November 29, 2011

Mefloquine Madness

The Mef Pinto

According to the Food and Drug Administration’s Mefloquine (a.k.a. Lariam) Medication Guide, taking this anti-malarial drug can cause “… sudden serious mental problems, including severe anxiety, paranoia (feelings of mistrust toward others), hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there), depression, feeling restless, unusual behavior, [and] feeling confused… Some people who take Lariam think about suicide (putting an end to their life).  Some people who were taking Lariam committed suicide.  It is not known whether Lariam was responsible for those suicides.” (
This FDA guide goes on to list other possible side effects: convulsions, liver problems, heart problems, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, dizziness, headache, sleeping problems, muscle pain, fever, chills, skin rash, fatigue, loss of appetite, ringing in the ears, and irregular heartbeat.
I don’t want to bust on the Mef too much.  As a Peace Corps volunteer, I’m required to take it once per week.  I take it so I don’t get malaria, and so far I haven’t gotten malaria.  And so far, I’m not a rash-marred madman with explosive diarrhea.  So far, so good.
I experience several of the abovementioned symptoms on a regular basis, including nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, etc., but I don’t attribute them to the Mef.  These things happen when you introduce a developed-nation digestive tract to the third world.
I also experience “sleeping problems” and this I do attribute to the Mef.  By sleeping problems, I mean wild and horrifying nightmares, bizarre lucid dream states, and waking up in disoriented panics.  The Mef is a nocturnal cerebral bobsled that explores the darkest nooks and crannies of that giant gray raisin floating in your skull.  It’s like being duct taped to the passenger seat of a possibly explosive Ford Pinto with the accelerator wedged down to the metal by a crowbar.  The driver’s seat is empty.  Your eyes are propped open like that guy in A Clockwork Orange and you're probably screaming like a schoogirl.  In other words, it can be unpleasant.

Forget the Insecticide, Bring on the Nukes!

Strained Relations
The title of this post is a movie tagline from Starship Troopers. Do you remember Starship Troopers?  It’s about an interstellar war between humans and giant alien bugs for control over planets.  Space isn’t big enough for either of them, and they duke it out.  My current living situation is not all that different, except I don’t have cool body armor and futuristic machine guns, and the battleground is not Planet Klendathu, but my house.
My home in Madagascar is host to all manner of creepy-crawlies: ants, spiders, flies, wasps, moths, and an impressive variety of cockroaches.   If I were in America, I would simply call an exterminator and order their mass death.  Needless to say, this is not an option for me in Madagascar, so I am left with two other choices: cohabitation, or a perpetual state of war.
In my early days here, I attempted cohabitation.  I had bigger problems to deal with, like feeding myself and learning a new language.  However, the strain of adapting to expat life, exacerbated by constant intrusions by my insect counterparts, quickly led to bloodshed.

November 28, 2011

Riding the Bush Taxi on Southern Madagascar’s Route 13

Route 13 is a national road in Madagascar that connects a series of cities and towns.  The southern portion of this road is notorious for its constant state of disrepair.  Over the past six months, I have spent 100+ hours and covered over 2,400 kilometers traveling this road by bush taxi, going from my home in Antanimora-Sud, to Ambovombe, and then  on to my destination, Ft. Dauphin.  After a few days in Ft. Dauphin, I go back home.  I make this trip every month.
Wikipedia defines a bush taxi as “… a mode of transport that falls between taxis and conventional buses… They are smaller than buses, and usually take passengers on a fixed or semi-fixed route without timetables, usually leaving when all seats are filled.”  I would define a bush taxi as a mode of suffering that falls between mild discomfort and supreme mental torment; a mode of travel that could make Marco Polo or Odysseus break down and weep.  But life in the bush would not be complete without them.