(This was originally posted in December of 2007. I am consolidating my two blogs.)
This is quite embarrassing, and if you’re easily grossed out skip this post. The malaria pills I was prescribed for my time in Mozambique causes yeast infections in 2% of the women who take it. I found out I am one of the unlucky 2%. Of course the damn yeast infection struck during my investigation period, when I was with 18 of my male students in an isolated region of Mozambique. There was no way I was going to tell them about my feminine problem.
I’ve never had a yeast infection before or after, but I’m going to guess that walking an average of 10 miles a day in 100 degree weather made it much more painful than usual. I came back to our abandoned schoolhouse almost in tears every night. I tried to get treatment at the hospital, but they had no idea what I was talking about. I even went to the local witchdoctor, but she didn’t understand either. Since the word for yeast and bread are the same in Portuguese, they thought I was saying that I had a bread infection.
I had treatment for yeast infections in the emergency kit back at my house in Inhambane, but I had to wait two days to get permission from the school director to go back by myself to get the medicine. Those were the most miserable days of my life. And the worst part was that no one believed that I was sick because I couldn’t tell them what was really wrong.
On Sunday morning my students walked me to the chappa stand (chappas are the main form of transportation in Mozambique. They are used minivans that fit up to 30 people). There were no direct chappas to Inhambane so I had to make four connections. My students talked to the first driver and told him to take care of me. Whenever the chappa arrived in the connecting town the driver would walk me to the next chappa and would speak in Portuguese, thinking that I didn’t understand. They would say, “this is our sister and she’s sick. Make sure she gets to Inhambane safely.” I never felt so well taken care of.
The trip should have only taken 4 hours but it ended up taking 7. On one of the longest rides, I was sharing the front seat with two ancient women who were sitting so closed to me that I could feel the peach fuzz on their cheeks. One asked me to hold two of her tied up live chickens on my lap. Seriously? The chappa was from the former Soviet Union, and I’m pretty sure it was old enough to have driven Stalin around town. It stalled every time we got below twenty Kilometers an hour, and considering we stopped every ten minutes to pick up people, we had to get strangers to push the chappa and get it started again.
On this particular ride I went a little insane. I looked out the windows at the passing red roads, and the women carrying buckets of water on their heads. Celine Dion was crooning on the radio. Sweat was running down my face. The foul stench of twenty crushed people in the back seat was heavy in the air. The chickens were clucking in my lap, my lap that was burning more than my sun burnt face. I started crying, and I mean really crying. “Why am I here? This would never have happened if I stayed in America,” I cried. But then out of nowhere I just started cracking up. I started thinking about how I will tell my grandchildren about the time I got a yeast infection in Africa and I had to drive for 7 hours with chickens to get the medication. And then I couldn’t stop laughing. This time a huge smile broke across my face, and I thought, “yeah, this never would have happened if I stayed in America!” The two old ladies took note of my insanity and inched away from me which made the rest of the ride much more comfortable.
When I got to my house all of the kids in my village came running up to me to welcome me back. I don’t understand how they knew that I was coming back and that I was sick considering they don’t have phones, internet, or mail. They carried my bag in the house and even got water from the well for my shower. I took the medicine, took a shower, and then I slept like I never slept before.
The next morning I caught the chappa to Zavala and headed back to my students in a much better mood. My crotch was no longer on fire. When I got back to the school my students looked shocked. They thought I was lying about being sick, and that I was sneaking back to America without telling them. As soon as I walked in they all ran up to hug me and cried, “Mommy Tracy, you came back!” From that point on I won them all over. They still call me Mommy Tracy, which is funny because most of them are older than me. This is the first time I’ve been called “mommy” by twenty year olds without it being a come on.
The moral of the story is always carry Monistat with you when you travel. Or at least learn how to say “yeast infection” in the local language.