First Person

How to Cope When You’re Sick–and on the Road

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“Disaster happens whenever you travel,” said Nazareth, our circumspect colleague. “It’s a matter of coping.”

He was talking about Miriam, Oxfam America’s public health specialist, sprawled in the front seat of the truck. She looked pale and a little sweaty. And she was praying for a pit stop.

Was it the salad from the night before that was causing all the trouble? A sip of dirty water? Memories of roasted camel? Whatever it was, it was making her the sickest she had ever been—no easy feat for a medical doctor who delights in all local cuisines and has worked in Nepal, Tanzania, Mozambique, Chad, Sudan, India, El Salvador, and Peru.

“Funky stomach, that’s what I call it,” said Emily, a humanitarian livelihoods specialist. “It happens all the time. Think of it as a weight-loss plan.”

We were 10 people bouncing in two four-wheel-drive vehicles down the ribbon of tar that stretches through Ethiopia from Addis Ababa to the Kenyan border, and the night before we had been a cheerful lot, looking forward to a week in the field working on a project to detect early signs of the trouble drought brings.

But today? Things were not so good. On a trip like this, easing the misery of one becomes the mission of all.

We pulled into Dilla. It was 8:30 a.m. and our plan was to take a break from the bouncing, find a bathroom that was more than a bush, and pump Miriam full of an Abyssinian potion sure to cure all that ailed her. We located just the place: an outdoor café with a tiled hallway leading to indoor “facilities.” Never mind that the stench at the end of the hall was enough to make you heave. Miriam was just happy to have a door that shut.

Less successful was the potion—a sticky mix of finely ground coffee beans and honey chased with a bottle of Ambo, Ethiopia’s own fizzy water. None of it stayed down.

Still, Miriam had taken Nazareth’s admonition to heart. She was going to cope. But now it was time to try a western strategy: pills. So, off an obliging trio went in search of the right ones to pop. They soon returned with a fistful of 30—some for the cramping, some for the vomiting, and all for just 10 birr, or about $1.

Two hours later, with Miriam on the mend, we hit the road again, marveling at the power of a buck in Ethiopia and all the medicine it can buy.

“That anti-cramping stuff is good,” said Miriam sinking back into the front seat. “I’m going to bring some home.” Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+