I lie in my hostel bunk, surrounded by butterflies. Lovely things, with bright-colored plumage, skimming through the air and landing on top of their impossibly large and complex backpacks, strung with hiking boots, towels, beach mats. Their limbs are long, well-shaped, tanned. They speak together of their adventures, and make plans for the day. I listen wordlessly from behind the tent I have constructed from a sarong. My muscles ache from dehydration. My mouth is dry. I pick at the edge of the sarong, and I know I am a different species here.
I still don’t know what I have. Something gastrointestinal — bacterial, viral, hopefully not something worse. I went to the pharmacist two days ago, and she gave me charcoal pills. They may have helped, but they didn’t seem to help much. Perhaps I didn’t take enough, or I took too many. I couldn’t read the instructions, so I erred on the conservative side.
I’ve tried eating yogurt with live probiotics, but I accidentally bought the kind with added fiber, designed to make you regular, if the drawing on the side is any indication. I looked for sports drinks, but there weren’t any, or at least there weren’t any that were obvious. Apparently sweet fruit juice is not a good idea. I haven’t yet resorted to making my own rehydration salts, although I keep thinking about them, and about how easy it is: water, sugar, salt, and yet diarrhea is still one of the leading causes of death in African children.
When I have gotten everything out of my system, I feel good enough to walk to the 7-Eleven. I find Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, coconut water and mineral water. I eat the corn flakes slowly and gulp the coconut water. Nature’s rehydration salts: you can survive on coconuts. I wish for some chamomile tea with lemon, and some salted, weak bone broth, and many things I have no access to here.
On the fifth day, I feel better. I’m hungry for a meal, so I find a restaurant with a plaque on the wall claiming it serves “clean food,” which is by no means a requirement here if my necessity-fueled investigation into the back corners of cheap restaurants is any indication. The silverware comes wrapped in a protective coating, which seems like a good sign since the table is sticky and humid. I order bottled water, which I drink straight from the bottle, and noodle soup with chicken. I eat the whole giant bowl of it, nearly moaning in pleasure. Nothing ill befalls me, so I try a leg of chicken from a street vendor next. I watch him grill it, which takes awhile, but it satisfies me that it’s done properly, and then he wraps it in a banana leaf and I can consume it without having to worry about the sanitation of any silverware.
It’s so good that I never want to stop eating it.