t that bad.
I myself recognized the fact that I would most likely get malaria considering the fact that I wasn’t taking any anti-malarials, but I don’t think it isn’t that bad, and I never will. Before you continue to go on dismissing how horrible a disease it is because Westerners here for work or pleasure can afford the medication and treatment, I suggest you do a little research on the impact it’s having on this continent.
Now, I have to get back to work, and just a little food for thought.
And my response [8/21/12]:
This is hilarious. All of the righteous indignation.
The tone of your email leads me to believe that you’ve volunteered in Africa for a few weeks or months (or, if you were super committed, a few years) and felt good about the difference you’ve made. You probably went home and “raised awareness” about the horrible lives poor Africans have. You’re probably more grateful for all of the luxuries you have.
This is all very good and nice. The problem is that you’re rather misinformed. Not uninformed – your statistics are accurate and quite apropos – just misinformed. I’m sure you know that in places like Rwanda and Uganda, malaria is as common as a cold (The WHO reported an estimated 216,000,000 cases of malaria in the world in 2011; about 655,000 were deadly). People get it all the time, and it’s often received with some levity. People get malaria and still go to work or school. In Rwanda, I spent an afternoon playing basketball with a young man who had malaria (I won every time. He tried to blame it on the malaria, but really, I’m just a better player. I have a rather sneaky crossover and pretty sweet pump fake, and trust me, when my jumper gets going…..nevermind). Treatment for malaria, when not admitted to the hospital, is relatively cheap, even by the standards of all of the poor Africans you’ve spoken up for. On a side note, you should also know that the vast majority of the cost of my hospital stay ($44) came from being treated in a private room. Although that luxury might not be an option for most Ugandans, my treatment costs – medication, IV drip, the stuff that actually matters – came out to about $10 over a five-day period. In case you were wondering.
You know that many children die from malaria. But you seem to believe that this is because of malaria alone. You don’t seem to understand that many children die from malaria because a) they’re malnourished, preventing their bodies from effectively fighting the disease and developing some immunity against the most virulent strands of it and b) there’s a lack of education about, and access to, methods of prevention e.g. mosquito nets. The deadliness of malaria in Africa comes not just from the disease itself, but from the socioeconomic context around the disease. If you’re on a real crusade to educate people about malaria, and not just wasting time lecturing random bloggers, you should understand this. The cost of emergency medical treatment is only part of the problem. Nutrition, education, and medication go hand-in-hand when fighting the disease.
I don’t know if you just go around the web reading blog posts about Africa and then expressing outrage at their apparent nonchalance. But if you do, here’s a tip: know your audience. A quick Google search of my name would have revealed that I’m Nigerian-American. A 30 second scroll through my blog would have revealed that I’d just written a post about my grandmother, who lives in Lagos. In fact, almost my entire family lives in Lagos. Tons of malaria there. As a kid, I’d go to Nigeria during the summer, see my family, watch soccer, speak Yoruba very badly and get malaria. My dad nearly died from malaria as a teenager. That you’ve attempted to educate me about the seriousness of a disease that has struck me personally on a variety of fronts is laughable. Really. I literally laughed out loud when I read your email.
Lastly, maybe this all would have been cleared up if you’d have read the post a little more carefully. The title was “Why malaria wasn’t that bad,” and then I described a personal experience. Nowhere did I make any claims about the seriousness of malaria for other people. That would be stupid. And if you’d read the blog post even closer, you would have understood that malaria “wasn’t that bad” because of the unbelievable generosity of the people (several of them strangers) who sacrificed their time to look after me. Malaria the disease sucks, but I was comforted by all of the people who willed me to better health. That’s the whole point of the post.
Have a nice day.
I was sitting in traffic when I noticed this guy. He just seemed so….player. I’ve been thinking about the contents of his text for days now:
“B there at 7. Jus put my ride thru tha wash. They ain’t ready.”
“If u not tryna put in 4 gas, u really shouldn’t b talkin bout who drives what.”
“So what u tryna say? u don’t wanna roll up 2 tha party wit me tonite?”
“Nah sweetie i drive a 2011. Maybe i’ll let u have a ride if u nice “
“Yea my other ride’s in tha shop. Got tha flu smh.”
I spent two hours at the Egyptian History museum in Cairo today. Many of the artifacts didn’t have signs or explanations attached to them, so unless you had money for a guide (I didn’t), or you were an Egyptologist (I am not), you kind of had to make up stories to go along with what you were seeing (I did).
Here’s the summary of ancient Egyptian history I came up with:
Early ancient Egyptians built rudimentary statues which weren’t very impressive, but they were so meticulous about documenting everything their god-like kings did that pasty British archeologists would one day dig up all of their artifacts and lecture the world about how creative and advanced the ancient Egyptians were. Later the Nubians, an African people from lower Egypt, ruled Egypt on and off for a few hundred years, but they were black so we don’t really talk about that. Then for a few thousand years different kings took power, built elaborate statues of themselves and pyramids for their carcasses, and filed the noses off of the statues of their enemies. Egyptian art reached its zenith around this time, partly because Egyptians became masters of jewelry and statue making over the millennia, partly because Egypt was so absurdly burdened with an abundance of wealth that the elite could employ a class of artisans to make cool, self-aggrandizing nicknacks, and partly because Egypt is the desert and there wasn’t much to do during the day except sit in the shade and play with bits of stone. Tutankhamen the boy-king came along and wanted to be popular, so he re-instituted the worship of a god that his dad had effectively banned. This made him a hero to all the people who’d hated his dad’s god and loved the old god, which was everybody, and they buried him in the most lavishly decorated burial kit ever assembled, anywhere. At the end of the ancient era, the Romans came along and completely ruined Egyptian art by doing away with its animated colors and surrealism and replacing it with a very dull and dour kind of realism. Everything went down hill from there. The End.
A lot rides on these trade shows. Every company spends the entire year designing some product and perfecting their marketing for it, with the hope that their newest innovation will lead to an influx of cash, or at the very least, pique the interest of an investor. Additionally, every company gets to see what their competition has been up to over the past year, and will walk away from the event feeling triumphant, or crushed.
Just as important, The Jinja Agricultural and Trade Show, which occurred from July 23-29, was an opportunity for agriculture enthusiasts to convince the public that they should give a damn about what happens on a farm.
I walked to the trade show just after lunch time. Little gangs of school children – blue uniforms, purple uniforms, green uniforms, maroon uniforms – lined up in front of turnstiles, waiting to go inside. They giggled and hopped around and talked loudly with excitement.
The fundamental problem with this event was already clear, and I hadn’t even been inside yet. The agriculturalists were on a mission to make people who don’t care about agriculture care about agriculture. They were going to use terms like “food security” to create a sense of urgency and soberness. The kids, on the other hand, were on a field trip. Their primary goals were to eat sugary things, have fun and secretly hold hands with the girl or boy they like. The agriculturalists were getting ready to deliver practiced, impassioned speeches to an audience that could not care less.
The fair was organized like a typical African market, which means that it wasn’t immediately clear that any planning whatsoever went into the overall layout. The seed companies and the banks that will shut them down if they don’t pay their loans opened stalls next to each other, fraternally. Smaller stalls selling biscuits, soda, lotions, carpets, African art and second-hand clothes squeezed in amongst the stalls of fertilizer and farm equipment companies.
My first stop was the bathroom, which had a nice banner describing it as “modern.” I wanted a look. The “modern” toilets were long-drop toilets, which means you have to squat down and drop your crap into a hole. People have been doing this for thousands of years. The steward of these ground-breaking bathrooms stopped me on the way out.
“It’s 200 shillings to use them,” he said. That’s about 10 cents.
“I was just looking,” I said.
“Ahh we can make a deal,” he said, laughing. “It’s 200 shillings for a long call, 200 for a short call. But we can negotiate.”
“Yea, I’m good.”
Afterwards, I went over to the Kakira Sugar Limited stall. They had a demonstration of their innovative sugar cane growing and harvesting techniques. One of the benefits was reduced “stool motality,” whatever that means.
In the beginning, it looked as though the agriculturalists were winning. Everywhere there were attentive students in clean uniforms vigorously jotting notes in their notebooks. A group of about 20 kids listened attentively to a presentation at the British American Tobacco stall, which dutifully pretended as though they grew tobacco for the fun of it, and not to kill people with.
Over at the East African Seed Co. stall, dozens of children gawked at the vegetables brought in to demonstrate the quality of the company’s seeds. In a brilliant stroke of marketing, they’d planted mature corn stocks around their stall and peeled the husks off of the corn ever so slightly, so that the firm, cream-colored corn peeked out, sexily.
I know I should be interested in these things. It’s important to know how food gets onto your plate. Population pressure and global warming and hunger and desertification will ruin the world if we don’t pay attention at our agricultural fairs. But after 45 minutes I’d lost the will to care. Some guy tried to tell me about his biofuel company. He was eating sausage on a stick, which reminded me that I should be having fun eating meat on a stick, too, instead of caring about how you turn a castor bean into a source of renewable energy.
Many of the stalls were absurd. Over at the Ugandan Reptile Association stall, there was a guy with a boom microphone inviting no one in particular to check the reptiles out. They might have received more visitors if they didn’t have a picture of a giant, enraged cobra on their banner, seemingly poised to attack anyone that walked by.
The Uganda Prison Service had a large stall of pigs, piglets, chickens, and feed for sale. It was unclear how the prisoners were involved in any of this.
“How are prisoners involved in this?” I asked some guy in a lab coat who I assumed was someone of importance. He handed me a booklet about pig farming.
“What do the prisoners do?” I asked, handing the booklet back to him.
“Do you know Kampala?” he asked.
“We’re located there,” he said.
The prisoners, as it turns out, were hanging out behind the stall, in bright yellow jumpsuits. They were shouting things at me in a language I didn’t understand. I gave one of the guys my bag of pineapple and that seemed to make them happy.
At a fishery promoting innovations in fish farming, I watched a large silver cod swim upside down in it’s tank.
“Why is it upside down?” I asked some guy who had been talking about how “sweet” tilapia is to a group of children.
“Well the power went out last night and we just turned the generator on this morning, so there was no air in the tank. It’s on its way out,” he said. Oops.
I poked around at another stall selling bottles of liquid home remedies for ailments like diabetes and heart disease.
“How is this stuff made?” I asked the guy sitting behind the stall.
“It’s for diabetes,” he said.
“What’s in it?” I asked.
“How long have you had diabetes?” he replied.
As I walked away, I found it strange that the diabetes potion looked exactly like the sexual appetite potion.
There were so many school children buzzing around that sometimes I couldn’t get to the front of the stall to see what was going on. It was as if they didn’t understand that I had a Very Important Blog Post to write.
After an hour and a half, I couldn’t learn any more about animal husbandry, crop diseases, and the various varieties of peanuts Uganda exports. It was time to find the amusement area, which wasn’t hard once I started following the bad house music (bad house music is huge in Africa). The amusement area covered maybe 25% of the park, but there were just as many kids there as in the rest of the park.
The rides were unsafe. They did not have the facade of danger, as good park rides have; they were actually dangerous. One game involved kids standing on a shaky wooden platform that hovered over two motorcyclists spinning their bikes around in a small vertical tube. Another game involved a circular swing that lifted kids high up into the air and spun them around a center pole. The swings were held to the center piece by single rusted chains.
The food was not fair food. Uganda does not have fair food. The “fair food” was food you can buy on the street, anywhere: chapatis, fried doughs, soda, candy, goat meat on a stick, chicken on a stick, sausage on a stick. No funnel cakes, no cotton candy, no deep-fried Snickers. Hundreds of Ugandan children are being deprived of proper fair food. There are no NGOs addressing this issue.
None of this seemed to bother any of the kids. They seemed content to eat fried foods and ignore all of the agriculturalists trying to save the world.