Saturday, July 21, 2007

'june 17th 1805:

finding that Hinton was worse, and Sparks delirious, left them to the care of the Dooty of the village; having given him amber and beads sufficient to purchase victuals for them if they lived , and to bury them if they died.'

June 18th: 'Lieutenant Martyn, the sergeant, corporal, and half the soldiers sick of the fever'..

August 9th: Michael May, a soldier, having died during the night, buried him at daybreak.

17th of November: 'of forty-four Europeans, who left the Gambia River in perfect health, five only are present alive; namely, three soldiers , (one deranged in mind), Lieutenant Martyn, and myself'.

Mungo Park's journal of his second journey makes depressing reading to say the least. He made a very grave mistake in setting out from the Gambia river to strike across to the Niger just at the onset of the rainy season. It was a mistake that cost the life of almost all his companions and indirectly probably caused his own demise, since he was left more or less alone and isolated on his last fateful journey down the Niger river to try and reach its mouth- he didn't make it but met his death in some rapids in today's northern Nigeria.

The West African rainy season is quite a frightening and overwhelming phenomenon.

Violent storms are often preceded by dramatic and beautiful skies, the portents of huge dust storms bringing Sahara sand in big whipped -up clouds causing near invisibility which is sometimes, but not always, followed by violent torrents of hard rain, beating down in horizontal attacks on the fragile mud buildings.

In the aftermath of the storms there is a calm and a momentary freshness in the air before the merciless sun has once more heated the atmosphere causing an unhealthy and unpleasant humidity.

Then at night, all the toads of West Africa celebrate in a deafening chorus. And all the mosquitoes are hatched and start their deadly business (although Djenné Djenno is so far mosquiteo free, being apart from the city- the mosquitoes have not yet discovered us!)

Neither Mungo Park, nor his French successor in these parts, the amazing René Caillé, the first explorer to reach Djenné, understood the connection between the mosquitoes and the 'fever' which consumed their companions as well as themselves during the rainy season. When Mungo Park fell ill with the 'fever', he believed that he had 'imprudently exposed himself to the night dew', and that this was the reason for his illness.

Today, thankfully, there are cures and noone with money needs to suffer for any length of time if attacked by 'the fever'. I do not take preventative malaria treatment, because I live here and it is very bad for the system to continue indefinitely. I will get malaria again, but it will be treated quickly and efficiently. Not so for the majority of the poor here many of whom still die in this desease which remains the biggest killer in Mali.


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