In Peace Corps you come to terms with many things. And some things you may never come to terms with. For me, the risk of parasites has always been a pervading worry in my mind. Not a trip to the bathroom has gone by without me inspecting my poop in the toilet; a very sad, but true, fact of life.
I eat a large quantity of bean sprouts here – mostly they come in my morning soup although lately my host sister has been making stir fry with them. These sprouts are sometimes over 2 inches long and in their transparent and whitish color, it makes them hard distinguish whether or not they are parasites. Standing over the squat toilet, staring and scrutinizing over your poo can really make you crazy. It was a particular day last week- with some very questionable looking poops- that I became very worried. And no matter how long I stared at them, poked them with a stick, or swirled them around in the bowl, I couldn’t come to a concrete conclusion.
I thought about my options. I could put it in a Ziploc bag and take it with me to Phnom Penh the following week. Gross. I could touch it and compare its consistency with that of a bean sprout. NO WAY. So time wore on. And time in a mosquito filled bathroom feels like eternity. As each minute passed, I was increasingly becoming more anxious about the whole thing. Finally I made the decision to bring my host mother into the bathroom for her opinion. My host mother is a nurse, so I didn’t think it would be too weird to ask her to look at my poop, and as my host mother I’m fairly certain she is used to my eccentricities by now.
Now this is not a normal thing in Cambodian culture – and I have no idea what she thought when I invited her to go to the bathroom with me. When we arrived and I showed her the contents of the bowl, she looked at me with this look of disgust… and curiosity(?)… right before she grabbed the water bucket and flushed my excrement evidence down the toilet. I was a bit shaken up after all this – I mean – wasn’t she taking this seriously? I could be hosting a parasite party in my body RIGHT NOW! After we left the bathroom and went out to the table under the house (where the rest of my host family was sitting) she asked me what I had eaten in Phnom Penh. I said Chinese food. And then she looked into my eyes and asked me if I had eaten any American food.
I must admit, after my Phnom Penh trips I usually come back to site with some major stomach problems. It always worries my host family but then I usually just blame it on the fact that my stomach “no longer recognizes American food”. They laugh and then look relieved that they had not, in some way, inflicted dysentery on me.
This time I got a bit upset that she didn’t believe me. That and because she thought I had somehow ingested a three inch long parasite without my knowledge. I mean, it takes awhile for those things to get that long, right?
Since then, I have kept up with the poop patrol. I haven’t found any other evidence of parasites at play – which makes me happy – and a bit concerned that maybe I’m not looking closely enough. I’ve read enough frightening things on the internet (they can get into your brain! And lungs!) that I will keep up my duty with diligence. Now that I’ve been here over a year and had enough false calls (what do you mean my teeth are perfect? I swear I have a cavity right here!!) that only time will tell.