Thursday, December 1, 2011

We close with humility, visceral humility

[I left Pohnpei on November 8, 2011. True to form, I'm updating my blog about one month late. What's unique about this post, though, is that it will be my last.]

Leading up to my departure, I was flying high. Full of emotion, excitement, fear and all sorts of conflicting desires. I was amped up. Between my host family and my friends on island, I must have had 5 or 6 goodbye parties. For two whole weeks, we went on picnics, had feasts & dinner parties, and made speeches & toasts. I laughed, cried, hugged lots of people, and shook lots of hands. I got thanked for my service many times, and tried to articulate my deep gratitude for everything that had been given to me. In my mind I knew how lucky I was to have lived my experiences on Pohnpei, how much I loved my island family, and how much I would miss them when I got home.

But as fate would have it, my appreciation got a whole lot deeper.

If you follow other PCV blogs, I'm sure you've heard stomach bug horror stories. Amoeba. Parasites. The whole nine yards. Well, I almost got through my Peace Corps service completely unscathed by this nonsense. Almost. During my last 48 hours on island, however, it was my turn.

I think what happened is that I overloaded my schedule, didn't eat or sleep enough which sucker-punched my immune system, and subsequently caught a silly bacterial infection that was going around the island. The Peace Corps doctor thought it could have been stress-related. My host mother thought maybe I had eaten something that had been contaminated by flies ... food from somewhere other than our house, obviously. Maybe all of these explanations are true. Regardless, two days before I was scheduled to fly away, I became a complete invalid.

Afterwards, a chipper fellow PCV quipped that I was basically losing fluids through every orifice of my body. I'll narrow that description to just the ups and the downs of my digestive system. But it certainly did seem that my body was on a mission to rid itself of fluids, violently and unrelentingly. I was a mess, my strength had abandoned me, and I couldn't rely on myself anymore.

And that's where my host family comes in. I may have mentioned before that both my host parents are local doctors. Well, once they found out I was sick, they went to work. They gave me plenty of drinking coconuts. They rubbed my back and arms. They even made me a medicinal tea and then mixed in warm coconut water so that it would taste better to me.

It would have worked, too, if I had been patient with myself and sipped the remedies slowly. But I gulped it all down in an effort to expedite my healing. And it all came back up, with a vengeance. But I was not abandoned because I had my host family.

I made a mess of my room; my host mother patiently cleaned up after me. I reported that the Peace Corps doctor asked me to come to the hospital for an IV and some meds; my host father convinced my uncle to lend us his taxi so they could drive me there. Both my host parents accompanied me into the emergency room and sat through the English-language discussion of my symptoms and treatment, even though neither of them speak English fluently. They brought provisions for my overnight stay -- blankets, towels, a bucket for accidents (thankfully not used) -- and they would have stayed with me had I asked them.

After a good night of sleep and a bag and a half of IV fluid, I was feeling stronger. Before I was released from the hospital I had a parade of visitors -- my host sister and cousin, the Peace Corps doctor, and my good friend Suze all made appearances and kept me company. Suze even ran my errands for me and brought me milk crackers, ramen, and gatorade to nurse me back to health.

In a time where I could have been struck by the bad luck and loneliness of spending my last full day on island in the hospital, I never felt unlucky or alone. If anything, I felt inexpressibly grateful for just how cared for I had been, both that weekend and my whole time as a PCV. That day was a representation of my entire Peace Corps experience in miniature: it was something I foolishly believed I could manage by myself that actually taught me how much I need to rely on other people, too. I expected complete independence and instead was schooled in interdependence.

So as I flew away to strike out on my own, I took with me an abiding love and appreciation for the people who have shaped (and will shape) my path.

Kalahngan en Kupweromwail!
Thank you all very much!