I’ve been really lucky with my health during my time (so far!)–I’ve avoided malaria and didn’t have any problems adjusting to different food and water. But one morning I woke up bothered by what felt like a patch of dry skin above my upper lip. Since my skin is temperamental even in the States, I didn’t think much about it, just put on some lotion and went to class. But by the afternoon the skin was bright red and pretty irritated. The next day I started to feel the same thing on my neck and upper back. The color had deepened to a dark red and the swaths were painful rather than just uncomfortable. I looked like somebody had beaten me with a strap or branded me with a branding iron (particularly on the back of my neck where it formed the shape of a neat horseshoe).
I was mystified because I had no idea where the wounds had come from. I was getting lots of concern because it was so noticeable. Some people were urging me to go to the hospital in Beira, but others wondered if it wasn’t something more common. Other teachers reported waking up with similar lesions–they thought it was from a bug that ‘pees’ on you during the night. Some mentioned something called queimadura da noite, night burning.
Convinced I was dying, I hiked the 3 km to telephone the Peace Corps doctor. He recommended putting anti-itch cream on it and told me to call back in a few days. But then the irritation started to heal off on its own, flaking off like a scab. I think it was just some secretion from a bug, but it wasn’t immediately recognizable to my friends because it manifested itself so much more violently on my fair skin. I was finally able to talk to another Peace Corps doctor, who assured me that queimadura da noite was actually herpes, so we ruled that out, too. I still have scars on my face and neck, like those of a stubborn sunburn, but I imagine they’ll continue to fade. In the meantime, I’ll continue to be vigilant about using my mosquito net when I sleep.