We spent a night in Inhambane, where I gained another dozen mosquito bites. Then we took a water taxi across the bay to Maxixe, and from there traveled north along the coast to a bustling town called Vilankulo. We stopped at the first backpackers we found, a place overlooking the ocean. It was run by an amiably gruff old German man. Totally one of those people who’s happiest when they have something to grumble about.
Vilankulo was gorgeous: palm trees, warm water every shade of blue, white sand, and fishermen sailing by in colorfully ragged wooden dhows. It was a pretty modern place with a municipal market, gas stations, banks, and random little shops. But some of the neighborhoods seemed plucked right out of the village: thatched huts, pigpens, water pumps. Go figure.
The town is a gateway to the protected islands that form the Bazaruto Archipelago. One day I took a wooden dhow to one of the absurdly beautiful islands. There I walked along the beach, went snorkeling on the reef, and had grilled barracuda for lunch. I loved it.
But this post isn’t about snorkeling. This post is about illness. Yay!
The day we arrived in Vilankulo I became really sick. As I lay in the concrete bathroom, I worriedly realized I was showing the classic signs of malaria. It wasn’t super likely, since I take malaria prophylaxis, but it was a dangerous possibility. Curse my lack of WebMD! I needed to tell my friends but standing up felt like an immense task. Maybe if someone went into another toilet stall, I could call for them to go get the American guys. That would probably be creepy. In my feverish mind, I ponderously weighed “being a creeper” against “brain damage from malaria.” A mosquito buzzed in my ear and I aimed weak, angry thoughts at it.
Eventually I managed to go get my friends, and use their phone to call the Peace Corps medical officers (PCMOs), who thought I should get a malaria test ASAP. They mentioned that it could also be a parasite. Had I eaten any questionable food? Cue flashbacks to the sketchy, delicious crab from Tofo. Yeah… Meanwhile the German hostel owner called a doctor from the clinic just down the road. “A real doctor,” he said fiercely. I tried to look as presentable as one can when feverish and wearing sweaty pajamas.
The doctor showed up. He only spoke Portuguese. None of us spoke Portuguese. Luckily this wasn’t such a huge problem for me because he mostly ignored my presence; at one point he brought my test results back and handed them to my male friend to read. Smart thinking, since there were probably numbers involved and math is hard for women. (Once his phone went off. His ringtone made heavy use of the word “bitch”.) Anyway, I ended up calling the Mozambican PCMO and communicating with the doctor via literal game of telephone.
The doctor decided to run a malaria rapid test. It involves drawing some blood and dripping it on something that looks rather like a pregnancy test. The results appear within 15 minutes. Pretty sweet. The lighting in the room was dim, so he pulled out his cell-phone flashlight to find my vein. A lab tech tied a rubber glove around my arm and drew blood very efficiently. I was impressed. Then he set the dirty needles and bloody supplies down on the hostel bed. Um. I guess you do what you have to do.
Anyway, I tested negative for malaria! That’s good because I didn’t have to spend a week in a Mozambican hospital. It’s bad because I have no idea what I did have, which is the medical equivalent of setting your relationship status to “it’s complicated.” It just makes it seem like you’re inventing drama to make your life seem more interesting. Boo.
The doctor ended up handing me several different bags full of different medications, and tried to explain what they were via charades. I asked the PCMO about the meds, and he was like: “Uh, do not take those.” Good ol’ antibiotics/fever-reducers/sleep/etc. for me and soon I was right as rain.
The doctor came from a public hospital and ostensibly shouldn’t have charged me, but the next day the lab tech showed up with a vaguely scrawled invoice billing me for $50. I knew it was probably dodgy but I didn’t mind paying. They did me a huge favor by visiting me at the backpackers, and I figured there’d be a fee for that and the meds.
“Sure, I can pay,” I said when given the bill. “I just need a receipt so that I can get reimbursed from my organization.”
“This is a receipt,” he said, handing me a blank piece of copy paper with the clinic’s logo.
“… I need an actual receipt.”
“I will bring one now,” he said, and left.
Some time later Kyle wandered down from the restaurant/bar. “Hey, I just saw your lab tech up there drinking a beer.” Not long after the German came down and scolded me for being naïve. “You made things too official! You and your organization. A consultation should be free, but locals pay 80 mets. That’s how things work here. You should have just given them some beers.”
“I feel bad about skipping out on the bill, even if the clinic is corrupt,” I told my friends a few days later, as we boarded for the bus to Maputo. “But I really tried to pay. I even went to the clinic yesterday, and they couldn’t give me a receipt. Do you think they’ll harass the German?”
“Somehow,” Josh said with a straight face, “I think he’ll be able to handle them.”