Throwing up twenty-one times in twenty-four hours stinks. Being able to drag oneself two flights up to the hotel roof, however, and look out at the sawtooth karst mountains and glistening river of Vang Vieng, Laos… well, that eases the pain somewhat.
I think it was the squid soup that did me in, but who knows. A traveler is bound to get sick in some way at some point, and we all knew it would happen sooner or later. The miraculous upside is that such downturns can ultimately help a gal reflect and reassess for the better. It’s happened before.
My second year of teaching in Boston was brutal. I won’t go into the details now because they still make me too upset, but suffice it to say that come February 2005, I was hellbent on quitting. Confidantes tried to talk me out of it, but I was sad and hurt and just wanted to run.
Then, after one and a half years of never taking a sick day, I got smacked with the flu and was laid up in bed for three days. For the first time in forever, I had time to stop and think– to get a little perspective.
When I came back to work, the results of the do-or-die MCAS state test had come back, and all of our students had passed. “Thank you so much for helping us do it, Miss!” the kids squealed, welcoming me back with bear hugs, almost crying with relief.
Oh! Everything changed. We started to appreciate each other.
The year finished, better and better each month, and for the next four years I absolutely adored my job and the students. And I still do! Together, we figured out how to make the whole “learning” thing work… and we figured out how to care for each other.
This is to say that it’s not necessarily a bad thing that I was yuking like crazy for the past day here in Vang Vieng. It has forced me to lie back for a spell and realize: “I’m a little exhausted after three months of two to three days in each town! Maybe I need to find a place soon to set down some small roots, even for just a few weeks. Maybe it’s time to get to know people and places a bit deeper, again.”
It took until about five at night yesterday before I could walk again. Dizzy, but mobile, I crawled down to the river bungalow inhabited by my 30-hour-bus-from-Hanoi-bonded friends. While I swung like a jellyfish in their porch hammock, they patted my head and soothed my hurt a bit.
Night fell and I inched back along the rickety river bridge to my hotel, where some bad American television was playing in the lobby. A Lao man and an Australian lass with scrapes all over her face from tubing down the river were there, too, and it was healing to talk with them. The woman guided me to finally put something in my stomach: a bit of bread and a lot of water. On advice of friends and family back home, I started taking Cipro antibiotics.
“The Family Guy” flickered off after the third episode and the hotel owner turned on his favorite Simon and Garfunkel CD. The voices harmonized through the dimly lit lobby:
“Tonight I’ll sing my songs again, I’ll play the game and pretend… But all my words come back to me, in shades of mediocrity, like emptiness in harmony… I need someone to comfort me… homeward bound…”
I felt sad and missed home. Suddenly, something nudged my leg, and I looked down. The owner’s tiny, grubby white kitten had leaped onto the couch and was snuggling right up against my dirty shorts! She looked straight up at me and meowed, then cuddled closer to my warmth.
The baby kitten didn’t know me, but when people are going in and out of your life at such a heartbreaking pace, you take warmth and comfort where you can.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!