28 January 2011

My Angry Stomach

Yes that's right. My stomach is angry at me. After three months of going through every digestive test imaginable - involving x rays, blue dye, internal cameras, and loopy sedation, among others - the good news is that the doctors have ruled out everything very serious, and have concluded that I have an unusually bad case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I was equally amused to find out that it's also called spastic colon. What a spastic, irritable bugger - who knew that my stomach had emotions!

I'd heard of it plenty before, but was surprised when the doctor explained how it works. IBS is a problem in the communication between your brain and digestive system; your brain misinterprets signals from your stomach, and tells your digestive system to speed up or slow down -- when it really shouldn't. So that deliciously creamily melting double chocolate ice cream cone I just ate ends up sitting there in my stomach, creating a nice little puddle of fermenting cream that doesn't actually get broken down in my digestive system. And its been months since I've been able to eat a double chocolate ice cream cone.

Despite a ton of testing that's been done on IBS, still no one knows what exactly it's cause is, but it seems to crop up when your stomach has been weakened (in my case by stress from the beginning of Peace Corps service, Brazilian parasites, lactose intolerance, and possible other parasites that have come and gone.) 

The bad news is that it's a Syndrome, so it's kind of with me for life, and it's a particularly bad case -- but at least I can't pass it to anyone else. The way to manage it is with a restricted diet (no milk and very low gluten for me... forever perhaps), small amounts of regular exercise, probiotics (like the good little bacterias in yoghurt and kim chee), and keeping very low stress ("I'm sorry, boss, but my condition prohibits me from working extra this week..."). I'm also taking aloe vera juice, flax seed, and peppermint oil, all of which have proven to be useful in calming angry stomachs.

Maybe my stomach needs counseling: "Now stomach, what made you reject this food, cramp up, and make a lot of gas?" "Mm hmm.. I see... so what you're saying is that you feel misunderstood by the brain..."

Any suggestions from people who have encountered IBS? Conflict resolution for the stomach?

14 January 2011

Sex, gender, and politics

credit: CEDAW
Roughly 20 years ago, the UN published an international treaty for women's human rights, called CEDAW. It calls for equal rights for women, female access to education, women's health, and calls for measures against violence and trafficking. Most prominent nations signed it: the UK, France, Germany, Russia, China, Brazil, among many others, as well as most smaller nations. So far, only a handful of countries have failed to ratify this treaty - one of them is Tonga. And another is the United States.

08 January 2011

A day in the life of a Peace Corps volunteer

It's raining heavily outside, and the wind is gusting horizontally through our house, blowing the basil pots on the balcony and spraying occasionally through the open door. It's exciting cyclone season in Tonga! The past week has been a wonderful, lazy break - everyone in Mark's school office has been away for the summer holidays, and things are slow in the business advising department as the new year starts.

It's been a contrast from our daily schedules.

We often get asked what our every day life looks like, so here is one typical day for each of us:

01 January 2011

Why the old King's village is famous for its pigs

Mark dug the knife into the side of the pig, it's golden roasted skin crackling as he drew it down to its foreleg, carving out a generous haunch for the guest of honour sitting to his right: a pastor that would, at 10PM later that night, be one of the dozen preachers to give consecutive messages until bell rang 2011 in at midnight.

We were sitting at a long table, looking out across green, waving fields from the airy porch where the feast was set, red flowered cloths tacked up in horizontal bands around the porch roof's edge to soften the tropical sunlight that filled the air around us. Before us was set stacks and stacks of some of the best food, its cooks coming from a family that taught their community to serve and eat a five-course meal, and who served Queen Salote's fresh breakfast bread. Around my slowly emptying plate were still-full saucers and bowls of stuffed beef rounds, fresh grilled fish, turkey slices, chicken curry, and creamy pasta. Everything was overshadowed by a massive platter of sliced yams, sweet potatoes, and taro next to the enormous pig, looming up in the centre like a golden glistening log. It was just bigger than my torso, and sat steaming and dripping on a tin platter that I might be tempted to use as a toboggan in colder climates.

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