…a chronicle in which we learn how Montezuma’s revenge compareth not in scope or wrath to its African counterpart; and how a self-imposed and acute disregard of dietary restraint, three long days without purged intestines, and a corporal coil weakened from a protracted trip led to what can euphemistically be described as “bowel mouth”.
By the time last Tuesday evening that I reached Dubai from Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian airport’s non-functional bathrooms and haughty, disengaged staff were mere figments of a prior nightmare, and better days lay ahead. Nay, ’twas time to chillax, to count my Ugandan and Rwandan adventures a triumph and prepare for the task of returning to live Brazilishly. And yet even the stoutest of military commanders will tell you that the best laid plans oft dissolve when the hour is nigh. So transpired with me on the final leg of my return trip to Rio de Janeiro. That thee, dear reader, might reconcile thyself with the slings and arrows characterizing the gauntlet thru which your beloved adventurer this week passed, I shall scribble the remainder of this tale of globe-trotting jackassery in the second person. For doth ye not feel my words deeper in thy flesh with such prosaic tools employed?
You arrive in Dubai and, as related previously, find thyself enamored anew with Western creature comforts, here artificially grafted against the cutis of an airport on the margins of the Arabian Peninsula. It is 9 PM when you land, and after a tortuous transfer circuit which at long last deposits you soundly into the proper terminal for your 7 AM flight to Rio, you bee-line to Starbucks. There you drain a white chocolate mocha and speak via Skype to thy beloved, who beseechingly receives your e-besos in the faraway land of Mexico. Eventually you disconnect from her, and seek to calm the longing in your heart with comfort food. And you are fortunate, for comfort food is not hard to come by in the Dubai airport. You descend upon Burger King like a locust to a wheat crop. Once in the King’s realm, you order a mighty Big King value meal and upsize it. When the third country national working the register cleverly divines your heartache and suggestively sells you a side of chicken fries, you respond gleefully in the affirmative, reminding yourself that your betrothed, too, loveth herself some chicken fries. The meal soon completed, you are in the mood for yet another white chocolate mocha. Hence you return to Starbucks. Having routed these worthy junk food adversaries with efficiency, you retire to a general waiting area to rest. You know you will not sleep – you can never seem to catch a wink in airports or on planes – but at least you can recharge whilst staring down the clock.
When the hour is upon you to board the flight many sleepless hours later, you dunk another white chocolate mocha. The beginnings of your personal trademark self-flagellating guilt are now creeping under the door, and at the register you mentally review a litany of justifications for this third 470 calorie beverage in under 10 hours. You ask yourself if this is truly a worthwhile endeavor. As a sanity check you petition the third country national working the register to assist you in rationalizing this most self-loathing exhibition of gluttony. Properly executing her role as a Starbucks representative, she looks at you with the comprehending eyes your mother did when you were down with bronchitis as a lad and invites you to sip heartily of this modern day chicken soup. And you do.
But shortly after this, things go awry. You locate an airport shower facility, hoping to knock the stink from thy body for the first time in two days. But it is out of commission and you don’t have time to wait, as your overage of spare moments was blown on the last Starbucks run. You board the plane, filthy though you are, and buckle into your seat. Just before takeoff, a man in regular clothes passes swiftly by you in the aisle, charging with urgent purpose toward the pilot’s cabin, and he has concealed behind his back a screwdriver. Perhaps you are delirious now after two restless nights, your brain’s capacity for clear and reasoned thought further polluted by the preservatives and toxins inherent in the endless flow of junk food entering your digestive tract the last few days. But you do not realize this, since the last one cognizant of his insanity is the thus man crazed. And so only trying to be helpful, you stand up and cry out – your Bat Signal splayed upon the clouds that others might answer this call to civic responsibility for general welfare – “Someone stop that guy! He’s got a weapon!” Econo-class early morning silence is pierced by sudden gasps as the gravity of this moment hits home for one and all, and the accused wheels to stare you dead in the eye. You are ready to die, as he will probably perforate your jugular Goodfellas-style, spilling the white chocolate mocha coursing thru your veins all over the cabin before you formulate a response, which in your teenage fantasies would have consisted of a precise and lethal judo chop from your childhood study of ninja movies. You merely pray the newspaper headlines will say something to evoke your parents’ pride: “Bald Man Bravely Confronts Terrorist To Save Plane From Certain Doom, Dies in Ensuing Scuffle”. A stewardess politely informs you that the man is actually a mechanic who was fixing a food cart and debarking the plane. Now quite humbled, you beg her not to write this into her post-flight incident report. She smiles and reassures you she will not. You sit down, buckle in, and shut up, ready to withstand the next 14 hours with modesty and poise and, for God’s sake, without attempting to call out another alleged hijacker.
Because you feel somewhat stupid (though if he WAS a terrorist, you’d totally be a hero), you are in need now more than ever of comfort food to sooth your ailing dude-soul. Thus the dietary restraint that you should have exhibited in Dubai will not surface at any point during the 14-hour flight. You are tired and agitated and gobble everything offered as you transcend the African continent and subsequently the Atlantic Ocean en route to Brazil; this includes the in-flight meals, snacks, various rounds of coffee and soda, and even the Godiva chocolates you are repeatedly provided by an Australian flight attendant who, good Samaritan that she is, has taken pity on your plight and offers this olive branch of candy-laden assistance at every turn. Your tummy is free of tumult, yet your stomach’s stage is set for a fabulous disaster. Though as delayed reactions go, you are not yet conscious of the fate about to befall you.
You reach Rio in the late afternoon Wednesday, and lose a pen to a Chinese businessman who borrows it when filling out his customs forms, then vaporizes from the scene. You could not care less. You merely wish to claim your baggage and depart this circus. And yet at the baggage belt, you are the proverbial last man standing. Nothing of yours emerges from the belly of the airline beast. It brings to mind a Brazilian saying about ficando a ver navios, the full significance of which is now fit to provoke the final shattering of your fragile spirit. You present yourself at the Emirates Airlines lost luggage counter and when you tell them your name, they dutifully inform you that they are in possession of a special message for you: “Your luggage is missing.” This is hardly a revelation since your empty hands, moist eyes, and trembling lower lip suggest to any reasonable observer that, indeed, you are acutely aware of the problem already. You have not spoken Portuguese in a month and are too tired to try, so you make it through the futile bureaucratic exercise of completing lost luggage paperwork in an English-peppered pantomime, then catch a taxi home.
You hit rush hour traffic into Rio, investing the better portion of 1.5 hours becoming painfully well acquainted with it. You reach home near dinnertime, but sadly food is not on the agenda. For no sooner do you enter your apartment than you begin projectile vomiting. The sickness sprung from your body not unlike a drone attack over Waziristan: the element of surprise is key. You did not feel sick at all until now, unless counting the metaphorical illness draping your heart due to your wayward luggage. You barf so many times between now and the wee morning hours that you wonder if, indeed, you will die tonight. By round four of the insurgent spewing, you begin to note the aroma and taste of the viscous brown liquid flowing forth from your mouth is dramatically close to poo. You begin connecting the pieces of this scatological jigsaw: you have been constipated for three days and have been stuffing yourself with morsels of considerably low nutritional value the entire period. At some point, a release is imminent; 10 gallons cannot be crammed into a 5-gallon jug. But like the Ghostbusters spotting the Marshmallow Man stalking the streets of Manhattan, you wish that Gozer didn’t appear in this specific sinister form. Whilst hunched over the toilet bowl you partially laugh, but mostly cry, grasping now wholly the inglorious yet aptly descriptive cliché about “fates worse than death”.
The next morning, Thursday, you awake feeling somewhat relieved, though exceedingly weak. You are hungry, but your fridge sits empty. You have no maid and your colleague neighbor is at work, so no one is around to help. Hence you get dressed and steel thyself to set forth three blocks to the supermarket in search of vittles, that you might nourish both body and spirit after your tumultuous journey home. As an intellectual exercise to/from the store, you count the number of times you must stop to rest (for the curious among ye, ‘tis 17). You note that an average of three people passes you on each of these occasions while you rest leaning against a pole with head in hands and, in a disappointing display of just how callous folks can be, not a single person bothers asking if you are okay. Not that you need it, but what if you were really dying? You recall that this is why you love thy betrothed, for ne’er has she abandoned ye during a moment of crisis. You begin to understand here the broader scope of “in sickness and health”. You return to your apartment, put the food into the fridge, then fall into a deep sleep, the first real one you’ve enjoyed since Rwanda.
When you awake later in the day, miraculously you feel fully recharged. Clearly suffering a bout of temporary amnesia, you discern this is a prime moment to get some exercise, for you have desired a good swell these many days. And so you execute your personal variant of the Insanity workout in your living room. You make it through with flying colors, amazed at your own fortitude so shortly after weathering a violent storm. You lean over to remove your sweat-drenched ankle socks and promptly pull a muscle in your lower back. It spasms so badly that you see stars, hyperventilate, and bellow a specific bilabial fricative forcefully enough to rustle pigeons from church steeples. You do not see a doctor, though. Pulling a page from your peewee baseball playbook, you decide to “walk it off”. You take Excedrin, self-massage, and go out in search of comfort food: two triple cheeseburgers, large fries, and a Coke. And thus the vicious circle commences again.