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When I travel internationally, I almost always find a local bug. While in Belize once, I met a nice couple called Samantha and Jon. They were amoebas living inside my intestines and I named them after our first cats, Samantha and Jon, who died. I spent time in Belmopan General receiving liquids through an IV for things like e.coli, blood infections, dehydration, and river something-or-other. Jeff could tell you about the time he got Giardia in Nepal.
After experiences like that, you can imagine how thrilled we were in Rwanda to have made it almost our entire trip in perfect health, eating and bathing and generally functioning exactly like the locals. We were not thrilled to forego dessert with the locals, as almost nobody bakes, serves or offers dessert after meals. You can’t even find dessert on most restaurant menus.
It was on a warm, quiet Sunday during memorial week when—I’m just going to jump to the punch line here—I got the bug. No groceries or restaurants had been open that day due to memorial services, so we walked and walked, found an open hotel with a restaurant, and that’s when I saw it. In the very back corner of a glass display case was a lone piece of cake. CAKE, I tell you! I rushed to the counter, pointed at the display and said, “I’ll take the piece of cake, please.” It had a sort of creamy, fruity, dairy-based filling and frosting, and as I took a huge stale bite, I realized it had likely been sitting there all day. But my blood was rushing, the sugar was calling, and plus, I had already paid for it. So I ate the cake.
Seven hours later, I was lying on a make-shift bed on the bathroom floor with a high fever. I won’t give you the other agonizing details, but you know. Both ends. After 48 hours, I saw a French Doctor at the Belgian Embassy who tested my blood and stools for parasites and malaria. I should also mention here, as tribute, that Jeff carried my stool sample two entire city blocks to the lab. This was not in our wedding vows. (Thanks Jeff)
When all the results came back? Food poisoning!
And that’s how I caught the bug in Rwanda. Not from the brown water, not from the tiny fish in Lake Kivu, not even from the green stretchy bread. I got it from a piece of cake at a fancy restaurant.
About the Author: Brooke Hartman is a year-long journalism fellow with World Next Door. In her other life, she was a clinical social worker, counselor, and disaster mental health graduate from Tulane University in New Orleans. Her favorites are: creative writing, travel, photography, weather patterns, and eating dessert. Any cupcake, any time.