On my fourth and final full-day bus ride of the week I visited Lalibela, Ethiopia, I woke up knowing something was wrong with my stomach. It was the fourth time that week I had to get up at 4:30am and I knew my stomach didn’t like severe disruptions to my normal schedule (whatever that is). But I could tell this was something else. It felt like I’d have diarrhea, which is not ideal when an 8 hour bus ride is the plan for the day (a bus without a bathroom, of course).
The bus departed at 6am and I felt an unnatural tiredness. I can’t sleep on buses, a curse for a nomad like myself who is constantly on them. Still, for nearly the entire journey I tried my best to sleep. When we stopped for lunch, I just had two bananas, the only food I had all day until I forced myself to eat dinner that night.
At some point I knew I was going to have diarrhea. But it wasn’t the emergency kind. It was manageable. I had sour burps as well, which pointed to some kind of parasite or bacterial infection if previous illness on this journey was any guide.
When I got back to the capital, Addis Ababa, I took a taxi to the hotel I was staying in for the night. I had to spend a night there because all my friends were out of town or busy that night. Saturday morning I’d relocate to a friend’s place. I arrived, went to the bathroom several times, and took a nap. I forced myself to eat some macaroni when I woke up at night, and then slept about 10 hours with periodic awakenings to go to the bathroom throughout the night.
The next morning my friend picked me up and I told him I should probably see a doctor. He said not to worry. He knew exactly what to do.
We went to a clinic. He said I needed to give a stool sample and they charged 23 Birr (about $1.20). I gave the sample and they said to come back in 30 minutes for the results. 30 minutes?? It seemed way too fast. I thought they’d have to put it in a Petri dish or something and let it sit overnight. Nope, I guess they look under a microscope.
Anyway, we had a coffee next door and came back to see the results. It was negative for a virus, but positive for a bacterial infection. We went to the pharmacy and I got some Made In Europe antibiotics that cost $1.50 and I was on the road to recovery.
Getting sick is never a fun experience. Trust me. I’ve gotten sick way too many times on this journey. But I’m always open to being pleasantly surprised and impressed. This experience with this Ethiopian clinic did exactly that. No waiting time, nearly instant results, accurate diagnosis, and very affordable.
How affordable is it for local people? Well, that’s hard to say. In many developing countries, the city life and rural life are two completely different worlds. Ethiopia is the same. But yes, for the majority of people living in Addis Ababa I would say this is affordable. That said, though, the GDP per capita (which is not a very good measure of wealth, I admit) for Ethiopia is $470. With that as a guide, this $2.70 adventure for me would represent about two days of income for the “average” Ethiopian – definitely a significant amount of money.
Interestingly, while at the pharmacy I saw an advertisement for birth control pills. A 3-month supply cost only 6 Birr ($0.32). It seems like contraception here is heavily subsidized in Africa’s second most populous nation after Nigeria.
Anyway, to conclude, by the following day I was already feeling much better and I recovered fully soon thereafter just in time to get to Somalia before Christmas! I regret not taking any pictures of the clinic and the other stuff, but as you can imagine I was quite out of it..