Wednesday, September 26, 2007


When I studied abroad in Senegal in 2005, I got sick. Specifically, I got scurvy. And then mono.

The scurvy sucked. Like, really, really sucked. The worst part was that I didn't have the first clue what was happening to me. I thought I had gingivitis or... I don't know, gum cancer or some other horribly painful mouth disease that would eventually kill me. I had no idea where to find a dentist in Dakar. I was mildly scared of what kind of dental facilities might be available to me there (though I had a good, accredited doctor who eventually diagnosed me with mono. But that was later).

The reason I was so worried about dental facilities in Dakar had to do with the taxis available in the city. They were the scariest things ever. They would take you just about anywhere in the city for the equivalent of about $1, or $2 if you weren't good at bargaining. But their drivers drove like maniacs, and their windshields were all cracked and held together with some sort of special gooey thing that could be painted on so that the windshield wouldn't collapse and spray shards of glass into the passengers' eyes until the next accident, and all possible warning lights on the dashboard were always lit up, and the seatbelts were so long unused that one of my friends got a seatbelt-shaped black mark across her chest when she wore hers once, and they never, ever had gas in them. (By the way, gas in Senegal costs about the same as it does in Europe, i.e. about $1 per liter which is the equivalent to about $4 a gallon, which given the average income in Senegal and particularly the average income of a Senegalese taxi driver is a completely insane price.)

Anyway, you might be wondering what the taxis had to do with the dental care. And honestly, I don't know either. Maybe I was totally hallucinating from the scurvy or something. But there was a connection in my mind, like... if the taxis are scary and dangerous, and they take me to the dentist, then the dentist will be scary and dangerous too. Possibly not a bad assumption.

Anyway, I started exhibiting signs of scurvy almost exactly three months after I arrived in Senegal. But I really had no idea what was going on. I thought I had a cold, and I knew my mouth hurt, and I took almost an entire (small) bottle of Advil in about a week, maybe a week and a half. Yes, I know, my liver is probably permanently damaged. Like I said, I wasn't thinking straight. My gums hurt so much that I would wake up in the middle of the night in horrible pain and seriously want to wrench my teeth out of my mouth. It felt like there just wasn't enough space in my gums for all of my teeth and if I could just get my teeth out of my gums, it would be this huge, glorious feeling of relief. The Advil didn't help at all, but I kept taking it, somehow desperately hoping that the next pill would be the magic one. I even tried one of my host mother's home remedies, a disgusting-tasting powder that I rubbed on my gums and that immediately turned into a substance resembling wet concrete. Also, whenever I brushed my teeth my gums bled. A lot.

It turns out that after three months of insufficient vitamin C is when you start getting scurvy symptoms. But I had no idea that I wasn't getting enough vitamin C--I was eating vegetables regularly, but I wasn't thinking about the fact that they had all been boiled for hours and thus lost all nutritious value they once had. I also was eating fresh fruit regularly, but only bananas because I didn't like oranges, pretty much the only other option. And also, I was a complacent American who'd grown up with tons of vitamins and fluoride treatments and whatnot, and who ever really thinks, Shit, I'm going to develop a vitamin deficiency if I don't eat some oranges? What, you all think that? Well, apparently you're smarter than me. I didn't even know what scurvy WAS. When I was finally diagnosed with a vitamin C deficiency, I had to look up the word scorbut in my French dictionary to find out the name of my condition. And was beyond shocked to find the word scurvy on the other end of the definition.

Anyway, after a week or two of severe pain, I finally went to the pharmacy and asked if they had anything to relieve painful gums. They offered me a rhubarb-alcohol mixture to be painted onto your gums with a little brush. I took it and was about to leave when the pharmacist said to me, "Wait, are your gums bleeding?" When I responded that they were, she nodded knowingly and said, "Ah ha. Scorbut." Then she added a pack of vitamin C tablets to my purchase and sent me home.

See? Senegal might be considered a developing country, but they sell things there that help with medical problems. It's not like I was living out in the bush somewhere, knowing that I had scurvy and desperately wishing I had some lime juice to spray on my hardtack (and in case anyone was wondering where the term "limey" comes from, now you know). There were beautiful vitamin C supplements WAITING for me about 200 feet from where I lived. I was just TOO STUPID to know.

Anyway, it took about two weeks of vitamin C supplements before the pain eased, and another two weeks before it was totally gone. It took a whole summer of a special mouthwash given to me by my American dentist before my gums and teeth felt totally back to normal and flossing stopped hurting. By the time I had totally recovered from the scurvy, though, I had developed mono and was sleeping all the time. And by the end of my five-month stay, I had some other kind of bug that was causing me to puke in the street, which probably made all of my neighbours think I was an alcoholic or something.

The point here really is that the scurvy totally sucked. But it turned a pretty great cocktail party story, and two years later my friends are still making (gentle) fun of me for it. I almost named my blog Scurvylicious instead of Du Wax Loolu, but I was afraid it would be interpreted as "curvylicious" instead, and that was an image that I definitely did not want to project. But even though I was sick, exhausted, in pain, and/or puking for the last two months of my time in Senegal, it was still a completely amazing experience. See? Here's some pictures of how amazing it was (full set here):

If I were to go back and decide all over again, I would definitely still choose to go. Scurvy and all.


  1. wow! What an experience. That scurvy sounds really sucky.
    Love the pics.

  2. I have to go take a multi-vitamin STAT!

    Beautiful pictures!

  3. Oh my god, SCURVY!?


    Wow. You are a trooper. I wouldn't trade my study abroad experience for anything in the world either. (I went to London).

    Great icebreaker, too. "Hey, my name is Jess. Nice to meet you. I had scurvy once."

  4. you know, i read this and thought of a time when one of my friends was fixing me a drink.

    i was having a raspberry vodka gimlet, and instead of one lime, asked for oh, five. because really? you need a little lime juice in there to handle the straight raspberry vodka. (and no, i am not a lush.) do you know what his response was?

    "at least you won't get scurvy."

    maybe next time you should bring a bottle of vodka and limes the next time you go- you know, as a total precautionary tool :) just a thought.

    (btw, pics? beautiful.)

  5. Those pictures are beautiful but omigod SCURVY? I didn't even know what scurvy was until I read this post but it sounds super-scary, especially when you develop it in a foreign country.

  6. Medical care in a foreign country is always scary.

    Scurvy? I had no idea it was so painful. And then mono? Oh, Jess!

    You certainly won't forget your time there! Great photos!

  7. Ah, but can you say "scurvy" without a pirate accent? I cannot. scUUUURRRRRvYYYYY, aRRRRRRR, matey!

  8. Scurvy was always presented as an "old" disease that pirates got when they were out at sea. I had no idea...

  9. I have never once heard of anyone getting scurvy (other than pirates). Who knew?

  10. i don't think i'll ever stop laughing the next time i hear fergilicious and i actually sing scurvylicious.

    not to diminish what you went through...:-)

  11. Scurvy? That is nuts! I've never known anyone who got it - it's like hearing someone had rickets.

    And your hair? It's naturally curly, isn't it?

    ISN'T IT?

  12. Also, how do you want me to post a link to my dress? I don't want to hijack your blog...

  13. Thanks for all the picture compliments, everyone. You guys are so sweet.

    Flibberty--I take a multivitamin now too. RELIGIOUSLY.

    Blogging Barbie--Now why didn't I think of THAT? What a great solution.

    Penny--After two years, I've gotten used to saying "scurvy" with a straight face. But I do get a lot of pirate jokes.

    Carrie--I totally didn't even think of that. What a good point! Now I need to download that song.

    P&D--Yes, naturally curly. I was bald for the first year+ of my life and ever since it's been an abundance of corkscrew curls (except for my unfortunate middle school phase of brushing out my curls, when I had an abundance of triangular frizz).

  14. Great pictures! And I've been meaning to ask where Du Wax Loolu came from. I don't know what it is about it, but I really like it. I think I just really like saying it. Du Wax Loolu, Du Wax Loolu, Du Wax Loolu. See how much fun?

  15. JMC--I was going to type out a whole explanation of the convoluted origin of the name of this blog, and then I remembered that I posted about it once. So you can read it here.

  16. Well, I like both the intended meaning and the actual meaning as a blog name. And I like the name of the language it is in (which I had never heard of), Wolog, too. I like saying it almost as much as Du Wax Loolu. Wolog, Wolog, Wolog. Also lots of fun. :)

  17. HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA i can't believe you got scurvy.

    also i want you to know that was braying laughter of SYMPATHY. totally sympathy.

    also a little hysterical, because scurvy! hee!

    my roommate's bf just got gout, and i had the same reaction. am not apparently very nice ;-)

  18. I have to say, it does not SOUND like an awesome trip, it SOUNDS like one illness after another!

    Also, again: your hair is a glory.

  19. Ahhhh, so THAT'S what it means! What does just the Loolu mean?--like when I call you Jess Loolu?

  20. Swistle--"Loolu" means "that." So you're technically calling me Jess That. Also, thanks for all the hair compliments. I'm sure I would love your hair too, if I could see it.