An hour of Internet should mean an hour of Internet. It shouldn’t mean purchasing a one-hour ticket, using the Internet for ten minutes before it dies, coming back an hour later, using it for twelve more minutes before the electricity dies, coming back two hours later to find the electricity still isn’t back, then resigning to frustration and the call of evening prayer as your sign to try again tomorrow. Unfortunately, in much of the world, this is how things go.
I’d been in Kankan, Guinea for roughly two months, teaching Spanish to university students and a science to 7th graders. In my free time, I’d amble through the countryside on a decrepit Chinese bicycle to see what I could find. In addition, in requisite preparation for my upcoming Turkey to Kyrgyzstan cycle tour, I spent a lot of time on the Internet as well.
One Monday evening, after a cheerful day at school — save one student chucking a piece of gum at my forehead — I arrive at the Internet café nearest to my home. Today I’ll order pedals: Shimano M530. In high spirits and near-full patience, I march towards the desk and collect my log-in code — a shiny white ticket to a 60-minute joyride on the dusty, rattrap computer. Upbeat, I log in. Success! I open eBay, review my order, and enter my credit card details.
After a mere ten minutes, the cyber devil rears its ugly head. Death goes the Internet! I should have seen this coming. I decide not to wait. I rise from my chair and walk towards the café attendant. He’ll be asking me to pay the full freight — 6,000 Guinean Francs for 60 minutes of use — and will suggest in genuine empathy that I come back later and try again. Not today. After weeks of submission, today is the day I fight. I want to win, if only this once.
“Sir. The Internet worked for ten minutes. I don’t want to return later. I’ll pay you for ten minutes and we’ll part ways amicably. Sound OK?”
It wasn’t. An argument ensues. The attendant becomes angry. Am I really being so unfair? I leave 1,000 Francs on the faux-wood table, mount my Chinese bicycle, and take off en route to my host father’s — Mr. Konaté’s — home.
I cross the street and begin riding on an adjacent dirt path. The path is angled slightly, such that a ball would roll down it into the parallel drainage ditch. A cement driveway of an upscale home juts out perpendicularly, elevated slightly from the road, and I’m not moving fast enough to ride over it. I stop, lose my balance momentarily, and begin stumbling into the adjacent ditch. In that moment, a mere two minutes after my argument in the cyber café, a dog charges from the driveway and karma-chomps my leg.
Five streams of warm blood careen down my calf. The dog scurries off. I now have bigger problems. I re-cross the street and enter the café: “Is the Internet back? I need to call my parents.”
No connection. I ask to leave my bicycle overnight. A different attendant puts me on his motorbike and races me home. I run inside to wake up Mr. Konaté and explain what had happened. I grab my medical kit, hop aboard his motorbike, and we speed off together to a nearby hospital.
Needles litter the floor. Dirt and grime polish the corners of the room. A nurse cleans me up and offers a Tetanus shot. I decline — I’ve already got one. “Do you have a rabies vaccine as well?” she asks. No — I don’t. The nurse prescribes some antibiotics. Back on the motorbike and off to the pharmacy.
En route, I stop to pick up some phone credit. I call home. My father — a life-long physician — suggests I fly to Dakar and get treated for rabies. He’s really one for caution. We arrive at the pharmacy just before it closes and pick up the antibiotics.
Then, it’s off to the veterinarian. Luckily, Kankan does have a vet! In fact, this particular Guinean vet completed his studies in Russia, in Russian, and at 10pm agreed to take a house call. Mr. Konaté and I arrive at his home — a large, open, eerily spiritual property buried in mango trees and far away from Kankan’s city center — jump off the bike and run frantically up the stairs. The doctor takes his time, finishing tea and speaking with his children. Eventually, he seats me on the cement balcony and pulls up a chair of his own. His demeanor is far more callous than I’d like.
“There’s not much to do. Tomorrow, we will try to find the dog. If we do, I will inspect him for rabies. The process takes 15 days. You will not perish before then. If we don’t find the dog, you’ll have to find proper rabies treatment. Most dogs around here are sick.” I do not sleep well that night.
The following morning, we return to the offending driveway. The dog is there. Mr. Konaté and I speak with the owner. In a bizarre stroke of luck, the dog is domesticated, vaccinated, and the owner agrees happily to let us inspect it. We’ll return in the afternoon with the veterinarian after classes are complete.
I arrive first at roughly 4pm. The owner warmly invites me inside and presents me with a chair. Sweet ginger tea with peanuts is served. I wait patiently in the courtyard for Mr. Konaté, watching the dog jump in circles. A monkey, their second pet, is riding on his back. The dog approaches me several times, snarling. After twenty minutes and no Mr. Konaté, I get up and leave; I’ll wait for him by the road. This dog bit me less than 24 hours ago — what the hell am I doing here anyway?
As I wait, I return to the cyber café to reclaim my bike. I pull out 5,000 Guinean Francs — the differential amount I had refused to pay — and hand it to the attendant. “My deepest thanks, Monsieur. But just to be clear, this is for watching my bicycle, and not for the Internet!”
These were not my brightest moments. I paid the price — the five-toothed scar on my leg — regardless.
Needless to say, as I write this over a year later, the dog was not rabid. The scar, however, is here to stay. Perhaps it’s meant to remind me to be more compassionate and understanding. Perhaps it’s just a sign that I should never live with dogs.