Christine: “Are we doing to do lots of hiking in Africa?”

     Me: “Um, nope. There are too many things that want to kill me that I can’t outrun; we are way down on the food chain.”
     In my childhood, the only three creatures I feared that wanted to do serious physical harm to my person were the Cows of Hobson’s Pond (I wrote a book about them), rattlesnakes and my niece who was the same age as me.
     I’ve since outgrown those fears of the cows and my niece, mostly, and replaced them with two more; grizzly bears and mountain lions. Since I like to hike in the mountains a lot, those two predators are still justified fears.
     However, there is an impressive list of things in Africa that can kill you; you have been bumped down the line in the food chain. Lions, elephants, hippos, hyenas, and snakes are just a few, but the most likely one is the tinies of them all; the mosquito. No matter what you pack to take with you to Africa or most tropical countries, don’t forget to take your malaria meds. Malaria kills nearly 500,000 people – mostly children in tropical countries – each year. It also helps to sleep in beds surrounded by mosquito netting.
     Mosquitoes in the United Staes are annoying; mosquitoes in tropical countries are killers. Not only do they carry malaria, they also carry a similar disease not preventable with medicine, dengue fever. I’ve had friends come home from tropical countries with either malaria or dengue and those two diseases are to be avoided more than discussing politics at family reunions. Not only can a mosquito carry one variety of malaria, they can carry multiple varieties of the four strains. My nephew, Jeff Miller, whom I’ve mentioned in earlier writings, was bitten by what he called a “dirty little whore” – a mosquito which gave him three different types of malaria. 
     When a mosquito bites me in America, I never once think of contracting malaria. However, if I were to be transported back in time to the 1800s in America, I, too, would have lived in fear of malaria. Did you know that even as recent as the 1940s there was a National Malaria Eradication Program? America was declared malaria free in 1949.
     Unfortunately, if you look at world maps, Malaria and poverty go hand in hand. As if poor people don’t have enough hardships to face, they are also the most prone to getting malaria which is not only a health crisis in a country, it also causes tremendous economic hardships on both families and countries.
     One of the first things I do upon returning home is to find a patch of earth, kneel down and kiss it. While I love Africa, I am so grateful I live in a country that has such an effective public health care program like our government provides, programs I often take for granted.
     Once I return home, I’ll no longer lather myself in DEET, sleep behind mosquito netting and I’ll stop taking the malaria meds after a few days. I’ll climb back to the top of the food chain and resume my normal fears of grizzly bears, mountain lions and politics at family reunions.
     When I bend down to kiss that spot of ground I call home, I will also hum the words to this song: “‘God, bless America, land that I love…!”
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