“Girls, you really need a bath,” said Sergio in utter disgust when Kuni and I emerged from our day of bushwhacking through the forests of Tanambao. Easy for him to say—he stayed in camp and helped out with formations that day, while we ripped our arms, legs, and clothing to pieces in the jungle.
I guess he had a point, though—my skin was dark with mud, my hair full of leaves, and criscrossing scratches ran up and down my legs. My pants were soaked through with blood at the backs of the knees where the leeches had congregated to take communion. A couple seemed to have accompanied me out of the forest, latched on the cuts around my ankles. They like the smell of blood and go for the easy-access, already-open wounds.
Brian is convinced that to flick off a leech only rips a wound further, and he prefers the “let them finish” strategy. When one latched on to his Chaco blister in Antaninary (not to say that Chacos ever give blisters, of course!), he just watched it swell up and fall off after it had its fill. Then, of course, another one just took its place, and the process repeated. I don’t have the patience for such antics. In my opinion, get them off, get them, get them off—as soon as possible!
And then, of course, there is always the Christa strategy—seek them out. Christa actively placed a leech on her face for a photo (taken, no doubt, for the sole purpose of grossing out her mother) but then nearly ate it when it inched towards her mouth. Of course, she is the same girl who also took a high-definition video of me removing a parasy from my toe (number fourteen in total!); we can’t wait to get to Tana and have decent enough internet to upload that high-def foulness to this blog site. Stay tuned!
--“What happened?!?” gasped Sergio and Henintsoa, one evening in Iapombo, when I trailed back into the village after an afternoon visit to the forest. --“Nothing,” I said, with a frown and a shrug. “Why do you ask?” --“Wait,” said Sergio and snapped a photo of me. He showed me my image on the playback, and I had to laugh at myself. Covered in mud from my slip-up in the rice field, hair disheveled from battles with lianas, I held my broken right Chaco—in desperate need of a new round of repairs—in my left hand and sported a bare right foot. --“What are you all looking at?” said Christa, walking up to look over Sergio’s shoulder. “Oh, good old dirty Cara.” After all, what else is new?
Being dirty appears to be the norm for me in Madagascar, especially sur terrain. Sergio maintains that it is not really my fault, that it must be genetic—thanks, Mom.
“Remember when you were a little kid and all the kids from the neighborhood went to play outside?” he said. “There was always one little kid who came back covered in mud or dirt or something. That kid must have been you.” But Sergio doesn’t judge me for it. “It’s not as if it says anything about you as a person,” he explains. “It is just kind of inconvenient because you have to clean more.”
Even in Vondrozo, I find it hard to stay clean. My wounds from last month’s séjour in the field have yet to heal, and my feet are swollen and inflamed and infected. I soak them every morning and evening in chlorinated water, but the gaping parasy holes and jagged thorn cuts continue to puss and ooze and weep. I dab them with the alcohol and red iodine which EXPLORE provided, but the Vondrozo villagers point and laugh at the pink spots left on my legs. “Sauce tomate!” one man roared in the market today. Damn it, no, I do not have tomato sauce on my legs!
In Vondrozo, at least, we can clean off via bucket bath, though I admit that I sometimes neglect to do so. “Tomorrow,” I said over dinner today, “I should probably take a shower and wear clean clothes.” Christa and Kuni laughed. Being clean—such a novel idea!
Sur terrain, though, a bath was not really a viable possibility, much as Sergio demanded it of Kuni and me. We did manage to clean ourselves in the river after that first foray into the forest, but we had scarce sat down in the water with Christa and Henintsoa—all four girls in brightly colored lambas—when a half-naked boy materialized, driving a herd of some five or six zebu across the river ten meters upstream of us.
The boys roared with laughter from upstream of the zebu, and the other girls sprang out of the tainted water quick as can be, but I stayed as I was, quite unperturbed by the cows milling in the river around me. Surely there are zebu upstream of any spot where you might bathe in a river in Madagascar, so why bother moving just because you can see them? The muddy kid chooses not to care. After all, dirt don't hurt.