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Get sick. Be still. Find some peace.

J. Adam Calaway

By J. Adam Calaway, Director of Communications and Public Relations

Posted Jul. 10, 2013

I'm sick.

I'm not under the weather. I'm not feeling a little off. I'm in four-alarm, green-gilled, holy moly sick. My stomach and intestines are in a battle royal with my other internal organs and they're losing. Badly.

I think my body is trying to turn itself inside out. Did I accidentally drink Drano? No, wait, I have Ebola. I just know it.

I awake early in the morning of Day 8 to my worst nightmare. When I envisioned my African adventure, I never feared the 20-hour transcontinental flight, muggings by local hooligans or wildlife attacks. I only feared being sick. But here I am, violently ill. There is a moment of pure panic when you realize that you're getting sick ... in a "developing" country ... 4,000 miles from home, modern medicine and your bathroom.

There is a moment when you say, "If I didn't pack something for this (insert horrifying ailment), then I'm sunk."

Like grief you go through five stages. First, denial. This isn't happening. I'm OK. This is a bad dream. I'm going to wake up at home ... Now!

Then anger. This is horse crap. Why in the world am I getting sick? This is my big step of faith, my chance to experience something grand, and I'm going to have to call in sick. Stupid. Not fair.

Then comes the inevitable bargaining. Listen, God if you could stop this from happening, I'd gladly take on a few extra duties. I can volunteer at the soup kitchen. I'll put a little more in the offering plate. I'll wash crude oil off of baby seals. Anything. Sound good? Hello?

The fourth stage comes on strong - depression. In my case, it was more a general sadness mixed with cramping that ran from my jaw to my toes. Here, I was having this profound experience and now I'm sick. Why would this happen? Is it just one of those things? God, I don't understand. Make me better exactly when I want it.

Finally, acceptance rolls through the situation. I'm sick. In Africa. This is happening. At least I have a clean bathroom, a flexible schedule and compassionate travel mates, one of whom is also ill. (Poor Vicki.)

Luckily I brought a small pharmacy with me, and I begin to feverishly down pills. Say what you want about Western medicine but in this moment I am its biggest fan. Hours pass and the medications have only managed a small victory in the war waging inside my body. I send reinforcements and the tide begins to shift. While I wait for a surrender (or the sweet embrace of the afterlife - either will do), my thoughts swim around one question: How did I get sick? I attempt to sleuth out the cause like it will somehow remedy my suffering.

Was I bitten by an unknown insect, arachnid, mammal, bird? No.

Did someone I encounter carry a toxin or virus? No.

When I was washing my hair with my pursed lips, did some of the tainted water somehow absorb into my system? No.

Is my body rejecting sunshine and fresh air? Maybe.

Did I get food poisoning from yesterday's stop at the café de sicko? Hmmm ... .

Eventually exhaustion chases away any care as to "how." It doesn't matter. The only agenda item is rest.

I find myself lying on top of the covers in my bed upstairs. I'm under a mosquito net, so I must look like a bagged fish. I'm a ginger sun perch.

I've snagged the small, oscillating fan from Steve, who has gone on to visit two other Watoto farms. The fan's sweeping buzz reminds me of when I was young at home. We were financially challenged then so the air conditioner was usually set pretty high. Everybody had fans, though. Mine had blue blades, and I spent countless hours talking into it like Darth Vader.

I shut my eyes and I hear home. I can hear a child's giggle and I feel safe.

view from window

The window to my room is open and the air carries on the day's bustle. I'm usually only here at night so the afternoon offers a unique palate of sounds - different birds making different calls, the conversation of the staff downstairs and the faint sound of distant traffic.

Here in the stillness something happens. Muscles unlock. All the knots, all the tension began to fade. I lay in the quiet with no TV, phone, people or pressure. The fog around my mind clears. I don't move. I just listen and breathe.

I am finally still.

I know I haven't been this still since I was ... well, I can't remember. Certainly not since I was 16. That's almost 20 years of pushing to the next task, checking items off the eternal to-do list.

But here in the stillness, I began to think about my life, about the last year, about people and priorities, about my past and my future.

For the past year, our president, Bill, has been coaching us on the importance of taking time to reflect. His point is simple - we must get away, rest our minds, take stock and get perspective. It's good for us. We need it. He was right.

By the time my feet touch the floor in the evening I feel amazingly different. The clutter in my head is now organized and - though my body is weak - I feel renewed.

I had to go to Africa and get sick before I could truly reflect, but it was worth it.