I believe it’s time for a straightforward update.
Since returning to India after a few short escapades in January, I have been hit by various illnesses, mostly pertaining to my apparently fragile (intestinal) constitution. When I’m home, in my own personal space, I am particularly careful about hygiene. I prefer a properly sterilized cooking and eating environment, and am a fan of various cleaning products, especially ones that deliver on the illusion of spring flowers and fresh green apples. When traveling or living abroad, I sometimes abandon, if only slightly, my watch over such issues, knowing how unrealistic my expectations may be in different contexts. That, combined with my desire to eat everything, can lead to dangerous circumstances and results.
It may be a crude affront to the clean, white facade of this blog but I do speak rather frankly about illnesses because, well, what other productive way can it be discussed? I’ve traveled to many places where I’ve had to compromise on standards of hygiene, and have at times of course suffered the consequences; diarrhea in China, constipation in Tanzania, food poisoning in Egypt. But, after 8-9 months here in India, I’ve had more run-ins with bacterial and viral infections than I can recall; more headaches, colds, flu, and general exhaustion than other periods of work abroad. And honestly, I’m tired. Disappointed in myself, and very tired.
A few weeks ago, I decided to walk to the market to cheer myself up. Seeing fresh produce and being surrounded by such a lively atmosphere usually helps me forget what I was so depressed about in the first place, if only for 2 seconds. As I was trudging through the fish section and got body checked by a large metal barrel of fish guts, I thought to myself, this might not do the trick today. Every time I visit this market, I get lost… which is okay, really. I just wasn’t feeling it that day. Then I spotted some mushrooms, something that wasn’t always available before. Excited, I bought half a kilogram, along with some local berries and other basic produce before walking home. That night, I proportioned half of the mushrooms to be sautéed in garlic and butter with some dried herbs, setting the other half aside for a soup the next day. I enjoyed them.
The next day I spent 23 hours on the toilet.
That same day, someone brought to my attention an article in the local newspaper.
I had to see the doctor for the second or third time about stomach-related problems and, as usual, she prescribed a course of antibiotics. Seeing that nothing else would work or bring relief, I completed the course, albeit wary of the effects of consuming so many antibiotics. I vowed never to eat mushrooms here again (for now) and to temper my use of local products.
Not long after that incident, I got sick again. It hit me on Palm Sunday when I wasn’t able to stand from the church pew to sing the hymns. I spent two days either incapacitated in bed or in the bathroom with a fever, painful diarrhea and stomach cramping, and severe bone aches that were reminiscent of the knee pain I felt during my bout of malaria in Nairobi. The pain became too intense on Tuesday morning, when I went to the same doctor who then admitted me to the hospital for the rest of the week. For the first time (since infancy, I suppose) I spent a few nights in the hospital, with a tube inserted into my right arm for constant IV drips, some other unidentified medicines, and early morning and late night injections of antibiotics. I was released recently, and have been resting since. The doctor says it was typhoid.
I don’t dwell on the negatives in this space much, since it might not be the best avenue for that. But nevertheless, the past few weeks have been a bunch of negative adjectives: frustrating, depressing, lonely, challenging, disappointing, sad. And being sick exacerbates everything. Don’t get me wrong – it could be much worse. And yes, I am glad to be alive, and yes, things aren’t that bad, and yes, things could be much more challenging. But I’m tired, so very tired of being a foreigner, of being marginal, of not connecting, of being misunderstood, of the stress and anxiety and unbelonging. And I miss eating. With two more months to go, I just feel exhausted. Too long out of my element, too long looking like someone I sometimes don’t recognize.