Travel ghost – sick in Sumatra

It’s been two weeks. Sixteen days, to be exact, since I got sick. Without my diary, I would not know for how many days I’m already here, or what date it is today. I could check the calendar on my computer, but the diary feels more safe. It adds stability to the strange world I’m living in at the moment.

I think I should write more, but the weakness holds me in a tight grip. It keeps me here. In a radius of one kilometer around my room. Close to the toilet. Close to the bed. In solitude. I have the same routine every day. I get up at 7am, clean the room, fold my clothes and wash the ones from the day before in the sink. I take a shower, get dressed and go to the restaurant with my laptop, where I order a small bottle of coke, which is the only thing I feel capable of drinking during the day. I sit there for an hour, while armies of tiny white ants climb the glass bottle and circle around sugary drops. I try to make contact with the other world back in Germany. Friends. Family. I try not to be too honest about my health, but I also don’t know how to explain that I did not go back to Pematang Siantar and the NGO. Why I’m still staying in a much too expensive room, for 390.000Rp a night. It’s obvious that something is not right. The feeling that I should tell, that I should go and see a doctor, that I need to accept the reality that this is more serious, sneaks into my mind and it gets harder to push it away each day. But I’m determined to go back, to be a good student, to continue my work, to learn. At least that’s what I think, or what I thought, when I still was able to make decisions. To come to the island took all the energy I had left in my body. My guest-family was torturing me with affection, black tea and french fries. Apparently, a cousin who is a nurse said, black tea and french fries will bring me back on my feet. My fate was decided and I had to run. What choice did I have? Death by fries. A grim thought.

I’m always going back to the restaurant in the early evening, to check on my life and order Mi Goreng, which I most likely wont eat. No, I’m not even hungry anymore. I try to stay, watch other travellers, groups of tourists, couples. I’m longing for contact, but talking to someone seems an impossible task. Like a ghost, I’m sitting on the cushions. Waiting, watching, hoping, creeping, feeling lost and alone. Do they look? Do they see me? I can try to smile, I can try to … I can try… I try not to move and not to knock anything over. Am I sweating? Can they see it? Am I shaking? When I can’t bear my awkwardness anymore, I leave. Back on my veranda, I settle on my chair and the music starts. It’s hard to not be paranoid about it. Surely, it’s just a coincidence? They don’t cast me out. Why should they? Because I’m sick. Because something is not right with me. Because I stopped talking and even order by pointing on the menu. I don’t eat, I don’t drink and I’m white like chalk even though I’m so close to the equator. Their shadows are dancing and flying from one table to another. I can hear them laugh. They are so normal, so normal! When did it become so excessively hard to behave like a human? No, I’m sure now. It’s no coincidence, they know what’s happening to me and I can’t be part of the social life of real people. I’m not like a ghost, I am a ghost and I’m not sure if I’m still alive or if my life got lost in between the jungle, the villages, the interviews with the religious groups, the markets, the emotional pain while seeing a chicken die. The smell of burning dumps, the puppies which will be sold to a warung, the sick Orang Utans, the 10.000 mosquito bites, tiger balm, throwing up 100 times, sad songs and too many Indonesian cigarettes. A dog is trotting through the rain. He spots me and comes over, seeking cover from the rain and company. He settles down close to my feet and I start to ruffle his fur. Lice scurry away quickly, disturbed by my fingers. Insects circle the light bulb above me. If the dog is here and does not avoid me, I must surely be alive. The insects are here as well. And the gecko. I take a deep breath. The air is fresh and wet. I decide to go to the medical center tomorrow.

Three days later, I’m at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore. I have needles and tubes in both of my hands and they pump fluid into my body. It was close, they say. Only 24 hours later, and I would have died from dehydration. Everything went fast, after I visited the doctor. A medical flight was organized. The Malayan nurse who’s looking after me seems very concerned. She talks to me a lot and I have to answer. I’m not only alive, I’m also living. And slowly I begin to process what has happened. I almost died. And a dog on Samosir Island saved my life.