One of the inevitabilities of serving in the Peace Corps is getting sick; it just comes with the territory. I've been decently sick, but this week, I experienced my first bout in being significantly sick. It does make for a good story, and I'll set the stage by telling you about some recent changes to our living situation.
Alissa's new principal in Nuapapu is Ma'asi, one of my co-teachers from Matamaka last year. Because he's a younger guy and is a relative of Paea (the other teacher here, also a younger guy), he's decided to share Paea's thatched roof Tongan house, which lies a mere 15 yards from our front porch. This translates into a couple noticeable changes to our home life. For one, the moderate privacy we enjoyed during the school break is completely gone. And, the school grounds have now become the new hangout spot for a good number of the younger guys in our village. These things aren't inherently bad, but they made my situation this week much harder than they needed to be.
Back to the story. I had not felt well all day on Tuesday, and when I arrived home from my hike, I entered our house ready to collapse. My body was stricken by a marvelous mixture of intestinal problems with some heat exhaustion and dehydration sprinkled in there as well. My champion of a wife quickly set about caring for me- preparing rehydration solution for me, putting wet cloths on me, and fanning me- attempting to manage my dehydration and fever. If ever there was a time that I was thankful for being a married Peace Corps Volunteer- heck, just being married in general- now was that time.
What this meant for me was incredible discomfort from my stomach and 102 degree fever and frequent, very frequent, trips to the bathroom. I'm sure you get my drift; I won't go into the gory details. And let me just remind you the location of our bathroom. It's about 15 feet outside our house. Which is about 15 feet from the classroom porch. Which is now, as I said before, the new hangout spot of the village youth. One can only imagine my joy.
After the fifth or sixth trip in an hour of futile attempts to sneak my way to the toilet, they started to visibly take notice. Naturally, I was quite embarrassed and felt that every snicker I heard was directed my way. After a few hours of this mortifying cycle, I came out just as a number of them were leaving. They had clearly deduced what was going on, and were not quite sure how to react to me. Should they laugh? Should they show sympathy? Should they ask if I need anything? This mixture of conflicting questions translated into blank stares, until one of them asked matter-of-factly "puke koe?" (are you sick?). Attempting to bottle my embarrassment and my frustration at this gross invasion of privacy, I sheepishly responded yes. Then, offering the only amount of sympathy that any Tongan feels comfortable doling out (they are not the most emotionally open bunch), he blankly said the expected word of "faka'ofa" (how sad..) and the boys headed home.
The cycle continued off an on for the rest of the night (have I mentioned how thankful I am for my wife?), and the worst of it was over by late morning. I narrowly avoided using the toilet while one of the teachers was bathing in the stall next to me, and made it though the night without the dreaded fear of riding the boat to the hospital, sitting on a bucket, if it had gotten really, really bad.
We think we are mentally prepared to deal with the challenges. We answered interview questions and application essays about how to them. But nothing prepares you for things like this.
On a final note (and this is not meant to worry you, parents), this was perhaps one of the most poignant situations in which I realized how helpless I really am, and how much God (yes, corny I know...) watches out for us. I can't go through being that sick and knowing that I am 2+ hours away from any kind of medical facility, without thinking it. If nothing else, it's a good reminder about how helpless each and every one of us are, even if we don't care to admit it or realize it. Bless the Lord.