Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Spoonful of Sugar

“I’m usually pretty good about not getting sick. Lucky, I guess,” I said as I clumsily dumped raw meat and wild vegetables into the hot pot and then presumably licked my chopsticks.

Direct quote from a conversation Sunday night. Fast-forward a mere few hours later, it’s two in the morning, and I’m hunched over a toilet, worshiping the porcelain gods. I’ll spare you the details.

There’s something about being sick in a place that’s not yours that intensifies the experience tenfold. Every stomach cramp or feverish chill reminds you of the magical, mystical healing properties of a Warholian can of chicken noodle soup. You fantasize about all of the Law and Order SVU reruns and lady murderer marathons you’d be watching at that very moment in a warm, comfortable bed that is all yours. And then, perhaps with a bit of rose-colored hindsight, you think about how your mom would love to be caring for you right now, waiting on you hand and foot. In reality, she’d maybe just pat your head a few times, throw you some saltines, and then over medicate you. Yes, being physically sick abroad makes you a touch homesick if you let it.

Luckily (and I am lucky this time), Thai hospitality and the hilarity that comes along with being sick in this country more than snuffed the quick flicker of wanting to be back in Pennsylvania on our living room couch. In my careful planning of falling ill, I made the strategic decision of doing so in James’s host mom’s house, an incredibly warm and sassy Thai woman named Mae Du. Not only is Mae Du a mother herself, but also the head nurse of the local hospital. The moment I dragged myself into the kitchen and melted into a chair on Monday morning, visibly unwell, you could almost smell her instincts kicking in. Mae Du was in her element, and I was to be her project.

After describing my symptoms in broken Thai and English (okay, yes, more acting than anything. You can imagine how ridiculous that must have looked.) Mae Du quickly got the picture and declared, “YOU EAT TOO MUCH! FOOD POISONING.” Sounds about right to me.

Mae Du instantly takes control of the situation and within minutes she is making things happen. She gives a series of commands in rapid Thai to her son, Ying, and he is off to the hospital to bring back medicine and a blood pressure cuff. I’m then instructed to make a series of phone calls, alerting the press of my state of being. First is to my parents back in the states, next is to P’Moo, my host teacher. Finally, it’s a little more forced hydration and a follow up blood pressure reading. Ah, yes, almost back to normal.

In very Thai, or maybe more accurately, very Mae Du style, none of this could happen without some humor thrown in (and thank God for that). Mae Du uses her electronic Thai/English dictionary to write out a series of directions for the cocktail of medications she’s sending me home with. Almost finished labeling the pill packets, she types out a final word and starts to laugh. Handing me the device, she points and says in unmistakably clear English, “pitiful!”

In a way being sick here was the quintessential Thai experience. I felt like an inconvenience that was welcomed with completely able and giving arms. Between the medicine runs, the rides home, the food, water and blankets dropped off right at my doorstep, I was left feeling grateful, pampered, and completely blown away by the kindness of those I’m surrounded by. I hope it comes across as genuine as opposed to cheesy when I say it’s difficult to find ways to express my most sincere thankfulness.

Moral of the story (and anyone who has any experience with Thai English competitions knows every story has one): if you ever need to be feeling less than one hundred percent, come do it here in Isaan. You’ll feel like the luckiest, most pitiful girl in the entire world.

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