Thursday, December 3, 2009

Once Upon a Yogurt: Part II

I left you yesterday filled with images of me wholeheartedly embracing street stall food in Indonesia. It was the medium for friendships - a total immersion experience, if you may. The tables were about to turn, and my hardships would begin.

Local Food Takes Its Toll on My Body

One look at myself in a full-length mirror told me the stomach attacks needed to be addressed at once. The face that gaped back made me grimace. I’d lost the sparkle in my eyes. My hair looked dull and lifeless. I sucked in my cheeks but quickly puffed them out again. Oooh. Too scary. As my eyes traveled down the length of the mirror, I saw my clothes hung on me, shoulders sagging halfway to my elbows. The football-sized shoulder pads in fashion back then looked ridiculous on me, as if I'd become a caricature. Even today, James refers to the shoulder-pad phase as "the attack of the shoulder pads." I adjusted my poofy blouse and noticed my collar bone looked so angular it could have served as a geometrical project to be measured. The chords on my neck looked like tubed electrical wires. I turned away from the mirror.

Just then a gurgle sounded and I held my stomach in a too-familiar-motion. I’d been in Indonesia for eight months and had lost fifteen pounds. At twenty-six years of age, my total body weight came to a mere eighty-five pounds. In today’s world that would smack of anorexia. But back then, excited to be living overseas, we all knew I’d just taken in a bit too much of the local cuisine and couldn’t seem to keep anything inside for long. Montezuma had left Mexico, crossed hemispheres (without virtue of a passport) and was exacting its revenge upon me!

When the problems lingered on for yet another month, big motherly Meryl put her foot down. She approached me after a terrible, sickly day at work, “We’re goin’ to the house on Jalan Salam and get your bag. Don't say a word. You’re gonna move in with me until we lick this thing! Ya just need some good American food. That house boy, Eddy, doesn’t boil your dishes in hot water and that’s why you’re so sick today. Now Lydia, she watches right over our Juju to make sure she boils the dishwater a full ten minutes so they're sterile. You’ll see a difference,” she said kindly as she patted beads of sweat off her brow and upper lip.

I winced at her description of our Javanese house boy, Eddy. He suited me and the few teachers who lived with me on Jalan Salam just fine.We lived simple lives. Eddy spoke no English so having him there forced us--well, I guess I wouldn't use the word force--because at least for me, it was an adventure communicating with our kind houseboy. He laughed at my mistakes, or called on "Mr James" to clarify when I simply couldn't get my point across. Eddy taught us a lot about the local culture, too. We suited Eddy as well. He was always agreeable to run our personal errands, usually to the post office, or to pick up satay kambing at the end of a long work day for a bit of extra cash. I'd never have traded Eddy for anyone else.

But just then Meryl's offer lifted a weight off me. It was time to experience some luxury at the fortress.

“Sure I’ll come,” I said gratefully. I was ready to endure anything to feel well again, even Lydia's sour disposition.

Read tomorrow's entry to find out why I was so ill!

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