In the Middle of Nowhere

When I signed up for a spring break service trip to Muchucuxcah, Mexico, they told me we'd be working in an impoverished Mayan village and Western amenities might be lacking.

"How bad could it be?" I thought, "I'll find a way to stay abstinent."

Turns out these people didn't have refrigerators, the closest supermarkets were in cities two hours to the north and south. I was told most of the people spoke only Mayan (they have started learning Spanish, which I know, only recently, to cope with the changing trade market). Phones, both mobile and regular, would not be a luxury I could expect. My leaders told us to pack light, but this was life or death.

I knew my parents would have laughed their heads off at my desire to lug a suitcase full of all the cans, veggies, scales, and cups I would need. So I reached out to GSers near and far and made a two-page list of proteins, veggies, and fruits that would stay edible for a week.

Two days before I left, I wheeled a large duffel bag to the bus station and hiked uphill to the nearest supermarket. I packed [food names] and some 70 single-serving sizes of the vegetable substitute into Ziploc baggies (to flex for both cooked and raw in the worst case scenario) and an oil that is bacteriostatic, i.e., doesn't degrade or spoil.

"What if I get sick and can't eat anything?" I asked my sponsor, and she told me what I could bring for the worst-case scenario. And of course I took anti-diarrhea meds, Pepto-Bismol pills, and heavy-duty bug spray (combing the aisles for abstinent ones) ... the chances of getting good medical care were slim.

As it turned out, I got quite lucky. Each student on the trip was assigned to a host family. Mine quickly got to know my needs; by the second day, they were making me an extra bowl of undressed salad. I schlepped my cans and packets each time and measured it all at the table. All the people were tolerant and accepting, and I was grateful to focus on getting to know them instead of explaining my weird habits.

While others on the trip were dropping like flies from cuisine-related illnesses, I happily ate my canned goods and stayed healthy all week, shoveling, decorating, dancing, and relaxing. We even had a refrigerator in the main hut, so I could preserve my leftovers.

But on the last day, my "healthier than thou" attitude got a reality check. The families, who had been cooking us vegetarian food all week for kashrut reasons, made a big farewell barbecue. They made me special plain grilled protein (truly free-range, the kind that runs around all over their fields) and grilled some vegetables that you could crack open and smell the sweet pulp for miles. I feasted, stayed out too late dancing and saying goodbye to everyone, and then spent all night packing instead of sleeping.

In the morning, the guards found me passed out with no clue how I had gotten across the room. I thought I had fainted and had a concussion, but I seemed okay and we had to get on a plane. I somehow stuffed the rest of my belongings into my suitcase (including all the leftover raws) and made it into the van and plane. The whole flight, I held my stomach and ran between the bathroom and my seat, trying but failing to throw up.

I used up all my emergency "GS foods for illness" (after resenting having to spend money on them because "I never get sick"), and when I landed, it was straight to the hospital. They pumped me with IVs and had me sleep all day, but at least I could finally phone my sponsor (!!) and stay abstinent. A lesson in preparedness and humility all around! 

Desperate As Only The Dying Could Be
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