First of all, yes, I had Actual Cholera and yes, it’s about as much fun as it sounds.
While cholera has pretty much been eradicated in the US, it’s still alive and kicking in the developing world and kills a whole mess of people each year. It really shouldn’t be fatal, but unfortunately the places where you’re most likely to get cholera are also the places least likely to be able to provide clean drinking water and medical care.
Also, fun fact, the Cholera vaccine we American and European travelers take with our various stabs and jabs before a trip? About 50% effective. Even the superfancypants vaccine in Vietnam drops to about 60% after a few weeks. Yeah, sorta wish I’d known that before I dropped seventy bucks at the pharmacy.
The culprit in my case were some perfectly fresh, perfectly harmless (well, perfectly fresh anyway) Manila clams from the famous Ensenada open air fish market, known to the locals as El Mercado Negro.
No, I don’t know why it’s called the black market, and neither does anyone else I’ve asked. Sure it was on Shark Week last year for selling ground up great white shark as taco meat, but that hardly qualifies it for such a shady title.
Having spent many a formative weekend of my youth visiting the fish markets of Annapolis with my beloved grandfather, I’m a dab hand at seafood selection so I picked a kilo of gloriously meaty smoked marlin, some shrimp for the now-mandatory shrimp and grits (I made the mistake of making it for Hot Latin Boy and friends and now they come around my kitchen with sad faces and empty bowls like little Latino Oliver Twists) and two kilos of happy looking, tightly shut clams, plucked out of the sand just a few hours earlier.
What I wish I’d known earlier was no matter how tightly shut or happy those clams look, eating warm water Pacific bivalves in the spring after an unusually hot winter is Very Dangerous Indeed.
The naturally-occurring cholera bacteria blooms and grows –you’re welcome for that Edelweiss earworm– in a big way in the algae, so those delicious little clams and oysters can’t filter it all and become briny little bacteria bombs destined for your delicate GI tract.
So what does this have to do with being fat?
When I first ventured out of the house after two weeks of atrocities committed on and around my colon, I’d lost a considerable amount of weight and even though vanity forbade me from leaving the house until I was entirely in the pink and camera-ready, both Dona Lupe, the twinkly-eyed little abuela who overcharges me at the fruit market (but not as much as she used to) and Senora Chavez, the stentorian grand dame who sells the best butter in Baja looked at me aghast and said I’d lost weight.
Clearly it would take a lot more than two weeks of high-impact food poisoning to make me look anything close to underweight, but it was surprising and somewhat refreshing to have dropped a dress size through illness and get clucks of concern instead of congratulations.
It all goes back to the Western conditioning that weight loss = good and thin = healthy. Being taken out of that, even momentarily, is jarring.
I’m not going to pretend Mexico is free from societal pressures of thinness, although the models in Mexican Vogue are generally bigger, and the mannequins here all have big juicy J-Lo butts, but it’s nice to see at least two grandmas would still rather see a young(ish) woman fat and healthy than thin and sickly.
She still overcharged me for my mangoes though.