What do going to Senegal and starting kindergarten have in common?

Vaccines. Lots of them…and having an elementary understanding of the language in which you are working.

Recently, I received all of my required and recommended vaccinations to go to Sénégal.  In case you were curious about which ones, here’s a list:

  • Yellow Fever (stung a little)
  • Meningitis update (I’m not taking any chances while hanging around the “meningitus belt” of the world.)
  • Polio (The nurse had to find the “fattiest” part of my arm…this one BURNED.  Sidenote: I just want to give props to Nigeria–the only place in Africa where Polio is endemic because a few dumb people were convinced that polio vaccines were given by the Western world as a way to sterilize Africans or give them AIDS.)
  • Tetanus (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/41/Tetanos.png  See Senegal?-Its one of the scary deep-red-colored countries)
  • Hep A
  • Typhoid (I opted for the oral vaccine-which had to be refrigerated…hoping my fridge didn’t freeze the live typhoid virus like it did my spinach!)

After becoming Tulane Travel Clinic’s pin cushion for an hour, I was patched up with a variety of cartoon-y bandaids (à la Grandma Gunn-Christmas-stocking-style), prescribed cipro (to be used for cases of extreme diarrhea), and the required malaria prophylaxis (which I will get into later).

Basically, what I’m trying to say here, is that my shot record is running out of lines and I’m pretty sure I’m the most well-vaccinated person in my family/friend group.  Any challengers?

So onto anti-malarials.  Basically there are three options for me for anti-malarial drugs that will be effective.  The first, doxycycline, is an antibiotic.  Its cheap–so a lot of people opt for it, but it makes you super-sensitive to sunlight.  A friend of mine took doxy in India and although she applied massive amounts of sunscreen, she still got giant, puss-filled boils on the parts of her skin that were exposed to sunlight.  As someone who gets sunburned on the walk to and from classes, I found this to be a poor option.

The second drug is something called Lariam (mefloquine).  It tends to be fairly expensive and also causes “central nervous system events” in up to 25% of people who take it.  Its also known to cause very vivid dreaming, psychotic episodes, and memory loss.  Oh boy!  This sounds like a great option when travelling around in a completely foreign developing country (for a great example of what your life can be like after you take lariam, see the third act of this episode of TAL).

The last option–and the one that I ultimately chose–is something called Malarone.  Its the most expensive (thank goodness for good prescription coverage!), but has the least amount of scary side effects (although some people report having nightmares-meh-the least of 3 evils, I guess).

Okay blogosphere, I’ll leave you with a poem from Senegal’s first president and one of my personal heros, Léopold Senghor, in the original french (its pretty easy to figure out the meaning, but I am willing to translate upon request):

Cher frère blanc,
Quand je suis né, j’étais noir,
Quand j’ai grandi, j’étais noir,
Quand je suis au soleil, je suis noir,
Quand je suis malade, je suis noir,
Quand je mourrai, je serai noir.

Tandis que toi, homme blanc,
Quand tu es né, tu étais rose,
Quand tu as grandi, tu étais blanc,
Quand tu vas au soleil, tu es rouge,
Quand tu as froid, tu es bleu,
Quand tu as peur, tu es vert,
Quand tu es malade, tu es jaune,
Quand tu mourras, tu seras gris.

Alors, de nous deux,
Qui est l’homme de couleur ?