Nothing but Thanks

December 04, 2006

SEVEN MONTHS agoyou and I found out that each day 3,000 African children die of malaria for thevery sad reason that they can't afford mosquito nets over their beds. Didn'tseem right to us. Sports is nothing but nets—lacrosse nets, cutting down thenets, New Jersey Nets. So SI started the Nothing But Nets campaign. Doctorsguaranteed that if you sent in $20, you'd save at least one kid's life,probably two.

It was thealltime no-brainer. Skip lunch; save a life. Buy the Top-Flites instead of theTitleists; save a life. Don't bet on the Redskins; save a life. Nothing toresearch. No government to topple. No warlords to fight.

Bless your littlehearts, all 17,000-plus of you who chipped in more than $1.2 million—enough tobuy 150,000 nets, which the United Nations Foundation and the World HealthOrganization started hanging all over Nigeria, where kids younger than five aregetting murdered by mosquitoes that come out only at night.

I know, because Isaw the nets. Just got back. Feel a little bad about going without you. Afterall, it was your money. So let's pretend it was you who made the trip, notme.

Remember?Everywhere you went, people mistook you for King Tut. Women got down on theirknees and kissed your hand. Whole towns threw festivals. The king in every wardsummoned you to his one-room, one-lightbulb palace. One pointed his horsehairscepter at you and pronounced, "Thank you for dee nets. All my wives usedem!" Turns out he has four wives and 23 kids, and they're all under thenets, which is a good thing because the open sewer that runs right outside hisshack is a kind of one-stop malaria center.

Everywhere youwent, 40 people followed: doctors and nurses and random government suits andguards with AK-47s and vice-kings. You rode in an eight-truck caravan pastunimaginable squalor, vans on fire and guys selling caskets on the street—avery good business in Nigeria, where the average life span is 47. And everytime you opened your car door, two drummers beat a skull-busting welcome. You'dpull into a school, and the principal would hang a ribbon around your neck andsay something you couldn't hear. "What?" you'd holler over thedrums.

"We humblyfumalk apoplia!"

And you'd shrug,and he'd gesture to the 200 kids behind him, who were chanting something overand over, their faces beaming. Later you'd find out it was, "Thank you,white person!"

And they'd play asoccer game in your honor that featured nine-year-olds who played like14-year-olds in the U.S., on fields full of weeds and trash, with goals made oftree branches. In three games the closest thing you saw to a boy with shoes wasa set of brothers who wore one sock each.

And they'd handyou the mike, and you'd try to say how blown away you were and how you wishedyou could raise 100 times more in donations, because already one hospital inNigeria is saying that since the nets went up, outpatient cases of malaria havedropped from 80 a month to 50. But they'd all put their hands to their ears andgo, "What?"

When you bribedthe drummers into taking a union break, you finally met the people you'll neverforget: the mothers. Turns out they're nothing but nuts about the nets. Infact, so many mothers want the nets that to get one, the World HealthOrganization requires them to bring their kids in for a measles vaccination.How often do you get two for one on diseases?

You met a motherwho walked half a day to get a net. You met a woman who sleeps with her fourkids under her net, maybe because she knows that three out of every 10 childdeaths in Nigeria are from malaria.

In the fetidslums of Lagos you met a woman named Shifawu Abbas who's had malaria twice."Everybody wants the nets here, everybody!" she said, beaming. "Mysister visited from the country and tried to steal it from me!"

Still, as youwere climbing back into your air-conditioned SUV, she yanked back your hand andbegged, "Please? Can I come with you?"

Sorry, yousaid.

On the last dayyou met Noimot Bakare, a mother whose youngest child died of malaria. She wasso grateful that she trembled as she spoke. "Malaria is killing ourchildren," she said, holding her toddler. "There is so much need here.God will bless you for the work you are doing."

Please go toNothingButNets.net and keep it up.

For that, wehumbly fumalk apoplia.

If you have acomment for Rick Reilly, send it to reilly@siletters.com.

One hospital in Nigeria says that after you begansending money for mosquito nets (above), outpatient cases of malaria fell from80 a month to 50.

RIFFS of REILLY

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