December 10, 2013

A Night in Waspuko Abajo Nicaragua

Between my 1st and 2nd First Year Of Vet School, I spent the summer studying brucellosis and tuberculosis in diary cattle in the buffer zone of the Bosaw√°s Biosphere Reserve in Nicaragua.  I was about as remote as you can get north of the Amazon.  The following is a story about one of the nights I spent at a house in the jungle. (and some old powerpoint slides)


Allegre a Regressar a Siuna…o Informacion Demasiado.

My week was filled with getting up at the crack of dawn, folding my sheets and hammock, eating a breakfast of beans and rice and quehada (the local cheese that’s sort of like feta, only you have to hope it comes from a cow that isn’t infected with the diseases I am studying), mounting my horse and riding all day through mud and rivers, stopping at farms to rope cows, take some blood from their tail vein and give them a subcutaneous PPD shot to screen for TB.  In the afternoon, we would return home or move our things to the next community, eat lunch or dinner (beans and rice and quehada again), and sit around, waiting for dark so we could go to bed.

----At this point, if you are someone who doesn’t like “too much information,” this is your warning to quit reading immediately.  It just gets worse.----

After a week of riding 5 or 10 hours per day, sweating the entire time, I had developed mad saddle sores.  All my myriad bug bites got infected from the mud, sweat, and cow shit, so I had open, red, oozing bumps covering my legs, bikini line and torso.  One of the houses that we stayed at was in a community called Waspuko Abajo, and the house was on the top of a little hill, moated by standing water on 3.5 sides.  That = mosquito haven.  Worse, at the top of the hill, directly surrounding the house was moat of muck.  The muck was comprised of equal parts mud, cow shit, pig shit, chicken and goose shit, trash, dirty dish water, human piss, dog shit, with an even dusting of algae and fungus to top it all off.  The Muck Moat was 20 feet wide and if you fell in, it was shin deep.  There were strategically placed wood planks and plantain trunks/leaves for you to take a running start and hop from one to the next to the house without getting nasty.  Under the house, because it was dry, lived all the animals and the animals’ fleas and other bugs had direct access to us people through the wide cracks in the floorboards.  I slept with my beekeeper’s net on my head, and so my head and neck is the only place without bug bites.  Sleeping in a hammock is not the most comfortable thing in the world, but wasn’t terrible.  There was also a parrot there that whistled songs and imitated horses whinnying.  We thought it was great until he also started to imitate the chickens squawking and the pigs squealing incessantly.

If you have heard my Sleeping At the Masaai Boma story, this runs for a very close 2nd place in the history of Terrible Nights Alyssum Has Had.  It started with hours and hours of the parrot chicken-squawking and pig-squealing before bed.  After dinner, I had to pee, but was not about to brave the Muck Moat after dark.  I set up my hammock, donned my mosquito head-net and climbed in.  Because the family as well as my traveling companions and myself were all sharing a single room, I slept in my “clean” pants (my dirty ones that had 2 cm of mud caked from the knee down were outside hanging to dry a little before the next, the last morning of our week out in the bush).  The culture here includes no concept of “disturbing the peace” and in fact I think silence is somewhat taboo, so the head of the house had his radio going as we fell asleep, and Carlos (the vet student with me) had his radio going as well.  On a different station.  In the same room.  So I had to wait for hours before they finally turned them off.  Then a puppy started whining from hunger pangs under the house.  Whine, whine, whine, puppy squeal.  Sounded like someone was stepping on his tail, except that no one was, and the puppy yelped and whined for hours on end.  I felt like the worst human for being annoyed by a starving puppy's crying.  Eventually he quit, and I just started to fall asleep when the pigs started fighting.  It sounded like I lived in the lake from The Princess Bride with the shrieking eels.  Pigs have the most monstrous, hellish sounding voices, and a chorus of six of them, directly under you is absolutely blood curdling.  On it went, pigs, puppy, puppy, pigs, and I was cursing foully under my breath, “Shut the fuck up!  Goddammit, I can’t sleep!…Stupid fuckers stop it!…Goddamn puppy!”  glad for once my companions couldn’t understand me.  The thing that puts this as 2nd place, rather than 1st with the Masaai, is that I actually did fall asleep at one point.  Unfortunately, it was only long enough to have a dream about luxurious shoes (my leather boots were sprouting 80 types of fungus and mold, and actually the sole fell completely off when I was crossing a river a couple days later), and running to find a bathroom.  So, yes, at the age of 25, I peed in my bed (hammock) because of a dream of going to the bathroom.  I woke up furious and disgusted, and managed to take my pants off, find a piece of cloth to wrap around myself, found my headlamp and braved the Muck Moat to get to the latrine and finish the job.  Next morning, I was faced with Which Pants To Wear.  My dirty pants were not only muddy but also soaked through because it rained in the night, and now my “clean pants” were wet with my urine.  I put off getting dressed as long as possible but eventually had to suck it up and put the “clean pants” on, apologizing to my saddle sores for the insult to injury, and hoping it wouldn’t get hot enough for the smell to reach the noses of my companions.  A few hours later I was checking a cow's tail for evidence of a reaction to the PPD, and--whaddyaknow--she had explosive diarrhea that sprayed me from chest to feet. I thought, “and I was worried about a little human urine on these pants?!”

The Sandanista's colors are black and red.
My legs were red with bug bites and black/hairy.