Deranged, delirious, and debilitated in Ethiopia
Date- May 2, 2019
Written by George Balarezo, Intrepid Global Citizen
“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”
-Edgar Allan Poe-
I had never been this close to death before. My thighs throbbed, lower calves pulsated, feet went numb, and bladder on brink of explosion. The shivering wouldn’t stop, no matter how tightly my sleeping bag pressed against my skin. The roof of my tent spun in blurry circles.
It was a cool winter evening, with a slight tropical breeze. The moon shone brightly in the distant sky and cast a faint yellow spotlight on the yard. Green ankle-high grass sprouted from the campground while a cracked wooden picnic table occupied the space behind where I lay. A lump of uneaten injera and shiro leftovers intended for two dogs gave the yard a peppery, fermented stench.
It was my last night in Ethiopia after cycling close to 2000 kilometers over the course of one month in a place many deem the most challenging country in the world to be on a bicycle. I came here to challenge myself, to find out what I was capable of, to push my limits and force myself to adapt. I longed to test myself and see how far I had traveled on the path to self-realization. I wanted to be one who smiles when death sinks its fangs into my neck, one who is liberated from social and cultural expectations, one who is beyond self-delusion and material attachments. Self-realization is a destination where the outside world does no harm and one remains peaceful, content, and blissful on the inside no matter what the external realm throws in his or her direction. Equanimity to all circumstances, and freedom from all fears and anxiety. I thirsted for a real-life resilience training course and a right of passage adventure. I longed to do something hard.
No one said self-realization was supposed to be easy. Drum and bass music blared at decibel levels that left my ears bleeding on the inside. Boom bam. Scratch. Boom bam. Cut. Boom bam. My head vibrated together with the bass line, starting from the top of my cranium to the bottom of my neck. The sensation was like the tickling of a feather, as if a lover teased me with an endearing smile on her face. Several seconds later, the feather transformed into a nightstick, cracking my cranium open and twisting away at my brain.
The Addis Ababa moonlight played tricks on me. I squeezed my eyes shut in a useless effort to get some rest. The light penetrated my eyelids as shades of bright red and swarms of yellow fireflies zoomed across my visual field. Enough tears streamed down my eyes to quench even the most cottonmouthed desert caravan and bath me in delirium.
Malaria, yellow fever? Whatever it was, I had never experienced an illness like this before. The tears, chills, limp limbs. My teeth chattered and I vibrated like an electric chair victim. Blood pulsated through my head as it throbbed like a timebomb ready to render the capital city a pile of rubble. I was ill, yet peaceful. Withering away in pain, yet basking in optimism. I observed the heat on the inside and freezing cold sensations on the outside all while knowing this was another part of an adventure that would be over soon. This is all part of my resilience training, so I might as well try to enjoy it. I was shocked at my thoughts, so positive and clear while my body squirmed in discomfort.
Seconds later, my attention focused on what was normally a simple task. Too much water. My bladder in dire straits. I contemplated filling up an empty two-liter bottle in my tent with urine or simply pointing the warm liquid stream outside the tent door to take the easy way out. One way or another, I had to get to the airport the next day anyway. It was time to warm up to that monumental task by walking to the bathroom.
My eyes focused on my hand, quivering and light purple as I reached for the zipper along the tent door. The cold from my fingertips and palms contrasted with the heat of my sunburned wrists. Inner side of hand clammy, outer section warm and raw.
Arms flailing and cheeks grimacing, the tightrope walk began. I staggered to my feet but the first step swung me into a disabled mess. The chilly air penetrated through my shirt and my torso shuddered and I hugged myself in an effort to keep warm. In a clumsy frenzy, my feet grazed the leftover pile of injera and shiro and my knees twisted involuntarily in opposite directions.
I limped past the battered picnic table. Thirty more steps. No. No more walking. I dropped to my knees and regained control of my body. I crawled along the grass as the rusty bathroom door moved back and forth in blurry disarray.
I pressed the weight of my body against the wall that lay adjacent to the door. Even with the moonlight’s faint rays, the brown rusty spots were indiscernible. I reached for the door handle to no avail. Two whiffs of air later, my clenched fist slammed into a cold piece of metal with a lever shaft as a sharp pain shot up my wrist and an electric jolt surged through my forearm.
Hand pulsating, I flung the door open. The vile stench of piss infiltrated the air as lack of nighttime running water left an accumulation of urine in the toilet basin. I waved my stream of body waste around as it struck the ground and toilet seat, splashing against my knees. Seconds later, the familiar sound of liquid on liquid pouring rang faintly under the nearby concert buzz.
To Be Continued…