When I Got Sick Many, Many Days Ago


Dear mom, dad, auntie, and Felix (yes it is your obligation as a decent brother to translate this for them),

I know am writing about getting sick, but that’s only because I was sick a couple days ago. My voice sounded funny over the phone, but I swear I am recovering now and feeling perfectly fine, please do not send me back home from Nepal. I miss you all, and have a happy Chinese new year. 新年快樂!




kay garnay: “what to do?”–a rhetorical question to express letting go of worries under a condition one has little control over.

Today I had daal bhat in bed. And no, it was not really daal bhat, but it was definitely in bed.

Didi entered the room with two metal plates stacked with miniature pots. She placed them on a desk beside me and unloaded a metal cup from the plate.

“Paani.” (water) Clink.

“Bhat.” (rice) Clonk.

She emptied some rice from one of the pots onto the plate. Her hands moved to a neighboring container, and emptied half its contents onto an empty bowl. Soup.


“Dhanyabaad didi.” (Thank you older sister) I muttered, almost choking on the phlegm that filled my lungs. “Swagatam” (you’re welcome) I wish I knew more Nepali to express my feelings.

Today I also skipped Nepali class, 80% of it to be precise. My hands raised hesitantly, and lowered under Saritaji’s (our Nepali teacher) acknowledgement. “Ma… ma biraami hunu, sutnu? (I sick, sleep)” She immediately corrected my broken grammar. “No, um… ahile (now)”. She raised her eyebrows. “Ahile?” I nodded, trying to keep my eyelids from collapsing from all the fluid. She looked calm. “Hunchha.” (okay)

Somewhat flattered by the kind words of my fellow peers, I left the program house and made my way to the girl’s hostel. Why am I so sick?

But in some ways it’s nice to lie on my bed (curled up in a sleeping bag under two layers of thick soundproof mattresses) and do anything but sleep. No, I can barely doze off without suffocating in copious liters of phlegm. The world spins, and the minimum I could do was hold a pen with my right hand and scribble on my journal with my cheeks resting on the contralateral page.

In five minutes, CI (contemporary issues) discussion would have begun, and I would have been engaged in a deep conversation about Nepal’s politics, gender inequality, medical voluntourism, or environmental issues. But I will not be present for that. And maybe in a few hours after, I would be sitting on a rocky staircase, not too far away from kilagan (the Hindu god of teeth), with a notebook in one hand and the same pen on the other, noting down semi-participating observations of human behavior as passersby receive their blessings for good oral health. But will I really be there, or am I just going to hide under these incredibly warm layers, waiting for load shedding to end so I can finally charge my phone? Kay garnay.

I closed my eyes momentarily, only to give up and open them again. Sick days have always been my favorite, a funny form of guilty pleasure. It’s just somewhat peaceful to take a breather from all the intensive 2-hour sessions of Nepali, guest lecturers on contemporary issues, and research design courses on ethnographic fieldwork.

And I know I’m not the only one getting sick these days. Every day in kajaa (snack), someone would contribute something new to our Journey to Collect All The Illnesses of the World! Stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting. And now, the common cold.

I creaked open the door to place my emptied trays in the hallway. Summy, our TA, appeared before me with a phone in one hand.

“Laura, Jack’s (originally Zach, but “z” was a tough one for the Nepali tongue) going to the hospital now. Do you want to join?” I looked at her, and then at my bed a few feet away from us.

“No, I’ll be fine. I just need to rest.”

Oh right, he wasn’t in class today either. I crawled my way back into my overheated nest.

I hope he recovers in the good hands of CIWEC (international hospital in Kathmandu). But other than that, I don’t know how much more we can really do in the face of unforeseen illnesses in this foreign country.


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