Africa 2017- Prologue

After our month long trip to Australia in 2010, we had decided it’d been long enough: we needed to take another epic journey…but where?

Nearing my 40th birthday, Bryan asked where I wanted to go; “anywhere in the world”. The question took me off-guard because I had never really thought about that: was it really possible to go anywhere in the world I wanted?? If so, then Madagascar was first on the list!

As you may know, last year was actually my 40th and we had to cancel the trip plans because we ended up surprise buying the house we live in now…an awesome house, but an accidental money pit (though looks great now!). It was hard for Bryan to get the time off last year either, so we put off the trip till this year, which happens to be Bryan’s 40th. Despite many obstacles and issues we faced this year, we were determined to make it happen!

We knew the majority of the places that interested us, but only got to planning this epic trip in August- a bit last minute for an October time frame. Due to various circumstances, it still seemed the trip was on and then off again…but finally, just days before my 41st birthday, it became real that we could for go ahead. We booked the tickets and that was that: we were going on the trip of a lifetime…an epic journey to Africa!

A few weeks before our departure, the news begins to report about the plague in Madagascar- the bubonic plague from the Middle Ages; bacterium Yersinia pestis. Many people don’t know it still exists- even in the US. Sadly, a dog was just euthanized in Colorado because of it, but it is a more common and recurring issue elsewhere.

The plague is spread from the fleas from mice and rats (typically). When an infected flea bites a person, the bacteria affects the lymphatic system and causes buboes (swollen areas) to appear in the lymph nodes nearest the bites. I wonder if bubo is actually where the term “boo-boo” originated? While there seems to be no specific evidence of this in an online search, it does seem possible- as this is what I kept thinking of when hearing about buboes…

A person can also be infected by exposure to the tissue and fluids of an infected animal- such as the dog in Colorado who came in contact with an infected prairie dog. And the infection can be septicemic- in the blood. Lastly, the pneumonic plague, can either be a secondary stage of the flea bite infection, if left untreated- or can be spread person to person, airborne like a cold.

This is what we were a bit concerned about because we could easily avoid touching dead carcasses, if we even saw one…but avoiding getting THAT kind of sick from people coughing or sneezing? Scary! Especially as the outbreak was killing people in Madagascar- although a small number. Of course, after having been so sick just 2 weeks prior (possibly a vaccine reaction), this was a pretty big concern- however, I knew also that the news would have blown it out of proportion and made it sound much more serious than it was.

For example, in three months, only 2,000 people became sick and 171 died (it was estimated at 120 people when we left)- which when compared to the capital city, Antananarivo’s, population of nearly 1.5 million, is a small number. This pales even further when considering the flu kills 36,000 people annually in the US. The scary part however, was that they did not have enough antibiotics to treat everyone and were running out.

Thankfully however, we had been to the doctor a few times and we were going prepared with meds, just in case- mostly for a “bug” from food borne illness, but ciprofloxacin would knock out the plague as well! I took it upon myself to take prevention a step further, prophylactically, with doxycycline. Bryan is always suspicious of meds- even ibuprofen- and unconvinced, said it could make our immune systems weaker, which is true. But I had been so sick, so recently, taking a risk by not taking meds seemed far more a gamble than to take them- though it must be noted a side effect of doxy is increased sensitivity to the sun. Being white as a sheet it seems hard to imagine somehow being more susceptible, but this was not the concern. It should be noted as well, doxy is one way to prevent malaria as well, although we had a different medication for that.

As we were getting ready to leave, both my dad and Bryan’s mom were checking in with us. My dad said he’d heard the reports about the plague and we should maybe not go…but no, that would not happen! I knew I may get sick, but staying home- especially after everything we had been through over the last year or so- made this trip very important and not to be missed. Plus, if I stayed home, I would probably get the flu or something anyway! So plague or no, we were not turning back…
Bryan’s mom was really upset about the whole trip. She said she had “heard on the news about Madagascar”…and Bryan interrupted saying, “yeah, the plague…I wasn’t going to say anything because I didn’t want you to worry, but they are getting it under control and we have meds, just in case”. His mom paused and said shocked, “Oh I heard they were having a problem with bees…but now that really freaks me out!” Normally we try not to tell her thing that might worry her- before we do them, at least. It’s really for her best interest- but sadly, coming clean only worried her…sorry, Barbara!
But we have dreamed about this trip for so long…we were NOT going to miss it…much to Refugee’s chagrin. She was trying to get in my bag, but I told her she’d get too hot in Africa…


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