Typhoid fever sucks. Last week, I woke up at about 3 in the morning. My entire body ached. I thought my eyes were bleeding. I had a fever of 104 degrees, possibly higher at times. In the morning, needing to go to the hospital, I really could not get out of bed. I’ve never felt so sick and so helpless. Well, maybe I have.
As many of you know, I have a very strange and rare disease that affects my bladder. The disease seems to be somewhere in an undiagnosed limbo in between chronic pain and a disease called interstitial cystitis.
When triggered, I experience a lot of pain. However time has done wonders for my affliction. There was a time when there were more foods I could not eat than ones I could. Now, it’s hard for me to find a food that I can’t eat.
The last two years have seen incredible improvement on this front. I used to live in pain, but now pain comes as an inconvenience only a few times a week. I never think about my pain anymore even though it used to define me. I’m so thankful for the improvement. The man upstairs must have been listening to my parents’ prayers.
Looking back, I’ve gone through hell, but it made me stronger, better and more introspective. In that regard, it is so similar to Peace Corps. I would never say the disease was for the best, as I spent one too many showers in the fetal position crying. But I am better for it.
The journey started as I lost my vices: My body, and eventually some specialists told me: no more alcohol. No more preservatives. No more weight lifting. No junk food. Not to mention a couple other Nos that should go unmentioned. This is not exactly the news a soon to be 21 year-old college student wants to hear.
My journey continued with self-pity, which slowly gave way to self-reflection. Pain and uncertainty, especially of the medical kind, has the direct effect of forcing an individual to realize what is important. Sitting in an x-ray room, you don’t want to die. Waiting for a biopsy result you make promises to God, to yourself. There are things in life more important than comfort and ego, I realized. Bigger things than pop culture and sports blogs. These are lessons I keep telling myself.
I said to myself: I’ll be better. I’ll try harder. I won’t not take anything for granted.
Sickness always used to make the disease I have worse. And such was the case the second night of my bout with Typhoid.
I hadn’t had a really bad outbreak in maybe 6 months. But it came hard and left me breathless. These reactions feel like all my nerves around my bladder are firing, and I experience a deep pain throughout my nether regions. In a word it sucks. In two words, it sucks ass.
Worse than the pain, I felt alone. I really shouldn’t. Life in Bonga is really going well right now. Jon, who is basically my brother, just moved from his small town to Bonga. There are two other great Peace Corps volunteers within walking distance. How Bonga went from one volunteer to four in a year is beyond me, but I’m not complaining. I also get a lot of love from the community. I have real friends and the folks have really adopted me as one of their own. I’m very busy with work.
But I was struggling with typhoid and then the pain came. I couldn’t sleep and my phone network was down.
I realized that night that physical pain pales in comparison to mental anguish. I felt alone. In Peace Corps, loneliness and despair are worse than typhoid and malaria. Typhoid and malaria attack your immune system and your digestive system.
I really missed my parents and Carly. I’ve never felt so far away from her, and it’s the worst feeling. During my sickness, I stayed in my house for four straight days, feeling sorry for myself, and waiting by the phone. That is no way to live.
But as Peace Corps volunteers this is sometimes our reality. Loneliness is a constant struggle, an internal one. Even surrounded by loving friends and neighbors I still miss home. Loneliness is certainly inevitable. We fight it with denial, humor and skype. It can be fought locally, through extroversion, but all the locals in Bonga can’t rid it entirely. Rather, we have to embrace it. Our collective loneliness is our identity. It is what gives returned Peace Corps volunteers a sense of calm. We understand ourselves because we were stuck with ourselves for so long. We can appreciate people more because we’ve missed them so much. We’ll come home with more appreciation, more love, and more understanding. I’ll be a better friend, a better brother, a better boyfriend. We’ll appreciate our mothers and ice cream. We’ll appreciate our friends and public water fountains.
Again my pain caused me to reflect on what I have, and who I was becoming. I am so lucky. I have the greatest family, friends and a girl that challenges me in the best way.
Despair is more difficult to diagnose. It manifests itself in different ways, and can cripple the spirit. It has come to me in waves. For the symptoms you have to look at yourself in the mirror. For me, it is giving up. There are so many things I’ve wanted to do here. I blame my inability to do them on others, when it really was my own fault. There is no use trying to win that grant, getting anything done here is impossible, I would tell myself. This is an epidemic of the mind that affects all of us volunteers. But what I believe now is that we have to fight it. By giving up on a goal, we affect not only ourselves but also the people we were called upon to serve. No one joins Peace Corps with low ambitions. Our idealism is what makes us unique, and we can’t lose it. Unfortunately some goals are too lofty, and too difficult given the social and political circumstances. But that doesn’t meant that I can’t try harder. It’s not fair that I have gotten more out of this experience than Bonga has.
These were the realizations I had as I slowly recovered in bed. In the past few days I have become more productive. My goal is to work tirelessly until I see some real results in Bonga. I’ve realized that in my natural state, I feed off of stress and responsibility. Give me a ton of work and I thrive. With little pressure and my own excuses I perish.
So this week I finished the Peace Corps newsletter, and I am almost finished with two grants to help the school. I’ve been teaching more, and even started a local English club. I’m working on some brochures for eco-toursim development and have had very successful meetings. I don’t want excuses any more. I want work, and I’m finding the right people to help me accomplish my goals.
Ciproflaxin, bless its heart, cured my typhoid. The cure for loneliness is embracing it and learning from it. As for despair, a simple promise is the best medicine:
I’ll be better. I’ll try harder. I won’t take anything for granted.