Ashley Elizabeth and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Birthday.

Unspoken rules that govern interactions in polite society dictate the appropriate responses to commonly asked questions. How are you doing? Fine, and you? How do you like my new haircut? It’s simply lovely. Aren’t these scones divine? Heavenly, dear-simply heavenly.

In a world of mimosas and crystal chandeliers, lobster forks and aperitifs, black ties and white gloves, one is expected to smile brightly and offer the appropriate, cheery response to each question posed.

Go ahead. Ask me how my birthday was.

Because the white gloves are off, and I’m here to blow the LID off of polite society. So put your pinkies down and grab a beer-…I’ll even let you drink it out of the bottle this time.

You’ll pardon me if I don’t join you, though. You see, I have salmonella.

Salmonella. And as I’ve learned over the past week, the beast that is salmonella prevents you from eating, drinking, or doing much of anything but writhing in pain on the floor.

It all started last Friday, when I decided to eat lunch on campus. Christy, Michelle and I were in the midst of a busy day of meeting with students, and around one o’clock the insistent rumbling in my stomach forced me to reconcile myself to the unhappy reality that I wasn’t going to make it until dinner time. I needed to find something to eat.

Stage lights fade to black.

But you see, I’d eaten on campus before. We all have-the boys [with their iron stomachs] do it all the time! Without thinking much of it, Christy and I made our way to the nearest [and coincidentally, nicest] campus restaurant, and ordered the exact same chicken dish for lunch.

I didn’t feel very good afterwards-but let’s be honest. I never feel good after I eat food in this country that I didn’t personally cook. [A shocker, given the high standards of cleanliness and food preparation that I’m  certain restaurants in Senegal hold themselves to.]

Ten hours later, however, life had taken a violent turn for the worse. In fact, life had swerved off the road and wrapped itself around a telephone pole-ten hours later found me on my couch in the living room, vomiting profusely into the bucket that Michelle [smart thing that she is] had thought to place beside me. In the dark. Because of course the electricity was off-why wouldn’t it have been?

The next hours were marked by uncontrollable shaking as my body went into shock, vomiting, fever spikes, and several rather panicked calls from Christy to SOS and my Mother. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Except, we couldn’t have lathered a thing if our lives had depended on it. Have I mentioned that the water was off too?

My sweet roommates held my hair, did everything they could to try to keep me hydrated, and woke me up to check my fever every hour on the hour that night. And the next day, and the next night. Concern for my condition escalated as I remained locked in the fetal position on the aforementioned couch, unable to move, barely able to speak, and rapidly starting to resemble one of the Olsen twins more with each passing hour.

The thing about salmonella is, you just have to wait it out. [And what an excellent waiter I am.] My twenty fourth birthday found me miserable, lying on the floor, swearing that I was “finally going to let Africa have me!” and moaning over each new, sweet, well-intentioned Facebook birthday message that urged me to “drink a lot of coffee on your birthday!”

I’d have settled for water.

I am, however, slowly re-introducing the concept of food back into my life. Michelle and Ted had snuck away to a friend’s house to bake chocolate cake and cinnamon rolls [oh, you remember the cinnamon rolls!] for my birthday, and so yesterday in my first display of wise decision making as a twenty four year old, I ate half a cinnamon roll.

I couldn’t help it. I was hungry. I was pitiful. I was…an idiot.

The water was finally turned back on today, so life is looking up in Dakar and it appears that I’ll survive to see another…well, disease, probably. Africa is out to kill me-of this, I am now entirely convinced. But it’s moments like these when a healthy dose of perspective is good and necessary. Because let’s face it-Africa has kicked me when I’m down enough times to teach me that things could always be worse. They could be better. But they could be worse.

And now that I think about it, there’s a rather excellent chance I’ll be able to milk this one for a while…

I think we just found our bright side, kids.


  1. Oh Ash! So sorry to hear you were sick again, and on your birthday of all things. Yuck. Hopefully as of this posting you are feeling even better! I think next year we should both dutifully save the money I know we will both be earning lots of by then (ha?…) and have a raging party in Los Angeles for our combined birthdays — and by that I mean some sunbathing and frozen yogurt and maybe a fancy uber organic “SOooo LA” coffee shop. Deal?

    PS I just turned on skype for the first time in ages, and it is not turning off until we both happen to be on at the same time! Hopefully I’ll catch you soon :)

    • Ahh, that sounds heavenly! I can’t wait to catch you on skype. :) And I REALLY can’t wait for coffee at Christmastime! Was clearly daydreaming about Christmas this morning-it’s going to be so fun. :)

  2. Oh you poor thing! That’s terrible. Salmonella and no power or water. God must have an amazing sense of humour. I’m glad you’re on the mend now, but take it slow. For what its worth I spent my 22nd bday curled up in the feotal position due to absolutely terrible morning sickness, so I can sympathise, but at least I had a bed, a TV and my husband by my side (or at the sink rinsing out the bucket). Another potential bright side is possibly one day when you decide to have kids morning sickness won’t phase you, you’ll be like “I survived salmonella in Africa”. Hey can you get a Tshirt made? I hope you get a make up birthday when you are recovered.

    • Haha, yes I’m certain I’m learning all sorts of valuable lessons. ;) And the t-shirt idea isn’t bad! I’m afraid I’ll still be insufferable if I ever have to deal with morning sickness though. You’re a rockstar!

  3. Bright spot. Remember that weight your legs made you gain? Gone!

    I receive that slap.

    I love you anyway.

  4. I second the “I survived salmonella in Africa” t-shirt. Fantastic idea. Do all of us get one or just you? Because in the context of living overseas in a communal culture, if you went through salmonella, it’s like we all did. Sorta. Not really. But I’m still holding out for a t-shirt.

  5. Anna Nieman says:

    I’ve had salmonilla before. Bloody nasty thing that basically squeezes all life out of you…and I couldn’t eat much for weeks. Praying for you!


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