|Malaria, acrylic on paper 60 x 80 inches 1994 / napob.com
Malaria in Larantaka on the Savu Sea, Flores Indonesia.
I remember the time and place I got my bite, early evening in a small yellow and brown room, one light bulb one fan. It was around seven in the evening, we had been traveling for months from Banda Aceh, Sumatra to Larantaka, Flores. We, my partner Sabrina, to travel to IrianJawa, island jumping. We decided instead it was best to return to Maumere the following day.
Riding the ferry from Larantuka towards Lembata and onto Papua New Guinea
I remember looking at the mosquito on my forearm and something inside just said, this is the one, but somehow I let it slip my mind and pinched it off me.
The next morning we got on a bus going to Maumere, little did we realize that it was going to be an all day thing, a bizarre long day. The bus doesn’t leave town until it is full, so it weaves through the streets of Larantaka looking for people going to the islands biggest town. Though we boarded at nine am, it isn’t till noon that we leave town, at this point the bus is full of sweating, smoking people rolling along the near sea level sweltering heat. At this point I turn to Sabrina and tell her I might have food poisoning, cause things are doing that woozy thing. I drink water and hope we get to Maumere soon, but really.. it’s almost five hours away.
An hour later I am seriously agitated and my pupils are pinned, something serious is underway and I am coming to the realization that it might be Malaria.
After two hours on the road the bus stops, and I decide to go on top of the bus where our luggage is tied and find the Homeopathic Malarial medicine. At this point I am somewhat rabid but still can focus and keep myself from freaking out on all this short smiling islanders. Sabrina is learning how to say, where is the hospital, my husband has malaria maybe, he is sick, can you help him, Ruma Sakit? Ruma Sakit?, where is the hospital? People on the bus are very entertained by the funny spotted man and his hallucinations. About five miles outside of Maumere the bus comes to a stop and the drivers assistant collects more money to go into town, or else get off and walk the last five miles. I am protesting this extortion but everyone else ponies up the dough, we see a cab that is sitting there so we go over and after allot of wrangling on price he takes us to the hospital.
I am admitted and taken into a examination room where I pass out from pain. When I awake there is a nurse with a huge hypodermic needle about to stick it into the bottom of my foot. I am clambering away and she is laughing because she is actually applying iodine on cuts I got from walking through deer antler coral, very sharp grows in half meter of water, good at cutting ankles and shins.
After a few hours it is determined I have Malaria Falsiparum, or brain malaria.
I go back to my hotel room and time begins to divide into pain time and hallucination time. When I am awake the body shakes with tremors of aching muscle pain. My eyes are shut and I see only a tangle of barbed wire out in front of me. I slowly learn to move the wire and untie it, watching it move as I think it out into one long continuous untangled wire. At that moment the pain disappears, it’s as if the malaria is gone and I am so weak that I can barely move. Sabrina carries me to the washroom, then back to bed. She is trying to force feed me rice, but the smell of food hurts my stomach to much. The doctor at the hospital has tried every medicine in her arsenal; she even has green algae, chlorella sent from Singapore to help me. The plane out of here is rough, to rough for me to travel on, so I continue to try and beat this.
It has been two days, and the doctor says that there is nothing left to do. She gives me twelve hours till the fever goes to the next level and death.
Now let’s go back three months to Iboh, on the Island of the Flying Women. We just had to see that, on the ferry over we saw tall silver fish glimmering in the sunlight as the ran on the water, running upright on there tail fins, but no flying women. One day when at the general store buying a mosquito net, a young paramedic from San Francisco started up a conversation with us. The clerk served us then we stood around talking with the American. He was asking for Fansidar, he then turned to us and told us we should stock up on this stuff, cause nothing is going to stop the black fever, Japanese Encephalitis, or Malaria except Fansidar. The side effects are severe but, compared to dieing what are you going to do.
I was having a clear moment and I remembered the six Fansidar tablets in my backpack. Sabrina had gone to the hospital with that information and came back to say the doctor declared, sure why not, he’ll be dead by morning anyway. So I took two tablets and descended back into the pain until the hallucinations took over.
I was on the hillside standing looking at a large cliff face that extended into a mountain range, up and down the facing a valley, a yellow dusty desert. Standing next to me was an older man, an anthropologist almost comical version of an ancient professor. He told me that he was going to enter The Temple of Solomon and wanted me to come with him. There was one stipulation however, we wouldn’t be able to go in our present bodies, and we would have to shed them. He started pouring honey over himself then on me until we were both glistening in the afternoon sunset over the ever-extending arid desert. Then suddenly he sparked up a match and we both burst into flames, the sugar from the honey filled the air with black smoke and smoldered out until there was only two black shining human shells. With a sudden crack a younger boy of eight or ten burst out of the shell, I stood there looking at my small boy arms and the anthropologist emerged as a young boy. We both stood facing the rock face as it opened, and for an instant I saw the pillars of the temple then was enveloped in a golden light so powerful I felt my body dissolve into the light.
I awoke, it was five or six am, I felt battered but clear somehow. The fever had broken. Over the following three days I ate fruit flown in from Singapore and Clorelas… I slowly was able to get around the room and on the forth day I got on a flight to Dempasar to go to the Military Hospital for further tests. On the flight out I sat next to the vice president of Pan Am, he had been on holiday with a friend in East Timor, they both got Malaria and Black Fever a month earlier. His friend had died and he was heading back to Amsterdam. He was amazed that after eight days I was able to get on a plane carrying my luggage.
In Dempasar they verified that I had beaten the Malaria Falsiparum, we stayed in Ubud for a while deciding what to do next. We finally decided to head to Singapore and then onward up the east coast of Malaysia.
A special thanks to Ted the paramedic angel from San Francisco, after that day we only saw him once more on our way to Lake Toba in the interior of Sumatra.