The first bout of illness

I once read a travel blog from a solo traveler that said she never ever gets lonely when she travels with one exception: when she’s sick. She was right. There’s nothing more lonely than having to deal with an illness while away from home. You feel vulnerable and exhausted and sometimes it can feel like the only thing that will make it better is being back home in a comfortable setting to make that horrible awful feeling feel slightly less horrible and awful. Early in training, Matt, a RPCV in our Vanuatu group, shared with us the three things that all PCVs will end up discussing at each and every reunion throughout their service and after: sex stories, weird illnesses, and pooping. Here’s a story about the last one.

Saturday I felt ill at night and into the morning. Maybe it was the malaria meds or maybe the combo of kava and meds. All I know is it was queasiness that led into nausea that led into… you guessed it, diarrhea.

But then, I was fine. Sunday afternoon and evening? Fine. Monday and Tuesday, fine. Well, until after dinner. I took my malaria meds and stayed up to write a bit and felt the queasiness settle in. Eventually I went to bed, and the next morning I awoke at three am with stomach pains and the dread of realizing that three more hours remained until my alarm was to go off. Once awake, I began the immediate pattern of running to the bathroom, drinking water, eating bread, running to bathroom, drinking water, eating bread and on and on again throughout the day.

It was the first day we went to the local schools to observe teaching. I did a lot of observing of the inside of the Women’s faculty bathroom door. When we retuned to Epau and had an afternoon of Bislama lessons, I was slipping away every fifteen minutes to jog to the nearest bathroom that flushed.

So, with all of that said, you may have guessed these last 24 hours have been miserable. That they have. But I was never alone. I am thankful this all has been happening to me during training, when all the resources and contacts are here to help me survive through this in a foreign land with foreign bathrooms. The comforts of home are undeniably absent, but I’ve learned to appreciate the simplest of gestures in these uncomfortable moments.

First there was Tristan, who, while we were observing at the local school, offered me his bread to “harden up the stools” as he put it so bluntly.

Charlie, who, without knowing the details of my situation, asked if I was “still feeling shitty” and provided Tristan and me with a pun-induced chuckle.

Colleen, who offered support via texts all the way from Pele.

Vanna, who gently combed my hair as I tried to sleep during the car ride from the school back to the village, a much-needed touch from home.

The random village mama at the nakamal, who offered me a nearby flushing house toilet instead of the usual, non-flush pit toilet, to use during my troubled times.

Annalisa, who offered up the option to stick her finger down my throat to force me to vomit if I needed it because she did it once for a friend and while it was only that one time, nothing grosses her out anymore.

Our language and cultural trainers, who continually asked me how I was feeling throughout the day and checked to see if the doctor got me all I needed.

The doctor, who was available on speed dial to instruct me on what I needed to start using out of my medical kit.

Angela, my little drug gopher, who ran to her house during lunch to get me all the medical kit drugs that the doctor recommended because I felt like I was dying and my house was too far up the road for me to walk.

Thomas D, our PC volunteer leader, for calling me before bed to see if I had all the medicine in my own medical kit and if he needed to run up the road to drop off any extras. Or, to see if he “could offer anything at all, including stomach punches" if I so wished (I definitely did not wish).

My host sister, for accepting that today was just not a big day for kakae, and providing me with fresh coconut water and slices of local bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And also for accepting that my Bislama knowledge was thrown out the window completely with my weak body and mind.

My host brother, for hooking up additional lights to face the outhouse near my home so I can see in the dark, and for putting a bucket of water and a bar of soap nearby so I didn’t have to walk across the property to wash my hands in the middle of the night every single time I used the bathroom.

And finally, every single trainee and staff that has checked in on me, simply asking if I’m doing alright or feeling okay or offering to get me anything at all.

Thank you, everyone. It really sucks when you’re sick, but being away from home it can feel so much worse. I’m glad I’ve found a home here with everyone I’ve met so far.


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