The First Thing You Learn Is the Last Thing You Remember

Part 3 – The Awash Hotel

“You want to see how far it’s going to take you. Where your place is.  Some pass quickly, others linger. Some disappear unexpectedly.

When I look back one day I wonder if curiosity will come around and ask me what was the name of the Awash hotel. What will the name conjure up? Will it amuse me, make me laugh, smile, cry, or just nothing at all. Without knowing the name of the hotel I followed the elderly woman carrying my bags and dragged my feet, head down, hunched over, straight into the room laying down on the first bed I saw. Names were unnecessary.

When I travel I rarely know the date or day of the week. I don’t plan things rather let things develop as they do. Although, as if these two days in Awash were marked on a calendar I remember the first night in Awash was a Friday. The two girls, Racheli and Roni were religious and the night before we left Harar they playfully warned me they don’t use any electronics from Friday to Saturday. They couldn’t eat meat, but would prepare a special meal for all of us. At the time I had a big smile on my face as I could see they were testing me out to see if I knew what I agreed to when it was decided to travel together. I was up for this special meal, new friends and a new experience. It wouldn’t be just another hotel in another town to forget

All of us were feeling the effects of the trip. It was not comfortable. Ofer’s infected foot was quite swollen and she seemed very uncomfortable, in pain and concerned. I was mindful not to ask her too often how she felt or if she was feeling better. When your sick they can be tiring questions to answer, and I was sure her friends were keeping her busy with concern.

Other than Ofer and me, the other two girls seemed ok from the trip. All of us presumed it was the roller coaster mini van ride that made me ill since other passengers were sick as well. It seemed logical. I wasn’t throwing food up, so it couldn’t of been food poisoning. I got in the van feeling fine except for that morning twinge and got off feeling worse than I should have. In five hours I went from perfect health to not being able to stand. 

The sleeping arrangements were that the two sickies shared one double bed and the healthy girls would have their own double in the adjacent room where the bath and toilet were. When we arrived they asked me if I minded sharing a bed to save money.  I want to be easy going and cooperative, but I was so sick I worried I would disturb Offer. My answer was quick – sure it’s ok. I felt so sick I had no capacity to think about things or talk about them. I needed people to just take control and make decisions, so I could concentrate on being sick. So there we were, a pair of sick travellers in a double bed. Her foot elevated, my fetal position tucked in and tight.

The girls were concerned and kind to ask if I wanted something to eat or drink, but I was feeling slightly uneasy as we didn’t talk much about what was wrong with me.  I thought perhaps we had just met and they didn’t yet feel comfortable enough with me. More or less we were still strangers. I felt their concern and trusted them, but I kind of had paranoid thoughts when they were speaking in Hebrew. Were they talking about how scared they were for me? how much worse I might get?  They said in a harmless, “just to be safe” way that we’d go to a clinic for Ofer and I in Addis, but it wasn’t in a manner of urgency. The evening was settling in as was my fever and my mind was beginning to think too much I told myself. 

The first night my illness began to unfold. It was no longer just the nausea and exhaustion that I had in the van. A heavy fever began which would stay with me for nearly two weeks. When you get a fever, without thinking, you feel it out. You work your way into it. You want to see how far it’s going to take you. Where your place is.  Some pass quickly, others linger. Some disappear unexpectedly. I slipped in and out of sleep with a fever, body aches, diarrhea, exhaustion and nausea. The fever didn’t bother me so much, but the worst part was the exhaustion. Always two steps behind to catch my breath as if I was missing a kidney.

Something as harmless as sitting made me feel a fatigue I can’t describe. To get my body from a laying position to sitting on the edge of the bed was very difficult. Then the decision to leave that sitting position for the few steps to the toilet was not made lightly. Once I was standing it was as if Awash was at 10,000 meters above sea level. Just a few steps made me out of breath. I settled into this cycle of decisions and physical exertion and pain hourly.

All the while I missed the special meal the two girls had prepared. They were now singing Hebrew songs softly. It soothed me and was a comfort to me while I was half awake, half in pain. It felt like a prayer. In my vulnerable state my mind I felt how beautiful it was. People singing songs about life.

The first night was over and I was expecting to feel different. Progress. Some evidence to prove I had slept, rested and suffered, but still, I was just as sick as the day before. I carried on with my hourly routine of aches, exhaustion, diarrhea, nausea and the dreaded ten step trip from bed to toilet. The day passed with sipping water and coke. It had been two days since I’d eaten. My state of mind was optimistic, thinking this wouldn’t last long. In the back of my head I had set a stop watch to see how long this would last, forecasting how many days before I could get back on the road and travel north. 

The second night had arrived and a change began for the worse.  In what felt like the middle of the night I went from burning fever to the coldest chills to my bones. I was shaking uncontrollably. Somewhere in my mind I hoped that Ofer was awake and could see me. I wanted her to know I was getting worse. I had never had chills like this before. It was surreal. The chills would pass and the burning fever would take over soaking me in sweat. That night I slept very little, but still in my head I was waiting for all of this to pass. I expected at some point the fever would peak and soon after break. There would be a morning full of relief and hindsight.

The next day the girls were up and talking. At some point they asked how I felt and if I had slept ok. I’m not sure how I replied as I was still unsure of what had happened last night. Between the fever and chills and disturbing dreams I felt out of it. They tried to get me to eat some rice but it was impossible I thought. They were being so kind, I wanted to try but I just couldn’t. I started to worry I was keeping the girls from moving on to Addis. When we arrived I hadn’t asked how long they planned on staying. That morning they were talking to the hotel owner about arranging a half day trip through the national park but decided it wasn’t worth the money.

Those two days in Awash I felt like a huge burden to these three girls. They didn’t plan on traveling with a stranger or even worse a terribly sick stranger. Travellers need freedom to come and go as they wish and if I was sick I’m sure I would be an anchor. I thought about saying to them they should just keep moving and I’d stay behind in the hotel to recover. They should go to the national park and then onto Addis if that was their original plan. I would be ok and sleep the fever off and when I was feeling well enough I would get to Addis on my own and in my own time.

I  realized this would put them in an awkward position. I was giving them two awful choices. Keep traveling with the sick guy tagging along, or leave the sick guy behind alone in a hotel. Not really much of an option for them, so even though I wanted to stay another night or two I thought it was best not to disrupt their plans and stick to what we originally agreed. Travel from Harar to Addis together.

I decided to travel with them to Addis, but knew it was impossible for me to get into local transport. Usually you would think it was the vomiting or diarrhea that would be the worry in a car or van, but it was the exhaustion that worried me. It was a painful deathly exhaustion. Even I though I hadn’t thought about what was wrong with me or that anything was seriously wrong, I was slowly coming to terms with my mysterious illness and finding my limits.

I said to the girls that it was just impossible for me to travel like a local and I understood if they couldn’t afford a private van. I offered to pay for the private van myself and if they wanted to join me they would only need to pay me what the local van would have cost. If they wanted to take a local mini van I would understand, but for me I just couldn’t bare it.  At this point I didn’t care about money or decisions. I needed to get to Addis as fast as possible, as comfortably as possible. I wanted to get to a new hotel, sleep and wake feeling better. Fevers don’t last forever I thought.



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