One of the things I was really worried about before coming here was getting sick. In fact it was a worry for a lot of people. When we had to do group drawings of things we were afraid of at our Peace Corps staging in Washington, DC a lot of people drew some pretty gross pictures of sick stick figures. I figured that I am human and it was inevitable (especially when you are exposed to all kinds of exotic bacterias and parasites!). And the Peace Corps staff at staging assured us that we would definitely get sick.
But I also figured that there were some things I could do to keep my body in fighting shape…and you know what? So far, so good. I’ve fought off two colds, and neither of us have any any major debilitating stomach issues (according to our Peace Corps doctor it does not qualify as actual diarrhea unless you go more than six times in one day…who knew? Now you do. Sorry.)
So here’s what’s in my arsenal of preventative supplements I brought to Indonesia and which are not provided by the Peace Corps, and of course are in no way medical advice for anyone:
–Shelf-stable probiotics. These are controversial as to how effective they are (especially if they are not refrigerated). Mine have about 10 billion CFU per tablet and I took about one a day my first couple of months here. Is that why I didn’t have any major stomach issues? Who knows, but many other people did, I have in other countries, and here I’ve been okay. I haven’t really taken them for the last month, but I figure I’ve had some time to build my immunity to the local nasties. I also was pretty careful about hand washing, drinking only purified water, and brushing my teeth washing my water bottle with purified water.
–Liquid echinacea and goldenseal compound. This stuff is AH-MAZING. I have to give credit to my mom’s holistic health nurse friend Hunter who introduced this stuff to me two days before my wedding when I thought maybe I could be getting a cold. I did not get a cold. And since then, when I feel a cold coming on I squirt this stuff directly into the back of my throat several times a day for a day or two and I either stop the cold in it’s tracks or it is short and mild. Since being here I managed to hold off two colds. Will finally tried the stuff out and is now a believer after successfully beating back a cold our first week at site.
–Vitamin C. I take this along with the echinacea and goldenseal several times a day to boost my immunity if I feel like I’m fighting something.
The Peace Corps does provide a daily multi-vitamin and my weekly malaria prophylactic. I take Larium which has been known to cause anxiety, depression and crazy dreams. Except for a couple of lively dreams, I haven’t had any of these problems and as long as I take it with food, it doesn’t bother my stomach. Also, if the Peace Corps thinks you aren’t taking it they can send you home. I haven’t found the mosquitos to be terribly bad here. They were non-existent in Batu, and they do exist in Jombang, but we use a mosquito net over our bed every night, and in the evenings I put on some natural bug repellent (essential oils mixed into some Aveeno lotion) and they don’t bother me. I think I’m not as delicious to Indonesian mosquitos as I am to American ones. Which is fine by me.
In addition to these things I’ve been able to get plenty of sleep here and I try to drink three liters of water a day per Dr. Leo’s (name of the PC doctor, and also the name of the doctor on 30 Rock, FYI) recommendation. I find that we Americans drink a lot more water in general than most Indonesians we meet. Maybe they don’t sweat as much as we do, but given how many girls I’ve seen faint in my short time here, I’m guessing they are usually dehydrated.
Throughout training we had numerous (and sometimes humorous) medical sessions on things such as the diseases we can get from mosquitos, what not to touch in the sea, what to do in certain medical emergencies (which the trainees had to act out in skits or sometimes interpretive dance), match the symptom to the STD, how to properly use a condom, hydration, how to make a balanced diet out of local foods, how to avoid accepting alcohol (what alcohol?) and many, many sessions on diarrhea (when to call the doctor, what to do, how to prevent it, what causes it). We also got a ton of shots to prevent rabies, meningitis, hepatitis, Japanese encephalitis, the flu and probably some other things I blocked out.
Before we went to our training sites we also got a “Medical Kit” which is kind of like a toolbox of many different kinds of over the counter drugs (including sunscreen and a whistle)—kind of a first aid kit on steroids. We also received a medical handbook with a wealth of information about pretty much anything that could happen to us here.
As far as exercise and weight, we’ve both lost weight here so far. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think during training I didn’t eat as much food here as I did back home. Even though I’m eating a lot of rice and fried things, I think it’s still not as much as back home—especially considering that we’d both eat out almost every day for lunch. However since we’ve gotten to permanent site, food seems to be coming at us from every direction, which hopefully is temporary–but it’s also delicious. I also don’t drink alcohol or eat many dairy products (except for ice cream at least once a week). We got into a pretty good yoga habit the first part of training, but it’s fallen off, and we hope to get back to it. Now that we are in permanent site we are really enjoying riding our bikes. The bikes can be great exercise, give us the freedom to explore, and help us learn about our surroundings. But still I think we’d both like to be working out a little more.
All of this being said, I’m sure before two years is over, we will both get some sort of exotic something or other and need to stay home from school for a few days. And when things do happen, our own Peace Corps doctor is only a text message or a phone call away. It’s probably the best health care we’ll ever have.