Saturday, February 6, 2010

To schisto or not to schisto

So a quick(ish) recap of our trip to the lake last weekend:

The lake is about 4 hours away so we took an extra car and left right from one of the sites. The drive itself was amazing because we weren't cramped in the back of an old truck as per usual. Instead we were luxuriating in a large SUV with a working CD player.

We stayed at Gaia house: a pretty typical Malawian hostel-type place. It cost about $27 to stay for two nights and the rooms had electricity (at least until the power outage). Pretty swank by Malawi standards.

Although I was pretty much the driving force behind the trip I did not, in fact, want to actually swim in the lake. If you are familiar with my Walden Pond obsession (on par with my monkey obsession), this may puzzle you. If you are familiar with my germ/parasite phobia, this would not puzzle you- Lake Malawi is chock full of schistosomiasis. If you are familiar with both obsessions, you may have wanted to take a ringside seat and watch the battle royale between my desire to swim in the amazingly gorgeous freshwater and my desire to avoid offering my body as a breeding ground for parasites.

No amount of soap and scrubbing will get rid of the dreaded shistoooooooooo

If you haven't surmised my decision by the language that I just used, I decided against a swim. I did, however, walk along the beach- possibly giving myself "ankle schisto" and I kayaked- which, by virtue of the puddle of water I was sitting in, might give me a case of the dreaded "butt schisto."

In order to make myself feel better about this decision, allow me to quote from the infinitely scholarly font of information that is Wikipedia: "The parasite secretes enzymes that break down the skin's protein to enable penetration of the cercarial head through the skin. As the cercaria penetrates the skin it transforms into a migrating schistosomulum stage....The nearly-mature worms pair, with the longer female worm residing in the gynaecophoric channel of the shorter male. Adult worms are about 10 mm long....Parasites reach maturity in six to eight weeks, at which time they begin to produce eggs. Adult S. mansoni pairs residing in the mesenteric vessels may produce up to 300 eggs per day during their reproductive lives. S. japonicum may produce up to 3000 eggs per day. Many of the eggs pass through the walls of the blood vessels, and through the intestinal wall, to be passed out of the body in feces....Up to half the eggs released by the worm pairs become trapped in the mesenteric veins, or will be washed back into the liver, where they will become lodged. Worm pairs can live in the body for an average of four and a half years, but may persist up to 20 years."

My decision resulted ridicule from most of my travelling companions who simply take medication three months after exposure that supposedly kills the adult worms. To them I say: gross- you have schisto. Nuff said.

In lieu of swimming for hours and hours as I would have wanted- I simply relaxed, enjoyed the view and the company of my coworkers.

Some highlights (with pictures!) from the trip:

-A performance by one of the many "children's bands." I use the term band loosely and use it to include throngs of small children who beat homemade drums and have songs where the lyrics consist soley of "Muli Bwanj? Ndiri Bwino. Muji Bwanj? Ndiri bwino!" (which means: "How are you? I am fine. How are you? I am fine!"
-The highly questionable food. The omelets were rockin' but we had some downright disgusting "pesto" pasta that was certainly not made with basil and had an aftertaste of soap. Also, the ketchup was curdled (see picture). This just drove home the lesson that I should have down pat by now: if it's not fried in Malawi- it's definitely not very good and might be dangerous.

-An amazing long walk along the beach with Lacey. By the end of the walk we were literally trailed by close to thirty children, all of whom were clamoring to hold our hands. One girl kept trying to put her mouth on my arm and I'm still not sure if she was trying to kiss or bite me (what do azungus taste like anyway?). 99% sure it was a kiss but best to leave that a mystery.
-Ample time to relax: I finished my book in the first day we were there.

-Hysterical room name: the first night we all stayed in a "family" room with four beds named Black Madonna. The key had a wooden keychain that said B.M. So (again my maturity level is solidified as "very low." I, like Margaret, sometimes feel more at home with school children) I decided that we should refer to ourselves as the B.M. family. It's funny to me.

On that note, I need to do some errands so I must bid ye adieu until I get the energy to post again.

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