One of the first things you are told when you get to staging in the Peace Corps, is that you will be consumed by conversations of poop, puke and parasites. These are your enemies, no matter where in the World you end up. When you go to a completely different continent the food and water are a shock to your digestive system. Add to that unknown parasites and bacteria and you have a wonderful concoction of stories for years to come. If you have a weak stomach you may want to shut this post down. If you find talking about bodily functions disturbing walk away. Otherwise I am going to share with you my experiences in changing biological ecosystems.
Last summer I biked across the continent, and that was a shock to my system as well. I can tell you NUUN tablets will give you diarrhea if you take it often enough. I can tell you that being a vegetarian in the south is not easy. I can tell you that some people do not understand leaving meat out, it gets worse when you change continents. I have found that my food preferences are not that easy to accommodate. I really find this to be odd.
As a vegetarian, I am not often constipated, unless I have consumed far too much dairy. So the idea of being backed up is quite foreign to me. When we arrived in Liberia our diets were no longer in our control. The first couple of weeks we ate only at Doe Palace. Traditional foods with chicken at every meal. I conceded that I had to eat chicken to get my protein until I was moved to my own home, where I looked forward to cooking my own meals. A main staple is rice, which when consumed in mass quantity can cause constipation. Many of my fellow volunteers suffered this and had to get Metamucil sent to them from the Peace Corps Medical Officer. Basic things are unavailable in most villages and must be sent in. Add to this water that has to be treated with chlorine and you have, well painful bellies.
When a volunteer finally had a movement everyone would know. They would be smiling and so much happier. It was very obvious who was having issues and who was not. On the other side of the spectrum is the “runny belly”. I fell into this category. It was not explosive and did not interfere with my day, except that when I had to go, I literally needed to go immediately. In Liberia, there are toilets that are hooked up to septic systems and there are latrines. The ones hooked to septic systems typically require a bucket of water to flush. Latrines are typically a hole in the ground that you just squat to go. For men unless you have a movement it is not so bad, for a woman it is all sorts of messed up. Thankfully I was not forced to such extremes. The beer there adds to the runny belly syndrome, I have found that cider is a nice compromise.
It takes a few weeks to get your body acclimated to the food and the new climate. Once you get used to it, you need to be vigilant against parasites. In Liberia food is not refrigerated and I wondered how dangerous it was, but I did not get any type of food borne illness, but the peppeh may have killed all known bacteria. Peppeh, is a small spicy pepper that is in almost every food cooked. They use it as “spice”. I actually liked it and only a couple of times found it to be too hot.
So this brings a new dimension to the gastro-issues. Now you have runny belly with spice running out of you. It burns going in but not as bad as going out. I fortunately had not experienced any parasites, but I was also not in control of my food. My host family had strict instructions on what to feed me. I originally stated I would eat a small bit of fish but no meat, chicken or bushmeat. In Liberian chicken is not considered meat. It is separated, just like seafood is here. The problem with allowing fish in my food was that I had fish in every meal for two weeks. The fish here is cooked whole, I do not typically like my fish looking or waving at me, let alone both at the same time. I finally got them to stop cooking fish for me, they then just cooked it regular and pulled the meat out of my food. Unfortunately one time I somehow got a piece of chicken foot in my mouth, I very nearly puked in my plate, and although I had reused the beans to make my own meal I was done when that happened.
My gastric adventure was cut short, way too short. Upon arrival back to the states, I have taken to eating almost everything I can put in my mouth. Sadly I am overeating, and I do not care. The problem is now I am backed up. This causes discomfort and distress on my body. After two days I decided to take a laxative. I have seen the enemy and I know its name. It is called laxative and it calls you to the toilet over and over and over again. It causes cramping and discomfort and I have no idea why anyone in their right mind would take these unless necessary. I have been eating salad almost twice a day for a week. I have had decent wine, decent beer and so much dairy in this short week. I have not exercised, in my defence I have been trying to wash all my clothes and unpack my bags. I live with a tidy person, and tidy I am not. I am looking forward to the next week when I will start riding my bike again and search for new adventures. At the moment though, I am dealing with the enemy and it will just take time.
In America we have the benefit of taking a pill for almost all problems, and maybe that is not such a great idea.