Disclaimer: I tell stories. Oftentimes long and verbose stories. If you are one who would normally leave the room or tune out as the first syllables of “did I ever tell you about” burst forth from my mouth, then do not waste your time with the following. I do not take offense. In fact, I very much understand. But for those of you, who work in front of a computer and are paid hourly (carpet dealer employees withstanding) or those who enjoy the occasional Dominic story (time intensive as they may be) I think you’ll like this one…
I had some bad meat last week. That came as no surprise. Gastrointestinal issues due to inadequately prepared meat are an inevitability in the Peace Corps. So much so that the organization devotes a full hour-long training session to its prevention and treatment. I will not horrify you with the gruesome details of my body’s defensive strategy in regards to this unwanted intruder (a sausage foolishly purchased from a fly-by-night street vendor) only say that it was multi-pronged and persistent. In the parlance of today’s military tacticians one would certainly categorize it as bodily “shock and awe.” None of this was a surprise though. What was a surprise was the concurrent battle of accepted western medical strategy and traditional Armenian opinions on such matters.
I will begin by stating that Caucasian women are of hearty stock. Don’t let western gender roles fool you. This fight was evenly matched. Especially when one considers my lack of communicative skills and relative cultural timidity. She definitely had “home court advantage” so to speak.
It began with my sprint to the bathroom at 3 o’clock in the morning to orally relieve myself of the aforementioned sausage (and seemingly every other food stuff I had consumed since my arrival in country.) My Tateek (or Armenian grandmother) who is the unchallenged head of the household, heard this mad rush to the bathroom. Out of concern, or I suspect fearing that the integrity of her own cooking was being questioned by this amerikatsi, she proceeded to camp out near the bathroom and listen in to my vomitous revelry. But stand idly by she could not. Maternity is an urge ground deeply into the fiber of all female kind, western feminism be-damned. The battle lines were drawn.
After what felt like hours of lying on the cool tile floor of the bathroom and thanking my lucky stars that I did not get placed in Africa, and so had a flush toilet and these oh-so-cool ceramic tiles to press my face against, I emerged from the bathroom battered, broken, and in dire need of water and place to lie down. But my Tateek had other plans. I will not try to explain the reasoning behind her methods, only put them to paper (or the 21st century blog informed equivalent) for my humble readership.
She had prepared a large wash basin of scalding hot water with laundry detergent in it. The reader may be understandably asking themselves why? I would caution that these sorts of questions emanate from a western paradigm not understood by the antagonist, and are best left unasked. She proceeded to forcibly (which was not difficult in my state) sit me down and place my bare feet and hands in this basin. Hopefully one can envision this scene, aware that I’m a full grown man! It took me a few seconds to realize the damage that was being done to my skin by this devil’s brew as I had other things on my mind (namely the sensation of 13 teenagers playing with BB guns inside my steel drum of a stomach). As my body’s natural protective measures took precedence and informed me that the skin of my four extremities was being done irreparable harm, I naturally tried to pull away. That was when I realized my Tateek had placed herself, face down, on top of my slumped body, and placed all the weight of her sizable body on top of my slumped-over back. She did her best to forcefully hold my hands in the water. At this point she began splashing the water up onto my legs, arms and body. Some might be picturing me in the proper night attire, or maybe a pair of boxers. But no, due to capacity constraints I had packed nothing of the sort. Conforming to societal norms and refusing to leave my room without the proper body parts covered I was wearing slacks and an untucked dress shirt, both of which were now soaking wet.
Round 1: Tateek
It was quite the struggle. As my fighting spirit gained traction more of my senses came to the fore and I became aware that not only was she lying on top of me but she was screaming strange Armenian things at me simultaneously. I, not willing to afford my enemy modes of attack that I didn’t have, began yelling back. The tide of battle was turning. I did not yell the sort of fluent Armenian phrases one might imagine after well over a month of intensive language training, but opted for well traveled English blaspheme. As I gained the advantage of the removal of my second hand from this tiny scalding hot bucket of hell, I realized that my head had been forced below my body by her left forearm for far too long. I could feel the bile swiftly rising, and hear that the whole house was awake due to the screaming.
Fully aware of the consequences I mustered all my strength for one last attack. This was not going to be some sortie, some flanking maneuver, but more closely associated with Hitler’s last European thrust. And my bile-induced watering mouth was not going to allow it to be remembered as just some “Bulge”, but a victory.
I exploded upwards and obviously caught my Tateek off guard. How could she have expected someone of my stature to detonate with such force? But such is the story of battle. Ordinary men doing extraordinary things. Her body was flung against the wall and fell, mercifully on some unfolded towels. I made my dash for the washroom door. I nearly made it unscathed, only her outstretched arm managed to grasp my left ankle which I was easily able to shake.
Round 2: America
I made it to the bathroom in time to not only fulfill my the lately held fantasy of my stomach to be rid of what ever else it possessed, but to lock the door. My Tateek was at the door screaming before the dry-heaving even began. The force of her “knocking” if it could be so categorized, made me convinced that the hinges were going to break. But if there is one thing that Soviets were good at fabricating it was metal hardware. And thank goodness. I stayed in my coolly tiled fortress until I believed the whole house to be asleep. How foolish was my faith.
As I exited the bathroom, only desiring my water bottle so as to drink, my Tateek appeared with a tea of some sort. I asked her what it was and she motioned that it would help settle my stomach. Preferring whatever she would offer to the currently prevailing flavor in my mouth, and ignoring the pungent scent or the tea, I obliged and took it down only to find a mush of grass and leaves at the bottom of the cup. I looked at the kitchen counter and noticed her ingredients. They were instantly recognizable as the grasses from the pens of our cohabitating cows and pigs. It’s a very small pen. I gotta think that the herbs she wanted were just out of season, or she is writing her own blog about this event and she, and many Armenian diaspora are laughing heartily at the gullibility of Americans.
Round 3: Tateek
This predictably caused a new batch of vomiting. I emerged to find that I could not locate my Water bottle. My Tateek noticed my search and (referring to the specially filtered water that all Peace Corps are mercifully given) informed me that “your water is bad”. As she offered me more tea, I realized that she was more than capable of stealing my water bottle and hiding it. I decided that this sort of insurgency warranted more covert action. I retired to my room, graciously declining the tea.
Round 4: Tateek
I lay in my bed for 45 minutes, but it seemed so much longer. The taste of bile, grass, and the manure of various animals in one’s oral cavities definitely extends the perception of time passing. Flashlight in toe, I finally snuck out of my room and stealthily moved to the kitchen area. After searching numerous cabinets I finally found it. She had hidden my water bottle behind the crock pot, inside the large colander. I suppose I should have looked there first. The sweetness of the first drink was only lessened by the flicking on of the Kitchen lights. I didn’t even look to see who it was. I just scurried to my room and locked the door. I still had the colander. I needn’t tell you how important that became when my stomach revolted again less than an hour later.