malaria immunity. what’s your superpower?

Meme insisted that I got tested at the clinic.

I carry sickle cell trait.

Let’s clear a few things up before I go any further.

Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) also known as Sickle Cell Anemia is an inherited form of anemia in which mutated (sickle-shaped) red blood cells do not carry enough oxygen throughout the body. Because of this, the red blood cells “stick to the walls” and cannot pass through capillaries. As a result, this causes chronic pain (sickle cell crisis) typically at the location of the “sticking,” which is often crippling for those who suffer from SCD. SCD is common in those of African descent, but similarly Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Caribbean, and Asian Indian ancestry can also have SCD.

A carrier of Sickle Cell Trait is a person who only inherited one mutated gene of SCD. Remember dominant and recessive genes in biology class? In most cases, carriers of  sickle cell trait are asymptomatic and commonly do not have issues related to SCD, although there are always exceptions.

Interesting research shows that carriers of the sickle cell trait are IMMUNE to malaria, because SCD stems from mutated red blood cells which carried malaria.

Now, malaria is a real nasty disease. Malaria is caused when an infected mosquito transmits a parasite, most commonly P. falciparum, to its host. Symptoms of malaria include fever, headache, chills, and vomiting.  If left untreated, malaria can lead to more severe symptoms including death.

Does anyone like needles? Nurse Anna laughing at pain.

Don’t get me wrong. Being genetically resistant to malaria is really cool. But, it does not make me immune to mosquito bites or mosquitoes buzzing in my ears a night. So, I make sure to sleep under my properly installed ITN (insecticide-treated net) and wear insect repellent.

Doctors still recommend carriers who live in malaria zones to take daily prophylaxis, especially during the rainy season – which is now in Namibia.

Hey, the more you know.

❤ Krystal

things no one tells you about being a pcv.

If you Google “Peace Corps Blogs,” you will stumble upon a whole network of blogs from current and returned volunteers. Blogs that will make you laugh  (and laugh some more) some that will make you cry. Ones that will inspire you and empower you. Some that will make you think, “I can do that,” or “I want to do that.” While others will make you think, “why would anyone want to do that?”*

In my preparation for Namibia, I too found myself referring to many PCV blogs, vlogs, and any PC media on the daily. Of course, many of these blogs provided me with lists of what to pack and what not to pack, or what to expect (which, any PCV can tell you the answer is: kapenasha.) Most of these blogs I found to be very helpful. Even if my bags still ended up being overweight. I’m working on the meaning of “packing light.”

I have compiled a list of Things No One Tells You About Being a PCV. Enjoy!

  1. You’ll be tempted to use a dirty plate, fork or spoon, once or twice. And once or twice, you’ll actually do it. If you are one of the lucky PCVs, you will have no kitchen sink, which means handwashing everything. It’s fine. It’s soothing. But, some days I just want a heaping scooping of peanut butter, just one scoop.
  2. Sand. You will eat sand, you will be covered in sand. All the time. Aww, you’re cute, you must have read all the PC blogs from Micronesia with volunteers in their hammocks overlooking the ocean? (I’m guilty, too.) Well, in Sub-Saharan Africa there is sand. Lots and lots of sand, and most times no water. No, no water.wp-1466343276370.jpg
  3. You will wake up next to an insect (dead or alive) more times than you like. You get used to it. One morning, I woke up and was sharing a pillow with a praying mantis. I was awake, he was still praying. Then, there’s the morning I woke up cuddling a with a moth. He didn’t make it. Just expect to find bugs. The more you prepare for this, the less traumatic your service will be.20160715_064822.jpg
  4. You’ll have a pet spider (maybe even two or three) in your hut. Luckily, in Namibia, most of these are non-venomous, so I let them live to eat other pests such as mosquitoes. Refer to your Spiders, Snakes and Scorpions handbooks from PST and you’ll be fine.20160906_094551.jpg
  5. You will also lose track of how many times you pee outside, in a bag, or in a container, because, you have no choice. I think my bladder has shrunken. I will walk 1 km home from the clinic, and the second I see the pit latrine, which is about 100 m from the gate of my homestead, I sweat bullets while scurrying across the yard before it turns into “Bridesmaids in Namibia.” It’s like an awful Pavlov’s dog experiment. TMI. But, do what the locals do, sometimes you just can’t hold it.
  6. Your ADLs will be a community attraction. I mean, host family still watches me wash my laundry (and sometimes they take pictures of me while doing it). The spotlight is ALWAYS on. As long as no one is hurting you or over-violating your privacy, roll with it, and then blog about it in good fun.20160812_193121
  7. You will find a new hobby or revisit old ones. Meditation, photography, blogging, baking, reading, exercising. You will have plenty of free time between the 24/7 in which you’re Peace Corpsin’.
  8. You will learn new meanings for words you’ve known all your life, ready?
  9. Yes = Maybe or No.
  10. Maybe = Maybe but most likely No.
  11. No = Yes, No, or Maybe.
  12. Although being a PCV 24/7 is many times exhausting, you appreciate the world and your community on an entirely different level.

*Links in the post are current and returned PCVs in Namibia who post regularly. Add them to your list of blog reads.

❤ Krystal

bountiful harvest.

Mahangu, porridge, pap, oshifima. Chances are you will see me use these words a lot over the next two years.

Mahangu is one of many traditional foods in Namibia. It is prepared in some form or fashion in most Namibian households. On my homestead, it’s used daily to make oshikundu (a traditional drink) and oshifima (a stiff porridge used as you would a dripping bread).

 Several times throughout the year, my host brothers head to the farm to harvest mahangu. They have been at least twice since I’ve moved in. All I know is 1) “The Farm” is very far away 2) Harvesting mahangu is very, very hard work. Mahangu is harvested and then pounded down to create a flour-like product which is then used to make oshifima.

Before I get too ahead of myself, here are a few Cultural Fun Facts I wish I would have known sooner, and I am sure other PCVN can relate.

Fun Fact #1– It is considered rude to smell your food before you eat it. Still trying to break this habit.

Fun Fact #2– It is rude to refuse food. You can usually say something along the lines of thank you, but I ate, I am full.

Fun Fact #3– It is traditional to wash your hands before you eat (and also hygienic). At a family meal, we pass around a wash basin filled with soap and water for us each to wash our hands.

Fun Fact #4– You should only eat oshifima with your right hand. Whoops again!

Fun Fact #5– When offering a homemade food or drink, it is customary to taste it in the presence of the person. It shows that it is indeed nawa to consume, kinda like a modern-day wine bearer, but of your own offerings.

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Making porridge to feed the pigs. Every man, woman, child and animal eats mahangu around here.

 

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I should really stop becoming friends with potential Namibian entrees.

This weekend my host family celebrated a season of a bountiful harvest of mahangu.

We all gathered around the coffee table.

We feasted on oshifima and goat meat.

It was delicious.

I can compare this experience to what we do in America on Thanksgiving. It’s a huge celebration. There is singing and prayer and lots of laughter.

Unfortunately, my host mom was not home at the time due to a death in the family. So, my host sister, Lucia prepared most of the meal with the help of my brothers to braai (similar to BBQ) the goat meat.

As we sat around a crowded coffee table rejoicing over the abundance of oshifima and meat for dinner, I began to realize how thankful I am for a family who has accepted me into their house as their own.

Although there is still a period of transition for me between Fort Worth to Okahandja and now Ondobe, I am at HOME.

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❤ Krystal

it’s my birthday and my big annoucement!

“Meetings in the sunroom indicated decline in progress. Ms. B was a breast cancer survivor, but telltale signs told us this horrible disease had returned. She sat at the far end of the table. Uncharacteristically quiet and still, she seemed like a shadow of her former self. Her skin was now a yellow-green, like a half ripened banana picked over at the grocery store. The muscles in her arms had lost most definition as they wasted away from atrophy. Her skin was thin like tissue paper and you could see the blood vessels in her neck and face. Her sandy-brown wig now sat too big on her head. As we began discussing her prognosis, Ms. B sat wordless, while forcing herself to sip the supplement I brought her.

We reviewed Ms. B’s chart, which included her drastic weight fluctuations, elevated laboratory panel, and physical appearance, and suspected the worse. My preceptor, who was the facility’s dietitian and social worker, showed Ms. B her chart. They discussed her options while insisting that she go to the hospital, just for good measure. Ms. B tried to assure us she’d be okay. I didn’t know then that I would never see her again.

I am thankful that most of my experiences with patients end in success and healing, but I never forget the ones I couldn’t help. I understand that diseases, like cancer, can be beyond our control. However, with preventative measures such as education, many other diseases and illnesses can be managed and even avoided.

By being able to share my knowledge with people it may benefit is one of the many reasons I want to join the Peace Corps. My knowledge in dietetics can be used to help others improve and even extend life experiences. Too commonly, nutrition counseling is seen as a luxury, but it shouldn’t be that way. I want to be able to change lives by aiding people to make better dietary choices. The valuable contribution of my knowledge in nutrition, health, and wellness is a way I can be of service to people who may not have access to this information.

I understand that there will be many challenges, both physical and emotional, that I have never experienced. Although it may be impossible to wholly prepare for every unforeseeable challenge, through my life experiences I have learned to always be coachable, adaptable, prepared, and keep my composure during difficult circumstances.

My excitement comes from the desire to see a foreign country in a nontraditional way, raw and unfiltered. I’m eager to venture outside my comfortable American life, and relish the idea of learning a foreign language, seeing new landscapes, and, most importantly, spending time with diverse people that I will come to love, appreciate, and cherish. I look forward to creating meaningful relationships that last beyond my years of service. I want to understand people and customs that are unlike my own while contributing to pushing the world towards peace, respect, and understanding.”

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I joined the Peace Corps, ya’ll!

I started this post over 5 months ago, but have waiting for the perfect time to let everyone know. What better day than my birthday?

With the right support systems in your life, you learn to think outside the box, and it opens your eyes to a whole new World, without borders.

When you find your purpose it’s something that you can’t shake. It keeps you up at night. You visualize yourself in that place or time.

And there is peace in that.

A weird sense of peace. It’s difficult to describe, it just feels peaceful. (I know, you’re not supposed to use the same word to define a word.) My blog, my rules.

After the passing of my friends late last year, I realized even more how important it is to live with purpose and intent. Some people will think you’re crazy or what you’re doing is dangerous. For those people, I will tell you to re-read the previous three paragraphs.

The way that everything will pan out (once medical clearance, by the end of this week), I will be flying out to Namibia, Africa on April 11 of this year. I will be working as a Health Extension Volunteer in the Community Health and HIV/AIDS (CHHAP) program.

My blog will be taking a somewhat new direction as I begin this new adventure in life.

Thoughts and prayers are always encouraged during this exciting time in my life.

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❤ and peace,

Krystal