Moses was not himself at all today. He’s usually bright and sprightly every morning despite making the 4km schlep into camp on foot before we even begin our day’s forest hike. Today his shoulders sloped forward and he looked sad. “What’s the matter? Are you ok?” I asked gently. “Wewe chokka?” (Are you tired?).
“Na…I’m not tired, I’m ok. It’s my wife. I think she has malaria,” he said solemnly. Moses is a father of five. His eldest child is 13. So if his wife is sick, it impacts on the whole family. He told me his sister had come to stay to help out. But he’d been up all night nursing his wife, who has a bad fever.
“Is she taking any medicine?” I asked as we pushed out way deeper into the forest. I have enough Paracetmol in my suitcase to last a year. I was more than happy to give him a packet.
“Yes I bought Panadol,” Moses said. His quandary is that she has not been officially diagnosed with malaria and so they have to wait a few days to see if her condition improves before they decide to take her to the hospital. But he tells me this is the first time she has been this sick and he’s worried plus money is very tight for the next two months.
In January he got two month’s wages in advance to be able to go to Sudan to visit his family. Now he’s paying it off by working March and April gratis.
“If you take her to hospital, how much is the test?” I asked.
“About 30,000 Ugandan Shilling.”
That’s about a tenner. Bugger all for someone like me, but a lot of money for a man like Moses with many mouths to feed. I was consumed by guilt and anxiety. Should I insist on giving him the money when we got back to camp? I want to help, but camp rules are strict about handing out money to field assistants. It can create a culture of jealousy and breeds resentment if some people benefit and others don’t. There’s also the issue whether what he’s saying is true; although I have no reason to doubt him. Who would concoct a story like that?
Most Africans sleep under a mossie net but because people do not take malaria tablets they are still at risk, despite having some resistance to the disease from childhood. I’ve asked Moses to keep me informed of her health and to let me know what the situation is like on Monday. If she does not improve by Tuesday, I will speak to Geoffrey and ask his advice. It would be a crime for me to deny Moses such a small amount to help his family. I am praying that she does not have malaria and that she’ll improve over the weekend.