Monday, May 21, 2012

Cameroon 2012: Pregnancy Simulation Hike

Feb 19, 2012 -- somewhere in Cameroon

My eyes opened 2 minutes before 6am, and without moving my head or my body, I listened...  no rain.  I waited a few more moments for the temperature to register, and was thankful once again that my prayers had been answered...  it was once again mild.  Given that this would be our longest and last hike, mild was merciful.

The moment I turned my head to check on Hairy Beast's hangout spot up in the corner, I realized that Hairy Beast was the least of my worries.  Dizzyness hit me with a vengeance, the room spinning and making my stomach turn.  Cold sweats came next.  This had all started the night before, and I knew it would get worse before it got better, but I didn't anticipate it getting this bad at all.  Looking around the room at everyone sleeping, I wondered if anyone else would wake up to this?

I got up and stumbled my way to the latrines, thankful for the tiny bit of daylight available, and the lack of roofs in what would be the cleanest latrines and most well lit ones we had access to in Cameroon.  The rain washed them out daily and the daylight poured in.

I wish the rain could come and wash this sickness away too.

There was no relief to be found.  Concerned, I wondered how I'd manage the longest hike yet while feeling like this, but thought that perhaps I could somehow stay hydrated and get through it.  I let the Captain know that I wasn't feeling well, but that I was going to do my best to finish the day's hike just the same.   Given that I hadn't yet complained on this trip, it didn't take much for him to quietly read between the lines -- the fact that I had said anything at all could only mean one thing -- I really wasn't feeling well.

As we were all waiting for our bags to get packed on the guides' motorcycles, a torrential downpour began.  This cooled the air a bit more, and gave us some extra time to rest up before the hike.  I had hoped that this would be enough to gain some strength back, but as we started to walk around 7:35, I knew it was going to take everything I had.  Somehow, the previous hike now seemed like a lovely stroll through the park.  Funny how contrasts change everything.

These were actual roads, as opposed to the jungle trails from the days before, but each step up the steep climbs was tough as I battled weakness, dizziness, and nausea.

With several stops at each village's fon/fondom palaces along the way, the 5+ hours of hiking would stretch out to a minimum 7-10 hour day.  Stopping when hiking is bittersweet - while the rest is welcomed, it makes it even harder to get going once you stop.

At the first place we stopped (or was it the second?), they offered us palm wine and cola nut.  I don't know what was worse, the sip of wine, or the taste of cola nut.  They claim that cola nut is good for settling upset stomachs -- uh-not-so-much...  it only made it worse.  The rest of the team seemed entertained by my facial expressions.  I was just trying not to gag or be rude!  :)

When I was about 7, my family went out to a seafood takeout place one summer evening.  I had fried clams.

I also had the flu.

After eating fried clams and puking nonstop for a day or two, I always associated fried clams with being sick.  It's purely psychological.  I know that if I wanted to eat fried clams, I simply would and I'd be fine, but the memory is strong enough to ensure that I will likely have no cravings for fried clams for, oh, say, a lifetime or so.

Now that I've experienced cola nut while ill, let's just say there's more of a chance that I'll ever crave fried clams than there is of me craving cola nut anytime between now and, oh, say, the end of eternity?


 We got going once again, the weather still fairly mild as we reached closer to mid-day.

After crossing a river on foot, I was offered a ride on the porter's motorcycle, but decided to press on for the time being, accepting only help carrying my two extra water bottles.

After the next fon palace, I was once again offered a ride.  I gave it some serious consideration for the first time, and while still deciding against it for the time being, I knew that I probably didn't have much resistance left in me.

As we approached the next village under the mid-day sun, my legs began to feel wobbly and every time I turned my head, the sights around me spun in slow motion.  The Captain asked how I was holding up, and I hesitated a little.  I don't remember what I said, but it was probably simply the fact that I didn't say "awesome" that tipped him off.  He called for a timeout and made us all pull over for a rest at an empty market area.  He bought us a round of bananas from a nearby woman, and we drank some more water.  I managed to keep the banana down, which surprised me.  I might even have eaten two, since they were fairly small.

After a bit of rest, I was good to give it another try.  My head was feeling a bit better, but my stomach felt as though I had heavy, hot stones in it.  Lava bowling balls, to be exact. I had been drinking water, but it didn't seem to want to go down at all.  Too many bowling balls in the way.

As we approached a very long, steep hill, the top of which we couldn't even see, I approached Kristen and admitted that I was considering hitching a ride to the top of the hill on the motorcycle, "If I accept some assistance on the toughest of hills, perhaps I can conserve some strength to be able to finish."  I explained that I didn't want to feel as though I let the team down or feel as though I had failed somehow to finish all the hikes in full.  Her answer put me at ease, and helped me affirm my decision.

I tried to focus on the positive -- how far I had come -- and not on the negative -- not being able to finish the entire week on foot, even though we were but a few miles from our hiking destination.

As we climbed up the hill, I had to shake my head... never in a million years would I have ever guessed that I'd be riding on the back of a motorcycle through the hills of a remote valley jungle in Cameroon.  Who knew?

The porter dropped me off and went back for Wendy.  The break was enough rest to keep me trekking down the other side of the hill quite a ways.  At the bottom of the next hill, he gave me one more ride.  I don't know if it was motion sickness or what, but moments after the second bike ride, I found myself on the side of the road, projectile puking into the bushes.  Some poor local happened upon the graphic scene -- I'm not sure what went through his mind, but after the third time of being violently ill, all that went through my mind was "hey, now I remember feeling this awful before...  pregnancy!"  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case this time around.  Then again, given that I felt like this for 40 weeks non-stop while pregnant, I guess one could say it was a relief that pregnancy was an impossibility.  One day was challenging enough.  280 days?

As quickly as I stopped puking and wiped my face, I kept on hiking.  It was simple -- the sooner we get there, the sooner this is over, right?

I walked for a while longer until the rest of the group caught up, and then I hitched another short ride to the school construction we'd be visiting next.

The classroom behind where I had been seated was filled with young children learning French.  I stepped into the classroom was was greeted by a well rehearsed "Bonjour Madame!"  I spoke with them in French for a few minutes, and then asked if they had a song to sing.  They broke into a song about Jesus, which brought tears to my eyes.

As the ceremony began, the kids all piled outside even though it had begun to rain, and sang a prayer over our team for safe travels, asking God to protect us home and thanking Him for having brought us to do good work here.  What an emotional experience... it was obvious that the construction of the school was vital here.  It would be hard to erase the image of rain soaked children in outdoor classrooms, with insufficient shelter from the elements, thanking God for the provision of a cement block school building to bring ease to their schooling.

As we were preparing to leave, I stood up to test out my legs and see how much more hike I had left in me, if any. I so wanted to finish with the group, to get through this strongly, but as I stood, the whole slow motion spin thing was happening again.  I knew then, in that moment, that I had managed the last of my hiking for that day.  I could simply not keep going.  I had done my best, and then some.  Accepting help and defeat is not a sign of weakness, it's also a sign of strength.

The fact that we only had a short distance to go helped with the disappointment, along with the knowledge that I really had no choice.  Wendy and I ended up both getting a ride to the village.  As we waited for the rest of the team, the village chairman's grandson climbed into my lap, and snuggled comfortably against me, not moving, just basking in being held.  Maybe he didn't feel all that great either.

Once the whole team arrived, we walked to the guest house, getting there late in the afternoon.  In all, I estimated that I had managed roughly 80-85% of the day's distance on foot.  My body was paying for it, though.  I was running a fever, and was completely exhausted.

I laid down on the cold cement floor, and within seconds, I fell into a deep sleep.  I don't know how much time passed before I woke up, all I know was that my body likely hadn't even twitched or moved the whole time I was asleep.  I was still running a low-grade fever, so I cooled off in the river for a while, made sure to keep my water intake up, and kept praying for it to pass.  I rested on and off until supper, and had a great night's sleep.  By the next morning, I felt much better.