I hate being sick. I don’t recall a time I’ve vomited without crying, longing for my mom while I’m hunched over the toilet. My biggest fear about living in Mozambique was being sick. The running joke between Peace Corps Volunteers is that you aren’t a real PCV until you’ve shat your pants. I vowed never to get to that point (and I haven’t yet, thankfully).
My fear of being sick probably has a lot to do with the fact that I was always a low key hypochondriac, the hypochondria escalating when I got sent to live alone. In order to combat this, I’ve done everything I can to stay healthy. Boil and filtering my water, peeling, bleaching or cooking my vegetables. Making sure my meat is thoroughly cooked through, getting my eight hours of sleep, taking my multi-vitamins and my anti-malarials.
Overall, I’ve held a pretty good sickness track record in Mozambique. Mild food poisoning, a few bouts of fever, a possible encounter with rabies (and the accompanying vaccines). Nothing compared to most of my friends, whose intestines seem to be mad at them since the first day we’ve arrived in country. I think I’ve been lucky for the most part, my immune system is strong and holding up, and my sickness paranoia has helped me avoid taking unnecessary risks. I also think it’s not fair to my students for me to be sick. I only teach three (loaded) days a week- and if I’m sick, it’s not difficult to miss all three days, aka 1/14 of the classes of that trimester.
That brings us to this Monday. Usually, I don’t work on Mondays but the school year is over (finally!) and I was at school in order to proctor exams. Honestly, one of the most boring jobs of the school year, spending ninety minutes staring students down and explaining that yes, looking at your neighbors’ paper is cheating. Minus 5. Sitting on my chair, I started to cold sweat, and after the first 90 minute period, I fled the school, hopped on my bike and had to run to my bathroom when I got home. Damnit, I was sick.
I thought it would pass after 12 hours, but it just seemed to be getting worse. Peace Corps doctors recommended I stick to a BRAT diet, which I realized wasn’t possible since I had zero of those things in my house. (When will I learn to hoard saltines?) After 24 hours of Gatorade, oral rehydration salts and eating the last banana I owned, I decided it was time to look somewhat acceptable and knock on my neighbors door. I could hear Neusa and Leticia, the two 10-year-old first graders and arguably my best friends here at site, arguing about what music to play.
“Hey, if you guys are done with school do you mind going to the market and getting me bread and bananas, I’m sick and I have no food at home.”
“Uh oh are you okay? We can’t leave the babies at home alone- wait, we’ll go find someone to watch them!”
They said as they ran around the bairro looking for a cousin, neighbor, or older brother. I tried to tell them I could wait until the afternoon but not even three minutes later they had found their step brother and his friends to watch the house and the babies. Less than 15 minutes later I was the proud owner of 3 days worth of bread and 10 bananas. In exchange, they each got a shiny 5 met coin (the equivalent of $0.08) and a lollipop. I think I just invented Malema’s very first delivery service.
Being sick in Mozambique is nothing like being sick in America. Gossip spreads like bush fires here, and after missing school for 12 hours, I started getting multiple texts and Facebook messages from students (even those who barely participate in class). “Professora, rapidas melhoras” Get better soon. My door started knocking, neighbors mad that I didn’t tell them I was sick because they would have brought me sopa or xima, which they promise would make me feel better. Others telling me they’ll take me to hospital, not letting the subject drop until I tell them I’m already in contact with my projecto doctors, and that likely, I have all the medication I need in my med kit we were given during training.
In a sense, its a bit annoying to be feverish, not having brushed my teeth in 24 hours, let alone put on deodorant and have to answer the door multiple times a day to tell another person that I’m fine, it’s just stomach issues. On the other hand, wow, knowing that people just want to check up on you when you’re sick is the Peace Corps’ equivalent of your mom feeding you soup and saltines when you have the stomach bug. And though I never ever ever want to get malaria or another serious illness, it’s reassuring to know that if that does happen, I’m in great hands here in Malema.