Does that Look Infectious?


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Tolkienesque Walls at Fasilides’ Baths

Fasilides’ baths in Gondar is surrounded by Tolkienesque architecture. Not only are the ruins ancient and stone, but trees have grown through the walls to literally become part of them. We feel as though we’re traipsing through Middle Earth on a mystical journey.

The tour is great. Our guide has just led us through the doorway to the sprawling baths that once housed parties, rituals, ceremonies, and orgies (it’s possible the last one only occurred in my head). He points with pride, saying in one gesture: this marvelous thing came from my people.

Unfortunately, Mark and I are to busy inspecting small bite wounds on our forearms.

Please don’t judge; it’s not really our faults.

To travel through Ethiopia means partaking in dozens of health-related tasks meant to stave off the armies of bacteria, viruses, and infectious diseases just waiting to climb into your organs. There have been a slew of inoculations, which won’t stop until May, 2016. There is a daily malaria pill, which has the quaint side effects of insanely realistic nightmares, constipation, and mouth sores.

And that’s before even getting off the airplane in Addis Ababa. Once we arrived and started moving through the day-to-day reality of traveling in Ethiopia, things got much more real.

One of the reasons Mark and I travel so well together is because we are both open to adventure and locales that might be considered “on the fringe” or a “little too exotic.” And we went into this adventure with open minds, excited for a trip on the edge of safety and beyond our every day experience. Still, there are some very real health dangers that we have to deal with each day. And we do.

But it gets tiring to be on guard all the time.

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Light Reading under a Mosquito Net

The money looks as though it could transmit diphtheria and smells like Donald Trump looks. Using a bathroom involves tiptoeing through a swamp of excrement and then squatting over the hole that nobody seems capable of hitting. We sleep under mosquito nets and each day drench ourselves in Eau de Ethiopia, a blend of mosquito repellent and sunscreen, with a touch of sweat.

None of this is in any way a comment on the Ethiopian people or culture, which we have fallen in love with. However, it would be nice to go for a pee at night without doing a Houdini trick to slip out of a mosquito bunker.

The preventive measures are mostly working. Aside from dysentery, which is so much fun I’m thinking of giving out this year’s Christmas gifts, we’ve stayed relatively healthy.

Well, until now, it seems.

When we notice that Mark’s forearm has small red track marks during our tour of the king’s castle, we go on instant alert. Mysterious red marks on your arm in Prague or London is disconcerting enough, causing one to over-analyze their previous 24 hours. So in Ethiopia it’s a little more than troubling.

“Looks like beg bugs,” I tell him.

“I’m not worried about it.” Mark rubs at them, then again. When we get into our tuktuk to the baths, I notice that Mark is inspecting the rest of his limbs for bite marks. He looks at me. “I mean, what else could it be?”

“I got bitten by bed bugs once and that’s what it looked like.”

“Yeah.” He finds another patch on his shoulder. “Hm.”

“It can’t be measles or something, can it?”

“Measles is a pretty big problem here, actually.”

“Oh.”

The irony fairy makes her first appearance, as I wish I had paid even a little attention to the three billion Facebook posts about measles over the last six months.

Fasilides' Baths

Fasilides’ Baths

By the time we reach the baths, I am also inspecting my limbs and chest for signs of bites. I find one twin-set of track marks on my right wrist and another possible one on my ankle. Great, I’m going to die of irony.

At this point, the baths – though hitting every archaeological G-spot – have taken a far back seat to my pending infection and death. Though we don’t say it, we are both imagining a visit to a Gondarian clinic in the town. I spiral into a worst case scenario until I am handing my insurance card to a calm woman placing leaches on my testicles.

Our guide is trying to get through to us, but we’re a lost cause. We all know it was a mistake for him to tell us about the bath’s use as syphilis treatment. He shows us around for a few more minutes, walks us through the Tolkienesque walls, and puts us back into the waiting tuktuk. We pay him and the driver in Donald Trump money, and head to the center, absent-mindedly scratching our arms the entire way. We’re doomed.

A man in town approaches us and points to his foot, which is covered in blue ink. “I had an accident.”

“Yes, you’ve poured ink all over your foot.”

“No, it was a car accident.”

“With…ink?” I look back at his foot. I don’t know how the ink works into this whole situation, but my paranoia level is too high to chance a closer look. Mark is still scratching and murmuring, “I’m not worried about it. It’s fine….” scratch. scratch.

We run away from ink man.

After finding the one hotel in Gondar with internet access and researching measles and bedbugs, we are reasonably sure that we have only been attacked by our sleeping companions. And though we play it cool, we both breathe a sigh of inner relief.

We make it back to the hotel later in the evening. I set up my mosquito net as I listen to Gondar’s animals start in on their horrific night chorus. I slip in under the net with an expertise I never thought I’d have, open my kindle and read before drifting off. The pelt of mosquitoes bouncing off the net give me some quiet glee, but my last thoughts are of my exposed back and the bed bugs waking up for their night feeding.

I scratch my arm.

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