In December of 1989, the day before we left Nairobi for a walking safari in Northwestern Kenya, Steve didn’t feel well. He had a bit of a headache, and chills. This had started in the coastal town of Lamu the day before, but now, back in Nairobi at the luxurious $10/night Iqbal hotel, he was feeling a bit better.

Steve thought he might have malaria. But he was a bit of a hypochondriac, so I wasn’t too worried. Also, we had pre-paid for our camel safari, which was expensive by our standards. I was not going to miss my trip because Steve was a bit run-down.

Still, to set him at ease, I pulled out my Pocket Doctor (A book! Written on paper! Remember those?) and listed off the symptoms of malaria.

“You feverish?”

“Yeah, but not too bad.”


“Yeah, but not too bad.”


“Yeah, but not too bad.”

There are six primary symptoms of malaria. Steve had every single one, but all of them were “Not too bad.”

I shut the book. “Well, you obviously don’t have malaria. Still want to go on the trip?”

“Yeah, but not too bad.”

The next morning we boarded the trucks with ten other unwashed European and American travelers, and headed out into the bush.

That first day was pretty bad for Steve. He had a form of malaria that waxed and waned on an almost perfect 24 hour cycle, with each bad day a little worse than the previous one, and the good days progressively worse as well. His eyes glittered with fever, and he was such an unnatural shade of green that despite the crowding in the truck everyone gave him plenty of space.

“How you holding up?” I asked.

Steve stared at the floor. “I’m cold.”

“It’s ninety degrees out.”

“Then why are there ice crystals in the air?”

I was worried, of course. By that point we were making camp for the night, miles and miles from Nairobi, and I couldn’t imagine what would happen to us if we told the guides Steve was ill. Would they turn the trucks around and take everyone back to the city? Would they leave us out there in the bush? I’d heard stories of people getting carried off by lions in the night, and I did not like the idea of being abandoned in the wilds of Kenya. I said, “Hang in there. You’ll feel better after a night of sleep.”

And he did. He wasn’t well by any stretch of the imagination, but he was able to suffer the heat like the rest of us. We spent another day moving deeper into the Northwestern part of the country. We stopped at a village on the shores of Lake Turkana that was one of the bleakest places I had ever seen. It was nothing but mud huts, a few goats, some tired grandmas sitting in the dirt. Steve puttered around the village, busily snapping pictures and chatting up the locals. He was always the friendly one, and it was good to see him back to his old self.

The next morning, though, Steve’s health took a serious nose dive. When he crawled out of the tent, pale and shivering, the guides shook their heads. “He has malaria,” they said. I pretended to be as surprised as anyone, but of course I’d figured that out a while ago.

To compensate for having dragged my friend two days into the bush when he had malaria, I became his fierce advocate. “We have to get him some help. Now!”

The guides shrugged. “We will try to find him medicine, but…” they held up their hands, pointing out the emptiness in every direction.

I suspect the guys were as concerned as I was that Steve would kack out on their watch, because the next two days turned into a tour of tiny villages. In each mud hut hamlet, the guides interrogated the locals in search of anti-malarial medications. Coming up empty, they asked which nearby villages might be able to help. Every village seemed to have some skinny old dude with a faded shirt and a walking stick who was absolutely sure the next forgotten burg had a well-stocked infirmary. Off we’d go, banging down the dirt paths, only to be disappointed at the next town.

Steve faded in and out of lucidity, and took to narrating his hallucinations. “Ha! I see polar bears.” He’d say. Then he’d grow serious. “Wait. Are their polar bears in Kenya?”

It was like hanging around with a drunk guy who might die at any moment. The rest of the group was decidedly unamused. I was terrified.

As the likelihood of finding medicine out in the bush diminished, Steve and I began to consider a dangerous option. There was, at the time, a malaria cure on the market that was pretty effective, but had a major side-effect. One out of every hundred people who took it simply died. Not terrible odds, but, y’know… not great either. It is a measure of our desperation that we were even considering it.

Steve, in his goofy phases, took to holding up the outsized pill and smiling. “I have a magic bean,” he’d say. “Should I take it?”

That evening he finally took it. And… nothing. He didn’t die, but he sure didn’t get better. He passed another night tossing, turning, and crawling out of the tent to wretch in the bushes.

I took care of him as best I could, bringing him aspirin for the raging fevers, mixing hydration fluid into sterilized water, and forcing him to drink it. I felt helpless though. Steve was not improving.

The next day was a nightmare of dust, bumpy roads, and futile conversations in remote villages. Steve was no longer coherent at all, and the guides and our fellow travelers were clearly ready to roll him out of the back of the truck and move on. I was horrified by their lack of sympathy.

I began picturing the conversation with his mother. Hi Jane. This is Craig… the trip is going fine, thanks. But… well… Steve is dead.

We made camp that night on the edge of the Great Rift Valley. The rains had ended just days before our arrival, and the desert was alive with fresh green growth. It would have been wonderful if my best friend wasn’t dying.

I could no longer sleep in our tent because Steve’s body odor was so strangely foul, and his breath was like crypt vapors. Instead, I sat nervously on my sleeping mat, preparing the last of our hydration fluids and feeling desperate and useless. For hours I nursed my poor friend, fearing the worst.

At one point, I unzipped the tent flap and felt such a gush of hot air that I worried he’d be roasted alive in there. I dragged him out into the relative cool of the night.

For most of the night I stayed by Steve’s side as he thrashed and mumbled. Finally, exhaustion got the best of me and I slept.

I awoke to the sound of some horrible beast in the bushes. I couldn’t see what it was, but it snarled and growled impressively. It sounded huge.

In a panic, I scuttled back into the tent and zipped the flap shut. As if that would protect me from a damn lion, or a hyena. Still, I felt safer. Out of sight out of mind and all that.

Then I realized I’d left Steve outside. Obviously, I had to drag him into the tent to save him from the slavering beast thrashing around in the bushes.

But… well… Screw it, I thought. Steve’s gonna die anyway.

That’s right. After spending the last four days devoted to saving my friend’s life, I abandoned him to the beasts of the African veld. I used my dear old chum as… uh… chum.

I would be lying if I said the decision took more than half a second. Oh no. The moment it became a choice between me or Steve being eaten alive by wild animals, I voted in favor of me.

Luckily the hyenas/lions/marauding baboons/land sharks moved off into the night after just a few more minutes. I was able to haul Steve back into the tent.

Our good luck continued the next morning, when we found an old nun near Lake Turkana who had some quinine. Steve began to feel better quickly.

By the time we met up with our Samburu guides and their obnoxious camels later that evening, Steve had improved so much that he was able to continue with the safari. We spent another week enjoying the austere beauty of Northwestern Kenya together. All was well.

Toward the end of the trip, Steve and I found ourselves alone near the campfire one night. I said, “Hey. Do you remember much about that last night you had malaria?”

“Nope. Nothing.”

“Oh. Good.”

“Why’s that good?”

I could’ve lied. Made up some crap about fever dreams and bad memories. Instead, my conscience – which had re-formed shortly after the danger passed – got the best of me. “Oh. Well. I kind of left you out as bait for a bunch of hyenas.”


“Oh yeah. Really.”

I told him the whole story.

I thought he would be furious, or at least deeply hurt. Instead, he laughed.

“I’m not making this up, dude.” I said. “I really left you out there to die.”

“I believe you,” he said, still chuckling.

“I’m sorry, Steve. Truly.”

Steve smiled. “Don’t worry. I would’ve done the same for you.”