I collapsed, stiff-legged and delirious after 7 hours in a van with three nuns, my mom, and a sweaty driver. Being in between the driver–a large man who doesn’t wear deodorant–and one of the large sisters, same thing also she’s fully habited–in 90 degree African heat and humidity, I was fried in every sense when I fell from the van to the concrete. Somehow we managed to load two enormous washing machines and everyone’s suitcases into the van with us, removing seats and cramming to the front of the car where we were less than even slightly comfortable, and driving from Douala to Bafut. Also the van has no air conditioning.
Simply to be in this van going the direction we were headed was a relief to me. I was ready to get the hell away from the weekend and my disastrous vacation in south Cameroon. Thursday morning, we crammed (we’re always cramming into cars. At least 7 to a taxi when we go into town) into the convent van and the rented van, my mom and I, 3 sisters and 9 Dutch doctors. We made the drive to Kribi without much excitement, just lots of time in the car and a few stops in questionable areas for lunch, and were dropped off at our designated hotels. I was with my mom, you can usually assume that about this trip, and we were the only ones staying at a different hotel. I was excited to meet more travelers, maybe my age and maybe they spoke english, but no…I never have much luck with this wish. We were almost the only tenants of Hotel Costa Blanca, only one couple was there and some parents with babies. The hotel owner was insistent, especially after my 2nd or 3rd whiskey, on becoming my husband and was prepared to say anything to me as long as I would agree. Well, if you’ve known me in a whiskey situation (sorry) you can imagine the mixture of annoyance I felt at this. I might have made him cry. But this is not what I came to Kribi for, dammit. I came to sit on the beach in my new bathing suit and get tan enough to prove I wasn’t in the Midwest all winter. So the day it didn’t rain and we weren’t stuck in a near monsoon at bank in town, teaching the tellers the Lattice multiplication method, I went down to the beach early intent on staying until it was time to check out.
It was nice, being on the Atlantic with a book, a notebook, and nobody around. I went in and out of the water, fell asleep and woke up, paged through some poetry, etc. As the afternoon went on and the checkout time got closer I thought I’d take one more venture out to sea. I walked out into the water only as far as my waist. Something wrap around both my ankles, digging tiny barns into my skin. I gasped and tried to back away, but my legs started to seize and burn with such intensity as the angelhair tentacles of whatever I was tied in reached up and grabbed my hip. I jumped back and clamored onto shore, dragging my dead legs out with me. I couldn’t think for several seconds, I couldn’t even see the pain was so immediate. I shook it off and yelled back to my mother, who was watching me flail curiously, to get someone for help. She ran back to the hotel and was followed out by some of the maids and one of the owners. I dragged myself into the shade and fought against the threshold of a blackout. The maids only spoke French, and right away began taking handfuls of sand and rubbing at my ankles aggressively, as if I was not a living creature that was already in an enormous amount of pain. Sand being rubbed vigorously onto a fresh burn? It hurts. My mom spoke her broken French to the maids who said that this happens in this part of the water, but no, never before at this hotel, they didn’t really know what they were doing. Another maid came out with a bucket of ice water and three lemon halves. As if rubbing sand wasn’t bad enough, guess what came next. At one point, the beach vendors who roam figures anatomically carved with large genitals, crouched down and began fingering my ankles and the burns. Someone called a doctor, who also only spoke French, and I was taken to the hospital.
At the hospital, I guess the French woman explained that I needed a shot, but this was in French, and left to get the supplies. I wondered what she was telling me. She came back with a syringe 5 inches long and about an inch in diameter. She pointed to my arm and I showed my veins. She filled the syringe with a ludicrous amount of amber liquid and held onto my elbow. I watched her tap the syringe once, but I could clearly see a large air bubble inside, and when she stuck the needle in, my eyes never left it as it wiggled in the edge of the needle. The liquid poured into my blood, and it was fine until two thirds had entered me, then I started to itch a little. The little itch turned into a panicked surge of burning itching that flooded down my entire body and I screamed for the first time that day, clawing towards the woman who smiled calmly and held my arm a little tighter. I think I said “What the fuck is this!? What do you think you’re giving me?! What the fuck?!?” She removed the needle when the last liquid rushed into my arm and I writhed from the burning in every cell of my body. The pain gradually slowed and quit, and again I felt the edge of a blackout behind my eyes, but I fought. I was taken from the hospital and put back into the van so we could make it to Douala in time for the sisters to buy a washing machine.