or, Traveling with Kids Self-Test Question 6: Grit
Scenario: It is 4 a.m. You are sitting on a deep, cold, stone windowsill in the bathroom that connects your bedroom with your children’s, in a 18th century colonial hacienda (which you suppose was once very lovely but now shows signs of endemic decay) just outside a very small Quechua village two hours from the city. You were invited to spend the night here by the owner (the mother of your homestay host in the city), who gave you the keys and few directions. No one else is at the hacienda.
For the past two hours you have been a loyal presence beside your child, who has not left the toilet. Bravely, you have held his barf bucket for him while he violently spewed from both ends. He is afraid to go so far as his bed in case he does not have time to return when “summoned”. There is no running water. You have used half a bottle of hand sanitizer and all the precious scrivets of toilet paper you have squirrelled away all week to clean the mess off the floor. At the least the toilet has a seat.
As your brave, stoic child describes the loss of circulation in his legs and his near-total inability to stay upright, you improvise a bed for him on the windowsill, using a blanket and the sheets from your bed. You convince him to lie down and let himself drift into a half-sleep which he desperately needs. You promise him that you will not leave his side, and spend the next hour wondering how you could possibly have gone away overnight without bringing the entire contents of your emergency medical kit. Your plan for the morning had been to return to the city via a famous market town, by catching a camion (flat-bed truck) at 6 am with the campesinos headed that way. (Because it is Sunday, there will be a few of these, but at other times and other days, there is very little traffic out this way.)Without Immodium, your child is unable to be more than an arm’s length from the toilet. How can you possibly go? But without food, drinking water, or an alternate way back, how long can you possibly stay?
In the few days previous you have seen two movies: Love in a Time of Cholera, and The Impossible. If either gives you comfort now, it is only because of the knowledge that things could be so much worse. But then it gets worse.
At 5 a.m. your child awakens crying due to an agonizing pain in his groin. He thinks it is a lymph node, which makes sense, since his have been swollen all week thanks to a storm of attacking biting insects that left him looking like he should be in quarantine. It hurts him so much he swears he cannot move one centimeter to either side. As he describes his pain, you suddenly remember reading in your Lonely Planet Guide about some local, tropical peril that is characterized by “an exquisitely painful swollen lymph node, usually in the groin”. Slipping away from your child for only a minute you find the guide and look it up. Yes, here it is: plague*. At this point your knees start to shake and your stomach leaves you entirely. Time to wake up your spouse.
But what then? What will you do?
A) Give your child a rag to bite down on for the pain (as in the Marquez movie) and carry him screaming to the camion, risking exposure to toxic bodily fluids by all aboard (not to mention the produce destined for market).
B) Send your spouse out into the dark night to search for the caretaker of the property. (First you need to find out where he lives.) Beg the caretaker for the use of his cell phone to summon a taxi from the city. Order the taxi driver to pick up some Immodium from a pharmacy and pay him to wait however many hours are required until your child is fit to travel.
C) Summon the caretaker and ask for the nearest traditional healer. Submit trustingly to whatever he or she recommends.
Answer: None of the above.
Your wise spouse, with the benefit of a few more hours’ sleep than you, suggests first trying Tylenol (which you did bring). Once the pharmaceuticals have worked their magic, the two of you pick up your child by his blankets, sling-style, and move him to a bed, thus achieving a minor (but previously intolerable) shift in his position. Pretending to have more answers than you do, you suggest that he try to assume a more open body position, telling him to think opening-type thoughts while breathing deeply. Miraculously, this works. Something shifts and his pain starts to abate. It is your child who will soon figure out the cause of the pain in his groin (some male readers might already be able to guess correctly): not a lymph node but another roundish body part in the same vicinity that had temporarily left its ordinary place of residence and migrated upward.
Immensely relieved that your child has not, in fact, contracted the plague, and buoyed by the two hours that have passed without any bodily fluids being expelled, you dare to contemplate returning to your original plan. By now the caretaker has arrived to wake you and his wife is boiling water for tea. They suggest a microbus, instead of a camion, as it will be more comfortable. One will be passing by at 6:30. With little more than a prayer to Pachamama you embark on the micro which soon fills to capacity (you count 34 people aboard). Aside from the old man next to you falling asleep on your shoulder, it is an uneventful (and extremely scenic) trip.
By the time you arrive back at your homestay (looking like death warmed over) your child has regained all of his colour, appetite and energy, leaving you alone to crash into bed and sleep the whole nightmare away.
*absolutely 100% true. Look it up.
Photos: Walking through the little village of Candelaria on the way to the hacienda (just a moment earlier the women shown in photo had been looking and pointing after the kids); the dining room at the hacienda (note kitchen fire on left).
Top of post: scenery on drive back to Sucre via Tarabuco.