Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Unfortunate Beliefs Concerning Hot Water and Coca Cola...

I know you’re all a bit baffled by the rapidity with which this long blog post has followed the last long blog post, and all I can say is that I spend a lot of time wandering around thinking, because that’s what you do without electricity. One of my apparent hobbies is coming up with catchy titles for things that generally don’t end up fitting into my more chronological posts. However, I’ve had a bit of down time today, so here you are:

Unfortunate Beliefs Concerning Hot Water and Coca Cola
There are various beliefs about hot water here, but they all seem to lead to the conclusion that it is bad for the health and should not be used. For this reason, I have been experiencing some rather chilly bucket baths every morning in my outdoor cement bathhouse. One theory on why hot water is unhealthy is that when you use it, your pores open and the worms and bacteria that is in the water can get into your system more easily. This theory was told to me by another volunteer who heard it from some host siblings who had lived in the US, where, the volunteer argued, they used hot water every day. They agreed, but then explained that the water here is different. Here in my site, where the same water used for bathing is also frequently used for drinking, the somewhat less inventive explanation, that hot water shocks your system too much, prevails. What this means in practical terms is that on my first day with this host family, I asked if I could heat some water for my bath, and my host mom found an old pan outside, dusted it off and filled it with water, and then, once it had started to steam, poured it into a larger bucket. All that seemed promising, however, she went on to scoop several pan-fulls of cold water into the bucket, so that by the time she left me to my bath, the addition of the hot water had been nearly negated. As the temperature of the mornings here has continued to fall, the water temperature has failed to rise, which leaves me shivering and thinking up culturally insensitive blog posts. On a positive note, my host mom has recently started letting me pour in my own cold water. Generally, I react by pouring very little, so that my baths are uncomfortably hot just out of rebellion. Take that. I can also console myself with the fact that I have it a lot better than the two year-old, who spends her bath time standing by the pila crying and sputtering as entirely cold water is poured on her head.

On the subject of Coca Cola, I wanted to share a few conversations I’ve had. Once, during a lunch in San Marcos, the woman beside me began espousing the health benefits of Coke. It is good for the stomach, the kidneys, babies, and cures depression, just like in the commercials. Then a couple days later, I was hanging out in my village in a friend’s house, and her two year-old was running around like crazy, and she said maybe it was because of the Coke, and I said, yes, that’s probably true, and she said, oh, so it’s true what they say about Coke making kids go crazy. I said yes.

Some Things That Have Been Eating At Me
Ticks and paranoia. So far, I’ve found five of the devils eating me, even though I wear long pants and check for them obsessively. They come in various colors and forms, as I realized when I noticed that those two new freckles had legs. Some are big and brown, one was blonde, and two have been tiny. Now every time I have an itch, which is all the time because I’m also very popular with the mosquitoes, I think it’s a tick, and even when I don’t find one, I just assume it’s because I couldn’t see it. Unfortunately for me, tick season here lasts about six months, and due to unseasonable dryness, it started about two weeks early.

How I Almost Died but then Didn’t
Speaking of paranoia and bites, here’s a story: There are these insects called assassin bugs, and they were mentioned once in training, where we learned that if they bite you, they sometimes infect you with a bacteria that grows in your body for up to 30 years, at which point, you die suddenly of heart failure. Another volunteer did a little research, and learned that they generally bite your face, and then poop in or near the bite, and the poop is what carries the disease. So that’s pretty nasty. Those of you who know me well might recall that I have a penchant for contracting or sustaining strange infirmities (brown recluse bite, quasi-lyme disease), and I also have a penchant for believing that I have infirmities that in fact, I do not (hypochondriac). However, when I learned the dirty truth about the assassin bug and Chagas, as the disease is known, I wasn’t terribly worried about being bitten. That is until I saw a giant assassin bug-looking insect on the curtain in my room. I tried to kill it, but somehow was really slow and completely missed. Then I thought about it for a while and decided that it was way too big to actually be one, and I moved on with my life. Or at least, I moved on for a while, until I stayed at a volunteer’s house and discovered a sticker on the door with a life-sized picture of a giant assassin bug. When I returned to my house the next day, I found myself a bit preoccupied with the proximity of possible death. I took down my curtain and poked around in the shadows, but failed to find anything, and so I gave up and decided I was being paranoid. I became even more paranoid the next day, however, when I found what appeared to be the first assassin bug’s somewhat punier sibling, again hanging out on my curtain. I had been instructed that rather than killing it, I should catch it and take it to the nearest health center for analysis, so I gracefully scooped it into a bag with the insect catching skills I developed during field based training. Then I went to take my frigid bath, and as I shampooed my hair, I decided that there might be a new insect bite on my scalp, and even though the scalp isn’t the face, it’s pretty close, right? And then I shivered and thought about insect poop and dying, and shortly after my shower, I perused all the Peace Corps medical information I have, and found not a mention, so I called the volunteer with the sticker and demanded to their voicemail that they search the internet and tell me if there was anything I could do to save myself, or if I was just doomed in thirty years or so. Then I went back to my room and remembered my Moon guidebook, and flipped to the back, where I found a paragraph about Chagas, and learned that only about 2% of the people bitten by assassin bugs actually develop the disease and they also develop a fever within a week or so of being bitten. So then I felt foolish and relieved, and when the volunteers from San Marcos came to visit, they told me that you have a month or more to prevent future death, and also, that the insect I had captured was not, in fact, an assassin bug, but was instead a tree beetle. So I let it go.

The Moon Tonight
My host mom called her grandkids out of the house to look at the moon tonight, and as I generally tend to be the only one constantly startled by the brightness of the night sky, I went out too, understanding that something unusual was going on. It was almost six and the moon was just rising. It was huge and full and golden. I climbed the hill to see it better. As I ate dinner, it reached the clouds that had been above it. It was so bright that it lit them up with pink and purple just like a sunrise. I didn’t know that could happen. Later on, I climbed the hill again, and even though the clouds were thick, they were veined with white from the moon behind them, and the sky was so bright that I could read my watch at 8:00 without using a flashlight.


  1. cara-

    your posts are very humorous, and i am enjoying them very much, please continue to writing :)

    miss you!


  2. Cara! I hate bugs, but you know Claire hates them even more. She's a tick magnet. The best removal method we have found is to soak a cotton ball with dish soap (liquid) and then hold it over the tick for 1 minute. The tick comes off head and all. Maybe she'll get your name for Christmas and we'll send you a bottle of Dawn!


  3. Cara! This was wonderful to read!

    much love,