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Sub-Saharan Iditarod



by Mark Gilkey

© 2016 Mark Gilkey.

This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Published by Lanzinger Studio. Contact the publisher at lanzingerstudio.com

This is a work of fiction, very loosely inspired by a real event in Alaska in 1925, and by continuing efforts to improve health care around the world today.

Table of contents

The Stranger

Doctors Make the Worst Patients

Three Men, Two Motorcycles, and One Trailer

Three Down, None to Go

The First Village

On The Road Again

How To Eat a Lion’s Lunch

Now M’Kim is the Stranger

More From Mike

The Most Dangerous Animal in Africa, Part 1

The Gas Can Alarm

The Most Dangerous Animal in Africa, Part 2

An Unexpected Surprise

Goal Reached

The Wait

A Bad Morning

The Chief Speaks Again

A Bad Situation Gets Worse

Journey’s End


Where did the names come from?


About the Author

The Stranger


M’Kim turned away from the rusty, broken water pump, which seemed to have water coming out from almost everywhere except its spout. He put down his wrench, and slowly extended his grease-covered hand toward the stranger standing in front of him.


The stranger was white, slightly fat, and had hair that was simultaneously both straight and unbelievably messy.


The stranger hesitated briefly, then shook M’Kim’s hand long and hard, and spoke loudly in a language that M’Kim did not understand.


Elimu, the translator, who looked like he was slightly bored but trying to convey the stranger’s enthusiasm, said “His name is Dr. Mike. He studies the germs in dirty water. He says he has a vaccine for one of the germs, and the vaccine might save many lives.”


M’Kim remembered the words of his grandmother, who had said more than once that “well-meaning white men often send their sons and daughters to Africa, expecting them to help modernize Africa. But most of the time they are almost helpless when they come here. We take the white boys and girls, and we turn them into grown men and women. Then they go home, thinking they’ve done us a favor.”


M’Kim’s grandfather had told M’Kim that many “outsiders”, by which grandfather sometimes seemed to mean almost everyone except himself, came to the villages just to look at the villagers as though they were animals in a zoo, or, worse, to see how they could steal land or other resources from the villagers. “No man comes here to help us,” grandfather had said. “They come to help themselves.”


This particular stranger seemed more like the ones his grandmother had described – perhaps someone who meant well, but had lived an easy life and didn’t know anything about this village – or probably any other village in Africa.


The translator continued translating: “Doctor Mike wants to take this vaccine to nearby villages. He says that there are many people who will get sick soon, and he wants to help them.”


M’Kim tried to smile in response to the stranger’s enthusiasm. M’Kim’s own sister had died young, probably from dirty water. The village medicine man had tried many things, but his sister had gotten sicker and sicker. M’Kim could still picture her as she went from happy, to in pain, to motionless. M’Kim had spent quite a bit of his life fixing water pumps to bring clean water to villages, partly in the hopes that he could somehow reduce the number of people who, like his sister, had died young from dirty water. If this stranger could make the water less dangerous, or cure someone who had been sick, M’Kim would like to know about it.


But M’Kim decided to watch the stranger carefully, to make sure that he wasn’t here for some other reason – too ignorant to know how to take care of himself in a place he had probably never been before.


The translator asked M’Kim whether he could fix motorcycles and trucks, as well as water pumps.


M’Kim answered. “I usually fix simple things, like water pumps and bicycles. Sometimes I fix motorcycles and trucks, but it’s hard to get the right parts, so I cannot always fix them.”


“How did you learn to fix so many different kinds of machines?” translated Elimu.


“Well, like almost everyone else around here, my parents were farmers. Sometimes, when there wasn’t much to do on the farm, I went to visit my cousin in the city. He’s a mechanic, and he taught me a lot.”


M’Kim continued: “Farming is boring. It takes three months to make seeds grow. But I can make machines run in a few hours or even a few minutes, so I fix machines whenever I get the chance. And in drought years, it helps to be able to earn some money if you can’t grow enough food to feed yourself and your family.”


Elimu the translator spoke alternately to M’Kim and Mike. “I myself grew up in a nearby village, and knew some of the roads in the area, but I have lived outside this area for many years, and some roads might have changed, and new roads might have been added. M’Kim, we could use someone who knows the local roads between villages, as well as how to fix motor vehicles. Do you know the roads in this area?”


M’Kim responded, “I know many of the local roads. I fix machines in other villages, as well as my own.”


“So, will you join us?” asked Mike eagerly.


M’Kim thought briefly. The rainy season was about to start. But until the rains actually reached his village, planting would be difficult.

M’Kim was skeptical about taking a strange-looking stranger to other villages, but it sounded more interesting than staying home and waiting for the rains.


“If the trip will take no more than a few days, and if you can wait until I finish fixing this water pump and can pack a few supplies, then I will come.”


The messy-haired stranger looked pleased and grateful.


“I just hope that Mike the stranger doesn’t treat me like a child,” thought M’Kim, although he didn’t actually say it.

Doctors Make the Worst Patients


The stranger had brought pills for himself, as well as to give others. And M’Kim noticed that every time that the stranger ate or drank, he seemed to take at least one pill. He also washed his hands before eating, always using boiled water and some bad-smelling soap.


M’Kim also noticed that the stranger seemed to need to force himself to try the local foods. More than once, the stranger looked as though he disliked what he was eating, but would then try to fake a smile and say, almost convincingly, that he appreciated the food that the villagers were sharing with him. Whether the stranger was just trying to be polite, or whether he was thoroughly dishonest, M’Kim could not be sure.


M’Kim the mechanic, Elimu the translator, and Mike the stranger looked at a map and planned their trip. They would visit six villages over a period of three days, then retrace their steps and return to M’Kim’s village.


Mike the stranger had hoped to leave early the next morning, but one of his packages of medicines had not arrived, so the trip was delayed.


The next morning, Mike the stranger looked sick at breakfast. As the day went on, he looked sicker. By early evening, he was barely able to walk, yet he frequently staggered off into the bushes near the village, apparently for his body to get rid of something. M’Kim wasn’t sure which part of the body the bad stuff was coming out of, and didn’t really want to know.


M’Kim thought it was ironic that the man who had come here to help others not get sick was now the sickest man in the village.


“Maybe the white man’s medicine doesn’t work very well,” thought M’Kim.


The next morning, the stranger’s final box of medicine arrived on the back of the largest motorcycle M’Kim had ever seen.


The medicine was ready, but the stranger obviously wasn’t. Nonetheless, Mike the stranger tried to convince everyone, and perhaps himself, that he was ready to trek to nearby villages.


M’Kim had wondered how the stranger had planned to get to the other villages. The stranger had insisted that the trip could be completed quickly. But the stranger had brought no truck. The truck that had originally brought Mike the stranger and his bags and most of his medicines had left. And no new truck had arrived.


In between trips to the bushes, Mike had spent hours on a small radio, alternately sounding as though he was begging and threatening. M’Kim hadn’t understood a word of it, and hadn’t bothered to ask the translator what it was about.


To M’Kim’s surprise, shortly after the delivery man who brought Mike’s last box of medicine had arrived, the delivery man started walking down the road on which he had ridden in, leaving behind the giant motorcycle.


Half an hour later, another motorcycle delivery man arrived at the village. This man delivered nothing at all, but he pulled a small, dirty bicycle out of a trailer attached to the motorcycle, and then he headed back the way he had come, leaving behind his motorcycle and a small trailer that had several large red cans and what appeared to be a tent with holes in it. The trailer also had a long piece of metal pointing skyward.


After Mike the stranger made yet another of his frequent trips outside the village to relieve himself of some type of undesirable bodily fluid, he staggered back, looking simultaneously both badly sunburned and frighteningly pale even for a white man.


The translator came to M’Kim and said simply “It’s time to go.”



Three Men, Two Motorcycles, and One Trailer


Mike the stranger added his bags and medicine boxes to the trailer, then started to climb aboard one of the motorcycles.


Almost immediately, Mike the stranger took his hand off the motorcycle handlebars and hit himself on the head. He then started looking frantically through the trailer, opening up packages, and saying over and over again “No No No No,” or something like that.


The translator spoke briefly to Mike, which seemed to upset Mike even more.


The translator turned to M’Kim and said, “He does not want to ride the motorcycle unless he can wear a helmet. But he can’t find a helmet.”


“Most people on motorcycles don’t wear helmets,” said M’Kim. “Why does the stranger care so much?”


The translator replied “He says everyone should wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle. He says he wears a helmet even when he rides a bicycle that has no motor. He is very upset that there is no helmet.”


“How long will it take to get a helmet?” asked M’Kim.


“Three helmets – one for each of us, he insists,” said the translator. “And he doesn’t know how long it will take. It took two days just to get these motorcycles and the trailer. He was originally expecting a small truck, but didn’t get one.”


“It’s not important. Most people don’t wear helmets,” repeated M’Kim. “Besides, helmets are hot.”


“He said his sister was hit by a car while riding a bicycle. She died because she wasn’t wearing a helmet. He said he tells everyone to wear a helmet, and he wants to set a good example,” said the translator.


“And,” added the translator, “I think he’s really scared to ride without one.”


M’Kim thought for a moment. “My sister died from dirty water, and he wants to bring medicine to save other people from dirty water. His sister died from not wearing a helmet, and he wants to save other people from dying because they didn’t wear a helmet. We both lost our sisters. Maybe we are a little bit alike.”


M’Kim spoke aloud: “we could wait for helmets. Besides, he is too sick to travel.”


“No,” said the translator. “He wants to go now. His radio said that there is an epidemic in at least one of the villages that we plan to visit. One of his medicines is a vaccine for that disease. He wants to get there as soon as possible.”


“By the way,” asked M’Kim, “what’s in the red cans?”


“Gasoline, of course,” said the translator.


“Oh, of course,” said M’Kim.


“And what’s that long piece of metal sticking up out of the trailer?” asked M’Kim.


“An antenna for his radio. We might need it as we get further out in the bush.”


Very reluctantly, Mike climbed on the bigger motorcycle. He didn’t seem like he even knew how to start it. He looked at M’Kim and the translator.


The translator spoke to M’Kim. “Mike and I will ride the big motorcycle. You will ride the motorcycle that tows the trailer. Remember, be careful. If the gasoline spills, we may not be able to get back without walking.”


M’Kim scowled.


The translator asked, “You do know how to ride a motorcycle, don’t you?”


“I am very good. Don’t treat me like a baby,” said M’Kim, even though he had only driven a motorcycle a few times in his life. He had spent many hours repairing them, but could not afford to buy one himself, and had spent far more time as a mechanic or a passenger than as the driver of a motorcycle.


The translator walked up to the motorcycle with Mike the stranger on it, then gently pushed Mike backwards. The translator would drive. Mike the stranger would be the passenger.


Mike the stranger awkwardly put his arms around the translator, then released one arm and tapped his head, as though he hoped to find that a helmet had suddenly appeared.


A moment later, the few villagers who were out in the heat could look down the road and see three men, two motorcycles, and one trailer.


And zero helmets.



Three Down, None to Go

The road was deeply rutted. In some places, the road had unidentifiable trash that might contain nails, broken glass, or other materials that could puncture a motorcycle tire, and M’Kim was not actually a very good motorcycle driver. After a few minutes, during which M’Kim almost crashed the motorcycle four times, he slowed down very gradually, hoping that no one would notice the change in speed and think that he was afraid to drive fast.

After less than an hour on the bad road, M’Kim noticed a faint, familiar odor. At the top of the next small hill, he stopped his motorcycle. He took a slow, deep breath through his nose. “Rain,” he said quietly. He looked out to the horizon, and his eyes seemed to confirm what his nose had first told him: a storm was coming.

Rain was good news for crops, but bad news for travel.

M’Kim wanted to reach the first village before the rain reached him, so as soon as he resumed driving, he sped up.

Within minutes, the motorcycle hit a large bump. As the motorcycle rose in the air, M’Kim grinned with excitement. He was going to be a very good motorcycle driver very quickly, maybe even before they reached the first village.

The old trailer attached to his motorcycle did not agree. The trailer, like the motorcycle, rose in the air. But when it came down, the piece of metal attaching the trailer to the motorcycle broke. The motorcycle, no longer needing to tow the weight of the detached trailer, jerked forward rapidly.

M’Kim jammed on the brakes – too hard. He flew over the handlebars. In midair, M’Kim tucked himself into a ball. The back of his head hit the ground, and a split second later his right shoulder hit hard. M’Kim rolled almost 180 degrees, and, still rolling but with his feet more or less underneath him, started to straighten out, hoping to finish his accident standing up. But he was still rotating too quickly, and he fell flat on his face.

Stunned, he lay for only a second before hearing a scream. Startled, he stood up off balance, turned around still off balance, and, as he started to fall back to the ground, he saw the second motorcycle crash into the trailer.

This time, he heard two screams.

M’Kim got up again, more carefully this time. The first thing he saw was Mike and the translator lying on a pile of packages and gasoline containers, at least two of which were broken and spilling their vital and poisonous fuel into the dirt.

M’Kim couldn’t tell who had screamed louder, Mike or the translator.

M’Kim hobbled over to the pile of people, packages, and petrol, not sure whether he should get closer or further away.

The translator looked in great pain. His pain was probably less than it would have been because most of fat Mike had landed on the tent rather than on the translator. Nonetheless, the translator looked like he wasn’t sure whether he could move safely.

Mike stopped screaming, opened his eyes, looked terrified, then realized that he might not be the one who was hurt the most.

Mike carefully slid off the tent, looked angrily at M’Kim, then walked two steps to the translator, touching him gently on the shoulder and asking him something in a high voice.

The translator spoke weakly, as though his chest was seriously injured. Very slowly, the translator stood up, with Mike gently helping him.

The translator appeared to be trying to take a deep breath slowly, but couldn’t finish. He looked at M’Kim and said, “My chest hurts. I think I must have cracked a couple of ribs.” He looked at M’Kim half in anger, half in disgust, and completely in pain.

The translator was also bleeding just below the neck, apparently scratched badly by something on the unusual necklace that he was wearing.

M’Kim, not knowing what to do, and not wanting to look at the people who were obviously angry with him, mumbled “I’ll check the motorcycles and the trailer.”

While Mike stood next to the translator, who continued trying to take more than half a breath, M’Kim checked the motorcycles, trailer, packages, and gasoline cans.

Most of the things that he checked had a problem.

“His” motorcycle was the least damaged, but the metal bar that had connected the motorcycle and trailer was broken.

The other motorcycle had a bent front wheel. M’Kim couldn’t immediately tell whether it was too bent to be usable.

The front of the trailer was damaged, but the trailer looked as though it was still usable.

M’Kim turned the two leaking gasoline cans to the angle that put the holes at the highest part, so that not all of the gas would leak out.

The tent and most of the packages were soft, and none seemed seriously damaged.

Trying to be funny, M’Kim said, “Maybe Mike was right about wearing helmets.”

The translator scowled. He slowly and painfully translated for Mike, who would not even look at M’Kim.

The First Village

Mike looked more closely at the trailer. The metal rod that was a better antenna for the radio was broken. M’Kim didn’t think that was very important, but Mike seemed pretty unhappy about it.

Mike then looked at the bent wheel on the big motorcycle. He reached out and slowly spun the wheel with his hand.

The wheel turned part way easily, then the bent part hit the wheel strut and slowed to a halt. Mike spun the wheel hard, and it reluctantly moved past the sticking point, turned nearly a full circle, and got stuck again.

Mike looked angrily at M’Kim again, then tried to pick up the motorcycle and put it right side up.

But the motorcycle was heavy, and Mike was still weak from being sick, so he could not lift it alone.

M’Kim slowly walked to the motorcycle, expecting Mike to yell at him. He didn’t need to understand Mike’s language to know what the words were going to mean.

Mike said nothing.

Together, the two got the motorcycle right side up.

Mike motioned to M’Kim to move away. Mike tried to ride the motorcycle very slowly forward. Each time the bent part of the wheel hit the strut, the motorcycle jerked a little, and it slowed, but it kept going forward.

Mike stopped the motorcycle. He turned around and looked at the translator, then he looked at the mix of motorcycle, trailer, and cargo, and then he slowly looked at M’Kim.

M’Kim looked away from Mike and toward the bent front wheel of the motorcycle. He removed the wheel. M’Kim gestured to Mike, and arranged the two men standing on different parts of the wheel to try to use their combined weight to bend the wheel back toward its original shape. But this had little effect.

The wheel had many thin spokes, much like those of a bicycle wheel. M’Kim tried tightening some spokes and loosening others to try to “true” the wheel. However, despite his very slow, gentle adjustments, a spoke broke. It seemed likely that any further tightening would break still more spokes, so after 45 minutes of effort, the wheel was barely any better than it had been.

M’Kim slowly walked to the trailer, trying to see whether he could reattach it to either motorcycle.

M’Kim spoke to the translator, who slowly repeated the words in the stranger’s language: “We have three pieces of bent or broken metal: one bent piece on the motorcycle, one broken piece on the front of the trailer, and the broken radio antenna. If I had rope, I could probably tie them all together and wrap them up so that I could attach them to the motorcycle again. We couldn’t drive very fast, but we could still drive. We might not be able to carry everything, however. We might need to leave behind some heavy things, like some of the gasoline.”

“What are you going to use for rope?” asked Mike.

“Maybe your belt?” said M’Kim.

Mike looked angry again, then less angry, and then he rapidly pulled his belt off and handed it to M’Kim.

While M’Kim was trying to tie everything together, Mike said “Maybe we could take one of the mosquito nets and roll it up so that it’s a little like a rope.”

M’Kim immediately looked a little happier. With the belt and a mosquito net “rope”, he was pretty sure that he could tie the trailer to the motorcycle. The motorcycle and trailer would need to be driven very slowly, however. If the motorcycle driver hit the brake hard, the trailer would crash into the back of the cycle, possibly damaging the motorcycle and injuring the driver.

In a few more minutes, M’Kim, with a little help from Mike, patched things together as well as he could.

The translator started to sit on the front of the motorcycle, but after a few words from Mike, the translator slid back, leaving room for Mike to drive.

Very slowly, Mike drove forward, trying not to hit any bumps that would make the translator’s chest hurt any more than it already did.

M’Kim, who had previously been driving in the lead, as the guide, now drove behind Mike. M’Kim stayed a safe distance back.

The group continued, but more slowly than a man could walk. For all practical purposes, the motorcycles did nothing more than tow the trailer.

As the sun set, they arrived at the first village, which they had originally planned to reach before noon.

The translator needed to rest, but the villagers had many questions, and M’Kim didn’t want to answer any of them. He sat quietly at the edge of a hut while the translator slowly explained what had happened on the trip, and why they had continued on to the current village rather than gone back to the village from which they had started.

While the translator spoke, Mike spent quite a while on his radio, and was obviously stressed and distressed at what he heard.

The villagers shared some food and colorful but thin blankets with the three men. Mike ate little, and only ate canned food that he had brought.

All three men went to sleep as early as possible, hoping that the translator’s injured chest, M’Kim’s nearly equally injured ego, and Mike’s still troublesome digestive system would all be at least a little better in the morning.

When the sun rose, Mike did not. Neither did the translator. M’Kim rose, and quietly looked at the motorcycles and trailer. Nothing else seemed to have broken. The patched connector between the trailer and motorcycle looked a little loose, so M’Kim tightened it.

When Mike finally rose, he looked angry, tired, weak, and a little frightened. But, obviously acting, he tried to smile at the villagers. With M’Kim’s help, he gently got the translator up. The translator explained about the medicines.

Many of the villagers agreed to get the vaccinations, but many refused.

M’Kim understood the villagers’ reluctance. In his own village, M’Kim had quietly evaded Mike’s vaccination efforts, preferring to wait and see how the vaccine affected other people before accepting it himself. But now, having already endangered the project, M’Kim asked Mike if he could talk to his home village on the radio. Mike easily agreed. M’Kim, knowing that Mike wouldn’t understand him, asked a friend in his home village if everyone who had gotten the vaccination was OK. His friend said that everyone was fine. He didn’t know whether the vaccine had helped anyone, but it didn’t seem to have hurt anyone.

M’Kim, feeling that he ought to do something to help this struggling project, told Mike to inject him with the vaccination first, and in front of all of the people in the village.

Mike looked surprised for a split second, then smiled gratefully – one of his first smiles in five days that didn’t look slightly fake.

After M’Kim accepted the injection, most of the villagers did the same, although a few still refused.

M’Kim had expected the process to finish quickly so that the team could move on to the next village, but Mike carefully washed each person’s arm, as well as his own hands, before injecting the vaccine into each person. He used a different needle for each person, and carefully put the old needles into a thick plastic box. Mike also took notes about the names and ages of those vaccinated, and, when he could get the information, the ages and some of the names of those who had not been vaccinated.

After all the explanations, demonstrations, vaccinations, and note-taking were completed, half a day had passed.

Mike was eager to start driving toward the next village. However, the translator was still in pain, and rain had resumed. After yet another radio conversation, Mike reluctantly agreed to stay at the current village another night.

On The Road Again

The next morning, Mike finally looked a lot less sick, although still pale, and M’Kim didn’t notice him going off into the bushes more than anyone else did.

The rain had stopped, at least temporarily, but the road was muddy, with large puddles. It was impossible to tell how deep many of the puddles were until you were actually in them. And any puddle could hold a hazard, such as broken glass. Today, the motorcycles would need to continue traveling very slowly, even if the trailer could be fixed and the translator could be healed.

The translator, however, did not look much better. He still could not take a deep breath. At times, he even seemed to be leaking a few tears of pain, although it was hard to be sure. “He looks frail, but he seems pretty tough,” thought Mike.

Mike and the translator got on the big motorcycle. M’Kim got on the small motorcycle.

M’Kim got off the small motorcycle.

M’Kim checked the trailer and the “rope” and metal that connected the trailer and motorcycle. They looked okay.

M’Kim got back on the small motorcycle. He started off very slowly, taking the lead again, as he had done for a while on the first day.

Mike did not object.

For what seemed to Mike like hours, the group continued driving more slowly than a man could walk. In some places, they had to get off the motorcycles and walk. The trio would be lucky to reach the next village before nightfall, even if the rains did not start again.

Suddenly, Mike yelled what seemed like half a yell, and then stopped with his mouth open wide, and his eyes open wider. M’Kim stopped his motorcycle, and looked at Mike. Mike was pointing to something. The translator and M’Kim looked where Mike was pointing.

Two hundred meters away, half visible in the bushes, was a large male lion. The lion walked back and forth, growling occasionally. The lion had a large mane and looked about six years old – the right age to lead a group of lions. That meant that there was a very good chance that there were more lions around.

Mike spoke loudly, then softly, to the translator.

“Mike wants us to go as fast as possible now,” said the translator to M’Kim.

“We’ll probably break the connector to the trailer if we do that,” said M’Kim. “Besides, running away from a lion usually makes the lion want to chase you.”

The translator tried to explain that to Mike, but was obviously having trouble convincing him.

“Look,” said the translator, “when you walk past a lion, you do not dress up as a baby antelope. You must look like you are not afraid of the lion.”

Mike tried to stare at the lion, and growled.

“Stupid white man!” said the translator. “Do not growl. Do not look afraid of the lion, but do not challenge him, either!”

Mike tried to look away, and not look afraid. But he could not control himself. “Let’s go!” he said, in a loud whisper.

The translator and M’Kim continued to watch the lion, with their heads turned slightly away, so that they were not staring directly at the lion.

On the lion’s left side, his fur looked even dirtier than most lions’ fur. His right side had two large patches of dark blood. He also had blood on his face. The lion continued to walk back and forth, very restlessly, even angrily. The lion seemed to look in every direction, as though he was watching and waiting for something.

Mike asked the translator “Is the blood from an animal he has killed? Has he already eaten?”

“I think not,” replied the translator. “Most of the blood is on his body, not his face and mouth. He is not eating anything now. And I do not think he is guarding a kill from other predators, although that is possible. I do not believe that the blood is from an animal that he has killed and eaten. Most likely, he was fighting with another lion or lions. Most likely, he was fighting to become the leader of a pride of lions. He is very large, and probably would have won if he had been fighting only one lion, so he probably attacked two other male lions, and lost. As he attacked one lion face to face, another lion probably attacked his right side, biting him deeply at least twice. The blood on his side is probably his own. The blood on his face is probably from one of the lions that he attacked, although it could be from a recent meal. I think he is angry, but also afraid. You can see that he keeps looking around, as though he is expecting to need to defend himself from another attack.”

“Is he hungry? Does he think that we are food? Or is he afraid of us, thinking that we might attack him?” asked Mike.

“I do not know whether he is hungry. I do think that he probably considers us either a threat or a potential meal – and neither of those is good for us.”

“We need to leave!” said Mike, his voice rising in both pitch and volume.

“Not yet,” said the translator. “We will stay here a few minutes, but not look at him.”

“We can’t turn our backs on him. He might attack!”

“We will not turn our backs. We will each turn and look about 60 degrees away from him, back toward where we came from. Hopefully, the lion will think that we are not interested in him, but will also know that we can see him if he tries to attack us.”

Mike was literally shaking with fear. He looked almost as pale as he had when he was ill. But, like M’Kim and the translator, he turned his head and body so that he did not appear to be staring at the lion, but could still see the lion.

After a few minutes, the men climbed back onto the motorcycles.

Mike hit the accelerator too hard, almost causing the translator to fall off the motorcycle. Fortunately, despite his injured chest, the translator held on. The motorcycles drove away from the lion a little too quickly. Fortunately, the lion did not chase them.

“When we stop for food, we will talk about lions,” said the translator.

“Yes,” yelled back M’Kim. “I have a story to tell. I hope this white man will understand the meaning of the story.”

How To Eat a Lion’s Lunch

An hour later, the three men stopped to eat and drink.

As before, Mike took at least one pill with this meal.

The translator looked sternly at Mike. “You must learn how to behave here. You have never been to this part of the world, have you?”

Mike looked a little guilty. “No,” he said, “I have never been here before.”

“With a lion, you must look neither like you are his lunch, nor like he is your lunch. You must be of no interest to the lion. You must act as though you do not care about him, and you must hope that he does not care about you.”

The translator repeated those words to M’Kim, so that M’Kim would know what the translator was trying to teach Mike.

The translator spoke to M’Kim: “Which story do you wish to tell? I want to know the entire story before I start to translate it. If he does not learn the right lesson, we might all be a lion’s lunch.”

M’Kim smiled weakly and said: “I will tell the story of how to eat a lion’s lunch.”

The translator said, “I do not know that story. Please tell me the whole thing. But first I will tell Mike that he will have to wait a few minutes before I start translating.”

M’Kim began his story.

“My grandfather and father were brave men. They were both among the bravest men in the village. As you probably know, some years we have enough food to eat, and some years we do not. When we do not have enough food to eat, sometimes we must do something dangerous to get food. This is a story that my grandfather told me. He said that both he and my father have done this. I myself have never seen it, but I believe them.”

M’Kim continued. “Our village is mostly a farming village. We do not keep many animals. And the animals that we do keep are all small, like chickens. When we want meat other than chicken meat, we usually trade for it, or we hunt for it. The lions usually do not come close to our village, because we have few animals for them to eat, and we do not keep meat in our village for long. Also, we have spears and other weapons with which we can defend ourselves.

“Many years ago, when my grandfather was 20, a few years older than I am now, people were very hungry. The rains were weak that year, and what little food the earth produced was almost all gone. We had only a few chickens left, and we had to keep them so that we could breed more chickens. We hunted other animals, such as antelope. But the more we hunted, the further away from our village the animals stayed, and the harder it was for us to get close to them to kill them.

“Sometimes, a lion would kill an antelope near our village. My grandfather said that he had heard that if men were brave but not foolish, they could eat a lion’s lunch. My grandfather, and three other brave and very hungry men, walked away from the village, looking for an animal that a lion had killed. The men took three spears and a knife with them. My grandfather carried the knife, but no spear. After two hours of walking, the men came upon a lone young male lion who was lying down next to an animal that he had killed recently and had eaten most of. The lion was no longer hungry, but was protecting his kill so that wild dogs and other animals would not eat it. My grandfather and the other three men looked around carefully to make sure that this lion was alone. They made sure that there was no female lion with cubs nearby. The men walked directly toward the animal that the lion had killed. They did not look directly at the lion. They did not throw stones or spears at the lion. They simply walked briskly toward the lion’s kill. When they reached the kill, my grandfather pulled out his knife and started cutting off an uneaten leg from the animal. The other three men did not look directly at the lion, but they stood between the lion and my grandfather, with their spears obvious, but not pointed at the lion. The lion looked startled, and moved about 15 meters away, pacing back and forth and watching my grandfather.

“When my grandfather finished cutting off the leg, he carried it away with the other three men. None of them ever looked directly at the lion, but they all took turns looking backward so that they could see the lion, in case he chased and attacked them. After they left, the lion went back to his kill, closer than before. He did not chase the men.

“The men returned to the village with the food. It was not much food for a whole village, but it was something. The four men told the story of what they had done; they told everyone that this was the way to eat a lion’s lunch.

“My grandfather said that he did this a few times in his life, but only when food was very scarce. My father also did this a few times. No village man has been killed doing this, but of course we always send three or four men. We do not send too many or too few. They follow the rule that you should neither look like you are the lion’s lunch, nor that the lion is your lunch.”

The translator smiled at the familiar concluding phrase.

“I will tell Mike this story,” said the translator.

The translator then repeated the story, very much as M’Kim had told it. The translator made sure to repeat the warning that a man must not act like the lion’s lunch, or act like the lion will be the man’s lunch.

“Do you understand this story?” asked the elderly translator, speaking sternly to the surprised and frightened Mike.

“Yes, I think so,” said Mike.

“Can you do this?” asked the translator.

Mike stumbled backward two steps, “You mean, can I steal a lion’s lunch?”

“No, I mean: can you see a lion and act unafraid, but also not threatening.”

“I do not see how I can look unafraid. I have never been able to hide my fear of anything,” said Mike.

“You must do the best you can. And next time you see a lion, do not yell, unless M’Kim or I am so far away that we will not hear you otherwise. When you yell, you look afraid, or threatening, or both.”

“I understand,” said Mike. “I really do. But I do not know whether I can control my fear so well.”

The translator smiled gently. “Any man would be a complete fool not to be afraid of a lion. Do not feel bad that you fear – just try not to let the lion know that you fear him.”

The men finished their meal, and resumed riding their motorcycles to the next village.

Now M’Kim is the Stranger

The three men traveled slowly. It had not rained in several hours, and the mud seemed to get thicker and stickier with each kilometer that they traveled. They did not reach the next village until after dark.

When the men entered the village, they were welcomed very cautiously. The translator went first, and spoke for a long time with some of the older men of the village.

When the translator asked Mike and M’Kim to come closer, Mike was startled to see one of the village elders turn toward M’Kim, point at him, and walk rapidly toward him.

The translator translated as well as he could, as the angry old man spoke loudly and quickly.

“I know you! Your name is something like M’Kim. You have been here before. Every time that you come here, you spend much time with our young women, and you do very little work. You tried to fix our water pump, but it broke again a few days after you left. We owe you nothing. We should not even let you sleep here for one night!”

Another village elder spoke more calmly.

“You may stay here tonight in my small hut. My wife has died, and my daughters were married off many years ago. But you will have to eat your own food. I will not give you any of mine. And you must leave early in the morning, or as soon as it is safe. We are not happy to see you.”

As the translator finished, Mike said, “But we cannot leave early in the morning. We must vaccinate them. Tell them!”

The translator tried to explain. But the old men in this village were not happy to see M’Kim, and they were not any happier to see a strange white man who wanted to tell them what to do.

M’Kim, with some embarrassment, tried to apologize. He also explained that he himself had been vaccinated. He said that on the return part of this trip, they would stop at this village again, and he would try to help fix the broken water pump again. But the village elders were not impressed.

Mike tried to persuade them, but after a few minutes the translator stopped trying to translate. “It is no use,” he told Mike. “This village does not know me, and they do not know you. They know only M’Kim, and they do not like him. I told them that you were here to help, but they do not believe me. They see no reason to trust strangers, especially a white man who wants to poke them with sharp objects and claims that it is good for them. On top of that, the angriest among them is also the village medicine man. He does not believe that your medicine is as good as his.”

“And,” added the translator, very quietly, “if your medicine was as good as his, he also might not be happy. He might lose status.”

The translator continued: “We are not welcome here. We will leave as soon as they tell us we must.”

“But … ,” said Mike.

“No ‘buts’. I will leave when they tell me. If you do not leave, I will take the motorcycle and leave by myself. I will not argue with these men. They do not trust us.”

“Is it safe for us to stay?” asked Mike. “Will they want to kill us in our sleep?”

The translator laughed, but only a little. “I do not think they will kill us while we sleep. They are not that angry. All of these old men were young men once. They know what it is like to try to get to know young women. And men this old have surely tried to repair many things, and have seen that their own repairs do not always work. I think it is safe to stay here if they tell us it is okay for us to stay. But we will do as they say. We will not vaccinate anyone. And we will leave as soon as they ask. We will also thank them politely for letting us stay here, partly protected from the rain, and lions, and other dangers. Even if they are rude to us, we will be polite to them.”

“And,” said the translator, looking at both Mike and M’Kim, and speaking to each in his own language, “we will not try to have a long talk, or anything else, with any young woman in this village. We will not let these men think that we are here to cause trouble, or that we are dishonest or disrespectful of them or their daughters and granddaughters.”

“But the vaccines … ”

“No. No vaccinations. You may write in your notes that no one in this village was vaccinated. Perhaps you will find that information useful later.”

The three men went to the one hut that they were invited to. It was a small hut.

There was no fire in the hut, and each of the three men huddled under a blanket that he had brought. Mike offered his sweatshirt to the translator.

More From Mike

The translator lay down. His chest hurt, as always. Now that he felt safe for the night, but not welcome, he had little to think about but the pain in his chest. And the more he thought about the pain in his chest, the more it seemed to hurt. He wanted to think about something else other than the pain, but could not. Reluctantly, he spoke with Mike, translating most of the conversation so that M’Kim would understand.

“Mike, I know you are interested in medicine and vaccinations. I have been to many villages, and have spent some time in a big city. I have been schooled, and I have learned your language, along with many other things. I am an educated man. I am also an old man, a man who has seen many things. Still, I do not fully understand why you are here. And I do not understand why you want to go to these particular villages. There are other villages closer to M’Kim’s village. But you seemed to want to go to particular places, and you are always in a hurry. Why? And why do you look so angry or sad when you are on the radio?”

Mike sighed and looked a little angry and a little sad.

Mike replied: “Two weeks ago, a truck came through this area. It stopped at every village that we are going to. The driver was sick, but he tried very hard to do his job, and continued until he was so sick that he could not drive. He was brought to a hospital in the city a little over a week ago. We gave him medicine, but he is recovering only slowly. As of two days ago, he was still in the hospital.”

“I believe that he spread his disease to each of these villages. With the rains, the disease may spread rapidly. Some of the villages that we will visit have radios. I learned last night that one village, the furthest from M’Kim’s, already has people who probably have the same disease that the driver had. I must reach those people as quickly as possible. If I do not give the sick some medicine, and the healthy some vaccine, then many of them will probably become very sick. Some may even die. We are in a race against time and weather to save people’s lives. That is why we are going to these villages, not the ones closest to M’Kim’s villages. And that is why it is so important that we reach every one of these villages as quickly as we can.”

The translator nodded his head.

“I see why you are so worried about time. The slower we are, the more people who will become sick. I myself would like this vaccine. Can you give it to me?”

“I thought you already had it,” said Mike.

“No. Like many people, I did not want to get this vaccine unless I really needed it. I have learned about germs and diseases. But I grew up in a village where many strangers have come, and some have done bad things. My village is poorer now than it was when I was young. Some of our land was stolen by white men. Other land was stolen by corrupt politicians and government officials. Even though I work with outsiders, I do not fully trust them. I do not even fully trust you, Mike.”

Mike looked startled.

“However, as I said, I do know about diseases. I know that some spread more easily in the rains. They spread more easily in crowded conditions. They spread more easily when people are already weak. Germs kill both rich and poor, but they kill more poor.”

The translator stopped and took several breaths, but not too deep because his chest still hurt.

Mike could see that the translator was not done talking, and politely waited for him to continue.

The translator slowly said, “The last village on our trip is a village that I know. It is the village that I grew up in. It is a village where people get sick more easily now, because they are even poorer than before. I will help you get to this village, and I will tell people about the vaccines. But not everyone will trust you. Not everyone will want to be vaccinated.”

The translator paused.

“Also, the journey will get more difficult as we get closer to that village. Lions are not the only dangerous animals in this part of the world.”

Mike looked worried.

The translator spoke briefly to M’Kim, and then even M’Kim looked a little worried.

M’Kim spoke softly to the translator: “You said that you would take the vaccine. When I took the vaccine, I took it in front of a village. People could see that I was not afraid. Well, not very afraid. To be safe, you should take the vaccine now. But if you take it later, in front of a village, more people might be willing to take it themselves.”

“You are right,” said the translator. “I saw that people were more likely to take the vaccine when you took it. I will do the same. But I wish I could take it earlier. I fear that by the time we reach my village, it will be too late for many people, perhaps even including me, to take the vaccine.”

The Most Dangerous Animal in Africa, Part 1

The three men continued their journey. Each day became a little more difficult. The roads were smaller and muddier. The damaged wheel on the motorcycle seemed to become a little worse. And sometimes the rain came.

At each village, most people took the vaccine, but some did not.

Still, many people were vaccinated, and at the end of each day Mike looked a little happy, although not a lot happy.

Tonight, the men were in yet another village. This was the last village that M’Kim had been to himself. The village after this one was the village in which the translator was born.

As the three men sat in a small hut around a very small fire, trying to dry out some of their very wet clothing, and eating a small amount of food, the translator slowly stood up.

“Tonight, I will tell you a story. It is a difficult story. You must both learn it. Soon we will be near my village. The village is on the other side of a wide river. This river is very dangerous. You must learn which part is the most dangerous.”

The translator looked at M’Kim. “M’Kim, what is the most dangerous animal in Africa?”

M’Kim thought for a minute.

“Remember,” said the translator, “we are going to cross a river in a day or two. What is the most dangerous animal in Africa?”

“A crocodile!” said M’Kim, eagerly.

The translator nodded his head. “You are a wise young man, M’Kim. But you are wrong.”

The translator continued: “Mike, what is the most dangerous animal in Africa?”

Mike thought for a minute. “Well, I was going to say the lion, but I do not think that is true. The most dangerous animal in Africa is the mosquito. More people die of malaria and other diseases from mosquitos than are killed by lions, cheetahs, wild dogs, crocodiles, or other large, dangerous animals.”

The translator nodded his head. “You are a wise man, Doctor Mike. But you are wrong.”

The translator sat down very slowly. His chest still hurt. The rides on the motorcycle were very hard for him. He hurt constantly. He was not only bumped up and down, and side to side, but he had to put his arms around Mike and hang on to Mike. Putting out his arms and holding tightly to something was not easy for a man with cracked or broken ribs.

“The most dangerous animal in Africa,” began the translator, “is man.”

“Violent men. Foolish men. Greedy men.

“More men are killed by other men, or by their own stupidity, than by anything else.

“If you exclude men, then, yes Mike, the mosquito is probably the most dangerous animal in Africa, and probably in some other parts of the world.

“But men do not fear mosquitos the way that they fear lions, or snakes, or leopards. Perhaps they should, but they do not. A man who will carry a spear when walking near lions might not use a mosquito bed net when sleeping near mosquitos.”

After another long pause and some extra breaths, the translator continued, alternating between Mike’s language and M’Kim’s language, as usual.

“I will tell you about another dangerous animal. It is often called the most dangerous animal in Africa. It kills more men than any other animal – well, it kills more men than any species other than men and mosquitos.

“The crocodile is very dangerous. He will eat almost anything. And he is an ambush predator – an animal that hides under water and attacks when another animal comes too close. The rivers here are dirty, so you cannot see deep into the water. Crocodiles can hide underwater for a long time – more than half an hour. It is hard to protect yourself against something that you cannot see.

“The crocodile is very dangerous. But men know to fear crocodiles and avoid them. Men also know to look at a river to see whether crocodiles are coming to the surface to breathe occasionally. Crocodiles are not the most dangerous animal, even though they are very dangerous indeed.

“So, Mike, I ask again, but this time excluding men and mosquitos, what is the most dangerous animal in Africa. And remember that it is found in or near rivers.”

The translator repeated his words to M’Kim.

Both Mike and M’Kim looked puzzled.

“I will tell you,” said the translator.

“The most dangerous animal in Africa, the animal that kills more men than any other large animal, is large and pink and will not eat you. Do you know?”

Neither knew.

“The animal that kills more humans than any other is the hippo.”

“But,” said Mike, “hippos are vegetarians! How can a hippo be more dangerous than a lion or crocodile? And something that fat can’t possibly run very fast.”

The translator answered: “Hippos are territorial. Hippos may be vegetarians, but they are very willing to fight. They fight each other. They defend their territory against other animals, such as men. They also spend their lives in the water with crocodiles. A hippo must learn to scare or fight crocodiles. And the hippos usually succeed – even a crocodile does not want to fight with a hippo, at least not a healthy adult hippo.”

“And a hippo can run much faster than a man. Just because a hippo is fat does not mean that he is not fast.”

The translator paused again to breathe a few extra times.

“So,” asked M’Kim hesitantly, “in a day or two, we are going to cross a river with hippos?”

“Yes. And crocodiles,” emphasized the translator.

“This is bad,” said Mike.

The translator did not need to translate. M’Kim knew what Mike had said.

The Gas Can Alarm

The three men, two motorcycles, and one trailer slowly left the last village before the river.

The rain had stopped for a little while, but the mud was deep.

After the motorcycle had become stuck in the mud more times than he could remember, M’Kim got off the motorcycle and started walking beside it. He still used the motorcycle engine, but only to pull the trailer, not to carry himself.

Mike spoke with the translator for a few minutes, then Mike, too, got off his motorcycle. The injured translator stayed on the motorcycle, very, very slowly driving the motorcycle forward.

They moved this way for perhaps three hours. By that time, Mike looked exhausted. The translator offered to let Mike ride while the translator walked, but Mike refused. He knew that the translator’s ribs had not mended. Mike spotted a large tree perhaps a kilometer ahead. “We will go to that tree and then rest!” he said. “You go first. I’ll catch up.”

Foolish white man, thought the translator. I wouldn’t leave him alone here. He doesn’t know what he is doing.

“No, we must all go together,” said the translator.

Mike started to argue, but was clearly too tired to argue much. And he did not wish to be alone, even briefly. He rested a moment, took a deep breath, and continued walking.

At the tree, all three men looked at each other, and sensed how exhausted they were. Even M’Kim, the youngest and healthiest of them, was tired after walking for hours through mud, trying to help push a motorcycle and trailer whenever the motorcycle’s wheels slipped in the mud. Fortunately, the rain had stopped, and although the men were tired and cold, they were not being showered with cold water.

“How much further to the next village?” asked Mike.

“You mean, ‘how much further to the river?’”, asked the translator.

“Uhm, yes, I guess that’s what I mean,” said Mike.

“We will not make it to the river before dark, and we cannot cross the river when it is dark,” said the translator, twice, once in Mike’s language and once in M’Kim’s.

“What are we going to do?” asked Mike, with obvious fear in his voice.

M’Kim, too, looked worried. “Yes, what are we doing to do?” he asked.

“I will tell you what we are going to do,” said the translator. “We are going to set up a tent here tonight.”

“We’re going to sleep here, outside of any village, and surrounded by hungry, wild animals?” said Mike, with even more obvious fear in his voice.

“Yes. We will set up the tent here, under the partial shelter of this tree. One end of the tent will be against the tree. This is a big tree. Nothing, not even an elephant, can attack us through the tree. We will put the motorcycles and the trailer around the other three sides of the tent.”

“That will not protect us against a lion, or an elephant, or a rhino, or an elephant,” said M’Kim.

“It will not. But let me continue. We will also pile the gasoline cans around us, in such a way that if an animal hits one, the can will probably hit another can, or a motorcycle, making a loud noise. This will probably startle the animal, and will also tell us that there is a large animal very close. Yes, a lion could jump over the motorcycle, over the cans, and onto the top of the tent, and then claw through the tent and then kill and eat one or more of us. But he would have to jump just right. Furthermore, many lions know something about men and guns and spears, and they will not know whether we have a gun or spears. Most likely, he will see the motorcycles and gas cans and all of the other obstacles, and he will wonder whether we have a gun or spears, and he will decide that a different meal would be easier to get. Also, the gas cans smell bad. No animal likes the smell of gasoline. We will leave the tops of two cans loose. If the wind is weak, the gasoline will be easy to smell.”

“You can really protect us just with the smell of gasoline?” asked Mike.

“No, not with just the smell of gasoline. We have many things protecting us. None of them by themselves, or even together, guarantee that we will be safe. If you have a better idea, let me know.”

“Shouldn’t we keep going?” asked Mike, timidly.

“To where?” asked the translator. “Do you know of a better place?”

“No, I don’t, but I thought you or M’Kim would. You’re my guides,” said Mike, a little angrily.

“M’Kim has not been this far. I have, although not recently. As far as I know, there is no good place between here and the next village, and we cannot get across the river at night,” said the translator.

“I don’t have a better idea,” said Mike.

“Then let us set up the tent,” said the translator.

“Let US set up the tent,” said Mike. “You need to protect your ribs.”

“Yes, I do,” said the translator, sitting down carefully.

Within 30 minutes the motorcycles, trailer, and the “gas can alarms” were all set up. The tent was in the middle, not yet set up, and with the translator sitting on it.

“Here comes the rain!” yelled M’Kim, suddenly pulling the translator up to make more room for M’Kim himself and Mike to set up the tent.

The translator gasped in pain, and then groaned slowly, then took several shallow, rapid breaths.

“Sorry!” yelled M’Kim.

M’Kim and Mike frantically set up the tent, but it was heavy because it was damp from getting soaked with rain for days as it sat in the trailer. By the time it was set up, all three men were soaking wet. Mike politely let the translator in first, and M’Kim politely let Mike in next, but with all three soaking wet, the tent did little to keep them warm other than block the wind.

“M’Kim, did you bring a weapon in case we need one?” asked the translator.

“Yes, but it’s barely a weapon,” said M’Kim. M’Kim quickly went to the trailer and pulled out what looked like a short spear shaft. Back in the tent, he reached into his pack and pulled out a large knife. He tied the knife to the shaft, so that it was a spear.

“I can use this to defend myself against one animal, maybe” said M’Kim. “But if we are attacked by a pack, this will not be enough.”

“Mike, did you bring a weapon?” asked the translator.

“Not really,” said Mike. “Everyone said I should bring a gun. But I don’t like guns. I don’t want to kill anything unless I need to.”

“Here, sometimes you need to,” laughed M’Kim, weakly, after Mike’s words were translated.

The translator pulled a small gun out of his pack.

“Here is what I have,” he said. “It will not immediately kill a large animal. But it will hurt them badly. I do not think that they will want to continue attacking.”

“I’m still very worried,” said Mike. “A lion could kill us any minute.”

“How many people live in sub-Saharan Africa, Mike?” asked the translator.

“Uhm, several hundred million.”

“How many are killed by lions or other large animals in the Serengeti each year? Remember, you yourself said that a mosquito, not a lion, was the most dangerous animal in Africa.”

Mike laughed. It was only a weak laugh, but it was a laugh.

“Yes, I suppose that the odds of getting killed by a lion, or another large animal, in a single night are low. M’Kim is about 6000 nights old, and you are probably about 15,000 nights old. And you are both alive.”

“But we are not in a protected area or even a village,” said M’Kim.

“True,” said the translator, “but Mike is right. If the odds of getting eaten were one in ten, or one in a hundred or one in a thousand, there would hardly be a human alive in all of central Africa. We are not safe, but we are not in great danger. However, one of us should stay awake all night, and we should keep our weapons near us.”

“I’ll take the first watch!” said Mike, almost shouting. “I’m much too scared to fall asleep quickly.”

Then Mike looked embarrassed. “It seems that I am really the least useful person here. I am frightened. I don’t know how to get where we are going. And I am not a physically strong person.”

“We are a team. We are much safer together than alone,” said the translator. “By the way, did you bring a flashlight?”

“Yes!” said Mike, eagerly. “In fact I have three of them, one for each of us.” He ran into the rain and quickly got three flashlights out of the trailer.

“Very good,” said the translator. “The person who is awake and watching should have a flashlight, of course. We will each keep a flashlight near us.”

The translator turned on one of the flashlights. The sun had not yet gone down, but it was obvious that the flashlight was quite bright.

The translator said, “Big cats, such as lions, have sensitive eyes that allow them to see better at night than people do,” he said. “I have heard that wild dogs also have sensitive eyes. I suspect that many animals that hunt at night have sensitive eyes.”

“That means, if we shine this in their eyes at close range, it will hurt their eyes and take away their night vision,” said Mike.

“Exactly,” said the translator. All three men smiled. Just a little.

The three men sat quietly for several minutes. None was ready to sleep, as they thought about the lions, wild dogs, and other dangerous animals nearby.

And as the three men sat, they began to grow colder. The men were wet. Their clothes were wet. Their tent was wet. Their blankets were wet. Mike had a few spare pieces of clothing that had been in a plastic bag and had stayed dry. He had started to pull off his wet clothes and put on the few dry ones that he had. But as soon as he realized that he was the only one with dry clothing, he seemed to feel guilty. He gave one dry shirt to the translator to use as a towel, and then gave a dry jacket to the translator. The translator started to put it on and lie down, but the instant that he lay down, he could feel the wet tent making the jacket wet, so he changed positions and put the dry jacket over him, like a blanket.

Mike, seemingly reluctantly, gave M’Kim a pair of dry socks, which Mike seemed to feel were particularly precious. He handed his remaining dry shirt to M’Kim. Mike started to put on a pair of dry pants, but he, too, realized that the bottom of the tent was wet. After fumbling around for a few minutes, Mike draped the dry pants over himself, lay on his side, and put one arm inside one leg of the pants.

A few minutes later, the translator started shivering. At first, M’Kim thought nothing of it. But after only a few seconds, Mike looked worried. The translator looked in considerable pain, and the more he shivered, the more in pain he looked. Mike asked the translator “Is the shivering making your chest hurt more?”

“Yes,” said the translator.

“We have to do something,” said Mike, looking straight at M’Kim before realizing that the translator hadn’t translated.

“We have to do something,” said Mike again.

The translator, still shivering, said nothing, but was breathing rapidly, with very shallow breaths.

“We need a fire,” said Mike, “but we can’t have a fire inside a tent. We’ll burn the tent.”

The translator still said nothing. He was in a lot of pain, and didn’t want to talk until Mike said something that M’Kim could act on.

“M’Kim,” said Mike, hoping that this time the translator would translate, “do you think that we could have a small fire inside the tent if we put rocks under the fire? Did you see any large, flat rocks outside?”

This time, the translator translated.

“No,“ said M’Kim. “All I saw was mud and grass and trees. And even if we had flat rocks, and put them on the wettest part of the tent, the wood is all wet. I don’t think we can start a fire or keep it going, even if that would be safe inside the tent.”

Mike looked disappointed, but not at all surprised.

The translator continued shivering.

Mike tried to “hug” the translator, to use his own body heat to somehow protect the elderly man, but Mike himself was cold and wet, so it helped very little.

“I know!” yelled M’Kim, “we are surrounded by flammable material! We have many liters of gasoline!”

“Inside the tent? How can we burn gasoline inside the tent?” asked Mike, wishing that M’Kim were right, but not believing it.

M’Kim took off his mostly dry socks, and his partly dry shirt, grabbed one of Mike’s flashlights, and ran out into the rain.

Mike and the translator suddenly heard the sound of metal on metal, as gas cans banged together!

“No!” yelled Mike, terrified that perhaps a lion had pounced on M’Kim as soon as he had exited the tent.

Mike grabbed another flashlight, then grabbed M’Kim’s spear but with the sharp end pointing the wrong way, and poked his head outside the tent, jerked his head back inside the tent in fear, and then pushed the flashlight and wrong end of the spear out first, followed by his head in between them.

The translator, looking at Mike holding the spear backwards, laughed, which only made his chest hurt worse.

“Just me,” yelled M’Kim slightly embarrassed. 20 seconds later, M’Kim was back inside with a dirty metal can, which Mike slowly recognized as one of the cans that had contained food he had eaten a few days ago.

“I hate to waste metal,” said M’Kim. “I still have every can you have eaten from on this trip,” he smiled.

“That’s great,” said Mike. “But while you were out there, did you find any matches?”

As soon as the translator finished translating, M’Kim looked embarrassed again. “No,” he said.

“I’ll go look,” said Mike. “You stay here.” He rushed out into the rain with a flashlight, and without the backwards-pointing spear, and loudly searched through the contents of the trailer.

A few minutes later, he returned, soaking wet, with a pack of matches that was, of course, equally wet.

“This is what we have,” Mike said glumly.

“I thought I had these in a plastic bag, but at some point they fell out and now they are wet. I should have brought waterproof matches,” he said.

M’Kim looked gloomily at the half-filled can with gasoline, resting on a dangerously unstable piece of wet wood.

This time, however, it was the translator’s turn to look hopeful.

After several more seconds of shivering, and many shallow, rapid breaths, the translator said one word: “necklace”.

Mike and M’Kim looked confused.

“What?” said Mike.

“Necklace. My necklace.”

Mike looked totally confused.

M’Kim slowly reached out his hand and removed the translator’s necklace and then held it up so that all three men could see it clearly in the light of one of the flashlights.

Mike looked at the necklace and thought “that’s one of the oddest necklaces I’ve ever seen. It’s not very beautiful. It doesn’t look much like the African art that I’ve seen pictures of. It’s just a mix of thin rope, and pieces of wood and rock and bone. How can that help?”

M’Kim’s cold hands slowly touched each piece of whatever was hanging from the necklace. The first piece looked a little like a symbol for good luck, or blessings. The second piece was made of bone, with one small section that was very sharp. M’Kim continued around the necklace until he came to a somewhat black stone that had a small hole in the center so that it could be strung on the necklace.

“This looks familiar,” thought M’Kim. “But I don’t know why. I don’t remember seeing any stone like that around here.”

Mike noticed M’Kim focusing on the stone. Mike, too, thought that the stone looked somewhat familiar.

After many seconds, M’Kim yelled something that Mike did not understand. M’Kim grabbed the spear and struck the black rock against the dull side of the steel knife that he had previously attached to the spear shaft. A small shower of sparks flew from the part of the knife that the black rock had hit.

“It’s flint!” yelled Mike happily.

A second later, as M’Kim moved the flint and steel toward the can of gasoline, Mike yelled “No” and tried to grab the can, nearly spilling it.

“What?” said M’Kim, who had to wait a long time for the translator to translate.

“The smell of gas is too strong in here. You might cause an explosion!” said Mike, looking very frightened.

Mike opened up the door of the tent. The outside wind coming into the tent immediately made everyone feel colder.

The translator slowly translated most of what Mike said, but struggled briefly with the word “explosion”. M’Kim understood enough to realize the danger, and waited until Mike nodded “Yes” before again striking the steel knife with the flint close to the gasoline.

The gasoline ignited the instant that the first spark hit it.

The smell of smoke and incompletely burned gasoline slowly filled the tent, and the wild, dancing flames frightened all three men, who worried that the fire might eventually dry out the wood underneath the can, and cause it to start to burn. And even with the small, smelly fire, the tent heated up only slowly. The three men’s clothes dried so slowly that they hardly noticed the difference. But over the next two hours, all of the men, especially the translator, shivered less, and their clothes turned from soaking wet to merely very damp.

It was a bad night, with almost equal danger inside and outside the tent.

M’Kim slept little. To avoid putting a can of gas near the flame, M’Kim always let the flame burn out as the gasoline in the can was used up. M’Kim then waited for the can to cool, refilled it, and re-lit the fire with flint and steel. Then he tried to sleep, hoping that Mike would stay awake and re-awaken him when the fire went out, or if he heard noises from a dangerous animal. Mike, far too frightened to sleep, had no trouble keeping an eye on the fire, and awakening M’Kim when it went out.

After a few cycles of this, Mike figured out how to use the flint and steel effectively, so he re-lit the fire and let M’Kim sleep.

The translator slept reasonably well – or as well as a man can with ribs that are cracked, lions that are nearby, next to an unsafe fire, and with the knowledge that he must cross a dangerous river the next day.

Whether the flames frightened off wild animals, or whether few hungry predators were nearby, the men never found out. But in the morning, the three men emerged unburned, uneaten, and only moderately cold.

The Most Dangerous Animal in Africa, Part 2

The next morning, the skies were cloudy, but there was no rain. The men packed the trailer, and continued heading toward the river.

Half an hour later, muddy and tired, they reached the river.

“What do we do now?” asked Mike.

“We wait,” said the translator.

“You’re joking,” said M’Kim. “The longer we wait, the more chances there are for an animal to attack us. We need to act, not wait.”

“No, we need to wait, not act,” said the translator.

“What are we waiting for?” asked Mike.

“A boat. If we are lucky,” said the translator.

“You mean you don’t even know if it’s coming?” asked Mike, shocked.

“I do not know. We might need to wait a couple of days. If one does not come, we might need to get across the river ourselves.”

“How do we do that?” asked Mike.

The translator did not answer immediately.

“While we wait, we must also observe the animals here. If we need to cross without a boat, we will want to know what types of animals are here and how dangerous they are. So, as I said, we do not act; we wait. But while we wait, we observe.”

The three men set up the tent again, with Mike and M’Kim not looking happy about it. They set it up the same way as the previous night, with the back facing a tree, and the motorcycles, trailer, and gas cans surrounding it. This time, however, the tree was small, not really much of a barrier to a hungry animal.

The translator showed them a bush that had large thorns. Each thorn was about 10 centimeters long. The thorns were long, strong, and very sharp – easily enough to punch a hole in a person, a motorcycle tire, or the hide of a lion. The translator showed how to gather branches of the thorn bush, and put them around the campsite. There were not many such bushes, and cutting branches was difficult without getting stabbed by the same thorns that they were hoping would protect them. But after a few hours, they had partially protected their shelter.

Then, they waited. And they observed.

The three men sat in approximately a triangle, with their backs to each other. One looked up the river. One looked down the river. And one looked away from the river. With all three of them, they could see in every direction. They would probably know if anything, good or bad, was coming from any direction.

The two men looking at the river looked for crocodiles, for hippos, and other dangerous animals. For a long time, they saw nothing dangerous.

Then the three walked together up and down the river for a few hundred meters. Again, they saw nothing dangerous.

Then they returned to the river near their tent, and continued watching as they had done before.

“I have not seen any crocodiles or hippos,” said Mike. “Does that mean that there are none here?”

“No,” said the translator. “A hippo is large, and he does not try to hide. If we have not seen any hippos, then there are probably no hippos here. However, when a crocodile comes to the surface to breathe, sometimes he only puts the end of his nose above the water. Even watching the river all day, we might not see his nose unless we are looking in just the right direction. I do not think there are any hippos here. I do not think that there are many crocodiles, but there could be one or a few crocodiles that we have not seen.”

Mike stopped looking optimistic.

Toward the end of the day, shortly before the sun began to set, grazing animals began to come to the river to drink. For half an hour, all the animals that came to drink the water arrived safely and left safely.

A few minutes after the sun went down, a small herd of zebras came to the river. They came cautiously, looking along the riverbank before coming to the water. They were about 300 meters from the three men. They looked at the men, as well as at the riverbanks, but seemed to decide that the men were not an immediate threat. Most of the zebras began drinking, while a few seemed to stand watch.

Suddenly, the three men heard a loud splashing sound. A crocodile that had been invisible under the water lunged forward and upward, grabbing the leg of a zebra. The translator saw it first, and shouted “Look!” Mike and M’Kim turned quickly, and saw a zebra being pulled underwater, as other zebras jumped away from the water.

Mike watched in horror as the zebra was pulled underwater.

“Is the crocodile eating the zebra underwater?” asked Mike.

“No, the crocodile is drowning the zebra. After the zebra is dead, the crocodile can eat the zebra however he wants,” said the translator.

“Unless another crocodile tries to take part of it from him,” said M’Kim.

“Yes,” said the translator.

The men watched carefully. There was no sign of another crocodile.

“Is there only one,” asked M’Kim?

“We can’t be sure. There might be only one. Or this one might be the biggest, and no other crocodile is willing to fight him. Or all of the other crocodiles might already have eaten and are not hungry. And even if there is only one today, there might be others tomorrow. So all we know for sure is that there is at least one crocodile nearby, and there are probably not many crocodiles nearby,” said the translator.

“How soon will this one get hungry again?” asked Mike.

“Not soon,” said the translator. “A crocodile can go weeks without eating. They are cold-blooded, as you know. If they are not moving, one large meal will keep them full for a long time. This one will probably not try to eat us in the next several days.”

“If we know that he might be the biggest, and he is not very hungry, then should we cross close to him, since he is probably not a threat?” asked Mike.

The translator thought a while. “That is a very good question. I do not know the answer, but I think probably not. Crocodiles are somewhat territorial, but not very strongly. I admit that I am afraid to cross near a crocodile, but maybe in this case that is actually safer.”

M’Kim didn’t look like he felt safer. Neither did Mike. In fact, neither did the translator.

The men watched a few minutes longer, but it was getting dark, so they returned to their tent and their primitive fence of thorn bush branches, motorcycles, and gas cans.

“Mike,” asked M’Kim, “is your radio broken?”


“Then why don’t we call the village and ask them to contact someone who can send a boat?”

“I should have thought of that,” said Mike. “The village we are going to does not have a radio. But there is another village nearby that does. I can call them and ask.” They usually check for radio calls twice a day, once at around 10AM and once around 6PM. I’ll call them at 10AM tomorrow.

The next morning, all three men got up early.

M’Kim was tired of waiting, and tired of worrying about crocodiles. He thought to himself that he would almost rather be back at his village, doing the boring work of farming. Then he looked at the river, thought again about crocodiles and hippos, and decided that yes, he really would rather be back farming. A little boredom was a lot better than being eaten by a crocodile.

“Wait a minute!” said Mike. “The truck driver who spread the disease came to the village that we are going to. And he was driving a truck. He must have crossed the river on a bridge, or on a special boat. Isn’t there a bridge near here?”

“No,” said the translator. “As far as I know, the closest bridge is 40 kilometers from here. When the truck driver passed through here, it had not rained for months. The roads were dry and easier to drive on. He could drive to the bridge and then back down here. If we tried to ride our damaged motorcycles 40 kilometers up the river, then another 40 kilometers back down the river, along roads this muddy, it would take us at least two to three days each way.”

All three men looked very discouraged. After a few minutes, they resumed sitting as they had the day before, with two men watching the river, and one man looking away from the river, watching for any danger that might approach.

M’Kim decided that with only one spear, a small knife, and a small gun between them, it would be a good idea for all of them to know how to use the spear.

“Mike,” said M’Kim, through the translator, “have you ever thrown a spear?”

“Well,” said Mike, “in high school they made us try almost all of the track and field positions, including throwing a javelin. I wasn’t very good at it, but I have done it. A spear is a lot like a javelin, although the weight balance is probably different. I can try throwing a spear, but I’m afraid I’ll break your knife rather than save your life.”

M’Kim untied the knife from the spear shaft. “Is a javelin like this?” he asked.

“It’s longer and thinner, but otherwise it’s a lot like that.”

“OK, then try throwing this. Let’s pick out a target, and a safe place to practice. The translator can watch the river, and watch for anything dangerous getting near us. With his damaged ribs, I don’t think he should try to throw anything.”

“I agree,” said Mike.

Mike tried throwing the shaft like a javelin. It didn’t go very straight, and it didn’t go very far.

“Mike throws like a girl,” thought M’Kim, but he didn’t say it.

Mike stopped to think about what his high school teacher had tried to teach him many years ago. He knew at what angle to hold the javelin in order to get the most distance. He started throwing again, each time aiming a little higher in the air. Gradually, his throws got longer.

“But he still throws like a girl,” thought M’Kim.

M’Kim tried to ask Mike a question, but of course Mike didn’t understand. M’Kim motioned to Mike, and the two men returned to the translator.

“M’Kim wants to know why you always throw at the sky,” said the translator.

“To get the maximum range, of course. You see, if you throw the javelin at a nearly 45 degree angle upward, then the javelin will go furthest.” Mike tried to remember the mathematics, to make it easier to explain.

Meanwhile, the translator spoke briefly with M’Kim.

While Mike was still thinking about math, the translator spoke.

“Mike,” he said, “the goal is not to see who can throw the furthest; the goal is to injure a lion or other wild animal enough that he does not think it is worth the pain and effort to catch you and eat you.”

“Oh, yes,” said Mike, a little embarrassed.

Mike and M’Kim resumed practicing, this time with Mike focusing on accuracy at a shorter distance. He practiced for half an hour, by which time his arm was sore. The two men then returned to their camp.

“I’m not very good,” said Mike. “If I throw this, I will need to wait until the lion is fairly close, or else I will probably miss the target. And we have only one spear.”

“That’s true, and I will keep the spear. I throw better than you do. But if I am injured, and you are the only one of us who can still throw, then it would be best if you knew how to throw the spear. I suggest that you threaten the animal with the spear; try not to actually throw it, since you will have only one chance.”

“Hey, I have an idea that might help us use the spear more than once,” said Mike. Mike went to the trailer and pulled out what looked like very thin white string, so thin that M’Kim could barely see it. “It’s dental floss. We can cut a small notch in your spear, and tie the dental floss to it. When I throw the spear, if I miss, then I can pull the spear back to me.”

“It will break,” said M’Kim.

“It might. But it might not. It might give us another chance in an emergency.”

“OK,” said M’Kim, “if you need to throw it, you can try your string. But if I throw it, I will throw without the string. I do not want the string to slow down my throw, or change the balance of the spear.”

At 10AM, Mike called the village that had the radio. Then he reported to M’Kim and the translator.

“The situation is very bad. Many people in the village are sick. One has died. No one in the village with the radio wants to go to the village where the sick people are and get the latest news. Also, no one in the village knows where there is a good boat and someone healthy who can get to where we are and help us cross the river quickly in the next two days. The only boat nearby is broken, and no one has fixed it.” Mike looked sad and frustrated. “I don’t know what to do, except wait some more.”

The translator looked worried. “You say that people have died already?”

“One,” said Mike, “but more may have died since the last report.”

“We must go,” said the translator. “I have family and friends in that village.”

“How will we get across the river?” asked Mike.

“We will swim,” said the translator.

“Swim? We could get killed. Besides, we can’t carry the motorcycles, trailer, gas cans, tent, and other supplies that we need. I’m not even sure that we can carry the medicine.”

“We will need to carry the medicine. We will also carry drinking water. The rest we will leave behind.”

“Are you serious?”

“What other choice do we have? If we wait, more people will die, correct?”

“Yes,” said Mike, looking very, very scared.

“But you can’t swim,” said M’Kim. “You can’t swim with cracked ribs.”

“You will have to carry me somehow.”

“I can barely swim myself!” said M’Kim. “The rivers are dangerous here. There’s no safe place to learn to swim, and no safe place to practice. I am not sure I can get across this river. I certainly can’t carry you.”

“Mike, can you swim?”

“Yes,” said Mike, “I am actually a pretty good swimmer. I’ve been swimming in pools and even in rivers. But never with hippos or crocodiles! And never carrying a man with cracked ribs.”

“We have no choice,” said the translator. “You must swim across the river. You must carry me. You must carry the medicine and the drinking water. And you must swim with M’Kim to make sure that he gets across safely. You will have to swim across the river at least three times.”

M’Kim said to Mike, “I will try if you will swim with me.” But M’Kim looked scared.

Mike looked terrified.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” said Mike. “But if we’re going to do it, we must plan. Can we build a boat?”

“No, it is not practical to build a boat. All we have to build a boat with is a knife, and a way to start a fire. With enough time, we could hollow out a large log and make a boat, but that would take days with the tools we have. And I don’t see any large logs. Even the tree we used to help protect our tent is too small.

“Can we build a raft?” asked Mike.

“How will we build a raft?” asked M’Kim. “With reeds?”

“Yes, we will use reeds. We’ll take some things that float, then tie them together. We could put the medicines and some drinking water on the raft. Also, an empty gas can will float. We can tie two of the empty cans to the reed raft. I don’t know if we could build a strong enough raft to carry the translator, however,” said Mike.

The translator said, “There are reeds that grow in this area. You can make a raft out of them. But we do not have much rope. And I do not think you have nearly enough dental floss.”

“I fixed the trailer connector with Mike’s belt and some mosquito netting. I can do something similar with reeds,” said M’Kim.

“Darn,” said Mike. “I was hoping to get my belt back.” He pulled up his sagging pants to emphasize his point.

M’Kim laughed briefly, then set about making a raft.

M’Kim gathered some reeds. He broke a few and threw them in the river. The reeds floated, rather than sank.

M’Kim gathered more reeds. He wrapped them all up in mosquito netting so that they would stay together. He tied the mosquito net closed with dental floss.

An hour later, he showed Mike and the translator his work.

“That’s a terrible raft,” said Mike.

“That’s a really terrible raft,” said the translator. “But we don’t have a better one. Mike, can you tow this? Remember, when you swim, you must not splash a lot. If you sound like an animal struggling in the water, if there is a hungry crocodile nearby, he will come and eat you. You must swim smoothly.”

Mike was so scared that he was shaking again.

“What order do we carry things across in? Should I take the translator first? I want to take him when I am strongest, not tired.”

The translator thought a minute. “No, take the medicine first. And take your waterproof radio. Call the village as soon as you get across. Tell them where the medicine is. Maybe they can send a runner to get it if we can’t bring it to them.”

“Good idea,” said Mike. “But the radio is in the other village, and they won’t listen to the radio again until 6PM.”

“Still, you should take the medicine and radio first. Then me. Then M’Kim.”

“OK, let me get my swimming gear out of the trailer,” said Mike.

“Swimming gear? You need gear to swim?” asked M’Kim.

Mike walked to the trailer and pulled out a snorkeling mask and a pair of swim fins.

The translator looked stunned.

“You knew you were going to have to swim across a river?” asked the translator.

“No, when I was at the hotel in the city, waiting to get brought to M’Kim’s village, I swam in the hotel pool. I bring the mask and sometimes the fins when I travel. I really like to swim.”

“That is very lucky for us, and for the village,” said the translator.

“Not as lucky as you think. This water is dirty. Even with the mask, I won’t be able to see much. That zebra that got eaten didn’t see the crocodile, and the crocodile was very close.”

“You’re right. But anything that helps us, even a little, is very important now.”

The translator hadn’t translated to M’Kim, and M’Kim hadn’t seen snorkeling gear before, so the translator quickly explained it to him.

Mike put the medicine and some water bottles on the little raft. He took off most of his clothes and put them on the raft. He added his radio, which fortunately was waterproof. Then he added his pocketknife.

“You’re going to fight a crocodile with that little knife,” asked M’Kim, not sure whether Mike was stupid, brave, or just desperate.

“No, but it makes me feel safer, even though I’m not.”

“Remember, no splashing!” yelled the translator. “You must swim smoothly.”

Mike stepped into the water.

Then he stepped back out.

He looked terrified. And he was terrified.

M’Kim brought Mike a long stick. It was similar to the spear shaft, but longer, although not as straight or as strong. M’Kim quickly sharpened one end with his own knife.

“I don’t think I can fight a crocodile with this, either,” said Mike, looking at his pocketknife and at the crude spear M’Kim had made.

“It’s not for fighting. The crocodile is an ambush predator. And he expects his food to be near the shore. I’m going to throw some stones into the water, very quickly, right in front of where you’ll get in. The stones will splash the water, sounding like an injured animal. If there’s a crocodile nearby, he might jump at the sound. If there’s no jump, then maybe there’s no crocodile. After that, you walk into the water, gently pushing the stick into the mud as far ahead of you as you can reach. If you hit a crocodile, he’ll react.”

“Yes, he’ll want to kill me!”

“Maybe, but at least you’ll know he’s there. You might be able to run back to the shore. You might also scare him away, since the stick is very sharp. And I’ll be standing here with my spear. I’ll try to hit him with my spear if he chases you.”

“That’s not a very good plan.”

“Do you have a better one?”


M’Kim picked up some large stones and threw them into the river. The crocodile who had eaten the zebra looked toward them, but he wasn’t hungry, and he wasn’t very interested. No other crocodile appeared.

Mike walked into the water, pushing the stick in front of him, hoping it didn’t hit anything alive.

After he was up to his waist in water, he put the sharp stick on the raft, checked that the raft was tied to him, and jumped forward into the water, trying to swim as fast as he could.

The translator screamed, “Don’t splash!” but it was too late. Mike swam half way across the river, but was slowed by the drag from the raft. Also, the water slowly carried him downstream, away from the point where he had intended to get out. About halfway across the river, Mike suddenly started going down, and almost immediately disappeared under the water.

“A crocodile has him,” screamed M’Kim. “It’s going to drown him!” M’Kim started to run into the water, wielding his spear, but he couldn’t see the crocodile, and didn’t know where to throw the spear. He stood in the water for several seconds, then backed up, not wanting to be attacked himself.

Seconds later, Mike’s head and upper body appeared again. Mike took two deep breaths, then sank rapidly into the water again, this time, without much of a splash.

Ten seconds later, his head appeared again for a few seconds, then disappeared, again almost without a splash.

Then he stayed above water, swimming frantically, but surprisingly smoothly. Then he disappeared under the water again.

Several seconds later, he re-appeared, standing in the water near the other shore. He grabbed the crude spear from the raft, and walked backwards rapidly toward the far shore. He reached the water’s edge, walked backwards a few more feet, then pulled the raft toward him and out of the water.

“What happened?” screamed M’Kim. “Did the crocodile let you go? Are you bleeding? Get further away from the water!”

The translator tried to translate, although it was painful for him to yell loudly.

Mike moved a few feet further from the water, then yelled back across the river. “There was no crocodile. Halfway across the river, I remembered that the translator told me not to splash. So I went under the water, swimming mostly with the fins, which won’t splash when they are under the water. I couldn’t see more than half a meter under the water. I hope that means that any crocodile couldn’t see me!”

“Why did you walk backward?”

“It’s harder to walk forwards with the fins than to walk backward. They’re good fins, but lousy shoes!”

Mike swam back across the river, pulling one end of the short rope. When the rope went taut, his swimming slowed, but he was close to the shore, and several seconds later, he started walking backwards again, pulling the rope. M’Kim stood with the good spear in his hand, watching the water for any sign of crocodiles.

Mike was shaking, and it wasn’t from the cold water in the river.

“Two more times,” said the translator.

“No,” said M’Kim. “Let me make a longer rope. Mike can swim with the rope, but not need to pull the raft until he gets almost to the other side.”

M’Kim worked for another 15 minutes, but couldn’t make the rope long enough. Still, it was longer than it had been, meaning that Mike could swim further before he had to drag the raft through the water.

M’Kim also tied two empty gas cans to the raft, so that it would float better with the weight of the translator on it.

Mike prepared for his second trip, this one with the translator.

But the translator looked worried. He pointed upstream. “See, there, a hippo is coming down river slowly.”

“Oh, no,” said Mike.

“He’s not coming very quickly. And he looks like he’s alone. If you can make two more trips across the river quickly, he might never be near us.”

Mike looked scared to get back in the river.

“Sooner is better,” said the translator. “The translator waded into the river. He put his arms around the raft, trying to ignore the pain in his chest. Now!” he yelled, “But no splashing.”

Mike knew that the translator had entered the water sooner than necessary. Because Mike could swim part way across the river with the rope, the translator didn’t need to hang onto the raft until the rope was almost taut. But he had entered anyway. Mike knew that meant that the translator wanted him to swim quickly – but without splashing. Mike quickly but carefully started swimming, again staying under water most of the time so that the fins wouldn’t splash. He felt the rope get taut, and his progress slowed. The translator was heavier than the medicines and water and other things that Mike had towed on the first trip. And the raft was even less streamlined than it had been before M’Kim had tied the empty gas cans to it. Mike’s speed towing the raft this time was slower. But Mike could see that even though most of the raft, and most of the translator’s body, was underwater, the translator’s head was still above water. The gas cans floated well. Mike kicked and swam across, reaching the shore, then started pulling the rope and the raft and the translator to shore.

“Thank you,” said the translator when he reached shore. But he didn’t stand up, even though he was at the water’s edge, within easy reach of any hungry crocodile nearby.

“Get up,” yelled Mike.

“I can’t. My chest hurts too much.”

Mike reached down and tried to help support the translator as the translator tried to push himself up from the mud and into a standing position. As the translator was about half way up, his feet slipped in the mud, and he fell face-down into the mud. For several seconds, he barely moved. Mike realized that the translator was probably in such pain that he could barely move his arms even to roll himself over. Mike reached down and rolled the translator onto his back, then wiped away as much mud from the translator’s face as he could.

The translator was obviously in severe pain. Mike tried again to help him up, but the translator was in too much pain to help. Mike yelled to M’Kim “what do I do?”

M’Kim did not understand Mike’s words, and the translator was in too much pain to shout out the translation. M’Kim gestured for Mike to come back quickly and help him across the river.

Mike dove back into the water, forgetting the rope. He swam quickly across the river. He reached M’Kim, who yelled at him and pointed up the river. The two looked upstream and saw the hippo coming closer. The crocodile was also looking at them, but hadn’t moved. In near-panic, both Mike and M’Kim ran into the water, splashing heavily, then dove forward, splashing even more. Mike started swimming rapidly but and was two-thirds of the way across the river before he remembered that M’Kim was not a strong swimmer, and also had one hand busy carrying their one good spear.

Mike turned around to see M’Kim being carried downriver by the current. M’Kim was trying to swim, but with only one hand he was making barely any progress.

Mike took a deep breath, slid smoothly under the water, and kicked furiously. He popped back up, saw where M’Kim was, and took strong surface strokes and smooth kicks to reach M’Kim. He grabbed M’Kim with one arm, then said, “give me the spear.”

M’Kim, of course, did not know what Mike was saying.

Mike grabbed the spear. At first, M’Kim fought him, but within seconds realized that the spear was almost useless to him. He let go of the spear, started swimming clumsily, and felt Mike’s hand grab his trousers. Mike kicked strongly but smoothly, and the two men progressed toward the shore, still splashing, but splashing less.

M’Kim’s hand touched mud, and he immediately stood up.

Two seconds, later, Mike stood up, walked backwards a few steps, reached the water’s edge, took off one fin, stepped one step forward on the shore, and then yelled, “Owww!”

There was no time to figure out what type of sharp object had just stabbed Mike’s foot. Mike slipped his fins back on, and walked backwards toward the translator, and the raft.

Meanwhile, M’Kim was running and slipping through the mud to reach the translator. By this time, the hippo was working its way toward the translator. M’Kim raised his arm to shake his spear at the hippo, but his hand held no spear.

Mike was still walking backwards toward the translator with the spear.

M’Kim yelled, but Mike had no idea what the words meant. He looked up to see the hippo getting closer and closer to the translator and M’Kim. Mike tried to take off the fins while still walking and hopping backwards and fell over. He quickly stood up again. M’Kim yelled something again, and Mike ran toward him.

They were still too far apart, and the hippo was getting closer. The hippo didn’t appear to be moving at top speed, but there was no doubt which direction he was going: toward the injured translator and M’Kim.

M’Kim yelled again, gesturing as though he wanted to throw a spear.

Mike threw the spear. The spear went upward at a nearly 45 degree angle. It landed moderately close to M’Kim. M’Kim ran to pick it up, then ran back toward the translator, then turned around shook the spear at the hippo.

The hippo was now out of the water. It looked like an adolescent male. It also looked injured. It might have just tried to fight an older and stronger male in the last day or two, and lost, then left to try to find its own territory and, hopefully, some female hippos. Two small men, one shaking a stick, didn’t look very intimidating to a hippo.

But mud is mud, and a two-ton hippo can slip on it, too. This hippo did not fall, but it did slow down on the unreliable footing.

M’Kim desperately wanted to throw the spear. But he had only one spear, and he didn’t want to miss. Also, one spear was unlikely to kill a hippo that weighed more than a ton. It might just make the hippo angrier.

M’Kim waited until the hippo was frighteningly close, and threw the spear.

The spear hit the edge of the hippo’s head with great force, but at a shallow angle. The spear gouged the hippo, but not deeply. The hippo was now even angrier, and no less capable of causing the three men severe injury or death. The hippo slowed briefly, but then sped up again.

Mike ran to the raft and grabbed the second “spear,” the stick that M’Kim had sharpened. Hippos have poor eyesight, and to the hippo, the crude raft built of reeds looked a little like a large bundle of potential spears. The hippo skidded to a halt in the mud, less than 10 meters from Mike. Mike screamed loudly and threateningly and waved the spear, but did not throw it. He was terrified, and gripped the spear as tightly as possible. Even if he had made the arm motion to throw the spear, his grip was so uncontrollably tight that the spear might not have left his hand.

The hippo looked again at the three men, and at what might be a pile of spears, and slowly retreated.

All three men had been staring at the hippo, unable to see or think about anything else. Meanwhile, the crocodile had been approaching. But when it saw that the hippo – a tough opponent even for a crocodile – was retreating, the crocodile compared its remaining hunger (not much after a meal of zebra) to the danger of strange animals standing on two legs and throwing things that could cause a hippo to bleed, and decided that it wasn’t nearly hungry enough to take on either the two-legged animals or the bleeding hippo.

M’Kim, loaded with adrenaline, quickly, but this time gently, picked up the translator while Mike stood with his crude spear, knees locked in fear, and brain wondering whether they had just scared off both the hippo and the crocodile or whether one or both would attack as soon as he turned his back to them.

M’Kim half pulled, half carried the translator up the riverbank. Mike grabbed the good spear while still holding the crude one, grabbed the backpack of medicines and water, grabbed his radio and shoes, and ran up the riverbank, then turned around to see where the hippo and crocodile were. Both seemed to be staying away.

Mike almost fell over from a combination of relief and fear.

The translator was in great pain, but was able to breathe enough to stay alive and to translate, although only a few words at a time.

After almost 20 minutes, the three men started to calm down.

Mike was wearing his swim mask, and was carrying his shoes and a backpack and a radio. The backpack held his pocketknife, and some water bottles. He handed both spears to M’Kim, and the two walked back cautiously and picked up the medicine boxes that they had left behind. The translator could stand on his feet but only with help, and could walk only very slowly.

“Elimu,” asked Mike, “why didn’t you shoot your gun at the hippo.”

The translator replied: “When I tried to find it, I couldn’t. I think it fell out of my pocket while I was on the raft. And after I fell my ribs hurt so much that I couldn’t even reach to open my pack to try to find it.”

Mike and M’Kim tried to find the gun, but could not find it.

An Unexpected Surprise

The three men slowly walked along the narrow path. After two hours, Mike estimated that they had gone little more than three kilometers.

The translator sat down, very painfully.

Then he lay down on his back, the position that seemed to cause him the least pain.

Slowly, he spoke:

“Mr. Mike,” he said, “you are a doctor. Surely you can do something about my ribs.”

“I’m not that kind of doctor,” said Mike. “I’m a researcher in biology.”

“You really know nothing of medicine?”

“Very little.”

“Please try.”

Mike thought.

“To even begin, I’d need an X-ray machine. And the right kinds of bandages. We have nothing. We don’t even have rope, or mosquito nets. We left those next to the river after we crossed it.”

“Do you have any pain killers?”

“Nothing. It’s not that kind of medicine.”

“Perhaps you should continue without me.”

“No,” said Mike. “We’re a team. Remember?”

“You must help the people in my village. They are not far away. When you get there, you can send someone back to help me.”

M’Kim replied. “We need you there. I can’t translate for Mike. And you’re going to take the immunization with the whole village watching, remember?”

“Yes, I remember,” said the translator. “We have no time to rest. But I must rest. Please let me rest, at least a little.”

“We all need to rest,” said Mike, wondering how he was going to get himself back across the dangerous river, much less get the translator and M’Kim back across, when the time came to return to their starting point.

Mike intended to rest for only five minutes. But half an hour later, he was still too tired to walk more than a short distance. Also, his foot hurt from whatever sharp object he had stepped on when he was getting out of the river and taking off his fins. The translator looked like he couldn’t be moved.

Nevertheless, the three men got up – the translator only with great difficulty and assistance.

Suddenly the translator laughed, then clutched his chest in pain.

“What?” said Mike.

The translator pointed at Mike. Mike looked down. He was wearing only his underwear, shoes, and the backpack, and carrying two boxes with medicines.

“You sure are a fancy dresser,” the translator said, very slowly, and forcing himself not to laugh this time.

Mike looked embarrassed, then laughed, then looked more embarrassed, then a little afraid.

Then, Mike turned his head, and looked even more embarrassed.

M’Kim turned quickly to see what Mike was looking at. The translator turned more slowly.

Running briskly along the higher, and less muddy, edge of the path were three women, wearing what appeared to be a cross between a military uniform and a college track team’s clothing. Despite the muddy road, the women ran fairly smoothly and quite rapidly. Each woman had very short hair, and each was carrying a spear.

Seeing the three men, one old and obviously injured, one young man with a weapon, and one white man in his underwear, the three young women started running even faster, each raising her spear to throwing position.

The three women surrounded the men.

“Who are you?” one of them asked.

The translator laughed again, then clutched his chest. M’Kim dropped his spears and grabbed the translator before he fell, saving him from still further injury to his chest.

“Why do you laugh, old man? Are you drunk?” asked another of the women.

Mike had no idea what was going on. The translator hadn’t translated anything that the women said. All Mike knew was that there were three women pointing spears, and that he, Mike, was wearing just underwear and a backpack.

Mike tried to pick up one of M’Kim’s spears without any of the women noticing, but one of the women stepped on the good spear and pointed her own spear at Mike.

The translator started to laugh, winced in pain, then slowly controlled himself.

“I am Elimu, from a nearby village, probably one close to yours. These are my friends, Mike and M’Kim. They are here to help my village fight a terrible disease.”

“You are Elimu?” asked the tallest of the women.


“Do you know Ohin Kosey?”

“Yes, he is an old friend of mine. He has a wife, Chaisiku, who is the chief’s daughter. They have a son and a daughter. Sadly, I heard that the son died a few years ago.”

“I am Ohin Kosey’s daughter, Aziza.”

The translator smiled weakly. “Aziza! I have not seen you since you were a child. You must help us, please.”

“Of course. These are my friends, Reta and Saada.”

Aziza handed her javelin to Reta. Saada also handed her javelin to Reta. Saada then picked up M’Kim’s two spears.

Aziza spoke again.

M’Kim was given three spears, including his own two, and one of the javelins that the women carried. Reta and Saada jogged away quickly, carrying their javelins in a non-threatening manner.

The translator finally started translating for Mike.

“This woman is the daughter of a friend of mine in the village we are trying to reach. Her friends are running back to our village. I do not think they can send us a vehicle to carry us, but the village will prepare some food and some water for us. They will also heat up a hut with a fire so that we may dry off and rest. But we must still get to the village. This woman, my friend’s daughter Aziza, will guide us. She and M’Kim will protect us while we walk.”

h1<{color:#000;}. Goal Reached?

All three men were damp and exhausted when they reached the village. Despite Mike’s nervousness about yet another new place, he was asleep within minutes of reaching the dry and somewhat warm hut.

M’Kim and the translator woke early the next morning, hours ahead of Mike. The translator was still in pain, but explained the team’s purpose to the village chief.

The chief was, rather unusually, a woman. She described to the translator in detail how many people were sick, and how long each had been sick. She confirmed that one had died. She had known from relayed radio transmissions that the vaccination team was coming, and she fully understood the dangers of the epidemic that her village was experiencing, but like many villagers, she was also a little skeptical of the vaccination.

As soon as Mike was awake, she asked many questions about how the vaccine would be given, and was very concerned to hear that the medicine would be given through something that was like a hollow thorn. She also struggled to understand why the injections would be given to those who were not yet ill. This did not sound like normal medicine, either from a village medicine man or from white men.

After a lot of explanation, she accepted that Elimu the translator would be injected first. She herself would be injected a few hours later. Only after that would anyone else be injected. She wanted Mike to be injected first, and only very reluctantly accepted the explanation that he had already been injected.

At first, Mike was quiet, and not active. He hoped and expected that the translator would make everything easy.

Finally, he was brought into the conversation.

“You say that he has been injected and cannot get the disease?” asked the village chief.

“Fine, then let him prove that his preventive shield medicine works. If he is a doctor, let him work with the sickest among us. If his vaccination works, and he cannot be harmed, then he should be with the patients, while those who are unvaccinated and could get sick should avoid touching the sick, if that is a way that the disease can spread.”

Mike started to put on rubber gloves, but the chief objected.

“Why does he need the gloves? How do we know that it is the vaccination, not the gloves, that protect him?” asked the chief.

Mike asked the translator to explain that there could be other diseases that he could get, but the chief insisted that he not wear gloves.

“No one in the village was seriously ill until this disease began to make us sick. If he is protected against this disease, that should be enough.”

The argument went on quite a while.

Mike said that the epidemic that the village was experiencing was not the only disease that a person in the village might have, and that the vaccine protected him against only one disease, not all diseases. But the chief was not satisfied.

“Our village had been a healthy village until this disease arrived,” said the Chief. “Although many people have experienced minor diseases, no one has had anything this serious in the last few years. You can see as you look at my daughter and her friends, we are very healthy. My daughter can run as fast as any man in any nearby village, and she is nearly as strong as a man. Her friends are equally healthy. Yes, you could get a disease here, but it is not likely to be a serious one. If your medicine is so good, you should not be afraid to work with our sickest patient.”

Mike tried to explain that the gloves would protect not only him, but also the next patient he touched, because he would use different gloves for each patient. The chief was still skeptical.

Finally, Mike said that he would not use the gloves, but he insisted that he would wash his hands before and after each patient, and he would wash them using water that had been boiled, and that he would wash with soap. The chief agreed with each of those.

Almost every home in the village began boiling (and then cooling) water.

Finally, everything was ready.

Mike washed his hands. He washed them a long time – longer than the translator had ever seen him wash them before. Mike then washed the translator’s arm, also for a very long time, and with bad-smelling soap. Mike then injected the vaccine into the translator’s left arm, which was the same arm that he had washed so thoroughly. Mike put the needle into a hard plastic case that had an angry-looking face on it. When the chief asked why, Mike explained that he would use a different needle for each person, so that no one’s blood would be mixed with anyone else’s blood. “All blood is the same,” said the chief. “In fact, I have heard of a tribe, I think they are called the M’asai, who drink the blood of their animals. They do not even cook this blood. You are more careful with your water than they are with their blood. And I believe that they are probably much healthier than you are.”

Mike tried to explain that not all blood was the same, but the chief was not very interested.

A few hours later, it was the chief’s turn to take the vaccine. Almost every healthy person in the village watched.

First the chief brought out a spear.

Mike was startled and afraid. “Is she going to kill me, even though the translator is okay?” he wondered.

The chief then walked until she was about 20 meters away from a tree. She threw her spear at the tree, and hit the edge of the tree.

She walked over, picked up the spear, and walked back to the place from where she had thrown the spear a moment ago.

She did this a total of five times. She hit the tree near the center three times, the edge once, and missed once.

“Now you all know how well I throw a spear,” she said, loudly to everyone in the village. “After the vaccination, I will throw the spear again. If I do not throw it as well after the vaccination as before the vaccination, then I will not permit anyone to be vaccinated.”

Mike washed his hands with water that had been boiled recently, and with soap. He then asked the chief to wash her own hands, and then to wash her arm. After that, Mike washed her arm again. He then injected her with the vaccine.

She was a strong woman, and her face barely changed as Mike stuck the sharp needle into her left arm.

Mike then started working with some of the sick people, doing what he could to make them more comfortable. He also cleaned up the insides of their huts, knowing that the germs that caused the disease could infect other people, such as family members, who stayed in the hut or even visited it. He was especially careful to try to clean out most of the mud from huts that had muddy floors. Muddy floors make a good home for some types of germs.

As Mike cleaned the huts, the chief watched him, always making sure that he did not try to give any of the sick people the vaccine or any other medicine.

At first, she looked at him with suspicion, and almost laughed when he seemed to be delicately trying to keep himself clean while digging or sweeping mud out of the huts and carrying it away from the most densely populated parts of the village. He looked rather like a rich, spoiled white man.

But Mike continued cleaning, although he didn’t seem very happy to be doing it. And he was always very gentle with the sick people, especially the very old and the very young. He frequently asked M’Kim, who had already been vaccinated, to help him. But he never gave M’Kim a dirtier job than he would do himself. Gradually, the chief looked less suspicious as she watched him.

After a few hours, the chief told Mike to stop washing the sick, making them comfortable, and cleaning out their huts.

The chief picked up her spear again. She walked over to the same place from where she had thrown the spear before.

She threw the spear, and missed.

The villagers who were watching seemed surprised. They began to talk quietly among themselves.

She threw the spear again, this time barely hitting the edge of the tree.

The villagers looked surprised again.

The chief picked up the spear, and threw again. This time, the spear hit near the center of the tree.

None of the villagers spoke.

The chief picked up the spear a fourth time. She threw again, this time very hard. The spear missed.

Now the villagers began talking – and not quietly.

The chief faced them and held up her hand for silence.

“The test is not over yet,” she said.

She picked up the spear, waited, concentrated, and threw the spear again. It hit near the center of the tree.

“She hit the tree four out of five the first time, but only three out of five the second time. What will she say?” asked Mike.

The chief looked at the translator. The chief looked at Mike. The chief scowled a little at Mike, but only a little.

“One more time,” said the chief.

This time, she did not pause, and she did not concentrate, but she also did not throw with full force. The spear missed the tree, but only by a very small amount.

The chief looked at Mike.

Slowly, the chief said, “I am not happy.”

“Mother,” spoke the chief’s daughter, Aziza, who was also one of the three young women who had been out running with javelins and had found the vaccination team.

“Please allow me to try. I will throw my javelin five times, as hard as I can, to see how far it will go. Then I will throw another five times, trying to hit the same tree that you threw at, and from the same distance as you threw your spear. Then I will be vaccinated. Then I will throw again, five times for distance, and five times for accuracy. If I do as well after the vaccination as before, then we will proceed with the vaccinations. If not, we will stop.”

“You are my eldest surviving child,” said the chief, almost angrily. “I will not let these men harm you.”

“Mother and chief,” said the daughter. “You have proven your courage and your devotion to the village. As your eldest child, I might be chief someday. I wish to prove my courage and my devotion to the village. I would like to try the test.”

“No,” said the chief. “We cannot let this stranger kill the chief and her eldest child. Your idea is a good one, but we cannot both take the vaccination the same day. If something happens to me, you must be healthy and strong.”

Aziza’s friend Saada, who had met the men near the river, stepped forward with her javelin.

“Chief, please allow me to try. As you know, my eldest brother left our village to go to school. He has said that he thinks that medicine and some, although not all, other modern practices do more good than evil. I have told you that if necessary, I would stand with my friends Aziza and Reta, and with the village men, to protect our village against a lion or bandits or other danger. If this disease continues, it will sicken and perhaps kill more people in this village in several days than all the lions and other wild animals have killed since I was a young child. I would like to measure my throws with the javelin, and then I will take the vaccination, and then we will measure my throws again. May I fight for my village in this way, my chief?”

The woman bowed very slightly to the chief, then stood up straight, yet not rigid. Even standing before the chief, a woman she obviously respected, she was an imposing young woman. She stood tall and proud. She was taller than Mike, or the translator, or M’Kim. She appeared to be about 20, and very healthy. She had broad shoulders for a woman, and her arm and leg muscles were easy to see. She looked like both a woman and a warrior. Mike thought that if he were a lion, he would not want to fight this young woman if she had a spear in her hands. For just a moment, he thought that if he were a lion, he might not want to fight her even if she didn’t have a spear in her hands.

The chief started to say no, but thought about it.

There was no question that the disease was dangerous. Already, one person had died, so she knew that the disease could kill. Many people were ill, and it was quite possible that the disease would indeed kill more people in the village than wild animals had killed in many years. The chief also knew that although she had not thrown as well after the vaccination as before it, the difference was not large.

“All right,” said the chief. “But just you.”

Mike started to argue. “Madame chief,” he said. “The vaccine does not protect you immediately. The vaccine strengthens your body against this disease, but that strengthening takes time. The sooner we vaccinate everyone, the better.”

“You mean,” asked the chief, “even though I have already been vaccinated, I could still get the disease? That is not what you told me. What else have you not told me?”

Mike explained nervously, “Your body strengthens slowly from the vaccine. It can take days, or even weeks, for the vaccine to completely protect you. And it doesn’t really COMPLETELY protect you. There is a tiny chance that you will get the disease even if you have had the vaccine. It is a very small chance, but it is not zero.”

The chief looked angrily at Mike. She gripped her spear tightly. “You did not tell me before.”

Mike spoke again, this time softly. “It is not perfect. It is very good, but not perfect. And it does take time,” he repeated.

“Why should I believe you?”

Mike looked straight at her. “You asked me to work with your sick people. And I did. You might not believe that I had the vaccine recently. You might have no way to know how long it takes to work. But I am working with your sick, so obviously I believe that eventually it will protect me. I even left my gloves off, although I very much wanted to wear them to protect me against other diseases. Clearly, I believe that this vaccine is good enough that it is safer for me, with a vaccination, to work with your ill villagers than it is for you to work with them without a vaccination.”

The chief thought about it. Then she thought some more about how serious the disease was. She thought about the fact that Elimu was an educated man, who had traveled in pain for days to reach villages to help them get this medicine. After a few minutes, she asked Mike: “You said that you have already been injected with this vaccine, so you don’t need to be vaccinated again, and you refused to take the vaccine that you are telling us to take. Would it harm you to take the vaccine a second time?”

“I don’t know. It’s not usually tested that way.” Mike thought a little longer. “Probably not,” he said. “It probably won’t hurt me to take it again.”

“Then you will take it again, here, in front of all of us.”

Mike looked reluctant, but only briefly. He pulled out a new needle and prepared to give himself another injection of the vaccine. Just before Mike pushed the needle into his own arm, M’Kim said, “Wait! Mike, you have been cleaning the sick and cleaning their huts. Shouldn’t you wash yourself again with soap?”

“Yes, I should!” said Mike.

Mike washed his hands and his arm. He used a lot of soap, and quite a bit of water, as well. Then, when he was ready, he pushed the needle into his own arm. Unlike the chieftess, Mike could not hide the expression of pain on his face. However, the needle went in, and Mike gave himself the full shot.

The chief watched Mike for a few minutes. Then the chief called the name of Saada, the second young woman with a javelin, the one who had volunteered to get the vaccine.

“Go ahead,” was all the chief said.

Looking nervous but determined, Saada threw the spear at the tree five times. She hit the tree three times, and missed twice. She then threw the spear as far as she could, and each time someone marked the spot where it landed. Mike was amazed at how far she threw the spear – much further than Mike himself could have thrown it.

After Saada had completed the throws, Mike nervously started to wash her arm.

“Shouldn’t you wash your hands first?” asked Saada, still holding her spear, which she had picked up after her last throw.

“Oh, yes!” said Mike, who looked embarrassed at having made the same mistake twice. He quickly reached for some boiled water and soap. He washed his hands a long time. Saada put down her javelin and washed her hands. Then she washed her arm, and then Mike washed her arm again and started to inject her with the vaccine.

Mike’s hands were shaking with nervousness. He accidentally pushed the needle too far, and the young woman winced and let out a short yelp of pain. Then her face went stiff.

Mike pulled out the needle. He quietly apologized, then washed off Saada’s arm again, and put a small bandage on it. Saada said nothing.

Two hours later, Saada returned, as did most of the rest of the villagers.

Saada threw her spear. It hit the tree near the center. She threw again, and missed.

On her third throw, the spear sliced through the air, seemingly missing the tree. But the spear shook as it continued flying through the air.

“I think you might have just touched the edge of the tree,” said the chief, watching carefully as the spear flew further and then hit the ground.

The young woman walked over, picked up the spear, and prepared to throw again. She looked at the tree a long time, concentrating hard.

“The same way every time!” barked the chief, a little more loudly than she intended. “You must throw the same way before and after the vaccination. No extra effort, no extra concentration, and no carelessness.”

The young woman with the spear nodded. She threw the spear, perhaps a little too hard. The spear flew toward the tree, hitting the edge, spinning, and then falling to the ground.

“One more throw,” said the chief’s daughter, Aziza, quietly. “You can do it, Saada.”

The young woman with the spear threw for the fifth time. The spear flew through the air. Mike started to close his eyes, then forced himself to keep them open.

The spear hit the tree, neither near the center nor near the edge.

“Not as well as the first time,” said the chieftess, “but close. Now throw for distance.”

The young woman picked up the spear, leaned far back, yelled loudly, and hurled the spear as far as it would go.

“The same each time,” said the chief.

“I think I hurt my arm throwing,” said the young woman, embarrassed.

“If the vaccine makes you hurt more easily, that would be bad,” said the chief.

The chief’s daughter walked to where the spear had landed. “This is her furthest throw,” she said.

“But she did not throw the same way each time,” said the chief.

The young woman being tested stopped for a moment to rest her arm.

She threw again.

The chief’s daughter walked over. “Her shortest throw,” she said, not very loudly.

The chief’s daughter walked back slowly with the spear before handing it to her friend, trying to give the friend time to rest her arm. The chief noticed the delay, but said nothing.

The young woman being tested threw two more times. Each throw was shorter than the previous one, but not by much.

One more throw, thought Mike. And I don’t think it will be a miracle throw, far enough to bring up her average to match the first five throws.

The woman prepared for her final throw. She leaned way back.

“The same every time,” said the chief, impatiently.

The woman leaned back a little less.

She threw. The throw was higher than her previous throws, but when the spear touched the ground, it was her second shortest throw.

“Not good enough,” came a voice from inside the crowd of villagers.

The chief looked at Mike. Then she looked at the translator, whose expression seemed to be saying “please?”

The chief looked at the villagers.

“Neither of us threw as well after the vaccine as before the vaccine.,” she said.

“But the difference is small. The difference is much smaller than the difference between a healthy person and a person who has this disease. I will let each villager decide for himself or herself whether to take the vaccine. I will say that, if I had not already taken the vaccine …”

Mike froze for a moment, afraid of what she might say next.

“… I would take it now. When I was a child, a similar disease came to our village. More than one person in the village died. This is a very dangerous disease. I think it is more dangerous than the vaccine.”

“I would take the vaccine myself,” the chief repeated.

Mike almost collapsed, he was so relieved. A day ago, three strong young women had run rapidly at him while holding their spears pointed toward him. Today two of those women had said they would take his vaccine, and one had actually taken it. He was sure that with the chief’s approval, most of the villagers would take the vaccine.

But would they take it in time?

The vaccine took days, sometimes weeks, to protect a person. One person in the village had already died, and many were ill. Even if everyone were vaccinated today, some of the sick could still die, and some of those who were not already sick would probably still get sick. If any of the people who were not yet sick were to get sick and die, it seemed very likely that the chief would be very angry. She – and her daughter -- were obviously very protective of her village. It seemed likely that the village men would be equally protective.

“The sooner, the better,” muttered Mike to himself.

Almost everyone in the village lined up to get the vaccine.

For each person, Mike washed his hands and the villager’s arm using boiled water and soap. Most of the villagers washed their own hands and their own arms before Mike washed their arm a second time. Mike concentrated on injecting the vaccine gently, and only a few very young children cried while being injected.

The next morning, Mike started packing his supplies to prepare for the return trip.

When he was almost done, he heard the chief’s voice, and she sounded angry, but he didn’t understand what she was saying.

She stood in front of him, tall and strong. Mike couldn’t understand a word that she was saying.

The translator came as quickly as he could, given the pain in his chest.

“She says that we cannot leave until we see what happens to the people you’ve vaccinated,” said the translator.

“But we’re not done vaccinating people,” Mike said.

“I told her that this was the last village we planned to visit,” said the translator.

“But we didn’t vaccinate everyone in every village. In fact, in one village, we didn’t vaccinate anybody!”

The translator said, “Yes, but I didn’t tell her those details before we vaccinated her. Now she will think that I am changing what I said earlier if I tell her that there are so many people who still need to be vaccinated.”

“She can’t kidnap us,” said Mike, almost desperately.

“She insists that we stay. She says that if we stay a week and no one gets sick, she will help us get across the river safely. If we try to leave … well, she has not said what she will do.”

“Will she kill us?” asked Mike.

“I do not think so. I am from this village, and I am a friend of her husband. She does not want to kill me, I believe. And she does not see M’Kim as a threat.”

“How about me?” asked Mike.

“I do not think she wants to kill you. I don’t think she will look for an excuse to kill you. But she does not want to be tricked. Many people in the village could die if your vaccine is actually a poison. Also, if you tricked her, it would make her look foolish. Female chiefs are rare. Some people here did not want her to be chief; she became chief only because when her father died, she had no living brothers, not even a younger one. Many village men wanted to be the new chief, but each had the support of only a small percentage of the people in the village. If fewer men had wanted to be chief, and if most people had agreed on one of those, she would not be chief.”

“She could still lose her position, and she knows it. Only one big mistake would be enough for the village to choose someone else. She is held to a higher standard than a male heir would have been. A male chief can make a few mistakes if he generally does a good job. She must be almost perfect to keep her position.”

“Furthermore, even though she is respected and liked here, she must think about her reputation outside the village. Other villages think that it is strange to have a woman as chief, and some think it makes our village look weak. We have good relations with nearby villages, so it does not hurt much if they think that we are weak. However, if bandits or poachers think that this is a sign of weakness in our village, as though we could not find a single man in the village who is worthy of being chief, then it could be bad. Even people in our village who think that she is a good chief are worried that having a female chief makes us look weak to outsiders, especially bandits and poachers.”

“Many of the women in the village are proud to have a female chief. You can see that her daughter, and her two friends, are healthy and strong, and have learned how to handle a spear. But, still, if the chief does not have the support of half or more of the men in the village, it will be very difficult for her to continue governing. If you are trying to trick her, and if you succeed, it will be very bad for her, and of course it would be very bad for the village.”

“Mike, I believe that you are trying to do the right thing. I believe your vaccine will help my village, and others. But disease and death are common here. And there are many people alive who remember a time, not long ago, when wars among villages and tribes were common. As the number of villages grows, and as the number of people in each village grows, and as the land does not grow, many of us fear that a famine, perhaps caused by long drought, could return us to a time of war, fighting for land and animals and water. No one wants to be weak, or appear weak, if there might be a return to war.”

“Can’t we sneak out?” asked Mike, not sure that it would be a good idea even if they could get away with it.

“That would convince her that we have something to hide.”

“But they’re already vaccinated. Our leaving wouldn’t make them sick.”

“You might never be able to return if there were an epidemic of a different disease,” pointed out the translator.

“And furthermore,” added the translator, “you saw those three healthy strong young women, and you saw one of them throw a spear. Mike, I do not think you can run as fast as the slowest of those three, or as far as the weakest of those three. There are many men here who run as fast, and most of them can throw a spear further, and at least as accurately. M’Kim is the only one of us who might be able to out-run them, and even then only if he had a good head start. And he could get only as far as the river. He would be in more danger crossing the river alone than staying here.”

Mike knew that he could not run faster, or throw a spear better, than any of the three young women. He would not be safe from these three women, or from most of the men in the village, until he was on the other side of the river, and he might not be safe then.

“Mike, we must stay. You must not try to leave. And if you try to leave, I will not help you. In fact, I would help catch you if I could. This is my home village. If I do not try at least a little to protect it, I will not be welcome here. And I do not want my village to look weak. Like others, I fear bandits and poachers, and I fear that there will be a return to war someday, especially if our population grows too rapidly. My village must look strong and be strong. If you make my chief look foolish, even if you did not mean to do so, you would be my enemy.”

“I understand,” said Mike, sadly.

“But what do we do about vaccinating others?” asked Mike.

“All we can do is wait. And keep M’Kim from getting any of the young women in this village in trouble,” added the translator with a small laugh.

h1<{color:#000;}. The Wait

It had been two days. Two days of doing almost nothing but wait, and sometimes helping clean the sick.

Mike was nervous, and his fear was obvious to everyone. Despite the fact that most of the villagers had agreed to get the vaccine, and that those who had been vaccinated had not all turned sick, it seemed as though people were growing more suspicious of him, not less.

After two days, desperate to leave, both to vaccinate more people, and to return to a place where he felt more comfortable, Mike awoke to find things were even worse.

The chief’s daughter, Aziza, whom he had thought of as one of his strongest allies, woke him up, and not gently.

“My mother is sick,” she said, pointing a javelin at him.

The translator awoke, and, still sleepy, translated as well as he could given that the angry young woman was not leaving extra time between sentences.

“I think she has the disease, the one that your vaccine was supposed to prevent,” added the chief’s daughter.

“Oh, no,” said Mike, worried for himself, for the chief, for the chief’s daughter, and for the entire village, as well as for M’Kim and the translator.

“Let me see her,” said Mike.

“No, you will not touch her,” said the daughter.

“But … ”

“You will not touch her. You will not give her any medicines. You will not help feed her. You will not enter our hut. You will stay in this hut. My friends will guard you to make sure that you do not leave.”

“But … ” said Mike. But it was no use. He could see one of the other young spear-carrying women, and next to her a vaguely familiar, and even more muscular, young man, this one carrying a knife, as well as a spear.

The chief’s daughter spoke again. Now that Mike had three healthy villagers with spears guarding him, she relaxed – slightly.

“Doctor Mike, I am not sure that you have done something wrong. I remember that you said that the vaccination does not protect immediately and completely. Perhaps my mother would have gotten sick anyway. There are so many sick people in our village, and many were sick before you came. I do not think you caused the disease. But I do not know what you are doing. We will guard you and see how my mother does. I hope that she, and all the other sick villagers, will get better, and that no more villagers will become ill from this disease. For now, stay here.”

Before Mike could respond, the young woman walked away. She looked as though she herself was willing, and perhaps able, to lead the village if necessary – if her mother died.

The translator stayed with Mike, but just outside the hut, rather than inside.

Mike spoke. “Can you make them understand that this will not cure anyone who already has the disease? And it takes time to work even if we give it to someone before he is sick.”

“I think she understands that. But her mother is sick, and she is worried.”

Mike tried to sleep, but couldn’t. He asked for wood so that he could have a fire and boil water to drink. This request was granted.

h1<{color:#000;}. A Bad Morning

After another two hours as a captive, Mike heard a young woman yell angrily, then start crying.

The translator quickly ran off, leaving Mike alone.

One guard stayed, watching Mike non-stop, while the second guard went with Elimu the translator.

“What’s happening?” asked Mike, hoping that his guard would understand. But the guard seemed to understand nothing.

Mike grew intensely restless. Not knowing what was going on was frustrating and frightening. He started to get up to stretch his legs. The guard raised his spear.

Mike gestured gently, trying to say that he wasn’t going anywhere.

Mike walked from side to side within the small hut, always within the guard’s view, not getting closer to the guard, and not going to the back of the hut as if to try to break through it and escape.

Mike heard a second person start crying, and then a third.

Within less than two minutes, there seemed to be many people crying and wailing, and a few angry voices.

Mike walked faster inside the tiny hut, able to move only three or four steps at a time before turning around and walking the other way. He was growing more and more tense. He sat down and started trying to do push-ups, but then realized that doing anything that looked like he was trying to make himself stronger or more threatening would surely make things worse, no matter what was happening outside.

Finally, desperate to do something, Mike brought out his radio and tried to call someone, anyone, to distract himself from what was going on. The guard knew what a radio was, of course, and gestured to Mike to put the radio down. Mike realized that the guard might think that he, Mike, was calling for outside help, and there was no way to explain otherwise, at least not until Elimu the translator returned. Mike turned off the radio and put it down.

Unable to do anything else, Mike added a log to the fire and tried to boil some more water. It wasn’t necessary, since he still had some drinkable water in a large metal canteen, and the log just made the tiny hut even more smoky. But Mike needed to feel that he was doing something.

The crying grew louder.

Finally, the translator appeared.

“What’s going on?” asked Mike, almost yelling.

“Another person has died,” said the translator.

“Oh no!” said Mike, thinking first of himself, and then almost immediately about the rest of the village.

“Who is it? The village chief?”

“No,” said the translator. “The chief is still ill, but she is not dead.”

“Is it someone that we gave the vaccine to?” asked Mike.

“I don’t know. Let me find out.”

The translator walked away, leaving Mike almost as afraid as before.

After several minutes, the translator returned. The chief’s daughter was at his side.

“The person who died was sick before we got here,” said the translator.

The chief’s daughter spoke, and the translator translated.

“We do not blame you for this death, doctor Mike,” said the chief’s daughter, emphatically.

“Does this mean I can go?” asked Mike.

“Of course not,” said the chief’s daughter. “I said that we do not blame you for this death. I did not say that we do not blame you for anything.”

The chief’s daughter walked off.

The translator stayed.

“Mike,” asked the translator, “you said that the vaccine does not protect a person until after a few days or even weeks. How does it work? Does it work all at once, or does the person gradually become harder for the disease to harm?”

“Well,” said Mike, “this vaccine, like any vaccine, makes your immune system react more quickly when it sees the disease. Your immunity will gradually increase over several days or a few weeks, until you are almost completely immune to the disease.”

“That is good,” said the translator. “That means that even if someone who has been vaccinated gets the disease, the disease will make them less intensely sick, right? And they will be less likely to die, right? Even if they are not fully immune?” asked the translator.

“Generally, yes,” said Mike. “Even a person who gets sick should get less sick. And be less likely to die.”

“Good. Perhaps the chief will recover soon.”

“How is she doing?”

“She is still sick. But she has been the same for the last two days. She is not getting any sicker. I think she probably will not die.”

Mike looked very relieved.

“Do you visit her? Can you bring her any medicine, or anything?” asked Mike.

“I cannot take her anything from you. I would not try. I asked her daughter, who stays near her, but not very close, most of the time, to make sure that anyone who touches the chief, for example to help clean her or feed her, to wash their hands before they enter the hut and after they leave the hut. I also told the chief’s daughter, and other people, to make sure that they boil water before they drink it, and wash their hands often. I also told them to be extra careful about the latrine – to cover new waste with a thin layer of dirt. I also looked at the latrine, and I think it will not overflow even in a heavy rain. All of these are things that I learned before I met you, and that you told me again after I met you. I think these will help keep this disease and other diseases from spreading in the village.”

“Thank you,” said Mike. He felt slightly less worried.

The translator left.

Mike spent another lonely night in the hut, with a guard outside every minute.

In the morning, no one brought Mike any food.

That seemed like a bad sign to Mike. “Maybe they aren’t going to waste food on someone that they plan to kill,” thought Mike.

Mike tried to get the guard to bring the translator over, but the guard refused to leave the door, and did not ask anyone else to bring the translator. M’Kim stopped by and waved, and brought Mike some more dirty water, and wood to boil the water with, but that was all.

Mike boiled the water with the wood, but the wood was wet, and the fire was even more smoky than usual. The smoke filled the hut, and Mike began coughing. He had to sit next to the door, which meant that the man guarding him looked more suspiciously at him. It also meant that the fire didn’t help him stay warm much.

Mike worried what it would be like to live an entire rainy season in a hut with a smoky fire. He knew that in many places in the world, women spent many hours a day inside smoky huts or other small buildings, breathing smoke as they cooked.

“Some day, I must learn more about this,” said Mike to himself. “With all this smoke, I am afraid that many people, especially the women who cook indoors, must be getting lung disease.”

“It’s hard to know how to solve this problem. The food needs to be cooked, or else people will get sick. But the smoke also makes people sick. I wonder if M’Kim or someone else could build a very cheap stove that would cook with less wood and less smoke.”

Mike’s thoughts were interrupted by yet more rain, and a lot of his own coughing.

h1<{color:#000;}. The Chief Speaks Again

Shortly before noon, it began raining lightly.

The translator appeared, and he seemed to have a very small smile on his face.

“I think the chief’s daughter will come talk to us soon,” he said.

Fifteen minutes later, the translator, M’Kim, and the chief’s daughter appeared.

The chief’s daughter carried no spear, and she looked tired, but not angry. She spoke to the guard. The guard stayed at the door, but seemed to relax. He stood with his spear, but using it more to rest against than to hold ready as a weapon.

“Doctor Mike,” said the chief’s daughter slowly, making sure that the translator had time to translate every word carefully, “my mother is less sick. She is tired, and weak, and not in a good mood, but she is able to talk, and she is able to clean herself, and she is able to walk to the latrine with my help. She knows that another person in the village died while she was sick, and she also knows that person was sick before you vaccinated anyone, so that your vaccine is probably not the cause.”

“Also,” continued the chief’s daughter, “my mother has been seriously sick for two to three days. Many people who get this disease and do not die of it will, nonetheless, be sick for a longer time. By the time that the disease begins to weaken, the person is usually too weak and too dehydrated to walk. My mother thinks that the fact that she can walk now, even though she needs help, is a good sign. She says that your vaccine MIGHT have made her better able to resist the disease. She says that you must stay, and that we should guard you. But she says that other than that, we should treat you like a guest.”

“She also says that she thinks you are a fat, weak man who cannot run far or fast, and that we should let you walk around the village if you wish, as long as someone is watching you.”

“She says that if she continues to get better quickly, she will come and thank you.”

After the translator finished translating, the young woman spoke to the translator and M’Kim a few minutes, without the translator translating. Of course, Mike understood nothing.

After she left, M’Kim walked off, but the translator stayed.

“What did she say?” asked Mike.

“I cannot tell you all of it; she told me she is not ready to talk with you yet. But … ” and the translator looked a little guilty as he continued speaking, “she said M’Kim should work with one of the villagers to see if they can find a boat nearby or some other way to cross the river quickly and safely. IF no one else gets sick, and if everyone who is sick now and had the vaccine gets better, then she wants you to be able to leave quickly to give the vaccinations to other people.”

Mike started to smile.

“But not yet,” said the translator quickly. “She is not ready to decide yet. She just wants to be ready to help you get across the river quickly IF she decides to let you go.”

“What if someone who had the vaccine gets sick or dies?” asked Mike. “Will they kill me? I mean, us?”

“I don’t think so. You remember what happened when we measured how well people threw before and after taking the vaccine. The results of the test were not clear-cut. I think the chief and her daughter want clear results. If the results are not clear, they will probably not want to kill you.”

“But they won’t want to let me go, either?”

“I don’t know. You might be here a long time if the results are not clear. But they won’t want to kill you without a good reason.”

Mike looked relieved. He felt the least fear he had felt in days.

“Can I at least use the radio now?” he asked.

“I think so, if I am listening so I can tell the chief what you were saying. As long as you don’t leave the village, or harm anyone, I think you can do what you want. Oh, but I wouldn’t give anyone else a vaccination, or medicine. And I wouldn’t touch anyone. Maybe you can give advice, but don’t try to treat anyone yet.”

“Okay,” said Mike.

The next morning, someone brought Mike water, firewood, and a very small piece of cooked meat. The person smiled gently at Mike and spoke a few words to him, although Mike could not understand any of the words.

Although the meat appeared to be cooked, Mike cooked it again, afraid to eat anything that might have germs. When Mike finally felt that the meat was ready to eat, it was very dry. It also tasted strange. But he had not eaten much for days, and he was glad that anyone would bring him anything to eat.

The guard was still outside Mike’s hut, and followed Mike wherever he went, but carried his spear and knife casually, obviously not expecting Mike to fight or run.

When Mike went to the latrine, Mike was careful to cover over his waste with some dirt.

When Mike returned to the village, he washed his hands. He saw two very young children looking at him, and while he was washing his hands, they pretended to wash theirs along with him. Mike almost laughed, but wasn’t sure whether they would think he was laughing at them, or just happy, so he stifled his laugh and just smiled gently. They smiled back and then ran off to play with some other children.

An hour later, the chief appeared at the door of the hut that Mike had been staying in.

The translator and the chief’s daughter stepped in, too.

The chief looked weak, but not so weak that she couldn’t stand up straight, looking tall and, briefly, strong.

“Doctor Mike,” she said, “I would like you to stay longer. I want to make sure that everyone in the village is going to get well. However, I know that we have kept you here many days. I also know that we treated you almost as a prisoner, something that I would not ordinarily do. I know that …”

She and the translator spoke for a moment, then the translator translated her words as:

“I know that ‘kidnapping’ is wrong. We do not normally guard visitors, or tell them that they cannot leave, unless we know that they have done something wrong. I also know that if you are telling the truth about the vaccine, it is very important for you to reach other people and vaccinate them. I do not want you to leave yet, but from what I have seen so far, the danger from letting you go is less than the danger of not letting you go. I would like to use your radio to talk with people in some of the other villages that you have stopped at. If the people whom you have vaccinated are healthy, then I will let you go now, even though I would rather not.”

“Thank you!” said Mike, almost shouting.

“Of course you may use my radio,” he added.

The translator, Mike, and the chief used the radio to talk to a few of the villages that Mike had vaccinated people in. A few people whom he had vaccinated were sick, but all of the illnesses were minor, so the chief decided that it was unlikely that Mike had poisoned anybody.

M’Kim had made good use of the time that Mike was held captive. He and a few villagers had worked to find a boat. Almost as soon as the chief told Mike that he could leave, Mike, M’Kim, the translator, and a few villagers whose spears were certainly not pointed at Mike, all headed toward the river at a fairly rapid pace.

The group did not head to the same point where Mike, M’Kim, and the translator had originally crossed. Instead, they headed downstream to another village that had a boat. This time, Mike, M’Kim, and the translator crossed much more swiftly and safely than they had crossed the same river several days earlier.

The team walked back upstream a few miles to pick up their motorcycles and trailer and other supplies that they had left behind when they crossed the river the first time.

Many of their supplies, including their tent, were wet and had mildew on them. At first, one of the motorcycles would not start. But after several attempts and some quick adjustments by M’Kim, the team was finally able to start the motorcycle and begin driving back along the muddy road toward their starting point.

The rain over the last few days had been fairly light, and the mud in the roads was thick and clay-like. When the men rode the motorcycles, the weight of the men and machines was enough to cause the motorcycles to sink deep into the mud. The motorcycles slipped frequently, and many times almost fell over. Any time that one of the drivers turned the throttle too quickly, the motorcycle’s rear tire would spin rapidly, losing its grip, and the motorcycle would stop completely. Then the three men would need to push the motorcycle out of the slippery hole that it had dug. Sometimes, the men needed to detach the trailer, get the motorcycle out of the hole, then reattach the motorcycle to the trailer, and start to move forward again. Sometimes the motorcycle would get stuck again even before moving forward.

“We could walk much faster than this,” grumbled M’Kim.

“Yes, but we could not pull the trailer through the mud while walking faster than this,” said the translator.

h1<{color:#000;}. A Bad Situation Gets Worse

After a few hours, the team reached one of the villages that they had reached before and spent the night. Mike learned that five more people in the village had gotten sick from the disease after the team had left. Two of the sick people hadn’t gotten the vaccine. Of the three who had gotten the vaccine and then gotten sick, two had gotten pretty sick, but had recovered most of the way. The other had been only mildly sick – less sick than any of the people who had not gotten the vaccine.

The next day was much the same, but with no rain, the mud became even thicker. In some places, that meant that it was even stickier. In other places, that meant that the lighter motorcycle and a rider could drive without getting stuck easily. But the heavier motorcycle always sank into some patch of mud sooner or later (usually sooner), so the three men spent more time walking than driving. At each of the villages that the men had stopped on their outbound journey, they stopped again, gathering statistics on how many people had gotten sick with the disease. In each case, the number was small, and the sick people were usually those who had not been vaccinated. The people who had been vaccinated were usually healthy, or had been only mildly sick, and were able to take care of the sick without themselves becoming sick themselves. Most villagers who had not been willing to be vaccinated before were now willing, although many looked a little nervous.

Because there was no need to spend hours in each village convincing the people that the vaccine was safe, and only a few additional people were vaccinated, the team was able to reach two villages this day.

After another day or two of slow but steady progress, the three men reached the village in which everyone had refused the vaccinations. When the men arrived at the village, the few people that they saw were clearly avoiding them.

One of the village elders, the one who had opposed the vaccine most strongly, came out and stood looking at the three men. He tried to look tall and strong, but it was obvious that he had been sick recently, and was still sick. He leaned on a stick, and stayed more than two arms lengths from the men, although it was obvious that he wanted to come up and shout at them from as close as possible.

Mike could not understand the man, but it was obvious that he was weak and angry.

“You brought a great sickness to our village,” shouted the elder. “Almost half of our village has been ill, and more get sick each day. Four people have died. People started falling ill almost immediately after you left. You came here pretending to be doctors, but you have brought only suffering. I do not know whether this illness is from a so-called ‘modern medicine’ or if one of you is a witch doctor, but I do not need to know that to know that you have made this village very ill. What more do you intend to do to us? I swear, at this very moment I wish to kill you. And I might do it. If I could, I would kill you with your own disease! I would happily watch as you die in pain. In fact, even if I were dying myself, I would be in the same hut with you, for the pleasure of seeing you die with me. But if by some black magic I cannot kill you with your own disease, then I would use my spear,” said the old man, waving a cane that, fortunately for Mike, was not also a spear.

M’Kim did not consider one frail, ill old man a great physical threat, but it was obvious that the man was angry enough to try, and even if such a man could not kill all three of them, perhaps not even one of them – M’Kim thought that even Mike could easily out-run or out-fight this one sickly old man – it would be best if none of the three of them were even hurt by this man. And if there was one angry, ill old man who said he wanted to kill them, there might be others who were less old, less ill, and equally angry.

M’Kim started to raise his spear, not all the way to attack position, but enough to show that he was ready for a battle if one started.

Elimu, the translator, motioned M’Kim to lower his spear at least a little. M’Kim lowered his spear, but raised his voice.

“Old man,” he shouted, “we came here to save you, and you refused us. You are partly responsible for your own suffering, and the suffering of the people around you.”

“Shut up!” said the old man, not backing down in the slightest. “You are M’Kim. You have come to our village to get our young women in trouble, a certain type of trouble. Then you leave. If you had succeeded in getting them in trouble, you would have left behind a growing baby, a baby you are too lazy to help raise. And you would no doubt make a lousy father even if you were still here. You are an untrustworthy man. To have you a dishonorable man like you say that these other men are honorable, only proves that they, too, are dishonorable.”

The elder seemed to be getting angrier and angrier -- he continued shouting, and the translator could not keep up. Another village elder, this one seemingly still mostly healthy, arrived and began shouting, too. A few women came, and they, too, shouted at the men. While most of the men focused their anger toward Mike, a few of the women, both young and old, focused their anger on M'Kim.

The crowd grew larger and louder. At this point, the translator wasn’t able to translate anything. He and M’Kim were shouting back, defending themselves and Mike, trying to reassure the villagers that they had not brought the disease, and that they could still help if only the village would let them.

Suddenly, as the shouting seemed to become even louder, Mike felt sharp metal against his neck. Surprised, he started to turn around and before he could finish he was shoved to the ground. A large man fell on him, put his face two inches from Mike’s face, and pressed the knife against Mike’s throat.

M’Kim turned toward Mike and seemed ready to leap toward Mike and his attacker, but almost instantly, he saw three spears in front of him. M’Kim started to raise his spear, too angry to think clearly, and ready to go down fighting, but two men grabbed the translator very roughly and looked as though they were going to throw him to the ground.

“No!” yelled M’Kim. “He has hurt his chest. Do not throw him to the ground!” M’Kim reluctantly dropped his spear, unable to think of anything he could do that would not make the situation even worse than it was.

Mike was dragged to a hut and thrown in. The translator was not with him; the translator and M’Kim were taken elsewhere. Mike could not see where. He was not even sure if both would still be alive in a minute or two.

M’Kim, knowing that a fight would be suicide, and would almost certainly lead to Elimu the translator being killed or severely injured, and that Elimu being killed would mean that Mike would be next, tried to argue with the first village elder, who was now coughing, and barely able to listen to M’Kim if he wanted to, which he did not.

The elder’s coughing increased, and he turned away. Another elder spoke. This one looked somewhat healthier, and his face looked somewhat calmer, but his words were as angry as anyone else’s.

“I like the idea of giving you your own disease,” he said. “I think you deserve it. Tell me if there is any reason that we should not kill you.”

M’Kim had learned a great deal from Mike and the translator, and from all of the events that he had observed over the past many days. He spoke slowly, and noticed that the first village elder had returned to listen.

“You said that you would like us to die of our own disease. Fine. We have all been immunized. We will not get the disease. And that will prove that the vaccine works. You should have had the vaccine yourselves. Then fewer would be sick and perhaps no one would have died.”

One elder said, “You could use black magic to protect yourselves. We know nothing about this immunization. If you do not die of the disease, we can kill you another way.”

“We did not bring the disease,” shouted M’Kim, angry and exasperated. “Don’t you remember, many days before we arrived, another traveler passed through your village. He was driving a truck, and he was probably ill. A day or two later, he was taken to a hospital in the city many kilometers from my village. The doctors there worked with Mike to get him the vaccine to take to the villages that this driver passed through.

One of the villagers said, “I remember a truck passing through many days ago. I do not know which day. I do not remember whether the driver was sick, although he might have been. But no one in our village got sick after he passed through. No one was sick until you came through; then many people got sick.”

“The disease has something called an ‘incubation period’. The disease grows within you. You do not get sick immediately. You know yourself that for many diseases, if a mother gets the disease, her children get it a few days later. And if a child gets a disease, then the mother often gets sick a few days later. The same is true of this disease.”

“That is often true,” said the second village elder, while the first village elder vigorously shook his head “no”. M’Kim could see that the second elder, the less ill one, was willing to listen to reason, at least briefly.

“Look,” said M’Kim. “Let me help tend to the sick. I am now immune, I think. If I work with your people, it will prove that the vaccine will work, that a person can be safe from the disease. At least after a few days … ” M’Kim added, remembering that the vaccine, like the disease, took time to gain strength inside a new person’s body.

“You might just finish the job, killing someone whom the disease has not yet killed. And if you yourself do not die, that does not mean that the vaccine works. Perhaps something else is protecting you,” said the first elder.

M’Kim, frustrated, could not think how to deal with the first village elder. There seemed to be nothing he could say.

“Fine,” said M’Kim. “Have you buried the bodies of the dead yet?”

“Only the first,” said the elder. “We have not had a proper funeral and burial for the rest. Too many of us are weak to dig a proper grave for so many people.”

“Then I will dig the graves.”

“You will desecrate their bodies!?” screamed the first village elder, with his little remaining strength.

“No, no no!” yelled M’Kim. “No one who is not immune to the disease should handle the body of a person who has died of this disease! I will dig the graves. I will move the bodies to the graves. You may watch everything I do to see that I do not dishonor the dead. You may have your funeral, but no one may touch the body. It would be best to move the bodies away from the village now, and to dig the grave as soon as possible. After that, you can have the funeral.”

“That is horrible,” said the first village elder. “The funeral must be before the burial. Anything else is disrespect.”

“Then let me at least move the body away from the homes in the village. No one must touch the body except me. You can have the funeral while I dig the grave. Digging three deep graves will take a long time, even if the ground is soft from the rain.”

The first village elder said, “No!”

The second village elder said, “As long as you do not dishonor the body, it makes sense that you handle it. Better that you should get sick than that one of us should. And if you are immune, as you claim, then there will be no harm to you from handling them. And if you DO dishonor the body, all of the dishonor will spill onto you. I will look for a place to put the bodies temporarily, while you and others dig the graves. It is safe for others to dig the graves, is it not? The only part that must actually be done by you is moving the bodies, because any touching could help spread the disease, right?”

“Yes,” said M’Kim. “It does not matter who digs the graves, as long as the person digging does not touch or get too close to the body.”

The first village elder shouted at the second village elder “This is not only your decision. You cannot make this decision.”

The second village elder replied, “It is not my decision, but it is not only yours, either. One of our council members is dead. There is no way to replace him now. I do not trust this man M’Kim, but he is probably telling the truth when he says that no one should touch the body unless they are immune.”

“And you are going to let him desecrate the bodies and then leave?” asked the first elder.

“I did not say he could leave. I did not say any of them could leave. I said that he could handle the bodies, while one of us watches.”

The two men continued arguing as they walked away.

Twenty minutes later, both men returned. The second elder spoke. “I have chosen a place for the bodies, as we wait for the graves to be dug. You will move the bodies. You will also help dig the graves. While you dig, we will hold the funerals. Then you will move the bodies to the graves, and help bury them. If you attempt to escape, we will kill you, and almost certainly your friends. We will also tell the authorities that you killed these people and desecrated their bodies. You will start moving the bodies now. I will show you where.

“NOO!” screamed the first elder. “A funeral must take two days. You cannot decide this. You cannot choose to do differently.”

“The bodies have been sitting outside for days. They are swollen. They might even explode. I have heard that when a body explodes, the fluids with the bad magic or disease may contaminate many people. We cannot wait two more days. We did not want to wait as long as we already have.”

“Furthermore,” continued the second elder, “wild animals are attracted to these dead bodies. The longer we wait, the more likely it is that animals will desecrate the bodies. We must act now, while we have the chance, even if our actions are not what we would want.”

The first elder tried to argue, but was too weak to continue. He sat down so quickly that it was almost a fall. He coughed, tried to argue, and coughed some more. Finally, he said, “if you cannot have a proper funeral, there must be a remembrance ceremony after the improper funeral and the burial.”

The second elder said gently, “Yes, of course, my old friend, there must be a remembrance ceremony. There will be a remembrance ceremony for each of the dead whom we bury today. You may lead any remembrance ceremony that you wish. You may lead all of them if you wish.”

“And these strangers, who have caused this problem,” said the first elder, coughing between words, “they must be forced to watch the ceremony – from a proper distance. They must see the pain that they have brought those who still live.”

“Of course,” said the second elder. “Of course. They shall not escape the pain that they might have caused.”

To M’Kim, that sounded like a death threat. He wondered if we would be forced to help dig many graves, some for the villagers who had already died, one for Mike, possibly one for the translator, and finally, his own.

There are no words to describe how unpleasant it is to move a body that has been dead a few days. The soles of the hands and the feet were a dark purple, almost a black. The body was swollen, and smelled terrible. M’Kim almost threw up before he had finished moving the first body, which was the smallest and easiest to move.

Moving each body was not easy. M’Kim had to do it alone. He could not ask anyone, even Mike, for help. And he could not do anything that might seem disrespectful to the body, so he could not drag it. Finally, he carried it in his arms, trying not to breathe as he moved it. He knew that even if he was immunized against the dreaded disease that had almost certainly killed the person, he was not immunized against every disease that might be growing in the dead body now. Moving the body was a greater risk than he first thought. Still, it was even more risky for anyone else.

M’Kim put the body down roughly – too roughly. His guards growled at him, but did not do more.

M’Kim asked to go to the bathroom. His guards followed him at a careful distance.

Trying to hide his head from the guards, M’Kim threw up into the latrine, then took a shovel and covered with dirt anything from his body or any other villager’s body. The guards watched suspiciously, not sure why M’Kim was digging and throwing so much dirt, but they let him continue.

The second body was even more difficult. M’Kim could not carry it himself. Finally he decided that to avoid dragging the body, he would place it on a blanket and drag the blanket. He asked for an old blanket owned by one of the people who had already died, and used that.

He moved the third body the same way.

Again, he had to go to the latrine and throw up, then cover the fluid with dirt.

Tired, disgusted by the smell, and dehydrated, M’Kim sat down, under guard, to watch part of the quick funerals.

Not surprisingly, the first, and angriest, village elder led all three funerals. He also spent a great deal of time talking about why the villagers had died – “because of the strangers”. Each time, the second elder gently prodded him to speed up, so that the bodies could be buried.

Before the funerals were finished, M’Kim and some others from the village started digging the graves. M’Kim, tired and further dehydrated, almost collapsed before the third grave was finished. The graves were not as deep as they should have been, but with M’Kim exhausted, and some of the other diggers tired or ill, and with the bodies needing to be buried as soon as possible, M’Kim did not push to dig them deeper. He did, however, ask that the graves be marked as a no-digging area for many years, to reduce the possibility that the body or disease would be exposed accidentally in the near future.

Finally, M’Kim had the sad, final job of moving the bodies to the graves, and filling the graves back in. After he had thrown in the first layer of dirt, enough to cover the body, he had to rest. He moved and covered the second body the same way, not taking time yet to completely fill all the dirt in the grave. He rested even longer. Then came the time for the third body, and its thin layer of dirt. The dirty blanket went into the third grave; M’Kim did not want any germs on that blanket to hurt anyone else. After a long rest, and some boiled water, M’Kim slowly and sloppily shoved the remaining piles of dirt back into each grave.

As he finished filling in the last grave, M’Kim had tears, both for himself and for the families of those who had died.

As soon as he was returned to the hut in which the translator was captive, M’Kim begged to get some firewood, water, and soap. “I must wash my hands,” he said. “I have handled many unclean things today. I must wash my hands, and also the handle of the shovel that I used. I do not wish to spread any germs of any kind. And I must drink more water.” One guard left, and returned with water and firewood.

“What about soap?” asked M’Kim.

“The elder says you may not use anything you have brought. I will not get your soap.”

“Doesn’t the village have soap?” asked M’Kim.

“No. We rarely have that. Sometimes we get some from another village, and we save that to use when handling a sick child. But we ran out weeks ago. There is no soap today.”

M’Kim built the fire to boil the water. He held his hands as close to the fire as he could, as long as he could, several times, hoping that the heat would kill a few germs. He boiled water, and let it cool, and drank most of it, using the rest to try to wash off his hands. He used a stick to scrape a little ash out of the fire, and used it to rub his hands, which he did again over the fire. He wasn’t sure that any of this would work well. He then put the empty metal boiling pot on the fire, and left it there until long after the few remaining drops of water had boiled away. “At least,” he thought, “the metal boiling pot will be clean when the guard comes to take it away.”

The second elder came to the hut that contained M’Kim and the translator. “Now we shall talk,” he said. Under guard, the prisoners and the elder walked to Mike’s hut.

Mike looked very relieved to see M’Kim and the translator. He almost hugged M’Kim, but M’Kim stepped back and gestured Mike away. “I am very unclean,” said M’Kim.

Mike started to hug the translator, but realized that with the translator’s injured ribs, that might be a bad idea.

Mike, M’Kim, the translator, and the second village elder, who sat well away from the other three, talked for a long time. Eventually, the second elder said, “I cannot decide whether to vaccinate everyone. I am not sure that you are telling the truth, but so many people are sick, that I think we should take the risk. When you were here before, you did not vaccinate anyone, yet people became ill anyway. That might mean that you have very strong black magic, or very strong technology. If you are a bad man, then either your technology or perhaps your black magic is strong enough that you could probably kill everyone in this village if you wanted to, even without putting your ‘vaccine’ into them. So if you are bad, I am not sure that we can protect ourselves from you by preventing you from vaccinating us. And if you are good, then we really need the medicine and vaccine.”

The elder continued “I do not have the authority to tell everyone to vaccinate. I am not the village chief. We used to have a council of three elders, including myself, but one died. No one is really in charge now. You say that I can talk on the radio to learn that you are telling the truth, that you have vaccinated other people in other villages, and they did not die. But the radio can lie. Whether it is technology or black magic, it can lie. We hear politicians promise us things every two years or so, but most of those promises do not come true. We hear commercials from businesses, and almost all of those promises do not come true. Even if I hear someone on your radio tell me that your vaccine is safe, I will not know whether that is a real person in another village, and I will not know if that person is telling the truth. I will not even know if the vaccine that you gave them is the same one you want to give me.”

“I will send a messenger on one of your motorcycles to a nearby village to ask them in person. If they tell me that the vaccinations are safe, we will vaccinate a few people and see how they do. Perhaps I will be one of the first few vaccinated. Surely my friend the other elder will not volunteer to be first.”

The elder told a young man to take the smaller motorcycle and a can of gas, and head toward a nearby village. Hours later, at night, Mike heard the sound of the motorcycle.

The elder stopped at the hut, looking tired and unhappy.

“I think I am getting worse. Fortunately, we did reach the other village. They said that no one who was vaccinated has died. A few got the disease, but not very severely. Apparently your medicine takes time to help the body grow stronger, just as you said.”

The second elder continued: “I also asked the people at that village about a truck driver who might have been sick. Some said that they remembered him. They did not know what happened to him, but they had a radio, and after many calls, they found that a truck driver had recently died in a hospital of a serious and contagious disease. They did not know whether it was the same driver.”

The elder stopped for a few minutes. He looked as though he was done talking.

Mike started to speak, but the translator whispered, “He is not done talking. You must listen to everything that he has to say. He is an elder, and you must show respect. Also, he might tell you something that you do not already know.”

After a long pause, the elder continued. “Does this vaccine cure, or only prevent? I am very confused about this.”

Mike answered: “This is a vaccine. It helps your body prepare to fight the disease, even before the disease has reached the body.”

“How does it do that?”

“To your body, the vaccine looks like the disease. The body knows that the vaccine does not belong in the body, so it prepares to fight the vaccine. If the body sees the real disease after seeing the vaccine, the body is prepared to fight. The process of preparing the body to fight the disease takes days or weeks. Fortunately, this vaccine takes only a few days to greatly strengthen the body. If you take the vaccine today, then even if you get sick two or three days from now, you will be less sick, and much less likely to die.”

“Will it cure the sick?”

“No,” said Mike. “If you get the disease before you get the vaccine, the vaccine doesn’t help much.”

“Does the vaccine ever hurt anyone? It seems to me that the more that the vaccine is like the disease, the more dangerous the vaccine is.”

Mike replied, “No, the vaccine never, well … Oh, dear, it depends upon the vaccine. In very rare cases, a person might have an allergic reaction to the vaccine. The vaccine could kill you, but that’s very rare. I don’t think it has ever happened with this vaccine.”

“There’s a second type of vaccine. In that vaccine, you don’t just use something like the disease, you use the disease itself.”

“That sounds crazy,” said the elder.

“You must kill or weaken the disease first, then inject it into the person,” replied Mike.

The elder spoke: “I have heard that a disease is like many tiny animals, smaller than mosquitos or worms, inside your body. But if you kill only some, and miss some, then they can make you sick. If you are going to immunize everyone, that seems very dangerous. You could kill more people than you save.”

“Yes, we have to be very careful,” said Mike. “This vaccine, however, is not made from the same thing as the disease; it is like a copy of part of the disease. It is not the whole disease.”

The elder looked frustrated again. “I do not know what to do next. Many people, including both the other elder and I, are already sick. The vaccine will not help us. We want to see the vaccine cure someone, but it cannot cure anyone. I do not want to give everyone the vaccine until I know it helps, but I cannot tell whether it helps. It seemed to help the other village, but I want more proof.”

“I suppose there is not much choice. I will tell everyone in the village that they can have the vaccine if they want. I will not force them and I will not stop them. I will take the vaccine myself, even if it does me no good, in order to try to show that I think the vaccine will probably not make a person sicker. I do not know how many people will take the vaccine. Furthermore, you three must stay here until this disease is gone. I do not want to threaten to kill you when I cannot be sure whether you are doing good or evil. But I will not let you go until I have a better idea. And I warn you, as you already know, the other elder is even more suspicious of you than I am. If anything bad happens to me, or to people whom you vaccinate, you may be buried along with much of this village.”

A few hours later, the second elder, and several more people, lined up to get the vaccine. Mike boiled plenty of water, and then followed the usual procedure of washing his hands, washing each villager’s arm, and injecting the vaccine. The village elder allowed him to use the soap that he brought. Then Mike and his team prepared to wait for days to see what would happen.

Fortunately, the results in this village were similar to those in the last village that they had reached on their outbound trip. Of the people vaccinated, some got sick, but none died. Gradually, more of the people who had been reluctant to take the vaccine took it, seeing that it did not seem to make things worse.

After a week in the village, Mike, M’Kim, and the translator were brought, with guards, to the center of the village.

The second elder spoke, while the first elder looked angry and ill.

“We think that perhaps your vaccine has helped. But we are not sure. Most of us do not want to kill you. But we do not want to see you in this village again. If we send any of our children to school in the city, we will ask them to learn more about vaccines, and whether we should use them in the future. For now, we ask you to leave and not return. If you have been helpful, we should thank you, but we just cannot be sure.”

The first elder, still angry and suspicious, said, “Go. Now.”

M’Kim checked the motorcycles, loaded up any supplies not already in the trailer, and started the engine of the first motorcycle.

Slowly, and with Mike frequently looking back in fear to see if they were being followed, they drove along the muddy road back toward the village at which Mike had started his vaccination journey.

Journey’s End

In the distance, M’Kim, Elimu, and Mike finally saw the very first village at which they had vaccinated most of the people.

Mike, exhausted after many days of illness, travel, and trying to reassure people that the vaccine was good for them, was hoping that the villagers would greet him and M’Kim and the translator with the local equivalent of a hero’s welcome. Perhaps a feast. Perhaps the village would put up a small plaque on a tree to remember the doctor and his guides. Perhaps there would be a great ceremony with costumes and dancing and storytelling, with the final story being told by the three heroes themselves as they described their dangerous journey and their narrow escapes from death, and how many lives they had probably saved, including the female village chief, Chaisiku, and even some of the people in the village that had initially refused the vaccine.

When the three men finally reached the village, almost everyone in the village, except the very old and the very, very young, was busy working in the fields, planting seeds in the mud.

One of the village elders who was too old to work a full day in the fields greeted the men with neither enthusiasm nor fear. He gestured casually toward his own hut and told the men that they could rest there. “But do not eat any of my food,” the elder added. “I am sorry, but I do not have enough to share. It is the planting season. It has been a long time since the last harvest, and we do not have much food left to last us until the next harvest season.”

Mike looked surprised and as though his feelings were hurt. It seemed the villagers did not appreciate the great effort that he and his guides had put into saving this village and many others from a terrible disease.

“Perhaps a feast is not appropriate,” thought Mike. “Perhaps they do not have enough food.”

“And,” Mike continued to himself, “after a long day working in the fields, they probably will not have enough energy left to do a ceremonial dance, or some other appreciation. But I’m sure they’ll do something.”

All afternoon, Mike was in a bad mood. Finally, in the evening, when most people came in from the fields after planting, most of the villagers assembled in the center of the village and greeted the doctor and his guides, but although the greetings were friendly, none of the villagers seemed especially excited or even appreciative.

After a short round of talking, little of which Elimu translated for Mike, the crowd slowly dispersed back to their own huts.

As the translator, M’Kim, and Mike lay down and prepared to sleep, Mike asked the translator what the villagers had been talking about.

“Oh, you know, the usual. Gossip about people in nearby villages, worries that there will be too much rain or too little rain later in the season, questions about food supplies and maize prices in other villages.”

“No one was excited about the vaccinations? No one cared that we might have saved their lives? I do not understand. Why do they care so little about what we have done, how much effort we put into this?”

The translator thought for a few moment, while Mike waited restlessly for him to answer.

“Mike,” he said, “what do you think happened here while we were gone?”

“People’s lives were saved, or at least illnesses were prevented.”

“In other words, nothing happened.”

“It’s not nothing. We helped save their lives!”

The translator laughed very slightly. “Mike, while we were gone, no one died. No one got seriously ill. Nothing happened.”

“But,” said Mike, starting to argue …

After a minute, and after many changes of facial expression, Mike, too, laughed softly.

“You are a wise man, Elimu. After the vaccinations, no one was supposed to die. No one was supposed to get very sick. While we have crashed our motorcycle, avoided lions, been chased by an angry hippo, and held captive by a suspicious female village chief and her beautiful warrior daughter and friends, and held captive by another village that threatened to kill us, nothing happened here. And … nothing was supposed to happen here. That’s the way a vaccine is supposed to work.”

h1<{color:#000;}. Footnotes

This is a work of fiction, inspired very loosely by a famous event in Alaska in 1925. The modern Iditarod dogsled race follows a similar route in honor of that lifesaving serum run. More information about the Iditarod, including its relationship to the “serum run to Nome” is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1925_serum_run_to_Nome.

Hippos kill more people than lions:

“Although accurate numbers are hard to come by, lore has it that hippos kill more people each year than lions, elephants, leopards, buffaloes and rhinos combined.”

[+ http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/hippo-haven-107453678/?no-ist+]


For information about using flint and steel to start a fire, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flint. For your safety, please do not actually try to set gasoline on fire inside a tent or any other enclosed area. To experiment with a flint and steel, use a proper fire pit such as you might find at a campsite, and make sure that wind and weather will not cause problems.

http://www.markgilkey.com has all the links from this section, additional resources, and information about the author.

Where did the names come from?

I made up M’Kim’s name to be similar to “Mike”.

The translator’s name, Elimu, means “knowledge”.

The female chief, Chaisiku, is “born at night,” a hopefully slightly ominous portent.

Aziza, the daughter of the chief, is “beautiful”.

Reta and Saada, who, along with Aziza, find the men after the men have crossed the river, are “shaken” (a very indirect reference to the spear that she carries) and “helpful”. Fittingly, Saada (“helpful”), is the first to take the vaccine after the chief.


First I’d like to express admiration for the many people around the world who have worked to help bring clean water, vaccinations, antibiotics, birth control, and other health-care improvements to difficult-to-reach areas around the world. You are the real heroes.

Cover design and editing is by Franz Lanzinger.

The cover photo is by Maria Michelle.

Thanks to Feven Atnafu for extensive comments and more extensive encouragement.

Thanks to Benji Levine, who suggested that I spice it up a bit.

Thanks to Justine and Rawan for review comments – both encouragement and criticism.

Thanks to Cynthia for encouragement.

Thanks to Franz for comments, encouragement, and assistance with the details of publication.

Last, but definitely not least, thanks to David I. Levine, who has been working on clean water and disease prevention in Africa and Asia, and whose work helped inspire this story.

About the Author

Mark Gilkey studied economics, science, and computer programming, and has worked in the computer software industry in several roles, including as a technical writer.

He is currently working on both fiction and non-fiction writing projects.

In his spare time, he occasionally volunteers with disaster preparedness and environmental groups.

You can find out more about Mark at http://www.markgilkey.com.

Sub-Saharan Iditarod

As a severely ill truck driver lies in a hospital bed in Africa, an untested 3-man team struggles to stop the epidemic that the driver has unwittingly spread. Carrying a new vaccine into remote villages spread across the African plain, and overcoming obstacles generated by both man and nature, can the team save the lives of others — as well as their own — before it’s too late? Inspiration for the story “Sub-Saharan Iditarod”: This book was inspired partly by the work of Professor of Economics David I. Levine and others on health projects in Less-Developed Countries. Dr. Levine and his students have worked on issues such as: * cleaner water * prevention of diseases such as malaria * more efficient stoves, which reduce wood consumption and therefore reduce deforestation * early detection of eye problems. In order to encourage good health habits, Dr. Levine and his team have worked on not only the economics and technology of good health, but on games and songs and stories that encourage healthy habits. The book was also very loosely inspired by a famous historical event: the Serum Run To Nome. In the winter of 1925, an epidemic of diphtheria was growing in Nome, Alaska. In 1925, there were only two possible way to deliver supplies to Nome in the winter: via a dog-sledding trail named the Iditarod Trail, or by aircraft. The weather was bad, and the available aircraft were primitive and were unreliable in very cold temperatures. Furthermore, the available supply of diphtheria anti-toxin was very limited. If the delivery airplane were to crash, the anti-toxin could have been destroyed, and there would have been no second chance to try again to deliver it by the only other possible method: dogsled. In a difficult decision, Alaskan officials chose to deliver the anti-toxin by a “relay race” of dogsled teams, coordinated by radio communications. An extraordinary group of sled dogs and drivers (called “mushers”) carried the anti-toxin hundreds of miles. Today, the name “Iditarod” is probably best known as the name of an Alaskan dogsled race. The modern race was itself inspired by the serum run to Nome, and the route of the modern race partly overlaps the historic Iditarod trail used in the original serum run.

  • Author: Lanzinger Studio
  • Published: 2017-10-02 00:35:27
  • Words: 34791
Sub-Saharan Iditarod Sub-Saharan Iditarod