Saturday, April 26, 2014

April Showers

There are seasons in life that are a lot more challenging than others. They’re the moments or strings of moments that really break you down, make you think, and challenge you in new ways.

April was quite the season.

The most frustrating part of the last thirty days was not the nausea. It wasn’t the full body rash or the 104-degree fever. It wasn’t being bed ridden, having horrible insomnia or the knee injury I sustained because my joints are so weak.

The hardest part? It was slowing down and giving up control. My body was telling me I needed to stop, but my head was saying “What if people are mad because you’re not working? You’re letting your students down by not being able to teach them. People are going to think you’re lazy or faking it. Push through it. You’ll be fine.” But every time I tried to push through, the virus relapsed. Every time I tried to be better before I was better, I was knocked right back down. Which, if I can be completely honest, was super frustrating.

But being sick for an entire month as taught me a few things:

1. It’s okay to receive help. I do not like inconveniencing people. I try to avoid it at all costs, but when I got sick so many people wanted to know how they could help out. I had offers for food, laundry, cleaning my house. I didn’t want to be needy so I politely declined at first, but then the sickness got worse and I had to start saying yes. Neighbors brought over food, gave me rides to the pharmacy/hospital, people prayed for me, and many went out of their way to make sure I was okay. It was super humbling and looking back I feel very grateful for the people in my life here.

2. I cannot do everything. Not working was really hard. I live on the school campus so every day I heard my students’ laughter and the sounds that accompany learning going on. And not being a part of that was really hard. Talk about your FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). It became a daily struggle knowing that I needed to rest but so badly wanting to be in the classroom playing silly games and giggling with my students.

3. My health is more important than work. While I was sick my co-teachers checked on me every day. Fefe puke? (How’s your sick?) was the daily question. I think they could see how frustrating it was for me to be stuck in my house. They kept saying, “Do not worry. We are fine. The kids will learn. You need to rest. How can you teach if you’re dead?” This is true. And these conversations reminded me a lot of teaching in the States and the (unhealthy) habits I developed surrounding sickness and work (I would often go into work when I probably should have stayed home and rested).

4. Be grateful for everything. I had to dig really deep the last month in terms of finding little things to be grateful for. Not having much of an appetite, not talking to many people, and spending hours and hours bed ridden is tough on the mind, but I felt a shift in my health once I started picking small things that I was grateful for. At one point I was even grateful for the sickness itself because it was a reminder of how I take my health for granted. Resting also gave me an opportunity to reflect on my Peace Corps service and the memories and “gifts” I will take with me when I leave this place.

I really believe that within every situation or season in life, there is a lesson to be learned. And even though it was a tough one, I’m glad April happened this way. It’s provided me with a renewed hunger for being here - a chance to refocus and reenergize as I enter the last few months of my Peace Corps service. A fresh start to give love and help others out.

And I’m also reminded of that old saying… how does it go?

April showers bring May flowers.

Here’s hoping that May is a bit brighter than April!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chikungunya + Tonga

I'm not deliberately trying to avoid writing on this blog. I wish I had more to write about but recently my life has been filled with a little virus called chikungunya

Part of the living abroad experience includes getting introduced to all sorts of foreign microbes and hoping that your immune system gets strengthened in the process. 

[Side note: I'm hoping that the above statement is true and that I return to America with an immune system as strong as Thor because I'm so over being sick.]

A few weeks ago the students at my school (and teachers too) started talking about how their family members were coming down with the measles. I felt very sad for them but also felt a little bit of relief that I'd been vaccinated for measles before I came so I didn't have to worry about contracting them.

Turns out it wasn't measles. It's not something I even knew existed and three weeks ago I started showing systems of chikungunya. 

So what is it?
It's a nasty virus that is transmitted to humans via mosquitoes. 

It has various side effects. Some of the ones that I've experienced over the last 21 days are: 
  • Extreme joint pain. Especially in the hands/wrists, knees and feet (a few days ago it took me 20 minutes to type a 5 line email). The joint pain can last up to a few months depending on your age.
  • An acute fever. What does acute mean? Because I'm pretty sure I was rockin' a 104 degree fever at one point.
  • Rash. It's really red and itchy and when you look in the mirror it looks like you got slapped in the face a few times. Your nostrils swell up (didn't know they could do that).
  • Cold symptoms. (Runny nose, sore throat).
  • GI problems. Vomiting and fakalele (diarrhea). I don't need to go into detail here.
  •  Insomnia. Not sleeping stinks ... especially when you're sick.
  • Extreme headaches. Good thing there's ibuprofen.
  • Loss of appetite. Self explanatory.

How does it spread? Mosquitoes. And those little buggers are EVERYWHERE. So I'm wearing bug spray like it's my favorite perfume and hoping that I don't get it again. I've already been sleeping under a mosquito net since the day I arrived in Tonga.

How is Tonga affected? Right now, the Ministry of Health Director here in Tonga estimates that 10,000 people have been affected and that number will only go up. To learn more, click here for an article from ABC news.

How has my direct community been affected? A lot of my students have missed school, every single one of my teachers has had it (luckily at different times so we were only down 1-2 teachers a time). 

My community seems to be through the worst of it, but I'm not a health professional so who knows. I'm feeling better, too. I'm moving slow, still have hints of a rash and am gaining my appetite back. I'm grateful for good friends who brought me food since it hurt to sit up and for my students who woke me up every morning with "Hello Mandy! 'Ofa 'atu!" (Love to you) 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Rainy Day Ramblings.

This post is going to be all over the place.
View from my front door. 4/1/14.
First, I've been sick for the last four days and today is the first day that I've been upright for more than 20 minutes. Imagine getting every symptom of every flu/virus/bug imaginable and you can very easily describe my last 72 hours. I don't need to go into any more detail than that. It was bad. My fellow teachers and neighbors took care of me - checking to make sure that I had what I needed and that I wasn't passed out next to a cockroach or anything.

Silver lining? I was able to catch up on the entire current season of American Idol and (oh my!) it's good. Honestly, I haven't watched since Kelly Clarkson won which was 10+ years ago so it was fun to get back into it. Harry Connick, Jr. is a hunk and I'm definitely Team Dexter and Team Caleb. Really like those guys. Speaking of American Idol, have you heard Phillip Phillip's "Raging Fire". I know I live under a rock but I don't think it came out that long ago and it's another tune that I like dancing to. My students do too.

Because of being sick, this week was kind of a mess. Monday and Tuesday were normal school days and Wednesday was the GPS Sport Day (click here to read Harrison's perspective). I dressed in green, had my hair braided and rode the bus to the field, but only lasted about 30 minutes before I knew something was wrong. I grabbed a ride back to my house and ended up with a 102 degree fever that kept rising throughout the day.

Other interesting bits?

- Plumming problems. Last week I was checking on a friends' house while they were in Fiji and realized they needed some plumbing issues resolved. I called a plumber who spoke very little English, got him to come over, he fixed the problem and left. 5 minutes later he came back, knocked on the door and decided to take a #2 in the toilet just to make sure his plumbing job worked. Oiaue! Only in Tonga.

- Bye, bye, spider. Last night I killed the biggest spider to date. He was larger than my hand and I have big man hands for a girl. I felt pretty proud. I didn't even scream or yell anything.

- Self acceptance. My mom sent me this great article to read. Thought you might like it too.

- This whole next week we don't have school. I think I'd consider this our "fall break" since the school year only started a couple months ago. The kids are very excited and I'm even more pumped because we have some fun adventures planned as Peace Corps Volunteers and I'm excited to spend more time out and about in my community.

Happy Weekend!

Port of Refuge. Saturday morning 4/5.