Then the unthinkable happened - Jurie and I came down with malaria at the same time! Looking back on it was quite funny in a strange way.

On the particular weekend we fell ill Djuma, Chitwa and Gomo Gomo (another new lodge that had opened and nowadays called Elephant Plains) lodges were joint-hosting a group of forty-five Harley Davidson club members from Hong Kong, as none of our lodges was big enough to host them on its own. Over the three-night safari each lodge had to prepare a dinner for all forty-five of the bikers, Gomo Gomo on the first night, Djuma on the second night, and Chitwa on the third.
For a day or two before the arrival of these guests I had been feeling a bit off colour – slightly more than the usual morning sickness. Among the new symptoms was a throbbing headache that would not let up, even after swallowing the paracetemol tablets I could take during pregnancy. We set off reluctantly to Gomo Gomo, where I promptly started throwing up as the first course of dinner was served. I went to lie down in the car and later Charl from Chitwa took me home as Jurie was helping out with the guests. I was in my eleventh week of pregnancy so I could tell my neighbours about my condition, and everyone was very sympathetic about my morning sickness. The following morning, with a severe headache and achy muscles in my back, I began helping Johnson to prepare a sheep on the spit to feed the bikers that night. I mentioned to Jurie that I was seeing colours – lime green and purple – out in the bush, and wondered whether he could see them too. Of course he could not and, realising something was very wrong, bundled me into the car, and set out on the hundred-kilometre journey to Hoedspruit. By then I was feverish, and feeling very hot although the air conditioner was full on. When we arrived at the doctor’s I refused, however, to go into his air-conditioned building as I was convinced I was freezing, although it was a swelteringly hot day. The doctor took a blood sample in the parking lot and admitted me to Hoedspruit Military Hospital while we waited for the test results to establish whether I had malaria. I insisted that Jurie get back to the lodge and see to the guests’ needs.
The doctor explained that I may lose the baby should I start treatment, but I elected to do so because I felt desperately ill. For about three days I had ignored my additional symptoms, believing I merely had a bad bout of morning sickness. I was unable to go onto the antibiotic treatment usually prescribed for malaria, and had to rely on cold baths under the supervision of a military nurse, and a quinine drip to reduce the fever.
The next morning it was pouring with rain. For the first time in my life I thought a quiet death would be less misery to endure than getting through the illness. The hypochondriac in the bed next to mine also added to my dismal situation. The image of Jurie back at the lodge struggling to cope with the guests seemed irrelevant – another reaction I had not experienced before. And then - lo and behold - that morning they told me my husband had just been admitted to the men’s ward with malaria! Only later did the reality of the situation back at the lodge hit home. Would our staff team be able to hold the fort without our there to guide them?
I wheeled my drip out into the parking lot and phoned Tilman to advise me what to do. I could not seem to think rationally and saw no way out from a tight situation that normally I would have handled with ease. Tilman put my mind at rest when he told me he was flying Andre Neethling in to take over the responsibility of the lodge. Andre worked in the Western Transvaal at another Moolman and Ludin families’ game concern called ThabaTholo. Andre used to travel to Gowrie every six weeks or so to recruit contract workers from the adjacent villages to work at ThabaTholo, and so knew some of our staff and the area.
In our hospital beds Jurie and I were convinced that without us at the lodge no one would be able to function. Not so! Andre was so brilliant in motivating the team that when we returned a week later, the camp was better than ever. He had everything running with military precision and Johnson and Dixon were excelling in the extra responsibility of their roles. Not only that, but Andre’s thoroughness had the housekeeping staff cleaning and dusting in places they never had known existed.
In the meantime heavy rain continued to fall and dampness and grey gloom seemed to hang about the place. We had thought we could do without Andre and manage the camp from our beds, while we recuperated, but soon realized we needed emotional and physical rest before we could undertake any sort of responsible work. I phoned Tilman’s personal assistant, Deirdre, on the second day after our getting back, and broke down in tears trying to voice the insurmountable problems ahead of Jurie and I. She understood everything and said she would organise a plane to fly us out to Johannesburg, as well as ask Andre to stay on for a few more days. However, because of the rain we could not leave that day. By the following day I was desperate. I managed to get a pilot friend of mine to risk a dangerous landing through the low-hanging clouds and rain, and get us out of the bush. I can’t remember much about that day, except that the plane leaked water on us!
We made it to our Johannesburg cottage, where my mom’s homemade chicken soup worked wonders in helping us back to health. I also had a check-up at my gynae, and she said the baby seemed to be fine. She insisted that I have blood tests every month up to the due date. There was still a chance the baby would be born with malaria, as some of the parasites could still be present in the placenta. I had lost a bit of weight – not too good in pregnancy – but nothing compared to the seven kilos that Jurie had lost in a week.
We were getting prepared to return to the lodge when Andre phoned with some bad news. Our Egyptian gosling had drowned in the swimming pool. It must have dived down after an insect or something and had been sucked into the pool’s filter. Poor Andre was very sorry about all aspects of the whole saga, but we took the latest news as a sign that we had to get back to the grindstone and let Andre return to his wife and other life at ThabaTholo. We called on another Andre, Andre van der Westhuizen, with his charm and charisma, to carry us through to the long-awaited day when Pendrae and Campbell eventually would arrive.
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Our African Way