Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bad Bada Recovery Deepens Strong Bonds

SICKNESS: It was another ideal morning in the coastal village of Thalpitiya. The skies were a brilliant blue and warm breezes blew fresh ocean air. The song of birds rejoiced in the beauty of the morning - yet I lay in my bed under a sheet shivering with the chills and a fever.
I stared out my window at the foliage and palm trees swaying and the aroma of coconut oil from my akka cooking in the kussiya (kitchen) was potent in my bedroom. Instead of enticing my appetite for the delicious Sri Lankan cuisine I have come to know and love, this time the scents induced feelings of nausea.

Sickness had overcome my body and mind, disturbing and distracting me in every way possible. I wondered if I would survive. I had not been able to eat or drink for days now, and even the thought of sitting up exhausted me. I felt utterly alone. Still, there was something that kept me going: the care and love of my host family.

Akka entered the room with a bucket of hot water and a cup of something she promised would help me to feel better. She sat next to me on my bed and spoke softly in Sinhala as she dipped a cloth into the water.

I felt some sense of relaxation from the cloth pressing in circular motions around my face and my neck. She helped me to turn over and rubbed my shoulders and back, relieving the tension in my muscles. The thought of anything entering my body was painful, yet, I trusted her, with a warm smile that touched my heart, she handed me a hot cup of liquid and fragrant spices.
My three host siblings entered the room and sat around me. I sipped the drink, rich with a flavour that tingled my taste buds. Loku nangie took the cup from me and akka helped me to lie down and cover me with the sheet. I settled into my pillow, which was soaked with tears and sweat.

My eyes closed as I lay still, feeling mildly better in the presence of my host family. I prayed for my health to return and I gave thanks for having people here who cared about me. Once I got better, for the sake of my health, I promised to better understand my body’s ability to adapt to its environment.

You see, I used to drink the tap water of my host family’s home in Thalpitiya. I thought it was a gesture towards them to show how I wanted to be like one of them-that I was committed to being a member of the household.

I also thought my body could handle it, as it had when I had lived in Senegal, where I experimented with drinking the water little by little over two and a half years until my body didn’t know the difference. Yet this time my body reacted differently to being forced to adapt to the unfamiliarity.

When I first arrived at my host family’s home in February, I followed the advice of a fellow graduate student and friend. I added three drops of bleach per litre of water and let it sit for 30 minutes, which would apparently kill whatever could make me sick. My host family was surprised at first that I did not drink the same water they did. I explained that my stomach was not familiar with the water, yet.

I sensed them feeling hurt or even offended. After several weeks of drinking bleached water, I felt inspired to experiment with drinking untreated water just a little at a time, to let my stomach adjust. I wanted so much for my family to know I was willing to adapt to their lives. I thought that by drinking their water they would see my intentions and accept me.

The first day my family watched me fill a glass of water from their tap, they smiled and nodded approvingly. I felt proud of not having to be a burden on them or my neighbors, either by asking for them to boil water or insisting that I drink my own bleached water. I sensed a bond of trust slowly developing through such small gestures as sharing the same water.

Then one day I became completely sick-the kind of sickness that takes over an entire body and mind. My akka took me to visit the local doctor, who was kind and patient. He tried prescribing several medicines, yet they didn’t improve my situation.

The one thing he was certain of was that I had something inside me that was making me ill, and most likely it came from the drinking water.

I was in bed for days as my body tried in vain to overcome what had invaded it. While the healing process was a difficult one, it was a time that I am truly grateful for.

The strong bond that I had already formed with my host family only deepened during my recovery. My akka, aiya, malli and nangies took incredible care of me - care that eventually led to me rebuilding my strength. On the hour, the family brought me medicine and sang to me, as my akka rubbed me down or massaged my temples with a hot cloth, tiger balm and loving care. They brought me boiled water with cheer, happy to bring me something that agreed with my bada (stomach).

On my first healthy day, my akka sent me to the beach for fresh air with my two nangies. She smiled and embraced me when we came back and told me I had ratu paata (red colour) in my cheeks again. Exhausted, I leaned on my giggling host sisters and I smiled back. At that moment, I felt so thankful to have this family in my life.

I remembered my promise to myself and decided to expand its scope. I once again vowed never to force my physical body-nor my mind-to adapt to its environment as I realized how my relationship with my host family was developing at its own natural-and wonderful-pace.


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