In this world, sometimes you get guts in your hair. Every time I go and buy meat, my butcher likes to come out and hug me and pet my hair. Nobody here thinks twice about blood and raw meat chunks getting all over things. Her hands are covered in it. She deals with my change like this too – digs around in her apron pocket, just dripping gore, counting coins and crinkled, damp bills. She cuts my chunks of meat literally off of a whole cow that is hanging upside down on hooks behind her. I can never figure out how to take the change from her. I take it with my finger tips; I try not to cringe too much; I smile; I spend it within the next minute, even if there is nothing else that I need.
It's moments like this that make me stop trying to pinpoint what gets me sick. I am a little bit sick at least once a week. I think most of us are. This country is simply poisonous to us. I have to assume that all money has been through this treatment a million times, that every one of the hundred hands I shake every day, and by proxy the cheeks I kiss every ten minutes, are covered in vicious and uncaring little microbes, planning my next tiny bathroom apocalypse. I know that every time I unconsciously touch my own face, I throw miniature Molotov cocktails into my immune system. My poor white blood cells are simply exhausted.
A little over a week ago, I got as sick as I have been, maybe ever. I did find a likely culprit, but there are obviously no guarantees. It was an amazing burger – the best I have had in Peru. After that, I had nothing but half a box of Gato Negro and one roasted marshmallow. When I woke up at 2am, puking my guts out, my first thought was, “No way did I drink enough wine to make me sick.” I was probably another hour, another violent purging and burning of my esophagus, and about 4 trips to the toilet later that I realized I was actually sick.
I was up all night, miserable, and quickly losing all bodily fluids. I was at a training with a bunch of other volunteers, so I was fortunately at a hotel, and within shouting distance of Doc Jorge, our nationwide Cipro dealer and regular savior of volunteers. I stumbled out of my room, gross and haggard and in my pj's, at first light. I found a couple of volunteers but no one knew what room the Doc was in. I left them a message to send him to my room at first sight and went and curled back up on my bathroom floor.
When Doc Jorge arrived with my friend Tim in tow, who looking pretty awful himself, I immediately figured it was the burgers. Tim and I had eaten dinner together the night before. Jorge immediately put some Cipro in me and sat and waited. That Cipro, along with all of the water I had been trying to replenish myself with, promptly came back up.
This was most of the day for me. A very long day. Jorge sat with me for most all of it. I got ridiculous in my thinking, angry and sad with myself every time I couldn't keep down my medicine, and really just pathetic and whiny all around. I remember deciding we were all crazy and trying to explain it to someone – to join Peace Corps: to go to a place that is poison in world-form, that seems to be trying to kill us – is this an overblown sense of altruism that has even surpassed our millenia-old instinct for self-preservation? I decided at one point that Ineeded a psychiatrist more than I needed Cipro. I was wrong, I definitely just needed the Cipro.
Eventually, with the help of something to take down my fever and something to stop my stomach from cramping up, I was able to get the much needed antibiotics to stay in – a true drug cocktail. By mid-afternoon, I was in the process of rehydrating. I was ever so weak feeling, not able to do more than take the tiniest of sips for fear it would all come back up, but finally happy to be able to lay on the floor and not have to get up to go to the bathroom any more.
That night, I got in three or maybe even four bites of dinner and crashed hard. The next day I ate my entire breakfast, still pretty shaky, but by midday I was ravenous. I spent a bus ride drinking about a gallon of water. I got off the bus and proceeded to eat for the entire afternoon – probably four meals in four hours. By nightfall I was one hundred percent and having fun with the volunteers in the next department over.
It's truly a roller coaster ride.
Side note: In Spanish, asistir is “to attend,” and atender is “to assist.” Most. Annoying. Thing. Ever.