April 25th was World Malaria Day, a day we set aside to raise awareness about this deadly disease that takes the lives of over one million children every year. The amazing thing about malaria is that it is incredibly preventable, and thanks to measures taken around the world, the disease has been eradicated in many places. Today, however, it still remains a huge problem in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 90% of all malaria fatalities occur.
The female anopheles mosquito transmits malaria during the hours between dusk and dawn. Because of this limited time frame, it is important that people sleep under a mosquito net each night to prevent bites. Lucky for many Rwandans, the country’s high elevation helps to curb the mosquito population, however here in Rusumo, a low lying area wedged between two large rivers, the malaria cases are exceptionally high and the percentage of the population using a net are exceptionally low. There are many reasons for this; one of the largest reasons is poverty. Even though estimates show that it is more cost effective to prevent rather than treat malaria (example: buying people nets as opposed to buying them Coartem to treat the disease), the problem is that many of the hardest hit countries are too poor to afford simple prevention materials. NGOs and foreign aid play a large role in getting out nets to those in need, but priorities are often pregnant women and young children, leaving many people in the family without a net. Also, despite the constant campaigns to ensure universal net coverage, many people use their nets for fishing, or building a kitchen garden.
|Teaching about malaria|
As a Peace Corps volunteer, I have neither free nets to distribute nor money to help people buy medicines. Our main goal is to increase awareness and promote education about malaria. The more people we can convince to sleep under a mosquito net and to seek medical care (not the witch doctor!) immediately, the more we can reduce malaria fatalities.
This past Thursday I worked creating some educational malaria posters that discussed issues such as symptoms, prevention methods, and why prevention is important. Together with some of the new interns at my Health Center, we presented the information to people in the waiting room and the lessons went really well! Afterward, some people even came up to ask us questions, which I always take as a good sign. One lady even showed me her mouth full of chancre sores and asked if they came from malaria. (I told her no, but they can be caused by too much stress, sugar, acid, or blowjobs!)
After teaching, I caught a bus to Kigali to meet up with Darren, and we headed south to Butare, the old colonial capital of Kigali. Butare is the largest city in the Southern Province, about two hours south of Kigali and an hour from the border of Burundi. Established by the Germans during colonial times, the city has often served as the ‘intellectual capital’ of Rwanda, while Kigali served as the political capital. Following the war in the 90s, many of the original structures were still left standing, giving the city a fun look and feel, which is missing from most of the rest of the country. The city is also home to the National University, meaning it is full of students and professors.
|Darren in the courtyard of Hotel Faucon|
After checking into our hotel, we went on the prowl for good food, of which there was no shortage! I’m guessing I may have spent too much on food, but sometimes you wanna get away from the boiled bananas! One of the highlights was the four-course Menu du Jour at the Hotel Ibis where we had an amazing meal of pâté, vegetable soup, and veal osso buco with pommes frites.
The next day we wandered the mostly empty streets trying to find somewhere to have a cup of coffee. We eventually settled in the Hotel Faucon, an old colonial building that used to house the Belgian Royal family, but this afternoon was housing all the abazungu looking for breakfast. It turns out that Butare was having a Genocide Memorial Day and all shops and restaurants were ordered closed.
|National Ethnographic Museum|
Our plan had been to pay a visit to the Rwandan National Ethnographic Museum, and lucky for us it stayed open that day to let us take a look around. Though the admission was pricey ($5, quite a bit for some lowly PCVs!), the museum was incredibly interesting, full of historical artifacts, as well as many photos of the former Kings of Rwanda.
|Darren observing the artifacts|
After the memorial ended, the shops reopened and the city picked up. There was even karaoke that went well into the night (try sleeping through that!). We ate dinner at a Chinese Restaurant, appropriately called ‘The Chinese Restaurant,’ and spent most of the night drinking nice cold Primus and enjoying the many amenities of South Province, namely cold beers and running water.
We woke up early Sunday morning and began the long trek home, a journey that included a lot of waiting, bus transfers, and a head on collision with a motorcycle that had us waiting long into the afternoon. After about 8 hours of traveling, I was back home in Rusumo. After watching the umucecuru barf all over the front yard I quietly suggested that maybe I should cook dinner, and made myself a big bowl of spicy chili (all with fresh ingredients!), the perfect dinner for a cold rainy night.
|Me in front of a traditional Rwandan home.|