Deranged, delirious and debilitated in Ethiopia
Date- May 2, 2019
Written by George Balarezo, Intrepid Global Citizen
Enough tears poured down my face to put an end to the infamous Ethiopian droughts of the 1980’s. Why? I wasn’t sad, moved or angry. Was I delirious? I sobbed uncontrollably in the stark night. It all came to a pinnacle at that moment. Ethiopia had me in a submission hold and refused to let me out of her grips after I tapped out. She stared at me emotionless as her razor-like nails dug deep into my scalp, unphased by the blood pouring down my forehead. She gouged my eyes with her thumb until my pupil resembled the fiery red sunset fading over the Great Rift Barrier. I begged for mercy and she wouldn’t stop, pounding on the floor and yelling with all my might until my throat became a desert-dry tube, more inflamed than a three pack-a-day chain smoker.
My forehead and body were the same temperature as a hyena in the summer heat, yet I was shivering in my sleeping bag. My mind interrogated itself with more ferocity than even the most cold hearted CIA agent. Handcuffs. Bloody shovels. Callused hands gripping the side of a mountain for dear life. Bloodshot eyes stared right through me as my body continued to quiver in panic.
“What was happening to me?” I thought. Falling victim to this dreaded disease was a nightmare that made Freddy Krueger look like an angel. I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to my friends and family. My family! The pain and sorrow they would feel without me would be unbearable. I was at a loss about what to do and let the sickness run its course.
Mosquito bites outlined the perimeter of my stomach like a red dotted belt. “How on earth did they bite me through two layers of clothes?” I thought. Every night I layered up to keep warm in the cool mountain air, yet somehow they penetrated through the layers of cotton to feast on my blood. It must have been the coffee. I quickly became a coffee addict during my first weeks in Ethiopia and perhaps the mosquitoes were also caffeine fiends. Ethiopian mosquitoes must be much more intelligent than all insects I have encountered in Asia or The Americas.
Was this the devil possessing me from the inside? Just days ago pure curiosity and a chance encounter led me to a temple where Ethiopians from all over the country went to heal themselves from incurable diseases, psychological trauma and drug addiction. I sat alongside murderers, peasants and seekers during ceremonies that started at 3:30 in the morning. According to the priests and monks, the devil overtook the wrongdoers and they needed to be purified by bathing in holy water, reciting bible verses and bowing in front of the cross hundreds of times per day. I didn’t know what to make of the whole thing but the place had an energy unlike any other I visited before.
It was my last night in Ethiopia, the land that pushed me to my limits more than any other. The moon shined brightly in the distant sky and lit up the yard where I laid restless in my tent. Full moons have strange effects on people and perhaps it was making me lose control of my emotions. Maybe cycling in the sun all day along 3000 meter high roads did the trick. I hoped this was a symptom of altitude sickness that would be cured by rest and hydration.
All the gulps of water had me walking to a campsite bathroom that reeked of piss. There was no running water at night, leaving an accumulation of urine from the other travelers in the toilet basin. This was a clean bathroom compared to all others I relieved myself in over the past month. At least there was a toilet that I was able to flush during daylight hours. Up until now, I had been defecating in holes in the ground with used toilet paper scattered all over the ground.
The walk to the bathroom was exactly like my Crossfit workout. I grimaced with each step, using what felt like the same amount of energy to heave a 50 pound dumbbell from the ground over the top of my head. Step one was only the first repetition in a fifty rep workout with the end goal of answering nature’s call to action. I made it to the toilet bowl as drained as I would have been at the end of a workout several weeks before. Only then the satisfaction of knowing I was becoming a stronger version of myself left me on a high that the Ethiopian chat chewers would have been jealous of.
This was different. I was weaker than I had ever been in my life and the fear of having a deadly virus inside of my body left me preparing for the worst. I psyched myself up for workout two, the walk back to the tent. Somehow I stumbled back to the plastic contraption that becomes my home during my cycling adventures and collapsed on arrival.
Ethiopia put me to the test until the very last moment. Party music blared at decibel levels that left my ears bleeding on the inside. There must have been a rave going on several hundred meters away. “Of all nights! Why now?” my inner voice screamed. Drunken laughter echoed from the campsite restaurant just a stone’s throw away, as European tourists were getting tipsy off overpriced alcohol and the mountain air.
Addis Ababa would not let me sleep that evening. Ethiopia was taunting me.I imagined her laughing and pointing in my direction from above. “No sleep for you! You wanted to test your limits by coming here, so take that!” This was her final test and she wanted to see if I was tough enough to pass. Her wrath left me at my wit’s end. She knocked me down on the ground one more time, only now I had to lay there conscious, angry and in an altered state of mind.