I cautiously peered through the glass window, and shuddered as I saw a pool of blood and dirty bandages littering the ground. As I looked up, I locked eyes with a small child. He was wearing rags, covered in filth, and stood next to a man who was wailing and bleeding.
I took a deep breath, turned to my husband, slowly shook my head and said “I don’t think this is safe. We’re better off at home.”
Home. This was a word I had begun to use with great liberties. You see, my husband and I were currently homeless. We didn’t have a permanent address. We had sold off all our belongings and were wandering through Asia, as free as birds. It was the best time. Except when it wasn’t.
I feared that we were entering into one of those “not great” times. And the home I was referring to was a beach hotel right off the Andaman Sea. For the moment, we were on Ko Phi Phi Island. We had spent some time exploring and zip-lining through the mountains near Burma and had found ourselves on this peaceful Thai island in need of some R&R.
We slowly, deliberately walked along the beach to our hotel. Once there, we both collapsed on our bed. Several hours later, we woke up and again asked ourselves – “Should we go back to the clinic?” Remembering the pool of blood and dirty bandages, the answer was a resounding NO.
For the past several days, we hadn’t been feeling well. Mild stomach discomfort turned into vomiting. At first, we just assumed our adventurous food experiences were catching up with us.
Then the fever came.
We were cold and sweating, exhausted and sore. All our muscles hurt. Our joints were achy and hot to the touch. The migraine that was throbbing behind the eyes. When the tell-tale red-dotted rash appeared on our skin, we no longer had to guess. We knew. Somehow, despite our best attempts to protect ourselves from mosquito bites, we had contracted dengue fever.
Our first inclination had been to head to the clinic. Once we had arrived however, one peek inside the window had us heading back to our rooms. As I often do, I turned to Dr. Google. I learned there was nothing a doctor could do besides ensure we didn’t suffer from dehydration. It was advised to avoid NSAIDs for the pain, and instead take acetaminophen. We sipped coconut water and tea and faithfully chewed on our Tylenol pills. And slept. A few days later, we started to feel better. A week later – we were back to eating questionable food and exploring the jungles.
I was reminded of this story as I was mindlessly scrolling through my Instagram feed. A friend, who had recently returned from Africa, was posting about how he was about to start his “de-worming process.” The comments on the post were those that I would expect – lots of condolences, and a few “OMG this is why you don’t go to Africa!” sprinkled in. I commented with a “Man, that really sucks. But it was totally worth the trip, am I right? You’d do it again, worms and all, in a heartbeat?”
His answer? “Sure would.”
Here’s the thing – My husband and I took a huge risk. We sold our crap. We quit our jobs. We adventured off, quite deliberately, to a part of the world that is so different from what we knew. And then experienced one of our greatest fears. And we’re stronger because of it.
Safety is a myth.
In the words of William Mather Lewis: The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.”