When moving to a foreign country, there will be a season of adjustment. Culture, language, driving, everything will be a shock to the system. And most people know that the food will be different and take a little while to get used to. I found that when I first moved to my host country that the food unsettled my belly fairly regularly. Something about the spices, the oil, the frying, I don’t know exactly what it was, but it took my system a few months to fully adjust.
One night after completing a unit in language school, my friend and I decided to go to a nice restaurant to celebrate. They touted American food and had a very pleasant setting, so we went and ordered salads, fried mozzarella and soup (three very not-normal foods in our host country). It was inexplicably delicious.
We lived less than two miles from this restaurant, but traffic in SE Asia can be quite terrible, and it was nearly a fifteen minute drive home. Shortly after getting into the car, my belly cramped with that telltale shooting fire that grips your body as a whole and immediately shoots adrenaline through your veins and sends you into a cold sweat. I was driving. I braced myself against the steering wheel, floor board and seat and looked at my friend with terror in my eyes and said, “I have to go”. Not understanding the seriousness of the situation, the response was cool, “You can make it home.” Waiting at the stop light the grasp of fire on my lower abdomen started to subside and I thought to myself, “Yes, I can make it home!”
Five minutes, and about 100 feet later, my body again was gripped by the pain of impending diarrhea and I couldn’t move. I started frantically looking around, not knowing what I was going to do. My host country does not have rest stops along the side of the road. The restaurants, for the most part, are little shanties that are often connected to people’s homes. You are not allowed to just waltz in and use the bathroom! What do people do here if they have to go?! Mostly just go get in the river, I suppose. Men go publicly on the street, but where do the women go?!
My friend, still thinking it to be a normal upset stomach, consoled me that we were only a mile from home. Yeah, a mile. But no less than ten more minutes. Much to my amazement, however, it again subsided and traffic began to roll. Slowly. As we rounded the turn into our village (still a good five minute obstacle course from the house), my stomach cramped, the sweat began to flow, and my body froze. I was incapable of even moving my foot to hit the brake and the car just slowly drifted to the shoulder of the road and bumped to a stop against the concrete barrier. My friend knew this time. Reaching in the back seat of the car and grabbing the frisbee my friend slid it under my rear end and said, “If you have to go, then just go”.
Much to my horror and completely apart from my control, my body released the fiery lava it was holding. There is no word to describe how I felt. My belly hurt. I was crying. My pride was demolished. And I was frozen there in the driver’s seat, afraid to move, holding this now full frisbee against my rear end. My friend had to get out, pick me up while I grasped the frisbee with all my might, and move me to the back seat in order to drive us the rest of the way home.
Unfortunately, we lived in a little village where we could not drive all the way to our house. We had to park about fifty feet down the street. Not only that, but the local children had asked us to pick up some laundry detergent for them so they could do their chores, and they were anxiously awaiting our return. So we made it home. I had to waddle fifty feet down the path, holding the frisbee against my backside, as the children ran out of their homes excited to see the foreigners and also to retrieve their detergent, yelling “Miss Alison” in their normal chant-like form. With only a few months of language under my belt I did not yet know how to politely say, “Not right now”, so I ignored them. I made my way inside to peel off my layers of filth, and then took the most miserable cold shower in the history of mankind.
The moral of the story? Always keep a frisbee handy. Many foreign countries do not play frisbee, so you can teach your new friends a fun sport, but you never know when you will need it in the event of an emergency.
Your belly will adjust! You will love the food. Oh, and you will learn that in some countries, if you need to stop to go to the bathroom, you just stop at the mosque – as they line the street every few hundred feet!
I’m almost afraid to ask, do you have a horror story you want to share?