Recently, I was at Gracie Mansion for a fabulous event. It was a ton of fun but I couldn’t thoroughly enjoy my grilled veggies and white wine as my legs were being slaughtered by mosquitoes. The next day, there was the proof of my good times at 88th Street and East End Avenue: big, red, itchy bites. Albeit uncomfortable, it could never compare to what resulted during my summer visit to my father’s homeland of Nigeria years back.
I remember being completely enthralled when I visited the country as a pre-teen. It was my first transatlantic trip. I hardly slept during the 11-hour flight and asked a bunch of questions (to the dismay of my father). Until then, my view of Africa had been limited to what I’d been taught in school in addition to my father’s photographs and stories. I was curious to see if all of that would measure up to what I would soon experience.
We arrived to Lagos and my eyes were wide as I drank it all in. The airport was bustling with people. Some were decked out in traditional dress but most wore suits, dresses, jeans and shirts. My father darted in and out of the pedestrian traffic, with me in hand, trying to keep up. I clutched my Barbie doll as we dashed across the street to catch a danfo to my uncle Tejumola’s house where we’d stay for part of a full month. Danfos, old Volkswagen mini-buses that serve as taxis, are known to have the ‘best/worst” drivers on earth. They drive on the sidewalks, face oncoming traffic, listen to music with the volume turned all the way up and sing out loud with no regards for their passengers.
I was pumped.
We pulled off blasting Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” and before long the scenery changed, from high rise buildings to lush trees and rich sienna colored dirt roads. Some looked so steep that you could barely see past where they crested. Before I could figure out how our danfo managed to defy the gravity of the incline, the scenery changed yet again. This time, into a suburb with ranch-styled houses. We had arrived.
Yetunde, my cousin who was my age, came out to greet me and the next few weeks were spent with us exchanging tid-bits of our worlds. She was amazed that ‘Glow in the Dark’ Barbie’s dress lit up magically when the lights went out and I couldn’t believe that majority of faces on TV were brown like mine. We had a beautiful time.
And then malaria struck.
I wish I could detail the entire experience. However, I was in such pain that I can’t recall much. I remember hallucinating, sweating profusely and suffering from tremendous nightmares. I was rushed to the hospital where I was treated and stayed for two days.
I was lucky. Malaria, a disease of the blood that is caused by a parasite transmitted from person to person by certain types of mosquitoes, kills one African child every 30 seconds. According to Malaria No More , many children who survive an episode of severe malaria may suffer from learning impairments or brain damage. And while we know malaria is preventable, the lack of resources, coupled with a climate very hospitable to the deadliest strain of malaria, has made the disease a leading cause of death among African children. 90% of deaths from malaria occur in Africa.
I don’t get it. Malaria ceased being an issue in the US over 50 years ago yet more than 40% of the world’s population still remains at risk. What’s wrong with this picture, folks?
Luckily, programs such as Nothing But Nets help average Joes like you and I make a difference. All it takes is a bed net. And the next time you’re scratching away at that bug bite, remember how fortunate you are. Most likely, it won’t be deadly.