What do you do when you're in mosquito paradise and your bed net is full of holes? Duck and cover.
On awaking this morning, I inspect myself. No bites! I half expected to be covered in little red welts, since my mosquito net setup is, how shall I say this ... a disaster. I've always attached this colonial-minded romanticism to bed nets, thinking of big, wooden poster beds with a sweeping canopy of netting gracefully swung across. In my mind, the breeze from an open window would gently blow the netting as lovers embraced underneath. Oh how naive!
This is not some tropical paradise – despite the fact that my hotel is so named the Palms Paradise Resort Inn. Eight hours I sat on a bus yesterday driving north into the depths of Acholiland, in rural Uganda, an area of deep poverty that has been labeled as having the highest rates of malaria infection in the world. With Victor, my Ugandan handler by my side, we passed scattered mud and thatched-roof huts and tiny towns to eventually cross the mighty Nile before heading into the swamplands East where, I imagined, mosquitoes surely breed with impunity. The town of Lira, a major trading post and NGO headquarters, is to be our base of operations for a few days.
We checked into Paradise and I went out to have a beer with some friendly visitors out front. From then I learned several critical facts. Don't eat anything but chicken and fish because of an infestation of foot and mouth disease among the area's domestic animals. Mosquitoes? Everywhere, they said. “Just look above her head,” said Stella, a young schoolteacher gesturing to her friend over plates of grilled chicken and fries. “See the mosquitoes there?”
They were not worried. Everyone gets malaria, but they just live with it. Surviving childhood means that most people have some kind of partial immunity to the disease. “You just go to the clinic if you are getting sick and get treated,” Stella said. I eyed her, “Yes, but you know, my body is like a baby's."
They all laughed as I got up, nervously announcing that I was going indoors. I shut the windows to my room – no screens! -- and without a fan knew I would suffer a heavy hotness all night. Then I set to the task of erecting my bed net. As I stretched the netting, one of the bed posts kept falling off since the nails weren't secure. Upon close inspection, there were holes all over, and I got out my duct tape and patched them up (always travel with duct tape). I actually brought my own net but it needs to be hanged from the ceiling to work properly and there was no way to make that happen. I just draped it instead over the other for (partial) double protection. With few other options, I ducked underneath.
There was no big poster bed, no breeze, and no lover. But something seemed to work out right. In typing this, I see a few little suckers flying around empty-bellied and know that it was I was victorious last night.