Thursday, July 14, 2011

Man down.

The number of interns dropped to seven. Eric, the other engineer on the team, packed up and left for the US.

He had been sick the majority of the time here. Stomach pains and diarrhea from spice intolerance, food poisoning (he got it worse than me), the flu… His life was a constant state of ailing health. Then, he contracted malaria.

He’s fine, by the way. They gave him malaria treatment that worked effectively. However, even with the treatment, malaria still makes you suffer horribly for about three days. Poor guy was bed-ridden with symptoms he described as the flu on steroids. It was the last straw for Eric; he was tired of being sick, tired of not doing any work, and mildly concerned about having a relapse of malaria or getting it again. It was time to throw in the towel.

It’s unsettling to have a peer drop out of a program like this one. We’re all in it together, going through the same experience, making sacrifices and learning how to live in Africa. Eric’s departure reminded us that there is an out, a way to not deal with it anymore. Not that any of us would actually want to leave – I think it’s just a mental impact. Sort of like endurance bicycling. On a trainer, it’s extra hard to go for six hours because at any moment you can acquiesce to the pleading of your body and step off the bike. On the road, you don’t have a choice – you need to keep going or else you don’t get home.

For me, his departure is most impactful because I’m losing a friend. I really started to bond with him. He’s quite different from my usual style of companion. He reminds me of a sensitive high school jock that grew up and got a degree in engineering: emotionally withdrawn and not particularly eloquent, but disarmingly easygoing and funny.

We rather quickly became adventure buddies, always down for anything outdoors. Whether it was to collect survey data on the site, dig a 3-ft hole for infiltration testing, or play with a machete and bamboo, Eric was game. I enjoyed our excursions, getting in touch with our inner man (or boy, depending). He was also one of the most consistent exercise buddies.

He was also an excellent kvetching partner. We take the challenges of Nigerian life in stride, but it’s nice to muse over it with someone. When we’d finish an Insanity routine and discover that our “dinner” prepared by Mercy consisted of fried sweet potatoes and a palm oil sauce, we could laugh about it while preparing Tummy Tummy (i.e. instant ramen) to supplement the meal. I could say what was on my mind and not be particularly fearful of judgment. Or when we were both knocked on our asses from the food poisoning – lying upstairs groaning, taking turns at the toilet, watching Tron to pass the time – I found a friend to weather the experience together.

Well, my friend, safe journey back home.

(This photo was taken a week or so ago. We bought Nigerian fabrics in the market and got hand-made suits tailored to fit – all for about $30. Total win.)

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