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Blog in the Time of Cholera | Manolo for the Big Girl

Blog in the Time of Cholera

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.

Aghast.

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.

11 Responses to “Blog in the Time of Cholera”

  1. Bethany April 20, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

    Isn’t it crazy? My mom would get excited after I had been sick. Not because I had been sick, of course, but because I would lose weight whenever I was sick.

  2. Ellen W. April 20, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    Cholera is Grade A Serious Business and I’m really glad you’re okay. I’m also impressed that you’re keeping it real by not getting sick in some tawdry ordinary way, as a tourist might, but by going out and getting something most Americans think of as something only encountered in Victorian children’s stories (Secret Garden) and Peace Corp missions.

    But, and I want to stress this, but this doesn’t mean you should now go and get TB or scurvy or any other dread literary disease. You are bringing shrimp and grits to the needful and that’s an important job.

  3. Muscato April 21, 2012 at 4:39 am #

    Good lord! I’ve lived in some dicy places and so far have escaped any big GI trouble (worst ever actually was a couple of weeks after I got back to DC from living in West Africa, thanks to an incautious oyster). Glad you’re better.

    And totally am with you on the joy of living in a less size-paranoid place. In Ghana, the nicest thing anyone can say to you after you’ve been away is (with an admiring gaze), “Oh, you’ve gained weight!” I also used to tell local colleagues there (after a couple of traumatic experiences) that they really shouldn’t say to newly arrived American women things like, “Goodness, but that dress makes you look sooooo fat!” (meant, of course, in the most positive way imaginable).

  4. coffeeaddict April 21, 2012 at 8:04 am #

    I’m just glad you’re all right and I’m happy to hear that in some parts of the world people still have a heathly perspective on how negative weight lost due to illness is. So lots of fluids and overpriced fruit to repair the mineral and vitamin imbalance.
    Happy weekend!

  5. the misfit April 21, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    Glad to hear you’re feeling better. Mangoes don’t carry any sort of food poisoning, do they?

  6. AnthroK8 April 21, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    Ellen W., I think you might win Comment of the Year: Awesome Category. So sweet and funny at the same time.

    Literary illnesses to be avoided addendum:

    Wasting disease
    Brain fever
    Unfortunate fall from a horse at an inconvenient time
    Childbed fever

  7. BrooklynShoeBabe April 21, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    Damn! Sorry you were ill. I thought Cholera went the way of Small Pox. :-( Maybe it is a mom thing, but if I notice anyone I love who has lost a tremendous amount of weight quickly, my first response is “Are you ill?” Maybe that’s just as offensive as the “you look great, did you lose weight?” question.

  8. raincoaster April 21, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

    Wow, I’m so sorry to hear that it wasn’t just some persistent, minor bug but a Major Enemy of Humankind that put you out of commission. Of course, it WOULD take that to put you out of commission.

    You and I should get together over a nice beef meal and compare seafood maladies. I’ll bring the listeria if you bring the cholera. Mine sounds like a fragrant climbing plant; yours sounds like a horse show ring in Costa Rica.

  9. dcsurfergirl April 22, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

    Hope you are feeling much better.

    Before my senior year of high school, I got a bad stomach virus and I lost 10 pounds. I was psyched. My mom was over the moon.

    I decided to see how much weight I could lose over the summer. I gave up so much stuff and exercised while watching TV. I wore out a calorie counter book. At the end of the summer, I lost twenty additional pounds. I couldn’t believe it. Mom got happy buying me new clothes.

    When I got to school, the girls at my school kept bugging me to lose more weight. They thought I needed to lose about twenty more pounds. One of my teachers thought I lost weight too fast and thought I might be anorexic. My school uniform was three sizes too big so I had to use safety pins to keep it from falling off. During a routine check-up, my doctor found I was anemic from my dieting.

    Sometimes you just can’t win.

    Stay healthy, OK?

  10. Lisa from SoCal April 23, 2012 at 12:56 am #

    I got a nice dose of the similar from seafood in Mozambique–from a five-star restaurant–when we were doing work trying to make the water safer in various village locations after flooding. Awe.Some.

  11. Ellen W. April 23, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

    Thanks AnthroK8! I think Scarlet Feaver and grippe should be on that list too.