At this point, I already knew the following lessons. It is just that sometimes, we all need reminders of the things that we already know.
Lesson #1 Second language skills go downhill fast when under duress
Lesson #2 Host moms worry incessantly, no matter what
Lesson #3 It is more than the water that can cause stomach issues in Mexico
Lesson #4 Getting sick is a Peace Corps-inevitable, but those in Mexico have it a lot easier than in many other countries
In my minimal experience, I already knew that keeping my current bout of stomach-gymnastics quiet could avoid some awkward host family situations. However, that did not seem feasible. It was Sunday morning, also known as time for church prep. Not exactly a time to go unnoticed.
After mentally begging my stomach to cooperate for almost an hour, I knew that my limits were about to be reached. I did a quick, desperate scan; alas there was no sufficient receptacle in my room to receive a deposit from my insides. Eventually, I succumbed and opened my door timidly, but with purpose: the bathroom.
“Oh no, you don’t look so good. Are you sick? ”
Shoot, I was discovered! My worried host mom peers at me with a furrowed brow under her wet-from-the-shower hair.
“I think so.”
“Uh, I must have eaten something bad.”
“Oh, is it your stomach then?”
“Yes!” Looking frantically at the bathroom and doing my best to sound hurried.
“Did you take medicine yet? I can give you medicine. ” She is clearly not taking the hint.
“No, I just need the bathroom, now.”
“So what did you eat?”
Oh man, am I really getting a full out interview right now? I do a rapid-fire inventory of my most recent meals: breakfast should have hit me earlier, so that papaya must have been innocent. There was that sandwich I made with cheese, salsa, beans, avocado, and tomato. Tomato! That is definitely it. I was too lazy to soak it in bleach water for 30 minutes, so I opted for a quick soap and water scrub. Not Peace Corps Medical recommended, but hey, I was in a hurry, and it is better than nothing right?
I try to settle my stomach temporarily while trying to remember the word for tomato. Am I seriously forgetting it? It’s basically the same word, I know that. I try the same ole’ English speaker’s trick when speaking Spanish:
“A tomato?” said with a Spanish accent, placing a rising tone on the end to demonstrate my uncertainty of word-choice.
Nope, not that. She looks confused. “Do you mean a tamale?”
“No, uh…” man I really need to remember this word quickly to avoid a projectile-mess unintentionally directed at my host mom and the floor.
“Um a, um…” Choke.
She’s guessing foods now. Can’t I just go in the bathroom? Shoot.
BINGO! “A jitomate!” Thank goodness I remembered!
“Uh oh, from where?”
“The market down the street.”
“Oh no, those have bacteria! We never eat those because we don’t want to get sick. It is better not to eat vegetables in Mexico. ” Oh man, seriously? That’s not going to work for me. But no time to think about that now; other things are occupying the majority of my cerebral cortex. Must. Get. To. Bathroom.
“OK, I need to use the bathroom though. Now.”
“Sure, but did you take medicine yet? I can look for some medicine for you.”
“No, I just need the bathroom.” I push past her just in time and close the door as she continues giving me the third degree through the door.
I made it just in time.
Phew, feeling much better! Now I really need some purified water to clean out my bile-flavored mouth, as well as a return trip to the bathroom with my toothbrush.
But…intercepted again; host mom is waiting outside the door with an extraordinarily worried look on her face. Man! All I want to do is rid my mouth of this horrid reminder of my tasty sandwich, and then hit the sack. But no, it is apparently time for a second uncomfy conversation.
In a seemingly endless string of rapid-fire questions, comments and advice, she peppers me with: “Do you want some medicine? You should really drink some water so that you don’t get dehydrated. And be sure to get plenty of rest! I hope that you don’t get out of bed today. But there is tea downstairs. I can make you some toast! We’re going to church; are you sure you’re going to be OK? The pharmacy is across the street in case you need anything, but you really shouldn’t get out of bed. Really though, I can get you some medicine.”
I eventually reassured her enough to finish my post-vomit ritual and hit the sack.
After a few more trips to the bathroom and a good 24 hour sleep fest, I woke up stiff and sore but doing pretty well, all things considered.
Even after all of that, it is hard to feel too much self-pity. I have heard too many stories from fellow volunteers who contract Botfly parasites in Paraguay, simultaneous cases of giardia and E.coli in Burkina Faso, or malaria in Vanuatu. (Inside joke: who gets malaria anyhow? That is sooo 2010.) In Mexico, my toilet might not have a seat, I might not be able to rinse my mouth with tap water, and tomatoes might be on a no-eat list, but things can always be worse. Children might be peering curiously through cracks in my latrine wall as I wretch, and my suddenly rejected breakfast ends up stirring the mosquitoes living down below. True story. Not mine, thank goodness.
All of us Peace Corps Volunteers are, however forever linked in our self-analysis of our poop, and in our hopes of not to joining the club. After all, that is part of the price when you integrate into the developing world. Let us not forget that this choice comes with a lot of benefits though.
Like they say in Mexico: vale la pena. It is worth it in the long run.
Making me smile
- The return to good health
- Tons of crafting projects that will occupy my hands on late mountain nights, and that will turn my little house into a home on the cheap (photos promised to you)
- Two-hour impromptu Spanish lesson from a camping store owner and his friends; I learned that the expression “my better half” is expressed in Spanish as “my half orange”
- Quesadilla and coffee hour at my office in the mornings is such a chill way to start the day
- Wildflowers in the park. So lovely