Among expats, there’s a saying “T.I.A.” – This is Africa. It’s used like a hashtag at the end of a ridiculous story involving lost electricity, donkeys, crappy internet, or illogical conversations where “yes” really means “I have no idea what you’re saying,” but “ishi” means “no problem.”
We have a lot of TIA stories, but none quite like the time I got chlamydia. Re-read that sentence. Digest. Move forward.
About a month after moving to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, my eyes started bothering me. They felt dry all the time and especially at night. I was living at high altitude (which causes dry eyes) and also pregnant (also known to cause dry eyes), so I didn’t think much of it. Then I returned to America and delivered Ryan. Man, that was awesome.
Except my eyes weren’t getting better. In fact, they kept getting worse. I went to my parents’ eye doctor in Georgia. She suggested it was hormones from the pregnancy and gave me a steroid to “kick things back into gear” (because that’s how folks talk in Dawsonville, GA). That worked for a week. Then I was back to eye drops.
Fast forward two years and a handful of specialists, and no one had answers. Then my ophthalmologist called in sick. I met his colleague for my appointment. The colleague specializes in eyelids. Weird, but whatever.
So no surprise, half way through the exam he asks if he can flip my eyelids inside out. My exact response: “that’s disgusting. Can I watch?”
He flipped my eyelids and started to laugh. Not exactly the best bedside manner. Then he asked if I had recently been out of the country. Oh. crap.
For two years I’ve been living with trachoma, the world’s leading cause of blindness, because Western doctors don’t know to look for it. Ya’ll, trachoma is CHLAMYDIA IN YOUR EYES. You contract it through contaminated water while washing your face or taking a shower. The treatment is easy: swallow some antibiotics, put some cream in your eyes for a few weeks, go back to life sans chlamydia.
(to answer your questions: No, it can’t spread to reproductive organs. No, it cannot be transmitted to a fetus. Yes, Mark is going to the ophthalmologist to get his eyes checked. No, we’re not taking Ryan because have you tried to make a 21 month old sit still with his eyelids inside out? We’re taking the doctor’s advice to wait for symptoms before torturing him.)
Except not everyone has this opportunity. Remember, this is the leading cause of blindness worldwide. Left untreated, you end up with bumps on the inside of your eyelids and corneal damage that together, lead to blindness. I have only mild damage to my cornea and no lost vision. For millions worldwide, that’s not the case. If you’re short on gratitude, tonight say a prayer that in America we’ve eradicated trachoma and take a moment to think of all the cute kiddos who, full of promise and goals, are stripped of their ability to work or have a family because of an otherwise preventable disease.
We’re 59 days out from Zambia and I’m pumped. Bring it, Africa. Your germs don’t scare me. TIA and I couldn’t be happier about it.