A Rhapsody in Snot Green
I remember reading a travelogue by Petro Theriouex (name mispelled to prevent you from using this reference to buy one of his atrocious books) in which he mentioned, in passing, that one of the things he doesn’t usually mention (not even in passing) when recounting his globe trottings is how often he was slightly sick. “That dare devil!” I thought, at the time “The perils of the white man’s grave means nothing to him! Must not his veins run with the coolest of ice water?” Orsomething to that effect. But what he meant, and which I’m experiencing, is the way your puny wazungu body just can’t hack the trials and tribulations of the life that normal people live in non-developed countries. It’s hot. And then its wet. And then its cold. And the lunch you expected at 1 turns out not to be ready until three for reasons you can’t determine. Or you’re travellng and you don’t eat for 12 hours straight and don’t drink any water because you don’t want to have to go to the bathroom (because you really don’t) and then when you finally drink some water it hits your stomach like Mike Tyson’s left roundhouse. And to top it all off, there’s all kinds of little bugs that seize every opportunity to make your stomach’s life more interesting; I’m not talking about the fun parasites that burrow through your body or the nasty stuff like cholera or malaria but just the simple everyday bacteria that find ways to sneak past your weakened, over tired, overstressed immune system (like a child that wet sneezes on your face while you’re bent over tying your shoe or grabs your hand right after coming out of the choo). Many of these examples are drawn from experience.
Now, it is possible to be overdramatic about this, which was Petro Stinkwriter’s point. Who wants to read about health ailments you can experience at home? My runny nose doesn’t feel any different than yours does, nor does my sore throat, nor does my sunburn, nor does the coughing, nor does the puffy eyes, nor does my stomach churning, nor does my (redacted) look any more (redacted) than yours does when you (redacted) it in the privacy of your own bathroom. But darn it all if you don’t spend such an amount of time being both slightly tired and slightly sick here. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve felt ever so slightly feverish just before I went to bed, staring up at the ceiling (which seems to spin just ever so slightly) andf the, upon waking, feeling ready to eat a goatshead right off the stick, even if I have to wrestle a herd of wild animals (or shinda basic school children) to do it. Yet these great swings of bodily well being are part of the experience, and part of why living in Tanzania seems to have a larger than life quality abut it (but only one of them). Every day is an adventure, but on a smaller scale, the everyday experience of your body is also an adventure. Being sick is a tragedy, a Wagnerian set piece complete with armored ladies and swords and pathos; being well is a pastoral comedic romance. I’m overdramatizing because that’s the experience: every quickened pulse, every flash sweat in the night, every hurried trip to the choo, knees squeezed together, is a sort of dramatic reminder that your body is not something you can take for granted, a moment where you’re suddenly very in the moment, very here, very now.
So, I’ve been annoyingly sick for a while now, and I wanted to rhapsodize. Nothing scary, though the hours I spent napping on the Barabaig bed (kanga over my face to keep the flies off) in a rural village a two hour hike from a three hour bus ride to the nearest hospital was slightly worrying (I’ll contextualize that later). And nothing serious, though the nightime hours I spent rushing to the toilet and trying to decide whether the thirst or the stomach cramps I would experience on drinking a bit of water would be worse, well, that was as good as it gets. But I just want to remind myself that the moments of health and the moments of unhealth are the medium through which we experience life, and I’m grateful to be experiencing it. No one sings praises (or Wagnerian odes) to their gastrointestinal tract, but ah! to be without one. And to be with it is pretty good, too. One of my finest memories of Tanzania was the sunrise after not sleeping all night in a Masaai bed, plagued by mosquitoes and flies and the smell and the different unidentified people who kept getting in bed with me and the sounds and the close air and everything, and I couldn’t sleep even though man was I tired, but man oh man alive was it good to be awake at the end of it, to look out at that beautiful sun and smell the air and breathe and be alive. And being sick and then being well is sort of like that. You don’t have to go to Tanzania to be reminded of that, but sometimes it does help.